Westworld Season 1, Episode 2 “Chestnut”

This week we enter Westworld with two newcomers, one who’s twitchy and the other who’s that guy in your office who doesn’t shut up about Crossfit. Only Westworld is even more prohibitively expensive and potentially headed towards a cult phenomenon that’s a lot more dangerous (but less sanctimonious.)

We also spend more time in the head of brothel-runner Maeve and the past build that haunts her, which is terrifying in a few different ways.

Twitchy cowboy is William, and he’s a socially awkward guy who seems more balanced than some of the other park guests in that he doesn’t immediately want a robo-handjob. He starts the game with high honor. But his friend Logan really, weirdly, wants William to embrace his dark side. If William was that reluctant to go on this trip but still paid $40,000 a day, he must be really bored and rich indeed. Or is Logan paying? And why would you go on vacation with someone you don’t even like? Seems like the feeling is mutual because Logan flat-out told William that he’s boring.

They’re both boring at the outset.

A thought: Is Westworld like a cruise ship? Do you pay the per-day charge and get all these bespoke clothes, but at the end you’re slapped with a $5,000 saloon tab? Or is it truly all-inclusive? What if The Man in Black is Westworld’s most unsatisfied customer?

Jimmi Simpson as William and Talulah Riley as Angela - credit John P. Jo...

The Man is Black is more than ruthless in his pursuit of the maze that may let him stay in the ordered world of the park. He’s like the anti-Ian Malcolm. Is he sabotaging the programs? Did he plant the picture Dolores’ dad found, the gun Dolores found—it is surely a real gun that could kill a guest, right?—to instigate an android revolt that will keep the programmers distracted enough to let him go about his mysterious, maze-loving ways? I do think he’s either human or a manifestation of the sentience virus. I just don’t want to take what he says at face value. When he says he hunted Indians with the host Lawrence, or admired Dolores’ new pluck, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a returning guest. He said he was born in Westworld. Is that a metaphor or literal?

Or is it Bernard sabotaging Ford’s work from inside Delos? What are his secret “little talks” with Dolores about? How much does he know about her thought process? Is he a robot sympathizer?

Can he tell Dolores to overthrow Lee because he needs to shut up? I mean, is he the worst person on this show because he comes up with the depraved storylines in the park? “Now with more vivisection and self-cannibalism!” Or is he just writing to an audience who clearly demands depravity?

Does Maeve’s past build and the reverie glitch mean she is really suffering? Does having memories and dreams mean she is real? And what exactly is real? What did it mean when the Indian attacking her and her daughter changed into the Man in Black? Is he going around “waking up” a few key players? How is it that park surveillance watches him slaughter whole posses but doesn’t notice his encounters with at least 2-3 robots that have glitched? What will it take to for the park to investigate further?

Thandie Newton as Maeve and Jasmyn Rae as Homestead Girl - credit John P...

I love how the majority of my discussions about Westworld so far is mostly just asking a lot of questions. So many different implications here!

I guess Delos is a bit preoccupied with itself, since its leader has gone all Field of Dreams. Is he going to build a new church and bring faith to the hosts? An ideological war? Will Abernathy’s weird cannibal cult come back in some form?

In all of my years playing Rockstar Games, I remember what a big deal it was in the press when GTA: San Andreas’ AI was updated to make the non-playable characters more life-like. The traffic patterns changed based on time of day, little pixel Californians jogged, ate burgers, talked to each other in passable mimicry of conversations. Is it harder to lob a grenade at these disposable NPCs when they’re sitting at a cafe drinking coffee with each other? Or is it more thrilling because it all feels more real, more “What if I did something terrible?”

Westworld definitely has me itching to play Rockstar’s 2010 Western RPG Red Dead Redemption again, only this time looking at the NPCs. That’s not an accident. Epic in scope, cinematography, and music, Red Dead boasted “over 200 random encounters!” with NPCs programmed to live frontier lives. As in Westworld, there are cannibals in the hills; you can get into duels in Blackwater saloons (Westworld’s main town is Sweetwater) or head south of Escalera (Escalante in Westworld, though it looks just like Chuparosa). You can kidnap a whore and tie her to train tracks for a trophy or bounty hunt for honor rewards. But this week I remembered a particular rare encounter with a fellow traveler on the plains late at night: a randomly spawned man wept over the corpse of a loved one, just wept on the side of the road… until the grieving AI pulled out a pistol and shot himself in the head.

Why program a suicide? Why have Dolores see her parents murdered or her lover gunned down nightly? These events seem to happen even if no guests are watching. Are these droids only supposed to be more sophisticated versions of the pedestrians I run over in GTA? Or is it like the Man in Black says: “When you’re suffering, you’re most real?” Would you, as a guest, buy a constructed world as authentic if there was no pain?

Ed Harris as Man in Black - credit John P. Johnson HBOFinal reveries:

  • “Chestnut?”
  • Maeve waking up during her repairs and walking around Delos, seeing the other droids—including Teddy –being hosed down was truly chilling. Just watching her struggle to comprehend, to see how easily she could be decommissioned, how easily she could be coded to be more sexually aggressive. Just one giant NOPE.
  • Was that little British droid in the desert a young Dr. Ford? “My parents said the same thing,” etc. At first it seems like a cool Easter Egg in the park, but when I think of most of the guests favorite activities… NOPE.
  • Is the Shakespeare phrase Dolores’ dad whispered to her a virus, some malware that once introduced to a system, corrupts it?
  • Anything that makes scriptwriter Lee pout is okay by me. Guy’s obnoxious.
  • I like pixie lab assistant girl. It’s real hard to see her off of Raising Hope though. I keep picturing her with pantyhose over her head.
  • Next week: Bernard has more secret talks with Dolores and Ford’s big plan takes shape.

Westworld airs Sunday nights at 9PM E/PT on HBO.

Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com covering TV, book reviews and sometimes games. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Reach her via pony express or on Twitter.

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