Season One, Episode Two — “Chestnut”

© Copyright 2016, Home Box Office. All Rights Reserved.

© Copyright 2016, Home Box Office. All Rights Reserved.

By Brandy DykhuizenOne can’t call Westworld slow, per se, but it is starting out at a very deliberate pace. This is the kind of show one would expect to premiere locked and loaded, all vendetta and shitstorm, trailed by fragments of exposition and flashbacks to help the viewer piece together the plot during lulls in adrenaline.

While we’ve been privy to a few scalpings and shoot-em-ups, the primary agenda here is establishing an allegory. In fact, the running joke (as much as a joke can run within the confines of only two episodes) seems to be that each time the park’s head writer (Sizemore) eagerly orchestrates some drama with blood and bravado, he gets shut down. Either a guest jumps in to remind Sizemore that he should be having all the fun, or Dr. Ford is there to derail his excitement and reinforce that the whole point of this vast human experiment is not to impress with fire and brimstone, but to show people a glimpse of what they could be. 

It’s too early to go bananas, but I’m very drawn to Westworld’s deliberately laid foundation. Maybe it’s because the last HBO series I reviewed had less depth than most kiddie pools at Wal-Mart, but I’m taking it as a very good sign that these themes of rebirth, god complexes, and the duality of human nature have been given a strong foothold before the show even bothers to throw us into the action. The mazes we navigate to reveal the secrets of the universe are both cryptic (“Follow the blood arroyo to the place where the snake lays its eggs”) and obvious (in this case, literally tattooed onto the underside of a scalp). The mazes we must navigate to figure out what the hell Jonathan Nolan is getting at can be almost as perplexing, but are generally a lot more fun.

While the pilot did well to establish the dynamic of the park itself, “Chestnut” allows us access to the budding morality play that fuels this drama. We’re introduced to William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes), a pair of work associates visiting Westworld with their own agendas, both of which become apparent just moments after they enter the park: Logan, a return visitor, runs off with a few sexy pals while William patiently walks through a logistical rundown of how things work. All the cool costumes and toys are lined up, and we stand by William as he guides us through his choices.

Indeed, we do a lot of standing by William in “Chestnut”, looking through his eyes as Westworld is more or less explained to him by the less scrupulous Logan. Of course it’s no surprise that Logan opted for a black hat while William dons the less rakish white. The two characters are the devil and angel on our shoulder as we take a stroll through the streets and ask, “well, what would YOU have done in that situation?

And who, exactly, is William? Is he there solely to hold our hand as the scope of Westworld widens? Or is he a character we’ve seen before? Right before they reach their destination, Logan tells William that “this place is the answer to that question you’ve been asking yourself… who you really are.” We see this comment fall somewhat hard on William as he digests its true meaning, then immediately we cut to Ed Harris’ increasingly iconic Man in Black. Are we watching Westworld carry out through the multiple storylines of each successive episode? Or is William’s introduction to Westworld a flashback, to 30 years before, when the Man in Black meets Dolores for the first time?

We get the impression the Man in Black isn’t just shooting people for shits and grins, but to right some past wrong that turned him into the enigma he is today – just how much of a blank slate was he before he began patronizing the park? How much time had to pass before the started terrorizing it?


No orientation. No guidebook. Figuring out how it works is half the fun. All you have to do is make choices.” – A welcoming host, to William.

You can’t play God without being acquainted with the Devil.” – Dr. Ford

This storyline will make Hieronymus Bosch look like he was doodling kittens.” – Sizemore, gleeful in his own depravity.

Guests don’t return for the obvious things… they come back because of the subtleties.” – Dr. Ford.

BEST MOMENT: Maeve’s ability to conjure lucidity from the depths of a nightmare tossed her out of the frying pan and into the fire. Defense mechanisms are hard to hone accurately when the learning curve is steeply stacked against you. But the juxtaposition of her literal nightmares with the horrors happening to her body in real time makes a powerful point, calling into question the legitimacy of Elsie’s (Shannon Woodward) claim that hosts are only given the “concept of dreams.” If that were true, if the host’s “dreams” were a mere method of information processing without literal comprehension, how can Maeve turn the tides, break programming, and wake herself up?

EPISODE’S MVP: Thandie Newton is without a doubt this week’s shining star. As her character’s parameters are tweaked and rearranged, Ms. Newton reveals a new dimension to Maeve’s emotive range. We see Maeve the Madame, Maeve the aggressor, Maeve the charmer and Maeve the victim (in flashbacks), but she is always undoubtedly, unequivocally Maeve. To be able to play a human-like robot is a skill all its own, but to portray a programmed fluctuation while still staying just true enough to character to make the audience wonder if your human instincts outweigh your mechanical qualities — that is a whole other level.

© Copyright 2016, Home Box Office. All Rights Reserved.

© Copyright 2016, Home Box Office. All Rights Reserved.


– This week’s player piano treat came to the tune of Radiohead’s “No Surprises.”

– Does MRSA exist inside a mechanical being (Maeve)? Or have the researchers started referring to a type of technological superbug as MRSA?

– So what’s this titular Chestnut? Is the title a nod to the Anglo-slang phrase “That old Chestnut,” usually referring to an oft-repeated joke, but in this case possibly pointing to Dolores’ Lazarus-like daily routine? It has been repeated to absurdity and we are only in episode two. Methinks the writers want us to pay special attention to that.

– Despite a string of fantastic performances on House of Cards (amongst many other productions), I still found myself referring to William (Jimmi Simpson) in my notes as “McPoyle.”

8.5 out of 10

Next: “The Stray,” soon.

Before: “The Original,” here.