WESTWORLD: SEASON 2, EPISODE 3: VIRTUA FORTUNA
This world is just a speck of dust sitting on a much much bigger world. There’s no dominating it. – Bernard
This might well be an unpopular opinion, although I have no idea. I’m a Westworld fan, as anyone who read my Season 1 reviews knows. That said, I found the vast majority of last night’s episode to be largely uninteresting, unfocused, and a waste of time. It was the same highfalutin dialogue we’re used to, but meant way less than usual. This is the first occasion where I watched and was entertained, but when it was over I was happy to move on with my day.
A show so mysterious and bent on messing with the mind has to have a larger purpose to keep it moving in an effective direction. For me, that’s always been the morality angle of the human guests and how they live out the darkest and most depraved or sad of fantasies in the theme park. Whether it’s sex or violence or crime or drugs or whatever else, there’s an escape from the person you want to be into the person you know you are (or fear you are), and in most cases it showcases a humanity that none of us wishes to be true.
Now that we have the hosts rebelling, the motivations have become even more confusing, because they don’t have the entire picture and are operating under whatever warped visions they possess outside of their own loops. This week, there was no Man in Black, and what we discovered was this show needs Ed Harris and Jimmi Simpson to be what it should be as an examination of the human condition. With all due respect to Charlotte Hale, there’s nothing intriguing about that character to me in the least. She’s a businesswoman with no code, except the one inside Peter Abernathy she seeks to extract and protect.
The gunfight sequence near the end of the episode was fun, but what exactly did it accomplish? The only thing I personally got out of it was that Teddy’s morality doesn’t match Dolores as he was unable to kill Major Craddock when he was commanded to do so. He loves Dolores, but he doesn’t understand much of what’s going on around him any more than we do as viewers. In effect, Teddy is US. We may have thought we were William, but we’re Teddy. We’re just being led around by this story that jacks us around and asks us to trust it.
Whatever the hell that opening was in the Raj park, which then led to the wraiths arriving at Grace’s (Katja Herbers) feet at the end of the episode, was an example of a conceptual scene with a future, but one that lacks a real present. We’re flipping back and forth in time and space here, and yet there’s still so much about many of these characters that we don’t know. Bernard continues to walk around in a haze, uncovering small morsels but squinting his eyes through his thick glasses frames, and yet again I can relate to him.
This was an hour long episode that did fly by, but left me less interested in what’s to come than at any point in the Westworld run to this point. What exactly is Clementine doing? What does Dolores think she’s going to do when she gets out of the park? All we know right now is she wants the power to say, “I may,” and make her own decisions. What was intriguing in the season opener is now just plodding along in an exciting-LOOKING world where the scenery is more entertaining than the actual story right now.
The mystery right now to me is whether or not the show actually knows where it’s going. I’m seriously not sure. They’ve done an excellent job beginning last week in spots but far more so last night in proving there’s no point whatsoever in trying to predict anything at all. I truly believe it’s possible the ending of the series, or even the season, isn’t fully known. The Girl with the Snake Face Tattoo, also Stieg Larsson’s worst unpublished Salander novel, starring Lisbeth’s sister Armistice, comes back into the fold, as do a number of others, including Felix and Sylvester.
So many things are happening, but how much of it is landing? There’s something to be said for being a little more simple and straightforward and allowing the audience to catch up to what’s occurring in a drama. We know generally what the main hosts want, as much as they do anyway, and we sort of understand what the humans and Delos employees are after, but it’s all wrapped up in this fog of semi-vapid nothingness.
What point is there in recapping all the scenes from last night or the various scenarios? Maeve, Hector, Lee, and the misfit toys are potentially under attack by a shadowy samurai while in the Klondike narrative. That’s a sentence I just wrote, and I have no idea if it’s even real. The most interesting thing, by far, was watching first Dolores’ heart break as she saw her father trapped in a glitched loop made up of fragments of past experiences, then Bernard uncovering what’s inside his head. But, Hale and her guys capture him and get away, which means the quest to get him back becomes paramount.
If there’s one philosophical takeaway, it’s that in Westworld, and perhaps as an analogy to our society, everyone is using someone else. It’s all based on manipulation, and it’s top down, bottom up, and inside out. Delos created the hosts for a purpose, namely to extract a lot of money through the commoditization of fantasy. That’s not original. Pornographers, drug dealers, entertainers, and politicians have done it for decades.
Delos and the guests use the hosts to fulfill said fantasies, and in this case “use” is very much in the realm of prostitution, even if sex isn’t always the goal. The hosts, now that some of them have woken up and recognized their own consciousness of choice, are using EACH OTHER. Watching Dolores use the Confederados as fodder for her larger plan after being upset that the humans used her father as a pawn in their game was illuminating. We never see in ourselves what we despise in others. How easy is it to loathe someone who boasts or lies for prideful purposes, while we do it ourselves in our own lives every single day? We can rationalize for our own issues better than the best attorney on the planet.
What we’re seeing is that as the writers have given the hosts the inclusion of decision-making and taken them off their loops, they’re becoming more human. The motives are growing more and more selfish. During that process, the hosts are now taking on the blemishes of the guests, because the concept of original sin and a flawed nature aren’t germane to William, Logan, Hale, Stubbs, or anybody else in the show. It’s larger than any race, species, or classification.
Bernard puts it perfectly when he talks of the world being a speck of dust sitting atop a larger world that can’t be controlled. Dolores assumes immediately he hasn’t seen what she has, but if we take his statement deeper, at least for believers, this is the essence of life itself. Control is fiction, or at best, it’s temporary and fleeting. She’s not entirely wrong, but she’s wrong enough that she’s dangerous.
This wasn’t bad television. It just wasn’t particularly interesting because it was just a bunch of stuff happening without much tie-in between the various events. There’s a lot going on, but we need a core here. Last season, the core was easy to find even though it was built around a maze. Right now, it’s on the verge of going off the rails. I trust Jonathan Nolan in particular, thanks to the brilliance of Person of Interest, but I need more next week from Westworld.
Me finishing episodes with a headache isn’t exactly what I’m looking for these days, especially when there’s no resolution or sometimes even cohesion to basically anything to be found within an hour of story.
But I did love the ridiculously weird inclusion of a sitar rendition of “Seven Nation Army.”
I’m @JMartOutkick. Love to say hello. We gotta go.