After an excellent setup of its overall world and complex characters, episode two of Westworld titled “Chestnut,” sets an equally high bar in both its entertainment and plot intrigue. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy continue show no hesitation in throwing one curveball after another for how deep the ins and outs of the theme park truly are. In addition, the vastness of the cast ensemble provides a lot of room for some characters to be more prominently featured than others, which is exactly what occurs in “Chestnut,” and to great effect as well.
The series premiere heavily focused on Dolores, the oldest functioning park Host that at the end of “The Original,” clearly showed signs that her memory update didn’t remove the self-awareness. The second episode begins focused on Dolores on another “new day” but this time one that takes place at night, where a mysterious voice is commanding her to go somewhere just outside her house. A bad memory is also triggered where she’s looking at the aftermath of a town massacre. A quick cut moves the action to a sleek-looking train that has two friends, William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes), sitting together in one of the cabs. Logan is a Westworld regular that unabashedly indulges on the park’s sex and violence, while William is a first-timer that’s more reluctant towards the park’s sleazy attractions.
When the two get off the train, they arrive at the park’s wardrobe department where the guests select their western clothes of choice before boarding the train to the park. It’s also revealed that androids accompany the guests to the department to field questions and or clothing suggestions. A sexy female Host takes William to a wardrobe room, which is beautifully designed with a smooth blending of the show’s western and science fiction crossovers. There’s also an uneasy sexual tension that develops between the Host and William, which clearly weirds out the latter. A later scene at the brothel shows him uninterested in sex with an alluring Host. Towards the end, William meets Dolores in town after she drops a can on the ground (an action that always occurs in her daily narrative). He is clearly smitten by her good looks and hints that it won’t be the first time those two encounter each other. Similar to Evan Rachel Wood owning episode 1, Jimmi Simpson does the same in “Chestnut.” He’s incredibly nuanced in the role and says so much with his body language for how his character is looking for deeper meaning in the park that extends beyond the standard raunch.
Also stealing the show in this episode is Thandie Newton as Maeve, the sharp-tongued madam of the park. She had brief screen-time in the premiere, but has significant character development after Dolores tells her “these violent delights have violent ends,” the same quote that her “father” told her that malfunctioned her code. Afterwards, Maeve experiences reoccurring nightmares from a past memory where she played the role of a mother that along with her young daughter, were attacked by a tribe of Indians. When hiding in their homestead and preparing for impending attack, they’re unexpectedly met by the presence by Ed Harris’ increasingly cryptic Man in Black, who in the episode’s present story recruits one of the “citizens” to lead him towards a “maze” located in a presumably secret location of the park. Whether or not his appearance in Maeve’s memory was real or was mixed in from another past personality, is for now unknown.
After park officials realize the Maeve’s unusual behavior, she’s put into a surgery room to remove the memories from her code. However one of the surgeons forgets to put her into sleep mode, and she wakes up in the middle of the procedure, shocking both herself and the surgeons. She forces her way out of the room with the threat of using a knife on the surgeons if approached too closely, and makes her way to a the android equivalent of a slaughterhouse where dead androids are being sprayed and cut apart. She’s noticed by the employees and quickly apprehended. This sequence is in all honesty terrifying if seen through Maeve’s eyes, and Newton’s compelling look of horror and confusion to her surroundings is quite effective.
The park’s key inside players spend the episode continuing to figure out the new update glitch in multiple Hosts. Bernard continues to show an overconfident demeanor in having everything under control, which judging by the mounting problems with the Hosts, is going to backfire sooner or later. The ill-tempered narrative director, Lee Sizemore, proposes a new scenario titled “Odyssey on Red River,” which is a blockbuster-level add-on to the park’s adult entertainment. Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Ford immediately says no to the project, and transitions to a speech given to the staff that heightens his belief for the park to connect more to the specific wants of the crowd rather than just the generalized sex and violence. The episode closes with him taking Bernard to a desert location of the park where a triangle-shaped, religious cross statue stands out in place, ultimately hinting his intentions for a new park attraction.
“Chestnut” plays out like an extension of the pilot where more areas of the park’s internal and exterior environments are set in stone, in addition to the introduction of several more key characters. While there is more exposition than story taking place, it’s still extremely engaging and the performances are nothing short of incredible. Seriously I could watch Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins play the same ambiguous characters they’ve played the last fifteen years and it won’t get old. Westworld is clearly unlike anything on television right now and its mint package of entertainment and enigmatic writing has yet to reach a fault.