Westworld – ‘Chestnut’

The following Westworld review is part of an ongoing series of reviews for Culture Fly 


“Could you imagine what would happen if these things remembered what the guests did to them?”

That is the non-mystery Westworld is spinning. Everyone knows what will happen, humans-playing-god stories only end one way — chaos. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy understand the end point is obvious so they’ve so far crafted one hell of an experience to get us there. They also understand how to tell a story, so after the razzle-dazzle of ‘The Original’‘Chestnut’ slows things down to create a richer thematic tapestry.

Most of this thematic threading involves Thandie Newton’s Maeve. Maeve is a malfunctioning prostitute facing decommission because the guests won’t sleep with her. The storyline allows Nolan and Joy to make damning comments on the patriarchy and rape culture. Maeve is reduced to a literal sex object and her worth is determined by how many guests sleep with her.

Yet, in the standout sequence, Maeve’s nudity is never sexual. It is clinically presented like when you have to show the doctor something you wouldn’t show your mother. Her naked body amplifies the scene’s horror and ramps up how vulnerable these robots are. Newton, for her part, is a sass queen, showing why it’s criminal she doesn’t appear in more. She fits the overarching story, elevating the deliberately trite western scenes and bringing a delicacy to Maeve’s ordeal.

Westworld Thandie Newton
Sass-queen Thandie Newton delivers Westworld’s best performance so far…//©HBO //source: Culture Fly

Her storyline is the perfect example of Westworld’s mission statement: let’s explore how scummy society is. The human characters remain super shady and whilst a touching scene with Anthony Hopkins swings the pendulum a tiny bit, the human’s are still horrible. The ultimate of the human horror is the Man in Black (Ed Harris), who is continuing to slaughter his way across the park. However, humanity may be redeemable as the arrival of two new guests proves.

William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes) are the TV equivalent of Richard Benjamin and James Brolin’s original guests. Logan is an alpha-male arsehole and William is too moral to go all wild west. We know this because William won’t sleep with Clementine (Angela Sarafyan). By using this scene to frame William’s character the episode further explores society’s gender imbalance, and Simpson has calibrated the right amount of bumbling to make us question his actions. Is he a good guy or is he a bad guy pretending to be good? Let’s hope Nolan, Joy and Simpson deconstruct the nice-guy trope as he gets closer to Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood).

Westworld Ben Barnes Jimmi Simpson
Ben Barnes (left) and Jimmi Simpson (right) are the modern day surrogates for James Brolin and Richard Benjamin, apparently //©HBO //source: Culture Fly

Dolores, for her part, is pushed to the back burner this week. She has a superfluous scene with Bernard and she pays the “robot disease” forward, spreading memories to Maeve and kickstarting her entire storyline. As a show that makes smart choices, and the way Dolores spreads the “disease” is smart and efficient storytelling, the dumb decisions really stand out. Simon Quarterman’s performance is too cringeworthy and the story stalls when his oafish character is on screen.

Small quibbles aside, Westworld’s great exploration of patriarchal oppression puts it on surer footing than last week’s pseudo-intellectual babble. It puts all doubts aside and it’s a smart choice to have the women rule this show, and as they are remembering the horrors they’ve been subjected to, the audience has to brace for the revolution that is coming.

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