Images courtesy of HBO
Westworld’s “Virtu e Fortuna” picks up the pace from last week. Just as its title references Machiavelli’s juxtaposition of virtue (or will) and fortune (or fate), the episode continues to explore the balance between the hosts’ programming and their new self-directed path. Dolores is well aligned with Machiavelli’s idea of a willful leader, but it’s the bittersweet glimpses of her humanity that stands out this week. That and, of course, the proper return — and expansion — of Team Maeve.
The opening scene finally gives viewers a peek inside another park, “The Raj,” where Colonial India acts as an on-the-nose parallel for the entire Delos business model. Like the American frontier in Westworld, it’s a time period where it makes narrative sense to have a large number of “newcomers” constantly passing through and it’s a fair assumption that all of the parks will have pre-technological settings that keep their hosts’ lives in relatively “simple” loops. But where Westworld offers visitors the chance to play the hero (should they choose), it seems that in visiting Park 6 guests would be stepping directly into the uncomfortable role of the colonizer. Given the context, it’s hard to get invested in the sexy gunplay of the two white protagonists. But metaphorically – and musically – it’s well played.
Returning to familiar territory, we find Charlotte and Bernard on the hunt for Abernathy. Their in-the-field hack of Rebus is largely played for comedy (always good to see Steven Ogg having a good time), but it acts as a counterpoint to Abernathy himself, whose continuous rewrites have completely damaged him. He has come to represent the extreme example of what happens to the hosts – and to any of us – when outside forces dictate who they are. Season One showed that his mind was already under strain, with former narrative roles surfacing even before Charlotte and Lee jury-rigged a new personality to get him out of the park. None of this is lost on Bernard who, in trying to help him later in the episode, could see this extreme deterioration as a potential future for himself.
Papa Abernathy also elicits some welcome humanity from Dolores. Lately, she’s been consumed by her Terminator-Moses persona, lacking much of the humanity that made her so sympathetic in Season One. Evan Rachel Wood does an excellent job of balancing this bittersweet affection with Dolores’ newfound certainty of purpose. The interaction is heartbreaking, akin to the human experience of seeing a parent succumb to dementia and Dolores even accepts her share of the responsibility for his condition. “He’s my father, my home. Look what I’ve done to him.” Her momentary nostalgia for their life on the ranch is all the more affecting because she knows that it was all a fiction.
The romantic relationships are also well juxtaposed in this episode. Maeve and Hector’s unscripted relationship is thriving, where Dolores and Teddy’s “divinely mandated” pairing is unraveling. Despite Dolores’ profession that Teddy is all she has left, we see him finally disobey her by letting the Major escape. This has been a long time coming and, though she watches with disappointment, Dolores doesn’t look entirely surprised. Maeve and Hector, on the other hand, work well together, understand each other, and enjoy a nice moment of defiance when Lee tries to explain why they shouldn’t be together. Their relationship seems all the stronger for it being their choice though Maeve, at least, is aware of how fleeting it is, admitting that holding hands is ridiculous “come to think of it.” Under the circumstances, neither of these relationships seem destined to last, but here’s hoping that Maeve and Hector make the most of it while they can.
It’s great to finally see Armistice again – and her dragon. Felix continues to be the one human that Maeve might actually like and even Sylvester is a fun addition or at least one to take some of the punching-bag weight off of Lee. Dolores may have an army, but Team Maeve has the heart.
Despite her emotional moments this week, Dolores is still pushing ahead on her mission of domination, taking action on the idea that “not all of us deserve to make it.” Keeping the episode’s title and Machiavelli in mind, she’s being positioned as a leader who makes difficult choices and is ruthless when necessary, but we still don’t know why. What makes one worthy of the Valley Beyond? From a moral perspective, even the most “evil” hosts were simply programmed that way, so their actions should not be enough to bar them from entry into Dolores’ paradise. (And how many of those can stand up her body count anyway?) She refers to the uninitiated hosts as “children,” but still proceeds to slaughter them wholesale. Whatever the criteria, it seems that Dolores will be the one to decide and, in doing so, become the tyrant that the Major names her. It seems that not all hosts are created equal, that even this new race is destined to be divided into haves and have-nots. So much for the idea of being better than her creators.
Overall, things are looking up. I’m excited to see what Bernard discovered in Abernathy’s mind, what Dolores needs from Sweetwater, and what fun new weapons Armistice will get her hands on next. The episode certainly lived up to its title, holding to the idea that will always trump the imperfect machinations of fate and programming. Or, as Dolores put it, “My whole life has been dictated by someone else, someone who’s been saying ‘you will.’ Now, I feel like I’ve discovered my own voice. It says, ‘I may.'”
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