Westworld S02E03: Virtu e Fortuna – The season’s first big battle fails to hide a lack of urgency

Three episodes into season two of Westworld has shown us new strengths and weaknesses that the show has picked up after its long hiatus. Season two feels narratively bigger than season one, with a bigger cast, new timelines, and lots of blood, but there is a distinct lack of urgency to Virtu e Fortuna that leaves the season feeling fractured in a way that isn’t part of the design. After what was basically a two-part reintroduction to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s world that showcased the chaos unleashed by Ford’s last deadly game in the first episode, and Dolores and William’s parallel stories in episode two, episode three feels oddly directionless.

This makes a certain kind of sense for everything in the episode that doesn’t involve Dolores. We are introduced to another park that is basically next door to Westworld. Instead of adding to the samurai tease of last season, we see a completely different park entitled Raj World. Considering that most of what we see in Westworld, before the war at least, was humans paying for the privilege to let their baser selves run amok while killing, raping, and sometimes going the white hat root, the pleasures provided by Raj world are somehow a lot more sinister. Westworld is a fantasy first and foremost. It’s not the real Wild West, rather it’s the West of John Ford movies with the production design of Deadwood and the blood budget of Django Unchained. Raj World provides the illusion of a time that isn’t as far removed from history as many would like. Raj World is the fantasy of colonialism, which is a really clever move on the part of the writers because I immediately wanted these particular guests to die horribly rather than enjoy a fantasy of the sun rising once again on the British Empire.

Even so, this is a great sequence, introducing the nameless woman, who I at first thought was the younger version of dearly departed Theresa (I’m over guessing the timelines this season to make up for the fact that I totally missed them last season), as she loses her f**k buddy and survives a homicidal host and a dodgy CGI Bengal tiger. It’s tense, but most important it immediately had me rooting for this guest, hoping that she survives while also bringing new storytelling possibilities. Which leads me to my theory for this week. This guest is almost certainly William’s daughter. It makes sense due to the simple fact that she must have a connection with someone in the park, and since she already met Dolores when she was a little girl, and last week was all about starting both Dolores and William on a collision course yet again, the addition of this new character, and the motives behind it, go together rather nicely. Bad luck with the Ghost Nation though, but we’ve already seen how tough she is.

Virtu e Fortuna has two main purposes. The first is to show how far Ford’s narrative reaches, which seems to be at least two other parks as well as Westworld. The Bengal tiger already hinted at yet another park, and the samurai cliff-hanger confirms to us that the Samurai World has awoken as well. The second purpose is to show the wide range of behaviors that the hosts are discovering within themselves. This is one of the reasons why Lee Sizemore is still around, also because he’s Nolan and Joy’s parody of a showrunner. It’s through Lee’s recognition of his own words coming out of Maeve and Hector’s mouths that we see how much they have changed. It’s written into both their characters that they are alone and dissatisfied, but they have forged a bond that is stronger than a mere script. It’s the unreality of their world that has helped them, and Dolores and Teddy, change just as Ford intended. While Maeve’s plot still feels like the story with the lowest stakes, the combination of her, Hector, Lee, and the addition of Felix, Sylvester, and Armistice (long live Armistice!) has been the platform for some of Westworld’s most interesting ideas.

The battle between Dolores and the Delos team, with the aid of the Confederates, should have been better. Even with the level of spectacle it still felt a little perfunctory, and nothing compared to the smallest battle of the show it’s looking to replace: Game of Thrones. The action wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t especially thrilling either. This was in most part due to the quieter moments of Dolores’ story this week which were, for me at least, much more interesting. I’m talking about the return of her father, Peter Abernathy. Peter has served various function in the show so far: from an example of what happens to hosts that wake up too early, to a walking hard drive needed to smuggle secrets out of the park, to a genuine connection between who Dolores was to who she is now. Much like Maeve and her lost daughter, Dolores still has a formative bond with her father. What was so compelling about the interactions between fake father and fake daughter was that they mirrored a scenario that a lot of people can relate to. Take away the sci-fi robot exterior and you have a daughter that is trying to cope with a parent with a form of dementia. Her request to Bernard comes across as a person hoping that there is a way to treat this disease or even cure it. These human maladies extend to Bernard. This is why Westworld is so well-considered. It’s these human moments that rise above the brutality inherent to its premise. I’m all for these violent delights having violent ends, but not when it distracts from these character moments.

7/10 – There’s a lot of interesting things going on in Virtu e Fortuna, but the central battle serves as a distraction rather than feeling like the main event.

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