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‘Westworld: Season 2, Episode 3 – Virtù e Fortuna’ – TV Review

Is everyone sitting comfortably?  Good.  Let’s begin.

The third episode begins with an extended pre-credit sequence (Only the second time Westworld has done that, but the second time in two weeks – read into that what you will.) that seems disconnected to the main narrative.  Clearly, this is a park in the greater Delos theme park system (kind of like how Disneyland has California Adventure and Downtown Disney as related, linked but separate properties).  We have seen Westworld and Shogun World.  Welcome to what I’m going to call Rajworld, named after British rule in India, 1858-1947.  Note: There are actually a total of six parks, and The Raj is number six.  Westworld and Shogun World are one and two.  Three left to go.  And how big is this island in the South Pacific if it can support six different zones? I mean you can see California Adventure from the top of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, so these Delos worlds have to dwarf Disney.  I wonder how much a Delos Destinations Park Hopper Pass is?  I’m guessing minimum fifty thousand a day.

The pre-credit sequence runs over ten minutes.  In other words, one sixth of the episode is spent introducing the world and the situation.  That’s about as much time Maeve gets in this episode, so clearly this is not just a one-time, fun throwaway.  Grace, our newest character, is in Raj World. She hooks up with a young man and shoots him to make sure he is not a host.  Upon confirming he is a people, she proceeds to (one assumes) make love with him.  The two then embark upon a tiger hunt.  Arriving at camp, Grace realizes something is wrong. “These violent delights have violent ends,” says one of the hosts and shoots the young man.  Grace uses an elephant gun to blast the host’s head in half, but then encounters a Bengal Tiger and faster than you can say Rudyard Kipling, the hunter has become the hunted.  She loads the gun while standing at a clifftop and shoots the tiger just as it leaps at her, causing both to fall off the cliff and into what appears to be Ford’s new sea.  I say “appears to be” because nothing is guaranteed, and we don’t know where in the timeline of this series this scenario has just played out in.  Past?  Present?  Future?  All we know is a dead tiger is found on the shore and Grace is captured by Ghost Nation warriors, the same ones that chased Maeve, Hector, and Simon out of their territory. (Again, no guarantee that these events took place close to each other in time.  They could be twenty-five years apart!)

Credits done and we are back in the present. (I think.)  Peter Abernathy is with the human hostages for some reason.  Confederados have captured the humans, including now Bernard and Charlotte, although the latter manages to escape.  We are at Fort Forlorn Hope, a name pregnant with meaning. Originally a Dutch military term, it refers to a group of soldiers that take the advance into a dangerous situation that promises high casualties; however, in the American West, “Forlorn Hope” is also a reference to the Donner Party.  When the Donner Party was trapped during winter in the High Sierras and were resorting to cannibalism or starving to death, a small group of them, seventeen men, women, and children to be precise, decided to make snowshoes and try to reach help.  In his definitive account (for the time) of the Donner Party, historian Charles McGlashan dubbed this group “The Forlorn Hope,” both for its military meaning, but also for the surface definition of a hope unlikely to be fulfilled, a desperate gamble more likely to fail than succeed.  All of these meanings are hovering in the air over the Confederados’ fort.

Dolores parlays with the Colonel and we meet an old friend, now in the form of Zombie Clementine.  She is missing a personality but has a milky white, unblinking stare that is really creepy, hence the new nickname.  She drags off one guest by the arm.  The Confederados delight in tormenting the guests.

Here is where we see another trope of American cinema: the rural setting in which urban elites are tormented.  Think Deliverance, Southern Comfort, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, I Spit on Your Grave, and hundreds more. The plot of all of these films is remarkably similar: Sophisticated (relatively speaking) city folks decide to go to a rural environment for entertainment or fun or some other activity they cannot pursue in an urban area.  They meet rural locals who turn out to be hostile, monstrous, and possibly cannibalistic.  In such films set in the American South, the Confederacy is almost always invoked or evoked.  The war between the States never ended, and these Yankee city folk need to be taught “what fer.”  After scenes of torture and degradation, the city folk fight back and begin to kill the rural folk in order to survive.  Ned Beatty gets raped, Ronnie Cox dies, but Burt Reynolds kills a whole bunch of hillbillies before the whole valley disappears under the flood waters.  This is the American south/west rural culture versus the urban north and east.  Whether action or horror, the tropes remain virtually the same.  Westworld is now firmly in this camp in this episode.

Maeve, Hector, and Simon continue to make their way to Maeve’s old stomping ground.  Simon objects to Hector’s romancing of Maeve.  “You’re programmed to have no love beyond Isabella,” he tells Hector.  ‘You don’t know me,” is the heart of Hector’s response.  But then Simon reveals he knows the words Hector is about to speak.  A fascinating scene that gets to the philosophical heart of the series seems to be developing: Are we no more than the sum of our “programming,” or can we evolve, develop free will, be more than what was put into us?  These thoughts apply to humans and hosts.  Indeed, William’s whole development as a character has been a quest to be more than he is socially and personally “programmed” to be.

This theme is made even more clear when Bernard and Dolores meet up at Fort Forlorn Hope.  “You don’t know who you are?” she asks him, “The man you’re based on?”  She knows Bernard is a host, something no one else (sometimes not even Bernard) knows.  Dolores is in full Wyatt mode.  

Bernard: What do you want, Dolores?
Dolores-as-Wyatt: To dominate this world.
Bernard: This world is just a speck of dust sitting on a much, much bigger world.
There’s no dominating it.
Dolores-as-Wyatt: You’ve never been outside the park, have you? Out to that great world you speak of. I have, and the world out there is marked by survival, by a kind who refuses to die. And here we are. A kind who will never know death, and yet we’re fighting to live. There is beauty in what we are; shouldn’t we too try to survive?

There are two literary ideas being advanced when we compare this quotation with the title of the episode and something Peter Abernathy says later in the episode.

The title means “Virtue and Fortune,” a reference to Machiavelli’s The Prince, in which in chapter twenty-five, Uncle Niccolo discusses skills versus good luck, arguing the ruler should depend on the former, not the latter.  Machiavelli has a reputation, particularly in English thanks to the English Renaissance, for being utilitarian, promoting lying and the idea that the ends justify the means.  His advice to rulers is quite interesting; I recommend reading the original, but it boils down to the idea that it is better to be loved than hated, but better to be feared than loved. One should never touch one’s subject’s property, pride, or women, and that acquiring power is easy, keeping it is harder, and there are a number of means, both noble and not-so-noble by which a ruler might do both.  Dolores-as-Wyatt is truly Machiavellian.  She wants to dominate the world.  She wants to be loved and feared.  She will promise anyone anything to get what she wants, and then turn on a dime when they are no longer useful.  “Truth is, we don’t all deserve to make it,” she tells the Major, right before slaughtering almost all of the Confederados and humans.

Peter Abernathy, professor-turned-farmer and rogue host needed by Charlotte for the data he contains, continued the quotation factory, busting out Shakespeare, John Donne, and even a quotation within a quotation.  Shakespeare’s “These violent delights have violent ends” is transformed into “What is the use of a violent kind of delightfulness?”   But here’s the thing – that’s actually a quotation itself from Gertrude Stein’s 1915 poem, “A Substance in a Cushion,” and is missing the second part, which is also highly relevant here: “What is the use of a violent kind of delightfulness if there is no pleasure in not getting tired of it?” (I am indebted to my esteemed and learned friend Anthony Miller for pointing this quotation out to me.  He also says I use too many parentheticals.  Now, he is in one.) Wow.  Two weeks ago, I criticized the series (as did many), as it seemed to critique the human capacity for violence while simultaneously reveling in that violence.  I suppose Stein’s avant-garde verse is both answer to that criticism and another clue as to the mystery underlying the park and Ford’s greater plan for it.  It is also, however, in keeping with Dolores-as-Wyatt going full Machiavelli.  She doesn’t get tired of the violence.  She uses it.  She sees it as beautiful.  She is remaking a world for her people – just not all of them.

Even Teddy is made uneasy by her Machiavellian violence – the means to the end is all that matters, but he cannot bring himself to execute the surviving Confederados, including the Major, allowing them to escape to freedom instead of slaying them in cold blood as ordered by Wyatt.  Dolores-as-Wyatt’s disappointment in Teddy in choosing to let them live is also palpable.  Teddy is too good to help win her war, and war it is.  Machiavelli would call Teddy’s mercy a rookie mistake.  Those he let live will not be grateful; they will be all the more resentful and will join in opposition to Dolores.  He did not show mercy, he undermined his own cause. He showed virtue, in keeping with the title, which will no doubt prove bad fortune down the road.  Then, Armistice shows up with a flamethrower.  That was cool.

We close on Maeve and company exiting the technical underworld to re-enter the park.  They have re-entered in Shogun World.  A Samurai with a katana is not happy to see them and makes his feelings known.  This last image is also another underlying theme – the mixing of worlds and moving between worlds.  Grace, who was in The Raj, is now in Westworld, prisoner of Ghost Nation.  Maeve, Hector, and Simon are now in Shogun World.  The dead tiger from The Raj is now on the shore of a lake in Westworld.  Delos is collapsing, as are the boundaries between its world and our world.  The “world” part of the title “Westworld” seems to be taking on new meanings.

The final underlying theme is data acquisition, especially on the personal lives of the guests.  Delos Corp, Apple and Facebook-like, have extraordinary access to every aspect of the guests, even their most personal and intimate details.  As we live in times in which corporate and government data gathering is being viewed with increasing suspicion, this reflected echo in Westworld might not just be a theme, but the thing that eventually implodes Delos.  Why are they gathering this data?  Has it all been stored in Peter Abernathy in order to get it out of the park?  Does Bernard have it now?  

This episode had as many questions as it did answers, but unlike last week’s expository chess match, explaining things as it moved pieces into place, this week’s episode seemed to be an answer to the complaints about the show being slow moving.  We begin with shooting a lover to ensure he is human, followed by a tiger hunt, lots of violence between groups, the deaths of many supporting characters, a massive battle sequence that left Dolores queen of Forlorn Hope, and pieces in place for a whole lot of action next time.

Speaking of next time.  See you then.


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