WESTWORLD Review: 2.03 “Virtu é Fortuna”

"She has a dragon!"

Westworld had to have a straightforward episode sooner or later. After a season and change of dancing between timelines, this week's entry follows a surprisingly linear structure, alternating between its A and B stories and building to an action climax. Stories move forward, mysteries resolve or become further illuminated, and characters develop. Almost like a regular show!

Even in Westworld's most conventional episode, though, there's still a surprise in store - right at the top of the hour. “Virtu é Fortuna” opens in the “Park 6” teased in the season premiere: a historically problematic recreation of British-ruled India, apparently based around hunting and jungle adventure. As a sitar-laced “Seven Nation Army” cover plays on the underscore, we meet two guests who have grown weary of the easy conquests proffered them by their hosts, so flirt with each other instead. That’s an interesting relationship, but it’s as short-lived as their post-coital hunting expedition. Seems the robot rebellion has spread to Park 6. Rogue hosts kill the male member of the couple, while a Bengal tiger chases the female member out of the park boundaries, off a cliff, across a body of water, and - later in the episode - into the waiting arms of Westworld’s Ghost Nation.

I have serious questions about Delos Destinations’ security protocols.

After that supremely intriguing cold open, “Virtu é Fortuna” returns to Westworld, following two sets of characters as they navigate the post-revolt park.

The B-plot here revolves around Maeve, Hector, and Lee, making their way towards the homesteads where Maeve expects to find her daughter. Central to this plotline is the assertion, on the part of the two hosts, that in becoming aware of their backstories’ artificiality, they've grown beyond them, becoming masters of their own destiny. But neither Maeve nor Hector can escape the narratives written into their digital DNA: an encounter with the Ghost Nation hosts that killed her daughter sets off an emotional flashback for Maeve, while Hector's florid romantic speeches are merely words Lee wrote. For the revelation that Hector and his romance are based on one of Lee’s breakups, Maeve has nothing but scorn. Fair enough, really: using one’s robot LARP narrative as personal therapy is pretty sad. 

Maeve’s quest steps up in excitement, however, when a trek through Westworld’s subterranean access tunnels brings her troupe into contact with a flamethrower-wielding Armistice, returned from season one with a new, skinless robot arm. Armistice visibly relishes the park's new power dynamic, taking delight in torturing hapless technicians Felix and Sylvester, also returned from season one (and also both named after cartoon cats, now I think of it). Now a group of six, Maeve and company return to the surface, entering a Hateful Eight-ish snowy section of the park - and running straight into a host from the long-teased Shogun World just before the credits roll. Better hope our friends have solid hand-to-hand combat skills.

(Side question: are these parks all on different islands, or is this one island divided up into multiple parks? Lee’s reference to the “north edge of the park” suggests there is an edge to the park that isn’t a coastline, and it seems unlikely that so many people or animals would swim or float over to an entirely different island. Food for thought.)

The other storyline this week follows Bernard and Dolores as their paths meet once again - under vastly different circumstances to last time. Bernard and Charlotte, still tracking the valuable Abernathy host, find their quarry held captive by bandits, along with several frightened guests. Despite hotwiring the lead bandit to be kind, compassionate, yet deadly to evildoers - a rare funny moment for a levity-light show - Bernard manages to get himself and Abernathy captured by confederados, splitting up from Charlotte in the process.

Those confederados bring Bernard and Abernathy to a fort that's been taken over by Dolores and her increasingly cultlike gang of masked rebel hosts. Facing her two father figures is quite a moment for Dolores, who like Maeve and Hector will likely never divorce herself from the fictional life created for her. It’s an especially sad moment when she finally speaks to her estranged dad, only to discover his mind is flitting between different characters seemingly at random. If our minds are just biological code, then this is surely the android equivalent of mental illness - conflicting code smashing against itself and failing to make sense of it.

Bernard, however, knows all too well who and what he is - and unlike Dolores, seems directionless and dispassionate since learning of his android nature. Dolores wants to dominate the world, but Bernard just coasts along, barely even noticing that his own body is beginning to break down. He hasn’t seen the outside of the park; he doesn’t know what his purpose in the world is, beyond what was assigned to him. So, without anything better to do, and with his skills as a technician, he investigates the malfunctioning Abernathy. 

What he discovers inside is a huge repository of data - something significant enough to have him exclaim “oh my god” before the show cuts dramatically to the next scene. This kind of manufactured suspense is incredibly frustrating - our point-of-view character knows what he saw, but for now we're forced to guess. I suspect it’s the key to William’s big construction project, which I also suspect is a repository of guest data collected over the years. But we’ve only had innuendos towards these ideas - and there’s only so much characters can winkingly say they know a secret before we need to be let in on it.

Meanwhile, Charlotte manages to locate an early wave of cleanup troops, joining them in taking on Dolores’ army. (Side note: Lee refers to these troops as “QA,” or quality assurance - another in an expanding array of game development references, and one of the more darkly amusing.) It doesn’t entirely make sense why these highly-trained, well-equipped troops would fight the rebel hosts in a conventional ground battle, given the circumstances, but that’s what they do - in one of the first large-scale action sequences the show has seen.

The confederados have little hope of winning here, given that they’re hiding behind barrels and stoking flintlock rifles while QA wear Kevlar and wield P90s. It’s a pretty hilarious sequence, actually, as modern soldier types take on Old West gunfighters - at least, right up until Dolores pulls a stunning, perplexing move in having her troops gun down her newfound allies. Her reasoning borders on psychopathic: the confederados don’t deserve to rule the world like she and her clan do, presumably because they’re not pure, awakened survivors like them. That’s an intriguing wrinkle to her character, signaling that Dolores is developing some kind of crazed philosophy to guide her actions. It’ll be interesting to see where that pushes her - especially given that Teddy fails the apparent test of loyalty that Dolores sets, letting Major Craddock go instead of executing him.

Elsewhere in the chaos: Charlotte and her QA support troops grab Abernathy, taking back their important corporate asset despite a spirited defense from Dolores. Bernard attempts to escape the battle site, only to get caught between his own malfunctioning body and Clementine’s very-functioning ability to knock him out. And thus, characters that started the episode by coming together split apart again.

Things to look out for next week: what will our Park 6 refugee get up to in Westworld, presuming she survives whatever the Ghost Nation have in store? What’s the deal with that samurai? What does Dolores need to retrieve from Sweetwater, and how much further will she tumble down her philosophical rabbit hole? And what, for the love of Christ, is the secret being guarded by Abernathy’s encryption key and seemingly half the characters on the show? I'm still betting on a FutureWorld-esque plot to replace world leaders with replicants, but drop your theories in the comments - I know you will.