A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
A chestnut is a symbol of prevention and foresight, of fertility, provision, justice, and invigoration. Sweet chestnuts are diminutive in stature but bursting with nutrition, making them a long traveler’s delight as they plan an arduous journey. Chestnuts often arrive in an abundance, thus earning them the symbol of fertility. The Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth century abbess and Christian mystic, noted that chestnuts prolonged an existence when imbued within natural remedies. A chestnut tree, as used effectively by George Orwell in the ever prescient 1984, is a symbol of justice and honesty but as the twisted tree symbolizing Oceania, that meaning has become twisted and corrupt. In Celtic mythology and traditions, druids were noted to construct handles and staffs from the branches of the chestnut tree. There was a belief attached to that practice, a belief that those specific branches drew out longevity and invigoration from the tree itself. The second installment of Westworld is aptly named for the nut and each of those symbolic interpretations, whether entirely intended or not. The themes of prevention and oversight loom over every single interaction between the characters, whether hosts, newcomers, the show runners, or a combination of the above. At any given moment, it seems that something or the other was going to erupt into complete chaos because there were so many little moments where it seemed that the seemingly concise construction of Westworld was going to crack before it crumbles apart (all of the defect androids being held in the cold basement seems to be the greatest alarm bell so far). There are arduous journeys being planned from several directions, but as the hosts keep on discovering without really entirely realizing it yet, they may not know that they even have chestnuts on their being. But as the slapping of the fly by Dolores at the end of the pilot demonstrates, they may have realized that they have chestnuts with them after all, even if their significance just yet eludes them in its completion.
“Chestnut” is a thundering episode, keeping the feet of the series on the race pedals without going off the tracks. Westworld is, if nothing else, an extremely well-plotted series so far and “Chestnut” knowingly delivers a momentous episode without going too far into the plot of the series so as to feel rushed. The primary reason for that construction’s success is the episode’s pivoting towards two specific segments of the story that arrive at the seemingly perfect moment. Thandie Newton shone brightly in the pilot as the brothel madam Maeve, but this episode belongs to her hands down. At the end of the pilot, it seems natural that the series would use Dolores’s awakening as the primary pathway to analyze the awakening of the androids’s consciousness and their past memories. Instead “Chestnut” decides to provide that opportunity first to Maeve and that decision works on several levels. For one, it would be exceedingly difficult to run this series for longer than one or maximum two seasons if Dolores was the primary avenue for the awakening and one presumes revolt. For another, it makes a sharp case for how this series could run the seeming gamut of five to six seasons. Each android could have been fashioned with a similar storyline and memories for the sake of easy storytelling, but Westworld decided to make at least a few of the androids’s journeys sharply distinct from one another. It gives the show great material with the permission to advance the overall narrative at a lenient pace without making the audience feel that they were stuck on that same pace. The second choice that works well with this episode is the decision to show the audience a bit of the perspective of the newcomers and crucially giving the audience a newcomer that they don’t want immediately dead. One of the more glaring questions after the pilot was how people got to Westworld in the first place and the show gives enough time for at least part of that answer to breathe so it can unspool anything else remaining at leisure (or maybe next episode, who knows).
The episode opens on two men sitting in a glamorous cabin in a high-speed rail that might arrive in America in the year 2300. Inspired by the original duo of James Brolin and Richard Benjamin in the 1973 film respectively, Ben Barnes’s Logan (The Chronicles of Narnia) and Jimmi Simpson’s William (House of Cards) arrive at a polished platform, welcomed by their respective greeters. Logan immediately wraps his hands around his two greeters and proceeds towards what one assumes is a lengthy disrobing session. William resists the temptation, noting that he had someone back at home. He arrives at a fairly unsubtle choice that nevertheless feels like a cheeky homage to video game entrances. William sees a row of black hats and white ones and naturally he picks the white one, even though he smiles at the black hats sitting there on the wall. The entrance to Westworld is opened and William steps inside, looking about with a keen curiosity, albeit absent of Logan’s knowing bravado. Logan in many ways represents the archetypal visitor Westworld is aiming for: a visitor who looks at the park as being full of folks who can indulge his every desire but leave behind no consequences. Bernard seems to be aware of certain consequences, however, as does Theresa. Their coupling comes out of the blue, but Theresa maintains that she has to be harsh and uncompromising in her position and that includes her putdowns of Bernard when he fucks up. She has a compartmentalized view of her life, in part because as a woman the last thing she needs undermining her authoritative position is a romantic fling. She’s good at her job and she’s not going to lose it, no matter how many of her underlings and supervisors refer to her as a bitch. To the show’s credit, it doesn’t verbalize all of that reality but it’s evident enough. With Bernard, “Chestnut” revels in the reveal that he’s been having secret conversations with Dolores. He has her wipe her log after every conversation, but it opens up a unique avenue while simultaneously making his loyalties that much more complex. Dr. Ford has seemingly crafted an android child in his own fashion, which seems like the epitome of hubris, but perhaps he wants to see if that child can go through the mistakes that drove human evolution and evolve himself. If that’s how Dr. Ford sees his creations (which is still up in the air), how does Bernard see the androids? That would provide more of a window into why these private conversations between him and the oldest host in the park were occurring in the first place.
Elsie hypothesizes that perhaps what drove Peter Abernathy towards his delicious confrontation with Dr. Ford was not an aberration but a virus of some sort. Dolores’s search for the gun was an indicator that that may be the case, but her repetition of “These violent delights have violent ends” to Maeve may very well seal the deal in that regard. Maeve begins to glitch and her declining performance causes her programmers to do what one would expect: they dial up Maeve’s sex drive to an eleven, which has equally disinterested effects. Elsie, who perhaps has a greater and more empathetic grasp on the androids than anyone else, is visibly annoyed by this and adds more a complex emotional programming and it works. But Maeve is rattled by Dolores’s words and the remembrances that are creeping in her mind creep in Maeve’s, but her memories are notably distinct and immensely tragic. It is quite difficult to underscore the supreme tragedy of the androids, of how they’re used as disposable objects over and over again. As despicable as the Gunslinger is, he has a point when he notes the cruelty of Dolores and Teddy’s doomed romance. Maeve in one particular storyline had a daughter with whom she had what looks like a close, loving relationship. An attack happens one day and Maeve is almost scalped (the trouble of the Native American attackers is never specified, but it would also fit that in the show’s universe, white corporate officials wouldn’t bother with that level of cultural awareness) but she locks herself with her daughter, prepped with the gun that would never shoot the Gunslinger, who comes in and stabs her through the gut. That memory awakens her, complete with the wound in question. Maeve is terrified as awakes in the chrome operating table, threatening to stab the two blithering doctors. She escapes the room, brandishing the knife as she takes in more and more of her surrounding. Newton is astounding in this sequence, displaying the deep level of hurt and betrayal that she feels at least seeing all of the disposed androids laying in wait to be washed and cleansed before their redeployment into Westworld. Weakened, she collapses and is taken away, but not before the camera makes note to have her horrified, knowing perspective settle on a bloodied Teddy lying against a windowpane, waiting without consciousness for his own cleansing to arrive.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+So Logan is bisexual? Or does he even see it that way as he clearly doesn’t see the androids as being real? I approve of the more diverse sexual representation either way.
+A similar question is raised as Logan notes that his wife (and William’s sister) had plenty of sexual escapades in Westworld. Is it really infidelity?
+The health questionnaire
+“Do you often experience social anxiety?”
+“Figuring out how it works is half the fun. All you do is make choices.” Is that a winner for the meta commentary category?
+“Are you real?”
“Well, if you can’t tell, does it matter?”
+Dolores and the gun
+What are the recurring versions of the street with all the dead people Dolores keeps seeing?
+“You used to be a little more eloquent.”
+“Help me find the entrance.” To what?
+“In my dreams… I was free.” That is so perpetually tragic.
+“He would have us burned at the stake.”
+“You can just say bitch. I’m hearing it a lot.” Theresa can’t help but keep it real.
+The orgy sequence was hot, just saying
+“Are you lost?”
“No. Just strayed a bit too far from where I should be.”
+“That gentleman gets whatever he wants.” That seems like a bad idea.
+“You see the cracks, after all.”
+“Everything in this world is magic, except for the magician.”
+“Do we make them dream?”
+“The only thing wrong with the seven deadly sins are that there aren’t more of them.”
+William falls in love with Dolores?
+Dr. Ford shutting down Sizemore’s new storyline
+The cross symbolism. I’m going to assume that this means that Dr. Ford is trying to go beyond the park and create his own species capable of evolution, putting him in the metaphorical position of God.
Episode Title: Chestnut
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
Directed by: Richard J. Lewis
Symbolism Source: Symbolic Meanings, ENotes
Image Courtesy: Highlight Hollywood