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Westworld - Chestnut - Review: “Consistently strong, occasionally stunning” + POLL



Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of cable dramas are that they're too slow; nothing really happens for long stretches of time. Scenes are extended several minutes where things build gradually. Sometimes, that's true, and shows can bathe in their own self-obsession, attempting to make art by observing other shows doing wonderful things but failing to capture the essence. When that happens, it's noticeable.

Conversely, it's noticeable when a show does a scene like that and it works. When a particular scene or sequence can push a viewer - me, at least - to the edge of their seat, to the point of having to actively remember to breathe. I can think of a few in the past year or so (Game of Thrones, The Americans, The Leftovers, Fargo are among those to have done them relatively recently).

We can now add Westworld to that list.

The scene, near the end of the second hour, where Maeve wakes up from her nightmare in the Westworld facility was stunning. There’s no better way to describe it. The tension is palpable; the adverse consequences of Maeve’s awakening and stumbling walk around the facility immeasurable. It’s tough to know how many of its cards Westworld wants to play so early, meaning that scene could go absolutely anywhere. The uncertainty is both fascinating and terrifying, as though “Chestnut” aims to insert a nagging feeling into the back of the viewer’s mind that everything could implode at any second, that Westworld's very nature is a ticking time bomb. Her knowledge - albeit confused and disoriented knowledge - of the existence of such a place is akin to Peter’s photo discovery last week, yet this is far more damaging. That question asked to Dolores last week - “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” - is becoming hauntingly more of a factor at an alarming speed. And while that will be a terrible, terrible moment for Ford and his team, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t amount to sublime television.

Even looking on a shallower level than that, the scene is intense. Director Richard J. Lewis’ decision to show us considerable parts of the sequence from Maeve’s viewpoint, discovering the horrifying aspects of her non-life as she sees it all, was smart and made it feel all the more unsettling. But it was Thandie Newton’s excellent performance that really sold the scene. Newton captured the essence of human fear in a character that is quite literally not one (*), her dismay all too visceral and upsetting. Her breakdown inside the repair wing of the facility as she realises what’s happening is similar to the discovery of a dead loved one as it’s portrayed on television, a gut punch like no other. The weight Newton gives every shot is impressive, and that gut punch is felt while watching it as a result.

(*) Perhaps Sizemore’s suggestion last week that the hosts are becoming too real is true. While the hosts’ reactions within the park don’t appear to always be scripted - Dolores’ panic last week at her father’s seizure exemplifies this - that a host can experience emotion of their own free will as Maeve did suggests how human they really are.

Westworld isn't fully in its stride yet, but with scenes like that? It'll be there pretty soon.

And “Chestnut”, for all its generally strong work culminating in an episode that is probably better than the premiere, is full of glorious scenes beyond Maeve’s walk.

Anthony Hopkins, given considerably more material than in the premiere, made acting look as easy as it comes. In particular, his assessment of Sizemore’s latest storyline, "Odyssey On Red River", is both a brilliant exploration of Ford’s ability to analyse but also a crucial and stark indication of the park’s goals. The accompanying contrast of Logan and William - the former’s interest is in shotguns, stabbing people through the hand and orgies; the latter’s is into selflessness, helping those he sees in need - is illuminating, showing two types of park visitor: One who loves the insanity of Sizemore’s stories, one who prefers Ford’s subtleties. Westworld may be about the hosts at its core, but there’s a human element that is interlinked and inseparable. The show’s commitment to providing in-depth looks at humanity and its animalistic instincts is what will elevate it to attaining the quality level it so desires to reach.

Essential to that is The Man In Black, who simultaneously captures both sides of the coin (*) while being a part of the deeper layers. His quest to find where he wants to get to is captivating and, at this point, despite being a terrible person, I’m not certain he’s especially a villain. Perhaps because I’m more interested in seeing the hidden intricacies of the park, but I can’t help but want him to get where he’s going.

(*) During his conversation with Lawrence, Man In Black notes that the details are the reason that this place is better than the real world.

That’s not to say I agree with his methods. His murder of the group about to hang Lawrence - another wonderfully directed scene, Lewis holding the camera on Lawrence as we know exactly what’s happening around him (a technique that Jonathan Nolan’s previous show, Person of Interest, used from time-to-time) - was entertaining, if not purely for his pre-shootout dialogue, but his psychological torture and murder of Lawrence’s wife? Damn. In fairness, if Westworld is trying to demonstrate human nature at its absolute worst (as I alluded to last week), having someone get what they want by getting into the thickest of mud isn’t entirely condemnable. At the same time, what Man In Black did to Lawrence? That’s tough to get onboard with, especially given how brutally drawn out and intentionally upsetting it is.

Still, that scene was yet another of the hour’s strongest. Ed Harris, like Hopkins, is breezing his way through material. Expressing himself with the appropriately casual attitude of a man who’s been coming to the park for three decades, Harris is in full control of everything, to the point where, at times, he feels like a robot rather than a human. By the end of it, we’re enlightened to a few more things, including the fact that Stubbs - and almost certainly the rest of the park’s team - are allowing him to do whatever he wants. It could be a result of his frequent monetary investment from his frequent visits, but it’s worth wondering if Stubbs and co. know what he wants, and if they’ll let him get there.

As a whole, the episode gels together nicely, though I couldn’t help but experiencing a similar feeling to that of watching Game of Thrones. There, the writers frequently attempt to further as many characters’ storylines as possible, even if that means giving everyone five minutes on screen only. The oft-used fade to black to transition between certain scenes and characters and locales gives the show a strange sense, yet does provide a degree of separation and isolation from one scene to the next. Fortunately, though, Westworld has a handle on balancing its characters; given how many there are and how much depth they need, it’s an impressive feat.

I’d be content in suggesting that “Chestnut” was a superior episode to the premiere. While the opening hour did a stellar job of introducing such a wide range of aspects, following that up was going to be the test. Westworld passed it with flying colours, and it’s very much an indication that, should the show continue on this track, Westworld could become a truly great show.

Notes:
Ford’s mysterious project will be fascinating to follow. Also, his conversation with the young boy he met in the park was excellent.
Not only is Bernard having a thing on the side with Cullen, he’s also keeping secret conversations with Dolores. Not sure where that’s going.
Seeing how people get into the park was a smart move, and the way it happens is fun.
Ford may be told by Sizemore’s story what type of person he is, but what I took from that was that he’s a man desperate for approval. There’s only so much they can do with that.
“Chestnut” established that guests can’t kill other guests: "But you can't kill anyone you're not supposed to."
Maeve was seeing characters from Sizemore’s latest, unused, narrative in her nightmares. Considering Ford refused to implement the story, that vision says that the hosts may be becoming more advanced than anyone might know.
Teddy got killed again, and I found it oddly hilarious. Westworld should have cast Sean Bean in the role.

What did everyone think of “Chestnut?”



About the Author - Bradley Adams
18 year old based in England, currently Senior Staff at SpoilerTV. Most of his posts are news/spoiler based, though he is currently the reviewer of Person of Interest, co-host on the SpoilerTV Podcast. Created and is in charge of the yearly Favourite Episode Competition and currently runs the Favourite Series Competition. A big TV fan, his range of shows are almost exclusively dramas, while some of his all-time favourite shows include 24, LOST, Breaking Bad and Friends. Some of his current favourites include Person of Interest, Banshee, Arrow, The Flash, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul and many more. He also runs an Arrow fans site, ArrowFansUK, and aside from TV, is a keen cricketer. Get in touch with him via the links below or via email bradley@spoilertv.com
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