Thursday, May 10, 2018

Westworld, Season Two, Episode Three: Virtù e Fortuna

Virtù e Fortuna feels very much like a filler episode in that its singular goal seemed to be to position Westworld's characters in order to move the narrative along.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, even if it didn't add up to a telling or hair raising episode. Virtù e Fortuna begins at a section of the park aptly named "The Raj". Yes, let that conjure up all of the horrible things British colonialism gave birth to in India.  Naturally, all of the guests are white and the hosts are all Indian - it's kiplingesque escapism and not at all subtle. 

We watch as a man and woman have sex (let's call them Chad and Becky for now), after the woman first establishes that the man is human by shooting him (as you do), thus verifying that he actually wants her and isn't simply programmed to satisfy her.  It's telling that among this horrid fantasy world that guests would seek to establish something real and perhaps even worry about the objectives of the company altogether. Once the sex is complete, Chad and Becky head out on a safari, blissfully unaware that they are no longer playing the game in safe mode. There is some irony here, given that the guests are both white and are in colonised India, end up missing the signs that their privilege, both white and human are meaningless now.  Becky is the first one to notice something wrong and Chad is absolutely incredulous that his robot Indian servant would turn on him. It's almost cathartic to watch as Chad gets shot square in the chest. Oh if only - Rule Britannia my ass.  Becky runs from the carnage, only to catch the attention of a Tiger. Sentient Hosts are dangerous on their own but one with the abilities and drive of a tiger, potentially several time stronger than an actual tiger presents a horrifying situation for our poor Becky.  After attempting to shoot the tiger and failing, Becky takes off running until she finds herself at a cliff with a long drop to the tumultuous ocean at the bottom. The tiger leisurely stalks Becky and she once again tries to shoot but fails again.  The tiger leaps at Becky and the two fall of the cliff. 

This quickly shifts to Bernard in the future.  Charlotte quips that Abernathy keeps escaping, causing Bernard to think about what happened. In what turns out to be the only humorous moment of the episode, Bernard and Charlotte come across Abernathy, who has been captured by a couple of marauders intent on selling their captives for money.  Charlotte and Bernard create a distraction, knock out the kidnapping cowboy and change his operating system to make him moral, chivalrous and an even better shot. The cowboy returns to his victims and set them all loose. Of course, this is when the group of soldiers show up who had planned on purchasing the cowboys captives.  A shoot out ensues with the cowboy chasing after a terrified captive promising to escort her, as she runs for her life.

With the bad guys out of the way, now would be the time to run but Abernathy is so scattered, he decides to make a ridiculous show of bravery.  Charlotte sees the writing on the wall and takes off quickly.  Unfortunately for Bernard, who doesn't follow Charlotte's lead, he ends up captured alongside Abernathy.

Bernard and Abernathy are taken to Dolores' stronghold, where Dolores is stunned to see the shape that Abernathy is in.  This is important to note because Dolores apparently finds her treatment at the hands of humans justifiably horrible and feels manipulated but she seems to have a blind spot re her feelings for Abernathy, whom she still relates to as her father.  Every bit of tenderness Dolores actually feels for Abernathy has been manufactured to fit a story line by humans.

Dolores turns to the one person who can restore Abernarthy to the robot that she knows - Bernard. This is the first time that Dolores and Bernard are meeting with all of the cards on the table. Dolores is all to aware of the fact that Bernard is nothing more than a pale imitation of Arnold and now that Bernard is also awake, he's aware of exactly of who he is. Dolores talks about what the humans did to Abernathy and her plan to take over the world.  Dolores thinks that she's more in the know than Bernard because she's seen the real world while he has not whereas; Bernard believes that the world is more than she can conquer. We have to pause.  There is something deeply wrong with a white woman suggesting that a black man is an uncle tom. Sure, we're talking about robots and humans but that doesn't mean that the racial dynamics of this scene aren't deeply problematic.

Bernard decides to do Abernathy a solid and looks at his code only to find the file that Charlotte has been so desperately looking for.  As a battle rages outside, Bernard manages to download the file before Charlotte and group of security forces burst in and capture Abernathy.  During the battle Dolores, who now wants to be known as Wyatt, decides to sacrifice the confederate soldiers who she convinced to fight with her, explaining that not everyone deserves to survive.  This is an interesting position to take given that she states this only moments after arguing robotic superiority with Bernard because of their inability to die.  Has she truly sacrificed anyone given the fact that they can all be rebooted?  Teddy is given the order to kill the other soldiers and for the first time shows some agency and decides to set them free instead.  What Teddy doesn't know is that Dolores has seen his moment of rebellion.   Having captured Abernathy, the human forces retreat and Dolores decides to give chase. As far as she is concerned, the humans have taken enough and she refuses to let them take Abernathy.

Let's move onto Maeve, who is a far more interesting character.  Maeve as we know is on a mission to reunite with her daughter and this means that she has to cross the park.  Sizemore is disturbed when he see Maeve and Hector holding hands because Hector is programmed to love someone else. Hector understandably is upset with how he has been meddled with and explains that once he realised that his feelings where orchestrated, his real feelings for Maeve rose to the surface. When Hector declares his love for Maeve, Sizemore is able to finish his sentence, proving that while these hosts have most certainly awoken, they are not completely free of the programming.  Rather than letting this go, Maeve because she is made of awesome, decides to turn the tables on Sizemore, pointing out his own unrequited love story and that he created Hector to be the man he secretly always wanted to be.  It's a huge gotcha moment and it's awesome because it comes courtesy of Maeve.

It's not long before the group expands and Maeve makes contact with Felix, Sylvester and of course Armistice. I've gotta say that I am 100% there for Armistice's new arm and just know that some super awesome moments are coming.  Felix you recall is the tech that Maeve strong armed into increasing her intelligence and awareness. Maeve may be collecting humans but she's really only interested in those she deems may be helpful to attaining her end goal.  This probably means that Sylvester may not be long for this world because his skills are duplicated by Felix and of course, he's an ass.

Maeve and her crew go back above ground and find that they're slightly off the mark in terms of heading for their objective.  This is when we get a tantalizing glimpse of what is to come - Shogun world. 

As I said at the beginning, this episode is largely filler.  I believe it exists for us to see Bernard steal the code from Abernathy.  It's about setting up characters for what comes next more than anything else.  We have already seen how ruthless Dolores can be in her objective to rule the world and so her betrayal of Major Carddock is hardly a surprise. Even Teddy choosing to spare Craddock is not a surprise, given that it's long past time for us to see Teddy have some agency. I hope however that Teddy's act of rebellion isn't going to be fodder for relationship angst between him and Dolores but is instead used to explore the idea that sentience and freedom might mean different things to hosts.

To some degree one could argue that the foray into Raj world and the impending trip to Shogun world are a distraction to the main plot but it is my belief that Westworld is making a point about racism and colonialism with these scenes.  It's been largely unremarked upon that the cost of visiting these parks is prohibitive and therefore those most likely to be guests are white people of privilege.  The park gives them the freedom to act upon their worst impulses with impunity.  That isn't to say that systems of oppression don't exist in the real world - a subject Westworld has ignored but the fact that these privileged people see play/relaxation as engaging in the most harmful aspects of Whiteness is telling indeed. In many ways, the hosts represent either spoiled identities (e.g. sex workers) or historically marginalised people and I'm not quite certain that the analogy works here as much as the writers thinks that it does.