'Westworld': "Virtù e Fortuna"

Monday, May 7, 2018

We Left My Comfort Zone a Long Time Ago

Season 2 / Episode 3 / Written by Gina Atwater, Ron Fitzgerald, and Roberto Patino / Dir. by Richard J. Lewis / Originally aired May 6, 2018

Andrew Wyatt

[Note: This post contains spoilers.]

After last week’s sequence of far-flung flashbacks, “Virtù e Fortuna” returns Westworld to the bifurcated “present and recent past” structure established in the season premiere. (Although it vastly favors the several-days-ago events in terms of screen time.) In the present, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and the Delos response team continue their trek through the haywire park, eventually running into Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), who is very much alive and still searching for her wayward “package” of priceless Westworld code, concealed in the neurons of malfunctioning android Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum).

As the flashbacks reveal, Charlotte and Bernard had previously tracked down Abernathy, just as the former rancher – disguised as a Westworld guest – was about to be sold into slavery to the Confederados. In the ensuing confrontation, Charlotte escapes on horseback, while Bernard ends up captured. He is then marched along with Peter to Fort Forlorn Hope, where he comes face-to-face with Delores (Evan Rachel Wood), now siding with the ex-Confederate outlaws in a brief alliance of convenience. Delores is distressed by the psychologically compromised state of her father, Peter, even though on some level she knows that he is not really her “father” at all. Peter rambles in a feverish delirium, flitting through fragments of past storylines, including his old “Professor” identity that spurs him to quote King Lear: “I am bound upon a wheel of fire that mine own tears do scald like molten lead.” (The demented Lear, not incidentally, speaks these lines to his youngest and most loyal daughter, Cordelia.)

Before these sequences, however, the episode’s cold open provides a never-before-seen glimpse of one of Delos’ other parks on the island: a colonial Indian setting (“Rajworld”) reminiscent of a Rudyard Kipling tale or E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Initially, these scenes don’t appear to add much of substance to the Westworld storylines, other than to confirm the origin of the dead Bengal tiger glimpsed in the season premiere. However, they do conclusively illustrate that the android uprising is not limited to Westworld, the “violent delights” malfunction having seemingly spread like a virus through the system’s hosts (perhaps as a part of Robert Ford’s final design).

What’s most interesting about the Rajworld prelude is its focus on a pair of guests, Grace (Katja Herbers) and Nicholas (Neil Jackson), rather than the hosts. The pair trade witty repartee while lingering over cocktails and sitar music, despite the best effort of the hosts to nudge them toward storylines. Nicholas observes that the park makes a concerted effort to ensure that the guests interact primarily with the hosts instead of other guests, which makes sense given what has been revealed to date about Delos’ secret data-gathering efforts. Grace and Nicholas enjoy a little afternoon delight before heading out on a proper British-colonial tiger hunt, Indian footmen and elephant howdahs and all. What’s likely most salient here, plot-wise, is Grace’s determination to conceal her true purpose for engaging in the hunt, as she quickly puts away her notebook with its sketched maps whenever Nicholas approaches. After the hosts turn on the couple in the forest, Grace manages to escape, surviving a tiger attack only to be captured by Ghost Nation hosts on the fringes of Westworld. Herbers’ relatively high ranking in the episode’s credits suggests that we haven’t seen the last of her character.

Many of “Virtù e Fortuna”’s scenes serve to highlight the “middle ground” ambiguity that now attends the rebellious androids’ behavior, which often seems simultaneously unshackled from and beholden to their prior programming. The physical and mental trauma that Peter is undergoing – which Bernard correctly attributes to the payload of Delos data that is crowding his memory – plainly causes Delores intense anguish. Despite all that she has remembered and learned about the nature of her world, she can’t disregard the emotional connection she once had with Peter, however pre-programmed it might have been. Much as Maeve (Thandie Newton) still cherishes her memories of her “daughter” from a previous narrative, Delores is loath to toss aside bonds that feel real, even if she intellectually knows that they are a lie. In her zeal to rescue her father from the Delos strike team that abducts him from under her nose, Delores momentarily forgets her elaborate battle plan for the defense of the fort, wading heedlessly into a hail of bullets with Terminator-like focus.

Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) have likewise strayed far from their original loops with their emergent Bonnie-and-Clyde romance. Seeing the two hosts holding hands seems to particularly annoy Lee (Simon Quarterman), as though the tenderness inherent in this gesture implied something about the androids’ sentience that he would prefer not to dwell on. For all their hot-blooded willfulness, however, there remains a scripted quality to Maeve and Hector’s outlaw passion. Hector is still parroting Lee’s florid lines, merely swapping Maeve in for “Isabelle,” the dead love of his life that was written into his character’s backstory. Maeve, to her credit, intuits what Lee would prefer not to admit: Isabelle is a stand-in for the woman Lee lost in the real world, and Hector is essentially his bad-boy alter ego. (The fact that Charlotte rebuffed Lee’s flirtations in Season 1 only to subsequently use Hector as a glorified sex toy makes this revelation even more pitiable.) 

The sharpest conflict between programming and self-actualization in “Virtù e Fortuna” is embodied in Teddy (James Marsden), whose internal struggle with Delores’ pitiless methods comes to a head when she orders him to execute the surviving Confederados after the fort battle. Torn between his loyalty to Delores and the reality of Westworld’s horrors on one hand, and his white-hat code of justice on the other, Teddy elects to release the prisoners – a betrayal that Delores secretly observes. Teddy’s situation is arguably the most fraught and complex of all the host characters, as his programming is actually tugging him in two different directions. He is compelled to protect Delores (his “cornerstone,” in Westworld’s parlance) at all costs, but his hard-coded Good Guy nature has made him increasingly conflicted about his beloved’s ruthless, blood-soaked methods.

The battle at Fort Forlorn Hope makes for a relatively action-oriented episode, with a brutal, pyrotechnic payoff when Delores betrays the Confederados and blows everyone outside the fort sky-high with concealed nitroglycerin canisters. The episode’s closing smash-cut also teases a bloodbath to come, with the long-awaited appearance of an errant Shogunworld samurai, who comes charging out of the darkness at Maeve and her allies. In general, however, “Virtù e Fortuna” is most notable for the way it heightens the tension associated with simmering conflicts already in play. Aside from the subplots previously noted – Delores and Maeve’s unwillingness to set aside their false familial ties; Teddy’s emergent crisis of conscience, which may lead to his death in the Valley Beyond – there’s the question of Bernard’s still-malfunctioning memory and physical functions, as well as his ultimate loyalties. Delores briefly attempts to recruit Bernard for her revolution, but a resurfaced Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) drags him off in the aftermath of the fort battle for some unknown purpose. Poor Bernard: If there’s one host character who is enduring his share of undue suffering this season, it’s the former Head of Behavior.

Some miscellaneous observations:

  • Maeve’s admin-level ability to control other hosts verbally does not faze the Ghost Nation warriors, suggesting that either she’s lost her “privileges” or the Native American characters have never been susceptible to her commands. Events in Season 1 suggest the latter, as Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) was previously unable to control aggressive Ghost Nation hosts even before the uprising at the gala.

  • Rebus’ (Steven Ogg) oddly chivalrous behavior on the beach in the season premiere now makes sense: Bernard hastily reprogrammed him to be “the most virtuous and quickest gun in the West,” with amusing results.

  • Peter also quotes from Meditation No. 17 in John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions: “Affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it.” Donne describes the experience of suffering – both through direct experience, and second-hand through empathy with other people – as the means by which humanity becomes closer to God. Westworld pointedly depicts a future so free from discomfort that the wealthy spend ludicrous sums of money to indulge their baser natures as Delos’ parks. Here the show links the softness of the human experience in the year whenever-this-is with the species’ spiritual bankruptcy, and implicitly connects the androids’ copious suffering to their potential ascendency.

  • The screen time devoted in the prelude to Grace and Nicholas’ erotic gunplay seems indulgent at first glance, but it’s understandable given Grace’s mysterious purpose for visiting Rajworld. It’s necessary for her to establish definitively whether Nicholas is human, if he’s going to be tagging along on the tiger hunt. Whatever she’s up to, she doesn’t want to be traipsing through the park’s outer areas with an android who could record her activities.

  • Speaking of Grace, the interlocking hexagon symbol briefly glimpsed on her hand-drawn map also shows up on Bernard’s tablet computer when he’s attempting to hack into Peter’s encrypted data package.

  • All hail the return of everyone’s favorite platinum-haired outlaw, Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), now sporting a replacement cybernetic arm and brandishing a flamethrower to fittingly havoc-wreaking effect.