There are some television series where their biggest obstacle is world building. More than just tone, world building gives the viewer a baseline for what is normal for the characters. For instance, on The Addams Family the characters lived in the present-day, but were well outside the norms of reality. The show established how, in this home and extended family, the abnormal and macabre were normal. Some shows can take a while to build their world. Instead of showing plot, they provide exposition and explain the world too much. Some shows, like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, get a pass because they make the exposition entertaining. Other shows, like Lost, get mired in the details and making their myth building too complicated. So far, Westworld has built its world in two episodes effectively and efficiently.
I suppose it’s fair to say that Westworld‘s world building was much easier compared to Lost and Game of Thrones. It’s about life at a theme park. Episode one, “The Original”, sets up everything the viewer needs to know about the park: guests can fuck, marry, or kill as many androids as they want. We see the dichotomy of their existence: human when under the sun, androids when underground. We’re learn how they walk and talk, and how they are manipulated to think.
Episode two, “Chestnut”, takes us into the park from a newcomer’s perspective (newcomer being the term androids use for humans). William, a beaten-down business man, arrives at the park with his douche-bro colleague, Logan. William learns more about the park from his personal host — who seems aware of her otherness as she encourages his questions and glances. This host is a little mini-Greek chorus as she gives William and the viewer the low-down on the clothes, guns, and rules. Her little speech is the world building pinnacle for this show, as it sums up everything we need to know about the park.
I really admire the storytelling in Westworld. “The Original” set up the big questions for this season and “Chestnut” provided evidence for how those questions were going to be answered. One question — Who is the Man in Black? — is answered right away, if not explicitly. Another question — How soon will the androids begin to remember? — is also answered right away. One of my concerns after the first episode was that the show runners wouldn’t know where to go once the androids regained their memories, but this episode shows how they are more concerned with the journey rather than the outcome.
The most intriguing journey in this episode was, appropriately enough, a tie between William and the Man in Black. I say appropriately enough because I’m pretty darn sure that these men are one and the same. In episode one we were given small clues. The first was the Man in Black saying he had been coming to the park for thirty years. The second was Bernard telling Theresa that there hadn’t been a major incident in the park for thirty years. Then, in the second episode, there are small clues. For one, the actor playing William, Jimmi Simpson (who has been a favorite of mine since his first appearance on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), uses physicality similar to Ed Harris who plays the Man in Black. Sure this sounds like hokum, but ask any trained actor and they’ll tell you that it’s one of the things they use if they’re playing a younger or older version of someone.
Another clue is when William is walking through Sweetwater. Instead of the sheriff (who was not retired in the last episode) asking for posse volunteers, we get Union soldiers recruiting for the Civil War. We see Clementine at the saloon, but no Maeve. It’s the same place, but different from what we’ve seen before. In fact, Dolores dropping her can of condensed milk reminds us what this world is: an amusement park where some entertainments are never changed, while others come and go. It appears that, in Westworld, Dolores is the Haunted Mansion to a whole bunch of Captain Emos.
Lastly, I just want to touch upon repetition again. In my review of the first episode I mentioned how I liked the consistency of Evan Rachel Wood’s line readings. Thandie Newton’s repeated lines in episode two provided a delightful example of acting. She gives the same speech three times to different newcomers. This speech provides her character, Maeve the Madame, a back story and lets the viewer know what her host is designed to do. Westworld relies on imagination to entertain. If the visitors can’t feel comfortable, then they won’t be entertained. Maeve is made to find the timid and tentative, and let them know that it’s okay to be someone else. The best line of this speech — which only gets better the more you listen to it — is, “This is the New World. And in this world you can be whoever the fuck you want.”
Who wouldn’t want that?