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Westworld: Chestnut

“How far you want to go is entirely up to you.”

It’s all about hats and scalps in the second installment of HBO’s heady new series.

“The Original” focused on the premise and the major players: techies in the lab, android hosts populating the theme park. “The Chestnut” reminds us of the other important ingredient—the guests—and hints at the role those guests might play in the hosts’ emerging memories.

New to Westworld, William doesn’t realize just how awe-inspiring it can be, no matter what his sleazy friend tells him. His entry provides us with more information about how the park works: as his guide explains, the town at the center of the park (Sweetwater) is a place of safety. The further out you go, the more exciting things can get.

But Sweetwater might have enough excitement for William, who was apparently expecting something roughly equivalent to the always-disappointing Disney Hall of Presidents. What he finds, instead, is an immersive world filled with hosts, including Dolores, whom he treats with the same respect he accords humans. It’s no surprise that he chose the white hat for his costume: a classic Western trope, the white hat traditionally symbolizes the hero.

The black hat, of course, symbolizes the Big Bad. In “Westworld,” that would appear to be the Man in Black, a guest who has free reign over the entire place—“That gentleman gets whatever he wants,” says the Hemsworth. But what does the Man in Black want? He wants to get to the “deeper level of the game.” But…how is this a game? How do you win? Is it possible to lose?

The spatial metaphor is interesting, too. “Deeper” implies going underground, which evokes the cold-storage facility. But in the topography of Westworld, out, not down, is the direction of new discovery. Clarity continues to elude us: the clue that Lawrence’s daughter gives the MiB is as fortune-cookie vague as the scalp he acquired in “The Original.”

In fact, the MiB seems to have an affection for scalping. In Maeve’s flashback, we see him paired with a tribe of what I’m tempted to call “host Injuns” (given their clich├ęd, dehumanized appearance and actions) who take scalps. Is that how he first discovered the maze thing, which the girl tells him isn’t for him? He said he was “born” in Westworld, which I assume means he came into his full self there, away from the “chaos” of reality. Does that make him the Minotaur?

King Minos Dr. Ford might know, because he obviously knows more than he’s telling us. He seems to have power over the hosts in a way the other techies don’t (or he’s a Parselmouth), and he’s a foil for the MiB. Both are older white men, both talk about the park being a place of self-discovery. Both dislike the cliched narratives of the park. Both lord their knowledge of others—Bernard, Lawrence—over those others.

But the MiB wants more play, more orderly violent delights. Dr. Ford wants, perhaps, to create more discovery: of the park’s limits, of the limits of sentience and self-awareness. His journey through the desert led Dr. Ford to an interesting structure that looks like a half-buried church. He went out and discovered (rediscovered?) something down, I guess.

I wonder how Dr. Ford’s plan fits in with the increased awareness he implanted in the hosts. Dolores is hearing a voice that tells her to “remember,” and she dug up a gun. Following her father’s lead, she also quoted Shakespeare to Maeve (Thandie Newton): “These violent delights have violent ends.” That seemed to jumpstart Maeve’s own memories of other lives she has lived and other trauma she has endured. If the words “deep and dreamless slumber” can put the androids to sleep, maybe Shakespeare can wake them up.

Should we want that for them? There is so much trauma here; this really is a park of violent delights. Maeve’s traumatized reaction to waking up mid-surgery would only be the beginning. How would Lawrence deal with the man who slaughtered his wife? How would Maeve feel about repeating the same boring come-on to innumerable johns?

And how would the hosts feel about the cavalier way their bodies are treated? They are hosed down just well enough to maintain cleanliness, but Maeve’s MRSA infection implies a deeper dirtiness. (It also qualifies as this week’s Most Obvious Symbolism.) All the hosts have are moments of routine pleasure, the atrocities the guests commit against them, and the banal disregard practiced by the techies. Their lives suck. Why would Dr. Ford want them to have awareness of their suckiness?


• If you ever question the nature of your reality, please know that you’re not alone. Elon Musk thinks we live in the Matrix.

• Speaking of questioning things: is there any chance the tech folks are androids? Dr. Ford tells Bernard that he “knows how that head of yours works.” How well does he know?

• That scene has an echo: the MiB telling Lawrence how well he knew him.

• One of this week’s “bullshit treasure hunt” “come-ons” included the opportunity to fight in the Civil War. Another was an actual treasure hunt.

• Bernard has secret chat with Dolores and secret sex with Theresa.

Three out of four bullets.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

1 comment:

  1. I know nothing of the book, or movie, that's come before this - but have a thought/question/theory.

    Could MiB be an android that's "beat the system" so to speak - figured out how to not be killed? I just find it odd that a human would even bother with "killing" so many hosts. To me it'd be more intimidating if he just walked through a hail of bullets and/or knifes unscathed.

    Other than that - I'm sort of waiting for things to start happening. Sure, I've only seen two episodes but still...

    By the way, the scene with Thandie Newton's character waking up on the table, and her little naked odyssee was really well shot. No unecessary exposure of her naked body. A staple of a good show is, to me, one that doesn't have to show full frontal the whole time.


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