“You can’t play God without being acquainted with the Devil.”
After last week’s excellent pilot episode, Westworld was under pressure to continue in the same vein. Fortunately this week’s episode – ‘Chestnut’ is also excellent, and continues to show audiences that Westworld could be the next big cultural obsession like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. Whereas last week’s episode focused predominantly on the robot characters like Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores and James Marsden’s Teddy, this week gave us a more human side. Along with the park overlords, including Anthony Hopkins’ Dr Robert Ford and Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard Lowe, the show continued the Man in Black’s (Ed Harris) quest to unravel the parks biggest secret; a mysterious maze. This time he tracked down Clifton Collins Jr’s Lawrence, a Mexican bandit host who may lead him to what he wants. Collins Jr is yet another fantastic actor starring in the, cementing Westworld as having probably the best cast of any show currently on television.
‘Chestnut’ also introduced us to a couple of other human visitors to the park; work colleagues (not friends) Logan and William. Ben Barnes plays the psychopathic black hat wearing Logan and Jimmi Simpson is the nice guy and white hat wearing William. Both are excellent in their roles and their morality being drawn in such broad strokes works perfectly for the video game like scenarios taking place in Westworld. These two are probably the closest we’ve gotten to the Richard Benjamin and James Brolin characters from the original 1973 film, but the show looks to be pushing the questions raised in the film even further. The standout character this time though is a character we’ve met before, albeit only briefly; Thandie Newton’s robot brothel madame Maeve. After the glitching Dolores briefly speaks to Maeve in the Sweetwater streets, she catches the same reality questioning bug plaguing Dolores and her original host father. This leads to some freaky reality questioning as Maeve is haunted by past scenarios she was involved in, namely one where she was caught up in an attack by Native Americans and is very nearly scalped. This culminates in a very effective scene where, after being recalled, Maeve wakes up mid-operation in the robot body shop, sliced open and surrounded by broken hosts. It’s an effectively terrifying bit of body horror and Newton plays it fantastically.
Harris’ Man in Black also undertakes in a classic Wild West shootout with some of the parks hosts, made slightly unfair by the fact that the host’s can’t hurt the humans and have to settle for being slaughtered instead. It might seem like there are no stakes in a shootout where one side can’t be hurt and the other can be brought back to life with a quick visit to the ‘body shop’ but the show plays with this. By making the hosts super life-like, and the violence sudden and visceral, the audience still reacts to a dead or injured robot. Case in point; there is a scene where Logan stabs a friendly elderly treasure hunter through the hand and the man/robot’s screams and the copious amounts of blood will have the same harrowing effect on the audience that it has on William.
The direction in Westworld is stellar once again too, with seasoned TV director Richard J. Lewis taking over directing duties from show runner Jonathan Nolan. There are the gorgeous vistas we’ve come to expect from Western’s (the show is mostly filmed in Southern Utah, one of the most recognisable Western locations) but the smooth, hyaline robot labs and the almost MC Escher staircases of the employee living quarters are also brilliantly realised. And it’s not just visuals that have this awesome dichotomy between classic western and something much more modern, the music has it too. The extremely talented Ramin Djawadi gives us another jaunty saloon piano version of a famous song, after last weeks magnificent ‘Paint it Black’ sequence, and this time it’s the turn of the not traditionally jaunty Radiohead. Their, arguably best, song ‘No Surprise’ is Western-ified and it’s works brilliantly, and it’s more than a cheap laugh too, it helps emphasise the isolation and growing obsolescence the increasingly glitchy Maeve is feeling.
The bottom line: Westworld continues to be a fantastic series, although that might be a bit premature an evaluation at only two episodes in. Nevertheless the show is shaping up to be one of the very best on TV, and I’m definitely addicted. The actors are all fantastic, the music and direction are brilliant, and the unfolding mystery of the self aware hosts is deeply engaging. But most importantly, I can’t wait to tune in next week.
- Mark my words, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard Lowe is going to turn out to be a host. When Dr. Ford said to him ‘I know how your mind works’ it was pretty clear.
- Dr. Ford talking to a younger version of himself(?) was very interesting, as was his playing god with the snake. And the snake being key in religious iconography to the Garden of Eden was no accident either…
- Is Dr. Ford’s ultimate goal to work the concept of religion into the hosts? The shot of the crucifix at the end certainly made it seem that way.
- Poor Teddy Flood. Two episodes in and killed brutally in both. I wonder if this will be an ongoing trend.
Reviewed by Tom