Westworld: Season 1, Episode 2 – Chestnut Review

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★★★★

Saddle up! But beware potential spoilers in this review, which will discuss elements of the episode.

Maeve

Though we still spend a chunk of time with Evan Rachel Wood's Dolores this week (there's another impressive debrief scene between her and Jeffrey Wright's Bernard Lowe, which suggests he has more of an ulterior motive as he investigates the glitches), the main host focus this week is Thandie Newton's madam, Maeve Millay. Like Dolores, she's troubled by what would seem to be memories (possibly old storylines surfacing), and is haunted by a terrifying dream where she's a homesteader attacked by natives. Ed Harris' Man In Black also briefly features. It's a fantastic chance for Newton to show what we can do – especially during a nightmarish sequence which finds her waking up in the middle of a repair and stumbling through the Delos facility in what must surely be a vision of hell for her. She's also present for this week's instalment of Oh My God, They Killed Teddy! as James Marsden's character is gunned down at the bar by a rampaging tourist.

Ford

Religious imagery remains a theme this episode, as Anthony Hopkins Dr. Ford ruminates on his ability to create life from chaos and appears godlike to a child while out on a wander in the park. We learn later he's scouting a new storyline for the place (which apparently features a church prominently, staying on the religious aspect brand, there). The scenes in the desert are creepily effective, between the way Ford can control the rattlesnake and the revelation that the child he's chatting to is a host. And Hopkins also delivers what is clearly another driving point for the show: subtle critique of previous HBO (and other channels') series that focus on violence and titillation. His take down of Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) is quiet but powerful.

William and Logan

This is our first meeting with human guests (at least, we assume for now) William, played by Jimi Simpson, and Ben Barnes' Logan. They're two very different men: one is timid and kind, the other (and repeat customer for the park) is fond of debauchery and thinks nothing of plunging a knife into the hand of an old host trying to lure them into a treasure hunt. Simpson's nervy energy is used well, and Barnes plays a good asshole. They don't get a lot to do just yet, though we have a much clearer picture of who William is. And might he have sparked something with Dolores? At least in his mind – she mostly seems sad that he's not Deddy... Sorry, Teddy.

Bernard

Some new layers are added to Bernard for sure this week – we learn he's in a sex buddy relationship with Teresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen, giving it her best steely energy) and that he's clearly conflicted about how he and his colleagues treat their creations. Wright was a great choice for the role – he does a lot without having to say too much. Elsewhere in the facility, we learn how much of a dick Lee Sizemore really can be (though his snarky humour works) and there's yet more evidence that the hosts' problems are not limited to random glitches.

Man In Black

"Uber-gamer" Ed Harris reveals more about himself too: he's a long-time visitor to the park, and he's obsessed with finding a maze (demonstrated to gruesome effect by the scalp he's carrying and his gun-slinging takedown of nearly a village full of men). Makes you wonder whether there are levels to the park that extend beyond the Western theme: maybe a sub-game that lets you battle a Minotaur? Ed Harris versus a mythical beast? We'd watch that. And there are intriguing clues about how much sway he holds over the park – a casual mention by Luke Hemsworth's Stubbs that our Man In Black is a guest who "gets whatever he wants" is left hanging there as a thread. We've a feeling, though, that if and when the AI do take control of the place and find a way to defeat that Asimov-style safety function, that MIB will be first against the wall.

Summary

If last week it felt like you were being chucked in at the deep end, episode two comes off as more of a pilot. But that's part of the appeal for Westworld – as Talulah Riley's greeter Angela explains to William when he first arrives, there's no orientation, no manual. It can be disorientating, and while the series might have benefitted from having this be the first episode so you know what's going on, the driving mission of the show is that it's from the AI point of view, so kicking off with Dolores in particular makes sense. Though there are times it feels like the narrative jumps between the town of Sweetwater, the Delos facility and everywhere in between quickly enough to come off more like a trailer than an episode, it continues the high quality of the show so far. And yes, as we mentioned above, there is plenty of pointed commentary on shows appealing to base needs. It really does seem as though Westworld will end up being about more than just "tits and guns"...

Westworld airs on HBO in the US on Sunday nights and Tuesdays on Sky Atlantic in the UK