TV reviews

Westworld 2×03 – ‘Virtù e Fortuna’ – TV Review

It’s taken until episode three, but Westworld has achieved some forward propulsion.  ‘Virtù e Fortuna’ is an hour stuffed to bursting with dense plotting and denser themes.  I speculated last week that Biblical allegories were the order of the day, but I should have known that there would be more greasing the intellectual wheels of this season than a few nods to Paradise Lost.  There are some significant developments that could prove critical to the story, and close attention is required not only to decode the non-linear narrative, but to the philosophical clues provided in the episode’s title.

First off however, we open with another diversion from the main threads, although it soon becomes clear how it will intersect.  We visit another of the Delos parks, which sees a young American woman enjoying tiffin-time in colonial-era India.  We don’t know what this park is called; Rajworld?  Indiaworld? Eastworld?  Given the level of Imperial subjugation that happened for real during British rule, recreating this with hosts with the subtext of the show so far festering underneath really leaves a rotten taste in the mouth.  Tiring of playing memsahib, the woman takes a trek, only to be caught up in the host uprising.  Sadly, we’re denied a Blazing Saddles-style intrusion of murderous cowboys loose in the Indian subcontinent.  She instead washes up on the beach, along with the corpse of the Bengal tiger we saw in episode one.

We pick up in the present timeline with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and the Delos troops.  He’s reunited with Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), and we then instantly cut to their separation.  Having tracked down Abernathy (Louis Hertham), the unknowing Johnny Mnemonic with a head full of priceless data, they find him held hostage by bandit Rebus (Steven Ogg).  One nifty rescue later thanks to a mustachioed bandit hot-wired like a stolen Ford Fiesta, he’s snatched from their grasp by the Confederados.  Charlotte escapes but an increasingly glitchy Bernard is taken captive along with the walking info dump.

Dolores, Teddy and Angela (Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden and Talulah Riley), with the Confederados of Craddock (Jonathan Tucker) in tow, approach Fort Forlorn Hope and offer Brigham (Frederic Lehne) the use of the park’s hi-tech weaponry in exchange for the shelter of her reanimated host army.  Dolores is later reunited with her ‘father’, Abernathy, who is brought to the camp along with Bernard.  Learning that Abernathy is being tracked she warns Brigham to prepare for an attack.

When the Delos troops attack (with Charlotte along for the ride, having spent all episode popping up all over like a whack-a-mole), she thinks nothing of using the Confederados as collateral damage to lure the troops in for an explosive finale.  Charlotte still manages to make off with the beleaguered Abernathy, which leaves the vengeful Dolores fuming.  Her actions this season, as well as having the Luciferian aspect I referred to last week, are hinted at in the title of this episode.

‘Virtù e Fortuna’ alludes to Machiavelli’s classic political text The Prince.  According to Machiavelli, virtue and fortune are opposing forces that can make or break a leader.  Essentially a meditation on a humanist approach to philosophy espoused by the likes of David Hume, which tips the scales in favour of free will over determinism.  Virtue to Machiavelli doesn’t just mean goodness, but the wisdom to be both ruthless and benevolent as circumstances dictate.  Fortune refers to those forces that can’t be controlled; acts of God for example.  The Prince posits that enough force of will can minimise the impact of these external forces.

This also ties in with the Biblical allegory of the forbidden knowledge gained by the host; and seems to support the notion that the hosts have attained free will.  However, it’s likely that strings are very much still being pulled, if not by the deceased Ford, then by another unseen hand.  While Dolores is very much imposing her virtue on all around her, she appears to be forgetting the benevolent part of Machiavelli’s analysis.

She’s acting in ways slightly reminiscent of Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, headstrong and brutal, and not always with the full approval of those around her.  If this feels like such a diversion from her character in season one, it could be more evidence of ‘fortune’ being a stronger force than she can control.  The show has already confirmed that Maeve (Thandie Newton) was acting according to programming when she decided to get off the train that was leaving Westworld, and to commence the search for her daughter.

This is was quest that continues this episode in a strand that feels almost like light relief compared to the weighty sense of doom that clouds Dolores’ arc.  It would be odd for one of the driving forces of the uprising to be given such a seemingly throwaway storyline, and a waste of Newton’s talents.  For now however, we’re given the amusement of her attempting a ‘these are not the droids you’re looking for’ moment with the Ghost Nation; her Preacher-style ‘word of God’ that allows her to control other hosts failing presumably due to the lack of English of the native Americans.

Again, the free will and determinism angle is examined when Lee (Simon Quaterman) expresses amazement at Maeve’s claim that she and Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) have begun a relationship independently of any programmed narrative, yet the speech Hector gives is a monologue direct from a scripted relationship with another host.  Maeve’s thread also provides a finale to the episode, with them being attacked by a samurai; obviously a refugee from the hotly anticipated Shogun World.

Surely Maeve’s search will have more import than it appears to have at the moment.  Presumably her ‘daughter’ will have some relevance for the future of the park.  One of the more radical theories at the moment surmises that, far from only containing data on the park’s guests; Abernathy contains the uploaded consciousness of James Delos (Peter Mullan), who we saw retiring with the dramatic cough of imminent demise 30 years previously in ‘Reunion’.  Perhaps they’re on the right path but have the wrong host?  Whatever the case, this is a show light on whimsy, so we can surmise something of dramatic heft will happen soon.

This overwhelming sense of portent is currently both Westworld’s strength and weakness.  Returning to Game of Thrones for a moment, there is a show not lacking in fan theory and wild speculation, but which for the most part never loses sight of the fact that it is entertainment.  For all its ambition, craft and style, Westworld is in danger of taking itself way too seriously.  Of course, there has rarely been a huge-budget show like this taking such a confidently intellectual approach to its material. It’s a huge leap from Michael Crichton’s pulpy source material, and for that is should be applauded.

It does help that the pace picked up considerably this week, although hindsight also helps in appreciating the groundwork laid by slower episodes like last week.  ‘Reunion’ laid clues like breadcrumbs for us to follow.  Overall, ‘Virtù e Fortuna’ is a fascinating hour of TV.  It’s maybe lost the sheen of the new, and initial joy over the painstaking world-building has faded, but it still trumps just about every other current series.

Are you enjoying the new series of Westworld? Let us know what you made of this episode.

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