Westworld “Chestnut” Review: They Don’t Speak for Us

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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.

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knifeMaeve 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).riderapproach

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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.

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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.

Deep thoughts:

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.

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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 ….”

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over seven years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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  • this has become our new “house show” where everyone one in the house watches it together. WE HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS THO! Will watching the original help me with my questions? Why is Ed Harris allowed to do whatever he wants? And other spoiler filled questions!

    • I don’t think your questions will be answered through the movie, but I still think it’s worth watching. From the information we have, the MIB is an extremely wealthy guest who’s paid so much, he can stay and play as long as he likes. That said, we have very little verifiable information thus far; he could be so many things.

      • This is the first show in a long time that I feel like I need to write things down so i can ask someone else better at clue searching later.

        Side note the house now refers to the head of security as “the least Hemsworth” so i might have forgot what his character name actually was

        • HasenKlub

          As I watched this, I was thinking that even the Least Hemsworth is pretty damn handsome. It really just isn’t fair.

    • JenVegas

      I feel like Ed Harris is a host who went bad during whatever event it was that happened 30 years ago and has eluded the folks who run the place ever since. Like if/when they recalled all of the hosts they missed one and he is the progenitor of this computer virus which has allowed him to exist under the radar traveling the desert on his horse & now he is finally trying to exact revenge by spurring on the robot uprising to take down the scientists and the God Figure that is Dr Ford.

      • That would be a fun theory, but Luke Hemsworth’s character — Ashley, head of security — knows about him, and told the other employee that MIB could do whatever he likes.

        I will keep harboring the idea that MIB really is a Host, though.

        • There is also a theory that the MIB is the “thief you hire to test your security” archetype. He’s running roughshod through the park testing the hosts and storylines.

          • Blerg! That one is just boring.

          • I don’t make up the crackpot fan theories, I just spread them on internet comment boards.

          • Like a … virus?

          • More like jelly.

          • GUYS NO ONE TALK TO @Craig Wack:disqus you’ll have to be shut down~

      • Also, Craig mentioned to me that there’s a theory about who MIB is; it’s another fun idea, but the way the characters are being presented in the same timeline, doesn’t make sense.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I think the kid was a host-version of Ford himself.

    I’m also thinking that these dreams Maeve had were some kind of genetic memory from a real person, whether seen through the lens of Westworld or from DNA of an actual person who died in the West. We already know that everything a guest leaves in Westworld becomes property of the company; they probably use the DNA to create new hosts.

  • I’m leaning toward Bernard being a host/replicant. I know replicant is from “Blade Runner” but robot seems insufficient and if they are outside the realm of the customers “Host” doesn’t seem correct either. So I’m going with Replicant. His mannerisms and way he reacts to things reminds me a lot of Ash and Bishop in Alien/s. After this episode, and reading through the Delos contract on the website, I’m really interested in knowing what the world/country looks like outside of the park that the existence of Westworld (and other parks run by Delos) is allowed. Whether real or not the Hosts experience pain and trauma and suffering. How broken did our ethics become that reveling in that cruelty is considered family entertainment?

    I also loved the very meta comment Ford makes about the titillation of violence in the new “story” and some twists and turns and giving the audience what they think they want. I think that was the showrunners telling us that Westworld is not the next Game of Thrones or Walking Dead. The story they are telling is not going to be what we are expecting. So far they have been right and I’m really excited to see where it is going. I haven’t been this 100% on board with a show from the start since Thrones.

    • I used replicant (in notes), too! Yeah, they’re leaning more toward biological than robotic, and Host certainly isn’t enough of a descriptor, though I can see why the Westworld employees would call them such.

      If Lowe is indeed not human — and another thought I’ve been mulling, is that one by one, the Hosts are replacing their creators; eventually there’ll be no humans left — would we still suspect him of creating the virus? Perpetuating, certainly…