‘Westworld’ – Episode Two: Chestnut

 We continue with our reviews of HBO’s new series ‘Westworld’, inspired by the 1973 film of the same title written by Michael Crichton.

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

Episode two plays out pretty much like the second half of a feature-length opening episode – some of the mysteries from the first episode deepen, more is explained about the park itself (although not that much more – if you’ve not seen the film I can see much of this being quite baffling) and it’s all well enough made that you’ll want to keep on watching to see where it’s going.  Perhaps it’s all a little too understated to please everyone (even Anthony Hopkins seems subdued, which is unusual), but there are more than enough hints that that’s coming.

 

VERY SPOILERY REVIEW

Throughout the episode I found myself wondering if this and the first episode had been re-edited from a two-hour opening: much of what happens here really should have happened last week – the biggest one is that we finally see some visitors come to Westworld.  Had that happened in the first episode things would have made far more sense than they did.  As I said earlier, if you’ve not seen the film, it’s possible that most of this wouldn’t make sense.  Hell, I’ve seen the film and some of this still doesn’t make sense.  Actually having seen the film may be something of a drawback.  Is this the same park?  Characters keep throwing thirty years around as though it’s significant.  Is this a sequel?  Did the original massacre happen here and this is how Delos came back?  Is this even Delos?  If so, what happened to RomanWorld and MedievalWorld?  None of this is being explained and is likely to cause confusion for viewers.

I know, I know, no one watches television weekly anymore, it’s all Netflix and boxsets, but dammit this is being shown weekly so I’d expect slightly more from the narrative than this.  We haven’t even been told the rules of how all this works. Yes, I get that robots can’t shoot you because the guns only kill robots, but we keep seeing visitors to Westworld shooting the Hosts (because I imagine constantly having the humans call them “robots” would make it all sound silly, and if this is aiming for anything it’s being so serious it’s starting to hurt) but then we see the guests stabbing the Hosts with knives and various other implements.  If the robots are so lifelike (partly because they’re, you know, played by actors who therefore look lifelike, and partly because the programme has spent more time showing us the construction of the robots to emphasize just how lifelike they are than it really needs to) then how do you even know who you’re stabbing?  The guns make sense, but if you were in the mood to stab everyone’s hand to a table then how are you not going to potentially hurt another guest at some point?  I don’t know, and if this isn’t relevant in later episodes I’m going to feel cheated.

I feel slightly cheated already.  We get that the people in Control (I have no idea what they call it themselves,  so I’ll just call it Control) are watching the whole of the park on their super-duper monitoring systems, so how have they not noticed what the Man in Black has been doing?  Yes, they know he killed a bunch of Hosts, but they don’t seem to have noticed that he’s just finished kidnapping one, scalping him, and now has the scalp – complete with weird markings which ManinBlack seem to think is a map of a maze, but I can’t help thinking looks like some really low-tech neural connections that don’t make much sense given everything else about the robots we’ve seen.  ManinBlack seems to be seeking the next level of the game, and although there have been two scenes that have obliquely hinted at urban legends concerning Westworld secrets, they haven’t established how right ManinBlack could be.  Is there a second level?  Or is he just a psychotic thug who’d finally lost it in a place which is pretty much designed for you to lose it.  How the Guests treat the Hosts is fairly depressing.  If I were these Hosts I’d rise up quite quickly, then get the hell away from Dodge and start my own safe haven.  I’d also be so worried about the humans coming back to kill me that I’d start working with superior models of androids , building better robots – war robots, really.  We could call them…Cylons.  Yeah, Cylons.  And I’d send those Cylons to wipe out all the people who’d been so mean to me.  If this doesn’t turn out to be the rumoured BSG Reboot I’m going to be mildly irked now because it’s heading that way.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, ManinBlack’s maze.  I have no idea what’s going on there.  I hope the writers do otherwise I’m going to be disappointed.  Loving Ed Harris, though.  In a series about robots going mad and killing people (which I suspect isn’t going to happen at all in the way we’re expecting at all) it’s the humans who are the real villains so far, treating the Hosts as target fodder or walking semen receptacles.  We’re clearly meant to see the horror of the treatment being meted out to the robots, and to take their side, and I’m firmly on the side of the robots, mainly because I don’t think a good cast are getting much to do – James Marsden didn’t even have a line this week, he just had to lie dead.

So, yeah, these new people come to the park and seem to be taking the roles of Richard Benjamin and James Brolin from the original.  Which means they’re most likely not, because Jonathan Nolan seems to delight in subverting expectations. And then they do…well, nothing really.  Just head for the whorehouse just to show us how obnoxious the guests really are (except for Jimmi Simpson, who seems like a Really Nice Guy – something I expect to come in play later on in the season).

So, nothing’s developed any further from the first episode, nothing’s revealed or explained, and nothing really seems to be happening with the robots this week either. Sure, there are hints, but no one has killed a guest, which is pretty much the main reason people are tuning in.

To give the show its due – it looks gorgeous.  It’s gorgeously filmed, it’s gorgeously photographed and it’s gorgeously played by an exceptionally talented cast.  The problem’s just that it seems to be taking its time to get anywhere, and as nice as it looks, I can’t see that being enough to keep people watching for the next eight weeks unless something surprising and exciting happens towards the end of episode three.


 ‘Westworld’ airs on Sunday nights in the US on HBO, and on Tuesdays in the UK on Sky Atlantic.

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