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Review: Westworld Episode Two, "Chestnut"

Ed Harris in Westworld. Photo from HBO. 

This week’s episode of HBO’s sprawling sci-fi Western focuses on the idea of memory and history for those involved in the creation of Westworld, while still advancing the tired plot of malfunctioning A.I. The episode focuses around different hosts who are experiencing memory, something that has been explicitly removed from their code previously.“Chestnut” introduces new characters William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes), who are business associates with opposite personalities, with yet-to-be-clear motivations for visiting the park. While Simpson, who has blown up since first appearing in Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Barnes are convincing in their parts, their characters are cookie cutter and simple. Logan is an obnoxious jerk whose bad intentions are not-so-cleverly conveyed by his black cowboy hat, while William’s virtuous traits are illustrated by his white one. Without any backstory or interesting moments for the two, it is hard to find a reason to be invested in their journey.

The Man in Black embarks on a quest to find a maze that may reveal some of the hidden truths of Westworld. It’s a traditional storyline, but one that is made intriguing by Ed Harris’ gritty portrayal. Seeing him shoot and stab his way through the park is cool to watch, but without the element of danger (park visitors cannot be hurt by the “hosts”), it is hard to see how the action serves as anything more than visually appealing. The fact that he has been visiting the park for 30 years and has yet to either find the maze or grow bored of having his way with the characters raises questions I’m not sure will be answered.

The legendary Anthony Hopkins, who plays Dr. Ford, the forward-thinking, mild-eccentric creative director of the park, serves as the show’s most philosophical and worldly character. He seeks to improve the experience of the park by offering visitors wholly new experiences, ones that promise a “glimpse of who they could be.” While the idea of a new, groundbreaking storyline in the world is intriguing, without interesting and engaging guests, the show will only be able to offer little more than a dumbed down Game of Thrones story without the beloved and fully realized characters.

While romance between characters on television often walks the line between forced and believable, the out-of-the-blue love scene between Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and the totally unlikeable Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is bizarre at best. Nothing leading up to the moment signalled any sort of love connection, so regardless of the plot implications, there is little reason to do anything but laugh at the moment.

As more details emerge about why the A.I. seems to be malfunctioning and becoming self-aware, the lore of the show has become more interesting than the present day. Questions about Maeve Millay’s (Thandie Newton) past encounter with The Man in Black are more gripping than played out themes of questioning reality. Once the show begins to shift focus from the sci-fi tropes that it currently engages in and into the history of the park, then there will be more of a reason to invest time and energy into the show’s beautiful world.

Grade: C+

Westworld is on Sundays this Fall at 9 pm (ET) on HBO, HBO GO and HBO NOW.

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