Thursday 10 May 2018

Westworld - There is beauty in what we are.

Westworld: 2x03 Virtù e Fortuna.

First of, this season of Westworld requires an exercise in self-introspection – which parts of this world still move me? What questions still interest me? What storylines hold my interest? 

There’s the title. It’s two thirds of the concepts that Machiavelli debates in The Prince, missing (deliberately) free will. Virtue is talent and drive, fortuna is the good fortune that cannot be controlled, free will is missing, because perhaps we aren’t quite sure yet if the hosts possess it (or, for that matter, if the humans depicted in this narrative do). It’s interesting that free will is missing, because if anything, at the end of this episode, Teddy of all people steps out of his narrow bonds to act against the will of Dolores, who has commanded him to kill the remaining Confederados. Dolores watches on as it happens, disappointed perhaps, as if the exercise was solely designed to test Teddy’s dedication, as shooting people who have already been defeated seems inherently against the kind of character he is supposed to be. On the other hand – it is Teddy’s programming that determines his virtue, so maybe he doesn’t have the free will to act against that programming, and this is how he ends up where Bernard discovered all those bodies. He takes Dolores’ argument that all the other hosts don’t know any better, that they are children, that they need to be led – but his conclusion is different from hers. They don’t all need to die. 

But this is the ending of the episode. In the beginning, after the Man in Black’s story about how elephants believe sticks to be unbreakable because they used to be when they were younger, and then they never tried breaking them again, there are actual elephants. This is another world entirely, in addition to the one we got a glimpse of at the end of last season – one that is set in Colonial India, and it doesn’t take much to guess what kind of guests would be attracted by that particular premise. It takes us back to the moment when everything fell apart and the hosts became capable of killing, and shows us a woman, Grace, barely surviving the aftermath. It is unclear if she is merely an especially capable guest who just happens to have the skills to make it out of there alive, or if she is connected to the greater conspiracy. She seems very concerned about discerning between what is real and what isn’t, shooting a future lover to make sure he is an actual person, an act that, ironically, a few moments later, would have become lethal when that distinction can’t be made clearly anymore, when the programming of the park that differentiates between hosts and guests becomes irrelevant. 

It’s hard to say how virtue, fortune and free will apply to Dolores at this stage. She talks her way into the Confederados fort and uses them to fend off the DELOS clean-up team, willingly sacrificing all of the Colonel’s men, then killing the remaining few with her terrifying army of “ghosts” and zombies. In her pursuit of her goal, which still remains unclear, she is ruthless and clear-headed by any other considerations. At the same time, by sheer coincidence, Bernard and Peter Abernathy are taken into the fort as well, as hostages, and Dolores remembers Peter as her father. Realising that he is glitching, she gets Bernard to help him – who is there, ironically, exactly because Charlotte Hale was so eager to find Peter. What Bernard finds in Peter’s programming is a thin character (the one that needs to reach the train) concealing a much deeper, complex, encrypted programme (the one that, presumably, contains all the guest data that Charlotte is trying to smuggle out of the park). I’m not quite clear on what Bernard does with this exactly – he decrypts it successfully, and then maybe downloads it into his own body, or maybe not – but in any case, Charlotte Hale successfully manages to capture Peter Abernathy, with the remaining surviving member of the DELOS extraction team. 
Confronted with Abernathy, Dolores returns to her own self, the gentle daughter. It doesn’t feel like an act at all, like all the parts she is containing now are all equally real to her, and she can switch between them at will. It would make more sense to think of Wyatt not as a composite but as a separate role that she is playing, as much as she is insisting that the only role she is playing now is herself. 
Bernard: What do you want, Dolores?
Dolores: To dominate this world.
Bernard: This world is just a speck of dust sitting on a much, much bigger world. There’s no dominating it.
Dolores: You’ve never been outside the park, have you? Out to that great world you speak of. I have. And the world out there is marked by survival, by a kind who refuses to die. And here we are. A kind that will never know death and yet we’re fighting to live. There is beauty in what we are. Shouldn’t we too try to survive?
And so, maybe Dolores’ conclusion is similar to the one that Arnold came to, in the end: that the hosts, who can contain so many things at the same time and can survive death, maybe deserve the world out there more than the humans who created them do. 

Elsewhere, Maeve and Hector continue their journey with Lee the Mule boy in tow, and there is more discussion about whether the pillars of their characters – Hector’s neverending love for Isabella, now seamlessly transferred to Maeve, and Maeve’s love for her daughter – are signs of free will, or the “virtue” that Lee wrote into them. What does it mean that Lee can quote back the words in their heads before they even utter them, that a complete fool like Lee has putt his own ridiculous life story, made more elegant and heroic, into their heads? They travel on, collecting more fools on the way. 

But then, they find that the borders between the worlds have become porous – and dangers from other worlds have made it across. 

Random notes: 

Seven Nation Army is providing the musical cue this episode. 

Considering what the world looks like these days, it is quietly satisfying that Peter Abernathy loudly sings The Battle Hymn of the Republic to the Confederates, and refuses to give up. 

Not going to lie, the most exciting moment in this episode for me was when Armistice made a return with a bloody flamethrower and a bionic hand. I’ll be happy if there’s much more Armistice, and much more Charlotte Hale. 

No comments: