Westworld Episode Review: Chestnut

 

In hindsight, I never outright said in my first episode review whether or not Westwold is objectively good and after viewing the second episode I can say with relative confidence that this is the most exciting, well executed, promising show on television. Where the pilot was cryptic and existentially fascinating, Chestnut gets the journey going and starts the actual narrative. We have an avatar to follow through the park itself in the form of Jimmi Simpson from House of Cards as William, we have a potential direction for the unexplained errors in the software update, and we have the next step of whatever dark quest the sadistic Man in Black is on. We even have the briefest flash of humor saddling a genuinely horrifying moment with Thandie Newton’s character Maeve basically waking up during surgery and stumbling through the abattoir that is left over after a day in the park. Most television shows require a few episodes or even a whole season to find the kind of confident footing that Westworld already has out of the gate and very few are this compelling so suddenly, so it’s going to be a challenge maintaining this momentum. But, so far so good.

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I am not even sure where to start. Usually there is one or two interesting plot threads that I save until the very end while I round up the obvious stuff for funsies but every plot point is fascinating in this show. I have to be careful or my sentences will just start smashing into each other in nonsensical fits so I’ll just try to go in order. Dolores Abernathy, as implied by the technician’s conversation early in the episode, is now ‘infected’ with this existential awareness apparently triggered with that oh so awesome line of dialogue ‘These violent delights have violent ends’. It’s apparent now that this is a passphrase that must have been embedded in the most recent software update which is causing all kinds of problems. That infection has been passed on to Maeve whose own usefulness is being questioned by the park QA. I question this logic for one basic and obvious reason: if the park visitors are not interested or sexually attracted to Thandie Newton the problem isn’t with her, it’s with the damn Guests. How about pulling them aside and being like, “What is your damn problem. You’re kicked out of the park, go home and re-think your priorities.” I may be compromising my objectivity there. Anyway, that infection culminates in a full on wakeful awareness while she is being repaired by two chatty engineers who are understandably freaked out when she rabbits her way around the complex in horrified confusion. It remains to be seen if this is going to call further attention to the glitch (also as someone with ~10 years experience in almost all levels of Quality Assurance and software testing I hate using that word but using the word ‘bug’ might be confusing in this context, so….’glitch’ it is *climbs down off high horse*) in the upgrade and whether or not it’s clearly intentional implementation will be discovered. If I had to hazard a guess, I think it’s Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) the park’s Creative Director designing some kind of next level artistic expression that will foment in an ALL OUT ROBOT UPRISING. But I’m not putting my chips down just yet.

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Back to Dolores, Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) has been having secret late night powwows with her because he is fascinated by the way she thinks. This sounds like a pick-up line you would hear in a college bar that never works, not-that-I-know but it means he also may be responsible for the burgeoning self-awareness in the parks population of androids. It might be safe to assume he’s responsible for her little sleepwalking discovery at the end of the episode but why? It’s one thing to encourage sentience in A.I. out of curiosity, it’s something else to arm it. Someday when the machines rise up and wipe us all out and some alien species comes along and discovers our history I’d bet damn good money that one of them will absolutely say the words, “You know what’s really fucked up about this? They made a movie about this exact thing happening and still went ahead and invented the damn things anyway.” And then whatever alien the first one was talking to will do the equivalent of shaking its head and go, “Assholes.” That will be the history of the human race in the Galactic Encyclopedia.

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Dr. Ford seems a little spacey to me. This week he shot down his underlings plans for a story line in the part with a Caligula-esque orgy of sex, violence and mayhem because, according to him, people don’t want to find out who they are, they already know that. They want to find out who they can be, and I like this line of reasoning. The comparisons to open world video games are unavoidable at this point and others have already made the reference. The NPCs hanging around offering missions to the player feel right at home to anyone who plays GTA or Fallout or, in my case, Borderlands. But Grand Theft Auto is probably best example since it tries so hard to appear as close to contemporary society as possible, it blends more closely with reality itself and the moral choices feel a little bit more thrilling because of it. Anyone who has played for hours on end knows that scary impulse you get while actually driving down the highway when you spot an empty car carrier trailer or an off-ramp with the right angle. And even though you’re in real life, not a game, all you see for a split second is a ramp. But further than that some people play those games as safely as possible, they do the right thing, they don’t kill pedestrians, and they feel genuinely bad breaking the laws in a fictional universe. I know because I am one of those people. For instance, when my friends made me pick up a prostitute, “employ her” and then kill her to get my money back in GTA: Vice City  I stopped playing the game for like a week. Other folks…okay most other people go the other direction causing as much damage as possible, and the game design itself encourages this kind of delinquency. Dr. Ford, in his wandering around the desert with a small robot child, has something big in mind involving what appears to be an abandoned church steeple, which seems like an odd direction to go in. What is his vision that is going to be somehow more compelling than Lee Sizemore’s, the narrative director with the Gordon Ramsay temperament? Obviously there is going to be some kind of religious aspect to it, as if the philosophical musings about God aren’t apparent enough.

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The objective of The Man in Black became just slightly more apparent in this week’s episode but at the same time not really. Somehow he has discovered Easter Eggs in the game itself and is working to discover some inner level or deeper layers but the thing that stood out as critical to me is how he paid for that information. At first glance handing two bullets to Lawrence’s (Clifton Collins Jr.) young daughter appeared to be an overt threat on their lives. However, he takes only one back and leaves her one which implies he’s using live rounds as currency, reducing his price as a negotiating tactic. This gives further credence to that theory about an approaching ROBOT REBELLION and here is where I have to shut my mouth a little bit. Having seen the film I know at least one or two things that have not been revealed yet so I’ll have to play dumb with regard to certain storylines. I have no doubt that Jonathan Nolan and friends are going to take the story in a unique direction and I want to avoid implying there are is some big twist coming because then it’s going to be hard to avoid looking for one. So I’ll just say that this thread is the one I’m most interested in at the moment.

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I don’t really have much to say regarding Bernard Lowe and his little hook up session with the executive lady. I think Jeffrey Wright is a fine, gifted actor with gravitas to spare but trying to picture him having a passionate affair with a woman is like imagining a Ford Escort and a Honda Civic get in a low-speed fender bender, whereupon both drivers get out and reasonably exchange insurance information, there’s just absolutely no thrill there at all. But the most compelling part of this episode, to me, was the beginning introduction to the park and possibly our main protagonist, William. There’s a obvious metaphor at the end of his costuming: the hat selection. White or black. He and I obviously have a lot in common, all the choices he made are the ones I would have with the exception of his rejection of the super sexy prostitute Clementine Pennyfeather. By the law of transitive properties she’s only a few steps removed from a fleshlight. …..right? Ethically? Okay, my own logic has succeeded in creeping me out.

Bonus: Just in case anyone happened to miss this week’s anachronistic player piano’s song in the bar, here it is in it’s original form.

 

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