Westworld Review: Chestnut

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This place seduces everybody, eventually. By the end, you will be begging me to stay, because this place answers the question…who you really are. And I can’t fucking wait to meet that guy. – Logan

Anthony Hopkins, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not breaking news that he’s fantastic, but last night, he got much more of a chance to shine than in the pilot, where the focus was more on Dolores and setting the stage for those unfamiliar with Crichton’s original story or the 1973 film.

HBO made an interesting, but strategically sound decision and released “Chestnut” on its streaming platforms on Friday morning, enabling more of a buzz to build and also allowing Westworld to avoid competing with the debate. The general criticism thus far for the series is in the complicated, sometimes confusing nature of its storytelling, but I personally disagree with much of that negativity. It’s complex, certainly, but I’ve never felt lost, and those things I don’t fully understand, I feel confident will eventually make sense.

It’s definitely a show that rewards patience in some respects, because the way in which the plot attacks the audience can be inconsistent, but it’s by design. Several quotes from last night’s episode illustrate the way I believe viewers should approach watching the show. For example, “No Orientation. No Guidebook. All you do is make choices. Everything here is bespoke.”

Westworld isn’t laying its story out neatly, but it’s the barrage coming from all sides and wondering how it might all fit together that to me is one of the main appeals of these early episodes. First, here’s what was clear. Dolores is attempting to discover whether her life is indeed a lie, with portions of memories remaining from her previous father, who we see replaced by the end of the hour. She’s waking up at strange times of night, going outside and digging up a gun, and the look on her face is one of increased self-awareness and disdain towards those who placed her in the park.

The Man in Black isn’t the nicest of fellows, and Ed Harris is willing to scalp hosts inside the world as part of a quest to locate the inner-workings of Westworld, including what exactly the end game might be, as well as who makes the decisions or who has control of everything that takes place in the park. The scene where he tells Lawrence he’s never going back to the real world is ominous, but also somewhat expected. He’s a guy that’s fallen in love with is own omnipotence in that universe, and if I had to guess, he’s likely the exact opposite in society.

You know why this beats the real world? The real world is chaos. But in here, every detail adds up to something, even you Lawrence. – Man in Black

One thing I do hope is that we get to see the guests in their actual lives. It wouldn’t be exactly like a flashback, but it would be a glimpse into fantasy vs. reality. It may not happen, but that’s the kind of story that hooks people, although it requires that some guests remain around on at least a semi-regular basis.

We will likely get to know William (Jimmi Simpson) well, and also his rather dastardly friend, Logan (Ben Barnes). This week’s opening sequence, as William goes through what’s basically the orientation or create-your-own player phase of Westworld, again shows how quickly the choices come to those who step off the train. The visual of the white or black hat, and whether or not a guest takes advantage of the host when selecting clothes was extremely effective. All of it plays into the moral undercurrent that will likely always be the location of the sharpest teeth in this series.

And it’s here where we return to Anthony Hopkins, whose Dr. Robert Ford sounds more and more like The Matrix’ architect, but also a man who likes to believe himself as very near to a god. The closing seconds of the episode illustrate a human being who might possibly be considering using religion to try and increase his own power, his own bank account, and his own ultimate authority. Maybe the church and steeple doesn’t intimate a “NEW” religion, but that was my feeling.

Ford, as creative director and arbiter of what does and doesn’t occur within his fictional universe, appears to have a style of mind that would lend itself toward a faith where he (or someone under his thumb) is the idol, perhaps using Christ or someone more amorphous as almost a figurehead to quell blasphemy charges. He tells the young boy, “Everything in this world is magic, except the magician.” He’s the one wielding the wand, whether it’s to maneuver a rattlesnake like a marionette, or to tell one of his designers that Odyssey on Red River won’t be happening.

Ford’s reasoning is worth reading a few times, as again it feels like an apt way to look at the series as a whole:

It’s not about giving the guests what you think they want. The guests don’t return for the obvious things we do, the garish things. They come back for the subtleties, the details. They come back to discover what they think no one else has. They already know who they are. They’re here to get a glimpse of who they could be.

In addition to Dolores, Maeve (Thandie Newton) is going through an awakening of her own, seeing visions of a burning home, menacing Natives, and a memory of running for her life as a single mother, grasping the hand of her daughter. Early in the hour, she mentions waking up from a nightmare by counting backwards from three, which she then uses when the Man in Black arrives in one of her dreams with a knife. We find out she’s being worked on by technicians, and she wakes up amidst surgery. That got a little out of control, especially once she noticed hosts being hosed down and tossed around like garbage.

Newton did excellent work last night, and that character already has far more layers than I expected during the pilot. Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard Lowe is one we all knew would have attacks of conscience, and we hear him tell Dr. Ford that it’s so much more difficult turning a host “off” than he would ever have imagined. The challenge in taking what makes something unique, or in this case, lifelike and happy, is another quandary and another question we’ll be asking ourselves repeatedly in Westworld. Bernard and Theresa having a physical relationship was a bit of a surprise, if only because of how rapidly it was revealed.

When Ford nixes Lee’s narrative in favor of his “original” idea, he shows Bernard the Christian monument in the barren outlands. As the episode ends, it felt foreboding, in that this is a path the creative director will want everyone to take, but when you include religion, how much more can you convince people to do? Might this change everything?

In player-piano arrangements this week, as if they stole it from my iPod… Radiohead’s “No Surprises.”

I’m curious how you guys feel about the show thus far. I’ve seen the first four, and as I’ve said, I’m all in, and I trust Nolan implicitly. He earned it with Person of Interest. Does the level of convolution bother you, or are you enjoying the trip?

I’m @JMartOutkick on Twitter. Follow me there. You don’t have to worry about what most people would do.

Written by Jason Martin