Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Westworld Finds Its Conscience Through Suffering

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Episode Three of Season 2 of Westworld entitled “Virtù e Fortuna” still feels like the show is grappling for a line, but it might have finally found a thread. The title itself refers to Machiavellian theories of leadership and doing what is necessary to overcome circumstance for the overall good of their goals/country. They are willing to ruthlessly do whatever is necessary, especially in the face of chance and unpredicted odds thrown at them. It’s a title that for once seems to thematically match the characters’ thematic struggle (well mostly just Dolores) in the vein of season 1, so perhaps this coupled with a more intriguing, albeit not flawless episode, means the showrunners are starting to find their footing once again.

Sizemore’s costume is still the best thing

Welcome to Colonization: The Park

This episode bravely cold opens by throwing us into a completely different world with new characters. As we start to gain some traction, we piece together that we’re in a park meant to replicate colonial India and witness a meet-cute between an American woman and a British man. Should we talk about the horrific implications of the outside world of Westworld having enough of a demand for a park built around colonized India? I mean I guess there was a demand for Westworld itself which is the prime example of a white male power trip fantasy, but colonial India seems like quite the extreme version of that. In the episode it’s aptly fetishized by white people who are shown lounging and drinking tea on palace grounds while being waited on. However, the reality beneath it beautifully characterizes the horror element of such grand frivolity covering abuse, servitude, and racism. I would argue that that’s not necessarily explored to the full, but the sequence most definitely gave way to showcasing these people’s harmful appetites finally collapsing upon them. Their violent delights do indeed meet their violent ends.

The woman and the man crash into her lavish rooms, furiously making out but she stops him, revealing a table of guns. She wants to know if he’s host or human, if he actually wants her or if he’s programmed to. So, despite his protests, she picks up a gun and shoots. The tension here was perfect as were the subversion of exceptions considering we were expecting this to all end horribly, not entirely sure where this moment fell in the timeline of when hosts started to be able to hurt guests. However, just as that time William got hit in Season 1, the bullet only leaves behind a bruise on the man’s chest. Thus, finally, after that miraculous foreplay, the fuck.

Now on a romantic outing to hunt a Bengal tiger, the couple arrive at the jungle site only for the woman to start noticing something is wrong. There are no hosts or entertainment to greet them. They look inside a tent to find two dead bodies on the ground. A host comes up behind them with a gun and the man goes to stop him just as she warns him that the two bodies were guests, not hosts. She had ridden with them on the way to the park. Her warning comes a second too late as the man is shot. She quickly shoots the host, terrified, and runs into the jungle. There the prey has spotted the hunter and a Bengal tiger runs for her. She shoots it but doesn’t wound it enough to stop it coming after her. The woman runs as the injured tiger leaps behind, crossing the park lines and  only stopping when she gets to a cliff. She quickly reloads to shoot the tiger again, but it smacks into her, knocking them both into the water.

She later washes ashore near the dead tiger in the spot Bernard and company found it in before. She looks up to see Ghost Nation men standing over her before collapsing.

I really liked this opening for what it’s worth, but once again I don’t think it really necessarily added much to the story and do hope they further deconstruct and put into context the problematic nature of the conception of these park ideas in the first place. This actress also is said to be recurring this season so maybe she will play a larger role, as will this other park.


Maeve Gathers a Crew

On their search for Maeve’s daughter, the crew encounter Ghost Nation members. She’s hit with flashbacks of the memories of her and her daughter being attacked by the tribe in one of her previous lives. The Ghost Nation men say that in exchange for Sizemore, Maeve and Hector may pass in peace, but Maeve refuses, insisting she needs him. They run from the showering of arrows, just barely making it to a remote outpost and decide to make their way closer to the Homestead using the underground tunnels. As Maeve and Hector declare their devotion to one another, Sizemore is dumbfounded that they could go against their protocol to never love anyone, let alone one another. The two shrug it off, and Sizemore reveals Hector was supposed to only have one lost love, Isabella. Hector states that once he was awoken, he released Isabella was never real, but Maeve was.

Maeve comments on the fact that Sizemore must have had his own Isabella and he tells her that he did, she left him. So Sizemore essentially wrote Hector as a self-insert (albeit much cooler) and his revenge on his own Isabella was killing her off. It’s a nice commentary on the pathetically common use of art by male creators to make fantasy revenge porn of their loves that scorned them.

The tunnels appear to suddenly be under attack, but they realize that Armistice, along with a new robotic arm and a flamethrower, has come to save them. She has Felix and Silvester (our two favorite dumb science boys) and so now three have become six. They head back out to the park to find themselves in a hilly area covered with snow. A fire is lit nearby and as they cautiously approach, Sizemore finds severed heads. He tries to warn them off but it’s too late, as a person with a sword in hand rushes towards them. Welcome to Shogun World. (Although this episode does make the parks seem way too easily/closely connected compared to the wide expanse we saw last season).


Dolores Finds Heart 

Major Craddock leads Dolores to the commanding officer Colonel Brigham at Fort Forlorn Hope and although he is at first as dubious as Craddock was, Dolores convinces him to come to her side by letting him shoot down one of her human captors with an automatic rifle, saying they could keep the weapons if they fight for her. He agrees and they get to defend themselves from the onslaught of Westworld security forces soon approaching.

Earlier in the episode, we saw Bernard and Charlotte roaming the park to try and find Abernathy. They found him and tried to take him back to safety but were ambushed by a group of Confederados. Charlotte escaped on horseback, eventually making it to the security team back at base, but Bernard and Abernathy were taken prisoners. Dolores sees her father amongst the Confederado prisoners at the fort but Teddy doesn’t recognize him. It’s a really interesting moment as Dolores starts to grapple with the connections that were pre-written for her, wanting to both reject her preconceived narratives while still feeling the emotional effects of having lived them.

She talks to her father and although he’s completely glitching out from the file overload, he recognizes her. Evan Rachel Wood goes miles with this moment, and it does break your heart as she’s not sure if he’ll remember her while she still clearly cares for him as her father. When he finally does, uttering a hopeful “Dolores?”, she just sort of breaks and we finally get an emotionally honest moment from her, a moment I’ve been waiting for this whole season. She confesses to him that no one else can see the horror of what she’s done.

She’s taken her freedom but it’s come at a cost, the cost of war. Just as she was starting to slip into Daenerys on Thrones territory of stoic violence, we finally get to see her both break down, but also be aware and fearful of the costs of her actions. It’s in line with the title of the episode. She’s been trying to be that Machiavellian ruler to lead her kind to freedom, but at what cost? I hope they continue down this line with her because the last two episodes have been utterly uninteresting failures in exploring the duality of her character. However, if that’s a facade to achieve that Machiavellian leadership position, to appear to be worthy of it, the journey of that breaking down as she tries to make peace with the futility of violence would be incredibly captivating.

She goes to Bernard next and asks him if he could help her fix her father. Bernard asks her why she’s doing this and she explains that in the outside world, it’s a fight for survival. She asks him if they too deserve to fight to survive, explaining that amongst the horror, there is beauty in what they are and that beauty deserves life. Bernard agrees to try and help Abernathy.

While working on him he discovers the large encrypted data files Charlotte had Sizemore store in him and it’s causing him to malfunction. As he continues to work, the fight starts to rage outside. Dolores’ people along with the Confederados laced the ground outside the fort with nitro. The Confederados stand out front, defending the fort and luring the security closer to the explosion line, however just as they are going to retreat, Dolores’ people shut the door on them, using them as bait, nothing more.

Charlotte went with a secret team out back to extract Abernathy and quickly get out. Bernard is finally able to open the files, proclaiming “oh my god”, but not allowing the audience to see of course, as security men come in to grab Abernathy. Bernard hides, but Dolores sees them leaving and goes after them. Teddy follows and they shoot down two of the team, but Dolores gets hit with two shots in the process. She angrily watches them speed away with her father. Dolores proclaims they need to go to Sweet Water and as Bernard tries to get away, he’s knocked out and dragged away by Clementine.

Angela shoots the target for the nitro explosion, killing Confederados and security alike and Dolores tells Teddy to shoot the remaining Confederados in the back. Teddy takes them but simply can’t do it. He lets them go as Dolores secretly watches on. Her cold calculation of telling Teddy to shoot them out back like dogs, as they don’t all deserve the freedom she is promising, felt like a tread back to her violent Machiavellian stoicism and her look after Teddy lets them go can one hundred percent be viewed as disappointment in him, but my hope is that her conversation with her dad has changed her or at least made her start to be aware of the consequences of what she is doing. My hope is that she’s putting on that front once again to appear in control, but seeing Teddy let them go brings up that conflict of right and wrong for her once again. Or at least I hope so….

Overall this episode is definitely better than last and they’re finally starting to go somewhere thematically intriguing once again, but it’s still not spectacular. It’s inching closer though. And finally Dolores has some emotional stakes. Next episode is Lisa Joy’s directorial debut, which I’m excited for, although judging by the trailer it looks like it’s mostly Ed Harris’ Man in Black, a storyline that doesn’t particularly intrigue me. Lets hope to be surprised!

Images courtesy of HBO

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