Westworld at its most ideal seeks to be a story that is rooted in exploring the tragic, cyclical natures of violence and oppression. The two concepts, while standing just fine on their own, are nevertheless undeniably intertwined in their relationship. Oppression, the deliberate and often brutal subjugation of “the other,” is a system that is often created and maintained through the adoption of violence. Violence in its turn often relies upon systems of oppression to be adopted at all – whether the adoption is by the oppressors or the oppressed.
“Virtù e Fortuna” draws its name from two concepts entrenched in the work of the famed and infamous political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. In The Prince, he uses the two concepts to draw his heavily analyzed distinction of what makes a great leader. Machiavelli argues that “virtù” is defined by a leader’s ability to do what must be done, for a leader has the added responsibility of those they are leading. The constant adoption of what is generally assumed to be virtuous behavior is, in this line of argument, not just weak but irresponsible.
“Fortuna” is the constant thorn in the side of “virtù” because Machiavellian political theory looks upon the concepts of luck with scorn and trepidation. “Fortuna” can be a stunningly good harvest or it can be a sudden realization that your robot travel guide is about to actually kill you. A good leader steeped in “virtù” can mitigate or even negate the consequences of “fortuna,” as long as their foresight serves them well. As several characters in Westworld are navigating the increasingly chaotic world around them, they’re coming to terms with what type of leader they need to become.
The episode opens with an introduction to a brand new park named The Raj, which is a reference to the time period when the British Empire ruled the Indian subcontinent with an iron fist. Ramin Djawadi’s brilliant rendition of “Seven Nation Army” basks in the background as the series establishes a park that is truly fundamentally different from the familiar territory of Westworld. Some of the differences, like the geography, architecture, and climate, are quite obvious. The introduction of The Raj, more importantly, serves to cement the exact type of audience that Delos is attracting.
Westworld and The Raj are both established as the pastoral landscapes of the past that are deliberately designed to be evocative of a bygone era that is wrongly cloaked in an aura of simplicity. The past is hardly ever simple and certainly never forgiving. There is nothing forgiving about colonialism and there is hardly anything simple about genocide. Colonialism is not a vestige that has been forgotten and moved past, it is still very much in play but Delos’s parks are not designed for historical accuracy and self-introspection. They are designed as dreams for wealthy white people, some of whom have found the idea of ruminating in a park designed after one of the most unforgivingly cruel empires in history to be downright delightful.
Two of those visitors, Grace (Katja Herbers) and Nicholas (Neil Jackson) are two such colonizers, melting into a sea of white visitors being served by “exotic” hosts. They form a quick sexual connection, with Grace being the only human visitor so far interested in actually forming a connection with another human. The connection is short-lived, however, as the two of them arrive on elephants for a Bengal tiger hunt and find that the hosts they expected to be there serving them are not there at all.
Grace, proving to be a more astute colonizer than Nicholas, has the foresight to know that something has gone wrong. That foresight, combined with a bit of luck, allows her to run away while her lover dies at the hands of a host guide named Ganju (Sean Mann) but as she pauses for breath in the jungle, she notices the slow growl of a Bengal tiger. Not knowing the obvious trick of jumping to the side, she instead shoots the tiger and tumbles over the cliffside with it. As she washes ashore, she finds herself at the mercy of the Ghost Nation.
Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) claim to leadership was rightfully questioned by Maeve (Thandie Newton) in “Reunion” on the foundation that her assumption that every host would want to fight and fight in the way she is proposing is at its core haughtily presumptions. In this episode, however, it becomes even more clear that as Dolores is becoming a leader in her own right, she is increasingly grappling with the internal conflict being driven by her dueling Wyatt and Dolores personas.
Her Wyatt is a terrifying revolutionary yet she still has to assert herself with weaponry because the men in front of her simply can’t believe that it is a woman whose name has become associated with fear and terror. She gains the Confederados over to her side with machine guns, but Wyatt is terrifically in tune with the Machiavellian “virtù” in this instance. She needs to remove as many of the Delos security forces as possible for she recognizes that there is simply no outright winning this war with the ammunition and army she has at her disposal. She ultimately needs to draw them into a trap and if she has to use a plethora of Confederados as nothing more than literal cannon fodder, she is happy to do it.
Yet when Wyatt reunites with Peter Abernathy (Louis Hertham), Dolores comes back to the forefront. She mournfully frets over her father’s condition, assuring him that she has decided to fight back and that she was going to take care of him. She asserts to a captured Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) When Peter is captured by Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), there seems to be a merging of Wyatt and Dolores as she vows to find her father no matter the cost. That, and the added emotional complexities Wyatt’s disappointment with Teddy’s (James Marsden) act of mercy, makes this arc much more dramatically compelling.
In the other rumblings of Westworld this week, we find Bernard safe and sound with the security team and Charlotte, who is very much alive in the present. His state of mind continues to be precarious but even while he teeters on the edge of full file corruption, he finds something alarming in Peter’s own heavily corrupted file. The audience can theorize away as the Westworld audience is wont to do, but for now the secret is with Bernard and Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) makes sure that he does not escape just yet.
Maeve continues her fantastic team-up with Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and Lee (Simon Quarterman). Maeve’s relationship with Hector unnerves Lee, who is of the vehement mind that their relationship should not exist at all. He has one moment of rare assertiveness in which he recalls a line of his that Hector uses, but Maeve shuts that down shortly thereafter by noting that Lee had sadly simply formed Hector from the type of man he himself has wanted to be. The question of how independent the hosts are and who is more independent than others continues to linger, however, long after the welcome reappearances of Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), Felix (Leonardo Nam), and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum).
The group, now doubled in size, waltzes quietly through the night in an area of the park that has decidedly different topography to the Westworld they had been waltzing through so far. Lee is under the impression that they are near the northern boundary of the park. As the Bengal tiger washing up on the shores of Westworld notes, the boundaries between the parks have dissolved. Amidst the raging fire and snow, Maeve and company wait with bated breath and out of the quiet, a samurai runs forward with a mighty roar and his sword flashes into the night sky.
- Ramin Djawadi’s “Seven Nation Army” is available to listen to right here and on Spotify.
- Peacocks often symbolize awakening and immortality. Make of that what you will.
- The shot of the tiger jumping and taking Grace with it was fantastic. More tension like that, please.
- It seems like no mistake that in Westworld’s continued exploration of colonialism and oppression, that Shogun World would be modeled after the Edo period, when the West made its first serious contact with Japan.
- The acting on this show is superb all around, but Evan Rachel Wood and Louis Hertham take the cake for their reunion sequence.
- “She has a dragon.” Never miss a chance for cross promotion, HBO!
- Does Charlotte suspect Bernard of being a host? The way she looks at him and the tone of her voice suggests that she is perhaps seeing something that she is not letting on.
- Is Bernard in a loop? Am I obsessing over the “clues” from his clothing choices a bit too much?
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did. Comment and theorize away below!
– Akash J. Saran