Westworld Recap: 1×02 “Chestnut”

Previously on Westworld: A lot of things, but just to run down the cast of characters: Dolores and Teddy are androids living in a park that caters to rich visitors who fantasize about the Wild West; the Man in Black, or “Ed” as we’ll be calling him, totally scalped a dude to find out the deeper levels of the game; Bernard is a mild-mannered scientist who works on the androids under the direction of fierce corporate exec Theresa and the scientist who apparently started it all, Ford. Also, Dolores’s dad has just been seamlessly replaced by a new android after the last one started to question the nature of his reality, and Dolores just slapped a fly, which she’s not supposed to be able to do.

Dolores wakes up again. Only this time, it’s the middle of the night, and she walks outside in her nightgown instead of greeting Daddy on the porch in the morning. She has a voice in her head, asking if she remembers.

A blurry face comes onscreen, but it turns out not to be Dolores’s memories at all. Instead, the face belongs to a pale dude who we’ve never seen before, napping on a train. A young blonde woman takes his cup, and his friend helpfully informs him that “Where we’re going? She’s a 2.” Oh goody, a man who refers to women by the attractiveness rating he gives them, instead of by their names. Always a treat to come across one of those. “You’re being an asshole,” says pale dude. Misogynist dude tells him he’s being an uptight prick. God, I hate when my friends take umbrage at my blatant misogyny, what a freaking buzzkill amirite?

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So Goofus and Gallant get off the train onto a very smooth, shiny, and modern platform, a high contrast to Westworld. As Gallant hesitates, Goofus takes off with two women who were just waiting on the platform to serve the arriving customers. “What? It’s not like my sister didn’t ride her share of cowboys when she was here,” says the misogynist. I feel compelled to point out that while there is lip service being paid to the idea that all rich people are coming here to have their fantasies fulfilled, the only desire we’re actually seeing onscreen is men’s desire for women. And you could argue that’s because the show is critiquing this desire, but that doesn’t really explain why they were expending so much effort to perfectly frame and softly light Evan Rachel Wood’s bare butt in the last episode, does it? As we all learned from Mad Men, it’s easy to claim you’re critiquing a toxic pattern while actually reveling in it. (Well, I learned that from Mad Men. A lot of people just learned that they really really liked Jon Hamm.)

Moving on, a posh blonde woman with an updo and a British accent greets Gallant and leads him up a long escalator while asking him some about his preexisting medical conditions. (She even asks him about his social anxiety, and he makes a hilariously wry face and doesn’t answer.) “I thought that you couldn’t get hurt here,” he asks. “Only the right amount,” she says and grins. Then she explains that the middle of the park is simple and safe, and as you venture out further the experience gets more intense. When they get to his room, he is confronted by a closet full of bespoke Western costumes in exactly his size, and a bunch of guns to choose from (the guests can only kill the people they’re supposed to kill, apparently, which I think means that the guns themselves have some way of detecting when they’re being pointed at a human—but it’s not been explained yet). “You want to ask, so ask,” she says. “Are you real?” he says, giving in. But she only says that if he can’t tell, it doesn’t matter. Then there’s a whole business about him changing, and whether she should stay, and her offering him sex on demand, which is just gross and sad. I can’t decide what seems worse, being one of the hosts in the hotel, where you won’t die but you’re forced to offer your body up to whatever rich asshole shows up, or being Dolores, who at least gets to live her own life in between getting raped and murdered. (Of course, no one has it as shitty as Maeve and Clementine, who probably get killed a lot and have to be prostitutes to those pigs in the meantime.) Anyway, Gallant turns down her advances, but I’m not going to get too attached to him; he seems ripe for corruption, since he has terrible taste in friends. [Janes: Plus, there’s that whole fan theory that he and the Man in Black are actually the same person, so corruption might really be in his future.]

In the lab, Bernard finds Elsie mulling over what happened to Daddy last week. Apparently he made it all the way home before having a visible reaction to the mysterious photo, which is unusual. Bernard asks if she thinks he had an existential crisis, and she corrects him sharply: “I think there’s something fucked-up going on with his cognition.” She points out, too, that Bernard covered up for Ford’s mistake. She wants to investigate further, especially with Dolores. Bernard reminds her of the policy, that they’re going to let it lie, but she’s worried that it might be contagious. Bernard tells her that Dolores was cleared, and to leave the stories to the guests.

We cut immediately to Dolores, which means that she’s going to do something that proves Bernard’s complacency wrong, because this show is not above such pedestrian conventions. She’s walking through town on her usual morning mission, only to hear Daddy’s voice in her head, telling her, “Remember.” She stops, looks around. In her mind’s eye she sees the town, instead of bustling with people, full of corpses. A coyote even strolls by. In the midst of her reverie, Maeve comes up and meanly asks her to move from in front of the saloon so people won’t think she’s an example of the goods (aka, the female bodies) inside. “These violent delights have violent ends,” Dolores answers. Maeve stares at her, alarmed, and then Dolores gives her usual calm smile and leaves. Now Maeve is standing still and looking upset. See, it is contagious!

Gallant emerges from his room in his new brown cowboy outfit and gets to pick his cowboy hat from a rack on the wall at the urging of his host, who calls him “Cowboy,” so we still don’t actually know his name. He walks down a long hall towards a doorway, and then immediately finds himself emerging from the sleek black-and-white hotel into a dusty, warm-colored saloon. Goofus follows soon after, in full cowboy gear, zipping up his fly. Gross. (And did cowboys have zippers?) Gallant asks how they get into the park, only to realize that he’s on a train curving through the landscape. Goofus says that Gallant may think he knows what to expect—“Guns and tits and all that, the mindless shit that I usually enjoy”—but that he has no idea what it’s really like. “This place seduces everybody eventually.” They toast, although Gallant doesn’t look all that excited underneath his forced smile.

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Just outside of town, a man is on the gallows, blindfolded, and a sheriff is saying some final words, just the usual banal stuff about the flames below and the criminal’s diseased soul. Ed rides up and greets the doomed man as Lawrence, then asks the sheriff and his posse for a word with Lawrence. The sheriff threatens to kill him too, so Ed does what he does best: shoots a bunch of helpless androids, while Lawrence listens, looking a ltitle nervous. “Motherfucker,” he says when he gets to pull off his blindfold. Ed, who clearly has met Lawrence before, gives him Kissy’s regards and tosses Lawrence Kissy’s scalp wrapped in a handkerchief. The scalp has a weird pattern printed on the inside, a stick figure in the middle of a maze. Lawrence, understandably, finds this discomfiting. Ed says that that’s the deepest level of the game, the maze, and he’s going to help him find the entrance. Then he gets on his horse and drags Lawrence behind him by the rope around his neck. Just fall down and let him strangle you, Lawrence. You’re better off, I promise.

Maeve is pulling her moves on a rather geeky-looking customer in the saloon, telling him she used to be timid like him, repressed by an internal voice that kept her from being herself. But in her dreams she could be as bad as she wanted. When she grabs his hand he pulls it back, but she keeps trying, telling him that she ran away across the sea to get away from her voice, but the voice followed her and when she got off the ship it said—but she trails off, remembering a scene of being scalped herself. The customer, thoroughly creeped out, makes his escape, presumably to get to a hooker without so many unpredictable moments.

Next thing Maeve knows, she’s naked in the lab, being interrogated by a rather exasperated scientist type who wants her to tell him what the voice actually said. She obediently repeats that the voice told her it was a new world, and now she could do whatever the fuck she wanted. “I’d fuck her. What’s the problem?” asks the scientist. A female voice says the problem is the guests don’t want her, and if her numbers don’t come up, she’s going to be decommissioned. Maeve smiles blankly as the female voice advises him to bump her aggression up 10%.

Elsewhere in the lab, Bernard finds Ford and remarks with fake joviality that he never taught Bernard how hard it is to turn the beings off. “You can’t play God without being acquainted with the Devil,” says Ford. (If this were a movie, that line would so be in the trailer. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.) He asks what’s really on Bernie’s mind. Bernie says he thinks someone’s sabotaging them. Which Ford, like the creepy old dude he is, rephrases as someone “diddling” with their creations. Like, I think the diddling is mostly done by the customers. There follows some more not-worth-recapping pontificating about creating life out of chaos, as they watch a model of a human man being created out of the weird white paste that the lab uses.

The daily train arrives in Westworld, carrying Goofus and Gallant. They proceed off into the town square, and the first thing Gallant does is to apologize to someone he bumps into, which Goofus corrects by yelling “fuck you” at the guy. Next, Goofus compliments Clementine (the reverie-having prostitute from last week) on her breasts, but says he’s going to “make you beg for it, darlin’.” (You have to marvel at the exquisite arrogance of a man who wants to make a prostitute beg for sex.) Meanwhile, Gallant helps up an old man who’s fallen on the ground. (Seriously, doesn’t this sound like those old Highlights comics? “Gallant cleans his room before his mom asks. Goofus would rather be playing video games.” Only when Goofus grows up, his vices become a little less PG.) Goofus warns Gallant that the old man’s going to try to sell him on a bogus treasure hunt, but they should just go get a drink first. They go into the saloon, past Dolores, who’s patting her horse in seeming calm. But then she sees her own reflection in the mirror and looks perturbed.

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In the lab, Bernard’s voice tells her to bring herself back online. She smiles calmly at him and says yes, she remembers their last conversation. He asks if she told anyone about their talks. She says no, and he sends her into analysis mode. She obediently gives him the number of encounters she’s had. When she resumes “normal” mode, he asks her again not to mention their talks. She asks if she’s done something wrong. He says no, but that she’s changing, and others may not find it fascinating as he does. “Have you done something wrong?” she asks then. He realizes he can’t count on her loyalty even if he’s helping her, and asks her to erase this from her event log. Scary!

Back at the saloon, Maeve is trying out her voice story on a be-corsetted Elsie, who absolutely fucking loves being shoved up against a column by a suddenly very aggressive Maeve. She giggles excitedly as Maeve grabs her crotch, but then, recalling her professionalism, makes her escape. Yeah: I don’t think Maeve’s gonna be getting much action if she’s going to be shoving people up against columns and grabbing their crotches. That’s really the kind of behavior usually left to the gross guests. Maeve goes to the bar to get a drink and finds a sleepy Clementine, who’s been having nightmares. Maeve says she has a trick to wake herself back up from dreams, where she can then be “fucked back to sleep” by the guests and their “miniature peckers.” This reassures Clementine, but as soon as she leaves Maeve’s assailed by another flash of a memory. Teddy asks if she’s all right, but she just snaps at him.

“I think we have a problem,” says a voice in the lab while Maeve stares at her hand. They decide that since Maeve’s numbers are going down, they’re going to decommission her and put Clementine in her job—but leave Maeve on the floor for one more night in case someone wants one more shot at her. Lovely.

Bernard finds Cullen smoking, and he gives her a light while warning her that she could get in trouble, since the woman in charge is quite “formidable.” Get it? It’s her. “You could just say bitch, I hear it enough,” Cullen says, taking a drag. He guesses that she’s been talking to corporate, since she only lights up after that. She snaps that this bit isn’t cute, and tells him to be ready for launch. Then she asks about the investigation he’s been doing, and Bernard covers, saying it’s his job, but everyone is back to normal. After this scene it’s quite clear to anyone who’s seen any kind of TV ever that they’re going to turn out to either be exes or romantic interests. I feel like the show is trying to surprise us because, what, she’s a “bitch” and they’re over-forty and interracial, but they telegraphed it too heavily and they’re not exactly being as inventive as they think they are, because TV loves a “Surprise! The people in charge are hooking up!” reveal.

Meanwhile, Goofus and Gallant are at dinner. (I’m gonna stick with these nicknames because the show, with its usual blissful inattention to petty details like characters’ names, has yet to mention them.) Goofus is all excited to start shooting people to see if they’re hosts, and Gallant asks him to wait till after dinner. Goofus is annoyed, and even more so when the old man from earlier comes up to interrupt their dinner and offer them the “opportunity of a lifetime” to go on a treasure. Goofus tries to get him to leave, but when that doesn’t work he just heaves a big sigh and pins the guy’s hand to the table with a knife. The old man sobs and screams (it’s actually really upsetting), and Goofus says he’s worked up a new appetite. Jesus, Gallant wasn’t even done eating! What a jerk.

Shock of all shocks, Goofus’s new appetite involves three prostitutes in one bed with him. Meanwhile, Gallant is sitting fully clothed in a room with Clementine. She flirts gently with him, saying he’s funny, but he interrupts and tells her she doesn’t have to do this. She offers to find someone who’s his type, but he says, “You are perfect. But I have somebody. Somebody real waiting for me at home.” She says she understands, although she also plants a kiss on his lips, which I feel like maybe that “somebody real” would object to. Also, I want to know why Gallant bothered to go up in a room alone with this hooker. Maybe to stop Goofus from torturing him. Ah, peer pressure!

In the lab, Lee, the British exec from last week, is ranting at someone while sitting in front of a Native American host-in-progress. Apparently he asked for an aquiline nose, and he thinks this nose looks more like a penis. The tech asks if they could just shave it, but he wants to start over, and smashes a tray full of instruments on the host’s nose to emphasize his point. He’s pretty much the worst, you know, except for Goofus.

Cullen pulls him aside to ask about the 50 hosts he requested. Lee explains he needs a savage horde and 20 people is not a savage horde. When she asks if he has approval from Ford, he jokes that Ford should be sent to the knacker’s yard too. You know, because he’s old. Class act, that Lee.

Deep in the lab, Ford, sporting a black cowboy hat, climbs into an elevator that lets him off in the middle of a desert. He has some fun just stomping on the sand beneath his feet, but then he finds a little boy host who asks if he’s lost. He’s got a British accent, and complains that he’s on holiday and he’s bored. Ford takes to the boy, and invites him to accompany his walk.

Elsewhere in the desert, poor Lawrence is trying to keep up with the horse when Ed unceremoniously plops him down to give him water. “Where are we?” he asks nervously. Ed yanks off his blindfold and tells Lawrence it’s his home. It seems to be maybe a Mexican settlement, with a “Cantina.” Ed, while another host comes halfway out of the cantina and then changes his mind and goes back in, tells Lawrence he’s known him for a long time but never knew he had a family. Just then, a wife and daughter come up to hug Lawrence. Ed, clearly enjoying having Lawrence so thoroughly freaked, gives another cryptic speech about how the details in this land add up to something: the maze. “I don’t know anything about no fucking maze,” Lawrence says.

Ed is obviously happy enough to have the opportunity to ratchet up the cruelty of this little scenario. He gives the bullets from his gun into the hand of the little girl. Meanwhile, the host from the cantina comes back out with some nice whiskey. Ed announces in a bored manner that the host was clearly going inside to tell his cousins to bring some more men, not to get fancy whiskey. The host looks nervous, but Lawrence stubbornly insists he doesn’t know about the maze. So Ed blows away the host, as Ed tends to do. Meanwhile, Stubbs and another guy are watching this go down on a tablet in the lab. “This guest already took out an entire posse. Want me to slow him down?” one asks. But Stubbs just says that this guest gets anything he wants.

So Ed gets to keep on playing his sick game. A few reinforcements have arrived, but he dispatches them all with relative ease, except for Lawrence and his family, who are cowering at the table. He pleads again that he doesn’t know how to find the maze. Ed pulls Lawrence’s wife into a little dance, complimenting how well she moves. She sobs in fear, and he shoots her in the head. “When you’re suffering, that’s when you’re most real,” he tells Lawrence. I feel like I’m going to get tired of these platitudes about reality. Luckily, we switch into something a little more interesting when Lawrence’s daughter stares creepily at him and says, “The maze isn’t meant for you.” Turns out he’s unlocked the next level! The girl gives Ed directions to the maze. He gives her the bullets from his gun again, and tells Lawrence, “This time, I’m never going back.” Lawrence, once again noosed to Ed’s horse, looks back once at his daughter, who’s watching them leave.

Ford and his new friend have reached his destination. The little boy calls it “Nowhere land,” but Ford says that the place is very full. It’s the place with the white church. They both say they can hear the bell, which I think is made up. Then a rattlesnake hisses nearby, but he shushes it, and it freezes. Fun! A robot snake. He tells the boy that everything in this world is magic. But he sends the boy home and tells him that he’s not going to come back here. Sadly, the boy says no, and runs along. Jeez, now this kid’s gonna have major daddy issues.

Back at the hotel, Bernard stands on one of a long spiral of elevators and then lets himself into a plush apartment with two empty, expensive-looking glasses of wine. A knock sounds. SURPRISE! IT’S CULLEN! AND THEY’RE GONNA MAKE OUT! Except of course none of us are surprised. Afterward, she’s about to leave (I guess over-forty women get to keep their bras on, even on HBO) when he asks her to stay, and talk. She says they never talk, just like he never talks, and marvels that his creations are so talkative. He says that they are practicing being human. “Is that what you’re doing now? Practicing?” she asks. He smiles, then frowns. I’m not clear on if he’s an android and he knows it but she doesn’t, if they both know it, or perhaps if neither of them know it. Or if it was just a throwaway line about how geeks are robotic.

Elsie is examining a naked Maeve in the lab, complaining about the aggression from the idiots in Narrative. (There’s a pretty amusing workplace-satire thread running through this, with scheming middle managers and people in each department getting mad at other departments, like this is just some regular paper sales workplace.) Elsie concludes that Maeve doesn’t need aggression, she just needs to figure out her targets faster. She bumps up Maeve’s empathy. Then her assistant, or whoever is standing on the side with a clipboard, asks if it’s true that they dream. Elsie says that would be dumb, since their dreams would be terrible after what the humans do to them, but that they do have the concept of dreams in case they have flashes of memory from the lab. Then she notices some physical discomfort on Maeve’s part and orders Maeve to be scheduled for a physical at some point. She tells Maeve to wake up in three… two… one.

Maeve’s back in the saloon, giving her spiel about her voice, tenderly holding a man’s hand and joining it with Clementine’s. She sends them upstairs, then gets herself a drink. I doubt that was what the lab drones meant by getting her numbers up, but OK. Teddy is at the bar too, and they banter a little about her history as a prostitute and the seven deadly sins. She reproaches him that her sin isn’t as bad as his, since when the girls finish with a man he’s usually still alive. Cue the easy irony: a clatter from the back, indicating a fight. The two toast to their sins, only to be interrupted by a bullet. Teddy falls to the ground and dies ignominiously. “Now that’s a fucking vacation!” yells the killer, exuberantly. He’s just a random guest. Wow. Great reminder that these poor characters can have their storylines interrupted at anytime by someone else’s momentary whim.

Back in her room, alone, Maeve hangs up her dress and is overcome by more memories—this time of walking in a field, holding hands with a little girl. She lies down, holding her stomach. The flashback continues, only to suddenly turn into a scalping. But before the job is completed, a man shoots the Native American who’s holding her, only to be shot himself. Another of the Native Americans takes a look at Maeve, so she takes her little girl, runs into the house, gets the gun down from the mantel, and prepares for one last stand. But of course, the person who opens the door isn’t one of the Native Americans. It’s Ed. She shoots, but can’t kill him. And he advances, tossing a knife and grinning. Maeve closes her eyes and counts backward to wake herself from her dream—

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And wakes up, not in her bed, but in the middle of the lab. There are surgeon types wrist-deep in her torso. They found MRSA in her abdomen, and blame the “fucking animals not cleaning up.” They trade insults about each other’s cleanliness, and then notice that she’s awake. She finds the incision and gets up in alarm, slipping on her own blood. “Asshole, you forgot to put it in sleep mode,” says one of the techs (notice the “it”). She takes up a scalpel. Only one of them can even remember her name, so when they try to talk her down she doesn’t seem moved. She tells them to keep their hands off her, then backs out the door and runs down the hall, gasping in pain. It’s dark, and completely foreign to her, but she keeps running despite her obvious fear and confusion and pain. Then she comes to a place where other hosts are being worked on, both on surgical tables and in some sort of clean room where their naked bodies are being sprayed down. She sinks to her knees, horrified, and the surgeons come back to sedate her, still arguing about who did or didn’t put her in sleep mode. All they want is to not get in trouble, so they drag her away before anyone can see her. The last thing we see is a shot of the dead Teddy in the rinsing tank.

Meanwhile, Dolores gets out of bed, not in the morning as usual but in the middle of the night, and walks out into her yard. “Here?” she says, to whom we don’t know. Then she kneels down and starts digging in the dirt, and uncovers a gun.

Back in the lab, Lee is bragging about his new turbocharged storyline: “I have vivisection, self-cannibalism, a special little something I call the ‘whoroborus.’” Oh, God. He’s the actual worst. Cullen and Bernard observe from the stairs as he blathers on about how this is going to help people get to know themselves. The storyline is called “Odyssey on Red River.” Ford, who’s on the main floor, nods with a smile and then says, “No.” Lee’s shocked. Bernard and Cullen share a sympathetic eyeroll. “It’s not about giving the guests what you think they want,” Ford lectures. He says the titillation is just a parlor trick, and that guests want subtleties and details.

Under his voiceover, we can see Goofus and Gallant saddling up for another day in the park, and Gallant sees Dolores’s can roll in the dust and gives it to her. (We finally get his name, which is the rather undignified “Billy,” when Goofus peremptorily calls him away from his little romantic moment.) Lee pleads whether there’s anything Ford likes. But he just asks for a pair of boots off one of the hosts.

Next thing you know, he’s leading Bernard through the desert in Westworld. Bernard is worried about the board, but Ford says he has something he’s been working on, “something quite original.” They stop and look up: at the steeple of a church. End of episode.

All in all, I’m still really liking the show. But I would like them to dial it back about 100% with the purposely deep-sounding pontificating, especially from Ford. And I think that Dolores is a much more promising character, who didn’t get enough to do in this episode; focusing on Maeve, especially with the fact that her personality itself was so malleable, made everything feel a little bit less anchored. And as I mentioned, they are focusing heavily on the toxic desires of men in particular, without giving human women really any chance to get in the hot seat. Women, too, can be ambitious, ruthless, and willing to objectify others to get what they want; it’s not something men have a monopoly on, and looking at how power can corrupt in other ways than “rapes androids at will” would be a really interesting choice.

But it’s only been two episodes, so I’m looking forward to seeing where else this goes!

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One Comment

  1. […] Previously on Westworld: Goofus and Gallant showed up to the park to make mischief; Bernard told Dolores she’d changed; Dolores dug up a gun; some dude murdered a bunch of people with milk and it was totally freaky; Daddy: Original Flavor got retired, and Elsie worried that it was contagious; Bernard thought it might be sabotage; Maeve woke up during surgery and saw a dead Teddy in a giant tank full of temporarily dead androids. […]

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