“No guidebooks,” a host tells newcomer William (Jimmi Simpson). “All you need to do is make choices.” With the hype of the first episode over, WESTWORLD can now get down to the business of its primary storyline. Or storylines, as the case may be, with Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s “Chestnut” establishing a number of new characters and branches to the fledgling show. While some of these elements may remaining mysterious of seemingly extraneous at the moment, like HBO stablemate Game of Thrones, keeping the coal burning in multiple stoves is the key to its longevity.
The second episode deals with William and Logan (Ben Barnes), a veteran guest, arriving in the park and making the seemingly simple choice of whether they are going to be a “white hat” or a “black hat.” Choice actually plays a really important part in this episode, as it will in the series going forward, as it speaks to the underlying gamification of the narrative. William is shocked at how casually rough Logan is with the hosts, with William choosing to treat the world respectfully. Logan in turn warns William not to get sucked into a side-quest, the type of thing a player of open-world games like the thematically similar Red Dead Redemption or the GTA series will be all too familiar with. Logan destroys all that he doesn’t like, while William is a little bit like us viewers, a player still trying to work out if he really is in a game.
The rest of the episode is as much about exploring the fringes of the reality as it is about driving the main plot. On the one hand, Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) appears to be spreading the “virus” her original father passed to her with the words “These violent delights have violent ends.” The staff begin to notice erratic behaviour from the hosts, including Maeve (Thandie Newton) who is experiencing flashbacks to a previous role of a mother attacked by Native Americans. These small clues are hints at the changes to come in the show, paving the way that leads to the scenario played out in the 1973 original. It is, of course, wrapped in a blanket of violence and nudity, but both are presented in pragmatic ways. Indeed, far more interesting is the scenario Ford (Anthony Hopkins) seems to be playing at, wandering into the world’s outlands where a giant Christian cross symbolises the next narrative he plans to introduce.
How much of what we are seeing is real? This is a question that is particularly apt with the Man in Black/The Gunslinger (Ed Harris), who continues his quest to find a deeper level to Westworld, torturing and killing hosts for information while vowing that he is “never going back.” A lingering thread over whether he has some third role, neither host nor guest, is yet to be seen. Is the “going back” a reference to the real world, or being recalled by the staff? As such, we take the reality of everything we see on screen with a grain of salt. Or, as William’s introductory host Angela (Talulah Riley) asks, “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”