Despite the referential Radiohead on the player piano in the local saloon, “Chestnut” does, in fact, hold a few alarms and surprises. Westworld‘s second outing is even more disturbing than its predecessor, and, if one wasn’t already questioning the depths of humanity — what it truly means to be human — this hour imparted plenty to ponder. As Angela (Talulah Riley) responded to a new Guest’s query on whether she’s real: “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”
Indeed; as Battlestar Galactica so deftly explored with the number Six Cylon models, if an artificially intelligent being is self-aware, should we — can we — regard it as being less than ourselves? Unfortunately, while we look to the series to pose and ponder such questions, we need only pay attention to our real world crises to see there are already very unpleasant answers staring back at us. As to Angela’s question: even if it makes no difference, neither resort Guest nor we, the audience, can resist trying to discern who is “real,” aka Guest, or not.
And what better game (insert WOPR’s iconic question) to play here and in Westworld itself than: Which characters are secretly Hosts? This wouldn’t be a J.J. Abrams-produced project if there wasn’t a twist; I can (practically) guarantee there’s a twist. From its provocative opening question, which introduces the parallel pair of pals ((to the film’s Peter and John) — white hat William (Jimmi Simpson) and bad boy Logan (Ben Barnes) — to Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) terrifying, semi-lucid dream (memories), Westworld toys with impressions of who is “real.” Just watch the evolution of the characters parading throughout Maeve’s dream sequence, alone: her daughter brushing Maeve’s hair on the front porch morphs into a painted warrior preparing to scalp her.
Maeve runs; the warrior catches her again and raises the knife; a cowboy rides to the rescue and shoots down the warrior (though, at first, I’d thought he was Ed Harris’ Man in Black, the mister pointed out a barely visible silhouette of a mustache; this cowboy is quickly killed).
Maeve then runs, grabs her daughter, and heads for the safety of her home; another warrior chases her and passes by the windows to the front door, but, as it opens, he’s changed into the Man in Black, approaching Maeve with his own scalping knife.
Before he reaches Maeve, she does her (the programmers’) come-out-of-a-dream countdown to wake herself, only to find she’s in a different type of nightmare. Do androids dream of painted warriors … or at all? Unlikely; while Maeve is “unconscious” at the hands of inept repairmen, her dreams are fragments of storied memories come back to haunt both Maeve and her creators.
Like a few moments in last week’s episode, the introduction of Logan — who has zero regard for Hosts, and we’d be wise to wonder if he has any for Guests — brings back that unsettling discomfort over Guest behavior. William appears horrified by Logan’s violent act against an at worst, pesky Host, yet he does nothing; says nothing. This is the cowardly game we real humans play.
The Man in Black continues his quest to find Westworld’s deeper levels; he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants; to go where he believes he can go. It’s interesting to note that, as opposed to our real life vision of youthful gamers holed up in parents’ basements, here, the “player” is older, wealthy, and has apparently given up his entire outside existence to stay in Westworld forever. Is this mankind’s destiny; our downfall (fantasy overtaking reality)? In our own existence, will we even make it this far? The Man will kill not only someone he believes might have an answer; he’ll kill that source’s family if need be … a wife, a child. Not unlike the Trumps of the world, to the Man in Black, these Hosts are nothing but a means to his endgame (it’s never enough. The endgame is only a step to the next, better game). Do we assume that because Ashley (Head of Security) refuses to slow down the MIB, and Lawrence’s daughter (Izabella Alvarez) gave the Man a clue — “The maze isn’t meant for you. Follow the blood arroyo to the place where the snake lays its eggs” — that this path the Man in Black follows was built by Dr. Ford (btw, a magical, voice-commanding snake charmer)? And just what kind of wicked endgame would Westworld’s creative director — or is it actually Bernard Lowe secretly plotting? — have in mind, because Ford’s is a mind of complexities; he’s got no time for showy fools (that’s you, Sizemore; temper, temper).
Something wicked this way comes; it’s in the way Logan, Hughes, Cullen, Sizemore, the Man in Black … disregard the Hosts. It’s in the employees who toss around the Hosts’ doll-like bodies, the cold of their nudity against the glass walls and metal tables and floors. It’s in the Shakespearean whispers Dolores and Peter hear and repeat, finding their own deeper levels in hidden memories and buried guns: “These violent delights have violent ends.” We’ve encountered a Host virus from which humanity may never recover.
Do take that last sentence literally. I’m feeling pretty certain the repetition of Shakespearean phrases are a virus being spread from host to host by that repetition (verbal commands). Remember, Crichton basically coined the term “computer virus” before the real thing even occurred. From Peter to Dolores, from Dolores to Maeve, and who knows where it started? My first guess is that Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard Lowe is behind the disease. BUT, since we’re receiving clues (Lowe having private meetings with Dolores), I’m just as inclined to believe that’s a misdirect.
Is it Dr. Ford himself sabotaging his own creation; a god sending his first (only) “son” (as yet, unidentified) to sacrifice humans that his new species may live? He was very decisive, immediately turning down Sizemore’s new narrative for his own; something Ford’s been working on for quite a while.
That little boy Ford conversed with was a Host, yes? Is he perhaps modeled on a child Ford lost? The doctor has the faraway look of a man who (like the Man in Black) has nothing else in his life but this world; he also carries himself with an air of sadness, wistfulness; the Hosts are his family now. I’m convinced Ford suffered some great loss; he’s on a mission to replace something … someone.
That any of us could calmly stand by or look the other way while another being is bleeding or crying out in pain is unthinkable. You say, “But they’re not real.” I say, “Aleppo.”
Prescient quote of the week, from the Man in Black to Lawrence: “It means when you’re suffering, that’s when you’re most real.” I predict that, if the Man — as we know him now — is truly human, there will come a day that he ceases to exist and is replaced by his replicant double.
Thandie Newton was breathtakingly excellent this week. Between her moving, nuanced performance here and Evan Rachel Wood’s last week, the (Hosts’) women are ruling Westworld.
Can Maeve sense the Man in Black coming for her, and, if so, how? She’s “dreaming” of him/warriors coming to scalp her; is this part of a storyline that’s already happened or does the virus give her these “deeper level” visions?
Modern music on the player piano is much less jarring than in overt score; I hope they keep using it in this quiet, insidious way (no alarms and no surprises). You know Paranoid Android has to make an appearance sometime during the season. Karma Police wouldn’t be a bad addition, either. I can already hear Peter hissing, “This is what you get ….”