Westworld is a technologically advanced, Western-themed amusement park populated completely by synthetic androids dubbed “Hosts”, who cater to high-paying visitors dubbed “Newcomers”, who can do what they wish within the park without fear of retaliation from the Hosts. Free to explore every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, there hasn’t been an incident between host and newcomer in over 30 years.
“These violent delights have violent ends“
“No orientation. No guidebook. Figuring things out is half the fun. All you do is make choices” – Host Angela to William.
After last week’s frankly astounding opener, episode 2 of Westworld feels more like a real pilot, as guests are shown arriving at the resort, getting kitted out and entering the park for the first time. Our guides are the quiet and somewhat meek William and his friend/boss/co-worker (we’re not sure exactly which yet), the loathsome Logan (Ben Barnes), a seasoned visitor who knows exactly why he’s there. “I know that you think you have a handle on what this is gonna be, guns and tits and all that mindless shit that I usually enjoy. You have no idea”, he boasts. We’ll put good money on him being one of the first to meet a nasty end once the (expected) robot uprising starts. And whilst we’re making predictions, how much would Donald Trump like to visit Westworld you think? He could grab as much of what he liked with abandon here.
The real meat to “Chestnut” however is Maeve, the brothel madam with a sharp line in sarcasm. Thandie Newton is simply superb as the host with the most (prostitutes) and, in a blink and you’ll miss it exchange with Dolores, has the fateful Shakespeare ‘Romeo and Juliet’ quote uttered to her. “These violent delights have violent ends” may become the show’s mantra – it’s certainly an eerily foreboding look into how things are going to play out – and it seems to make Maeve undergo a change, with memories of previous, extremely violent storylines she has played a part of beginning to resurface. Considered to be merely malfunctioning, she’s briefly put in storage before being revived, rebooted and reprogrammed by the irrepressible Elsie (Shannon Woodward) who casually remarks, “Dreams are mainly memories. Can you imagine how fucked we’d be if these poor assholes ever remembered what the guests do to them?”. Indeed. Maeve’s memories are of her being a homesteader who met a violent end at the hands of the Man in Black (Ed Harris). And in scenes where she wakes on an operating table after the attack and wanders the high-tech halls of Delos, experiencing the utter horror of what she sees being done to other hosts, she now has some other, even more f***ed up memories to draw on in future.
Ah yes, the Man in Black. Clearly a man on a singular mission – to find the maze that is so handily tattooed on the inside of Kissy’s scalp – Ed Harris’ immoral character is weary of the main park, yet still clearly enjoys all the killing as he delves into it’s depths on his quest. Killing virtually a whole village of Mexicans (you can insert your own Trump joke here), his remarks that only when the hosts really suffer do they become their most real is borne out by a young girl who, clearly accessing some deep programming, gives him what he wants; “The maze isn’t meant for you. Follow the blood arroyo to the place where the snake lays its eggs.” Well, who says robots can’t be cryptic?
Scenes inside the park’s operational centre thrill almost as much as the western ‘game’ being played by guests. As well as the nightmare sights of host cadavers being thrown about that Maeve witnesses, we see the development and presentation by the oily and utterly unlikeable Lee Sizemore of a new storyline get quashed in quiet and sombre style by the Godlike Dr. Robert Ford. People visit Westworld to find out who they are, and Sizemore has only shown what he’s like with this crass and violent storyline. Ford has other plans, very subtle plans, that he’s been planning for a long time now. And it will possibly involve religion. And what problems has religion ever caused?
- On no, they killed Teddy! It can’t be mere coincidence that the host who gets offed each episode has a very similar name to South Park’s most unfortunate resident.
- The video game analogies are hidden in plain sight – Maeve repeating the same storyline in different settings with different players; the Man in Black in ‘invincible’ mode; the secret level of ‘The Maze’, available only to the most experienced of players; the new storylines, which are basically the equivalent of add-on packs of downloadable content.
- Dolores: Have I done something wrong? Bernard: No, but there’s something different about you, about the way you think. I find it fascinating, but others might not see it that way. Dolores: Have you done something wrong? This exchange needs to be remembered. Just what has Bernard done that we and no one else knows about?
- Bernard and Theresa as lovers? Really?
- Prediction: Bernard is, in fact, a host designed and built by Ford. You heard it here first.
- Lee and William are basically John and Peter (James Brolin and Richard Benjamin) lifted direct from the 1973 film.
- Host Angela’s statement of “No orientation. No guidebook. Figuring things out is half the fun” can also be seen as the writers’ advice to the viewer.
- Whilst we watch Lee and other guests play out their most violent and sexually depraved fantasies for kicks, and likely inwardly condemn them for it, we’re also watching violence and sexual depravity for entertainment. It’s hard not to have a feeling of unease – or a glimpse into our entertainment future – at this.
Episode 3, “The Stray”, sees Elsie and Stubbs head into the hills in pursuit of a missing host; Teddy gets a new backstory, setting him off in pursuit of a new villain; Bernard investigates the origins of madness and hallucinations within the hosts. Follow it all here at XO.TV.