Thank god for Thandie Newton because she is the only thing worth watching in ‘The Adversary’, aka the episode where Westworld stalls whilst presenting multiple revelations. It’s paradoxical and is one of the reasons the show is becoming frustrating.
‘The Adversary’ gets to the nub of Westworld’s problems. There is so much going on and so many characters that all of the subplots are suffocating each other. The action zips around the theme park pausing to ask a philosophical question before shooting someone’s head off. The geography and where every character is in relation to each other is unclear and the storylines remain separate even as they begin to converge. It’s a confusing mess.
Some shows are able to balance having an expansive world and a large ensemble. They get everything they need to get across as quickly as possible and move the story along. Westworld struggles to do this. The structure feels lopsided with significant swaths of time being spent on one storyline and then rushing through another. There is nothing wrong with a slower pace, but the characters should hold everyone’s attention and, apart from a few, Westworld’s characters are dull and fading into the beautiful Utah backdrop.Fortunately, Thandie Newton’s Maeve is not a character who fades. She is sassy, strong and devilish, benefiting from Newton’s ability to switch from ruthless robot to scared child with a flicker of her eyelashes. To paraphrase an old-fashioned phrase, the camera loves her. The opening 30 minutes are focused on Maeve and Felix (Leonardo Nam, creating a nice double act with Newton) as they try to understand their situation and who’s in charge of whom. This culminates in Maeve having a tour of the Delos facility.
The tour deliberately echoes her journey through the robot abattoir in the stunning ‘Chestnut’ . That trip visually referenced horror movies as a shortcut to reinforce Maeve’s fear. This trip may be cleaner, but the sanitisation makes it all the more horrific as Maeve now has the knowledge necessary to realise her world is fake and what it was she witnessed on her last trip. Most impressive is how Newton expresses everything with a simple facial expression.
So, it’s a shame we have to leave Maeve to spend time with other characters. Hopkins’ Ford is still being creepy, the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and Teddy (James Marsden) are still looking for the maze but get to shoot some soldiers, and the most annoying character, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), is back. Whether it is the writing or Quarterman’s performance, Lee is an oafish, loud figure who pulls viewers out of the world. He is a poor attempt at comedy that needs to be exorcised from the plot.
‘The Adversary’ is an okay episode of Westworld, one that does a lot of infuriating things. So, thank the deity you worship or don’t worship that Thandie Newton is there to hoover up your attention and drag you to the finish line.