A sitar-strummed opening to this week’s Westworld, saddled with the Machiavellian title “Virtù e Fortuna,” might rub you the wrong way, but it’s the way it should’ve been rubbing you all along. Appearing as a new park, this colonial-ass Disney version of the Crown’s rule in India is a more honest version of the fantasy the company offers. It’s what happens when everyone isn’t the same pale shade as in whitewashed fantasies of the Old West and the subservient hosts reflect the historical power dynamics, making the parks’ gross exploitation more abruptly obvious. The white linens and juleps of the plantation owner are part of the florid set design, which is punctuated with extras whose casting call must’ve said “looks like the bad guy in Jumanji.” It’s a stereotype of a stereotype, which makes it the most forthright of all.
We learn about it through guests played by Neil Jackson and Katja Herbers (whose eyes throw mischievous gazes like Carrie Fisher, with the latter’s same self-assuredness), two humans looking for a shade of fun more messy than the park’s sterilized hosts. Herbers’ ass-grabbing pleasure at finding some real flesh and blood in the park takes a step in an even more deliciously masochistic direction when she threatens Jackson’s guest with a special host-zapping gun. Her sexual eccentricities have evolved with her desire to get back to what is real and avoid the false promises of doting bots. When she shoots him, despite his protests, it shows how serious some of the guests are about their small revolts against the status quo, while finally giving the series some of the sexiness it’s sought from the beginning. The two actors have great chemistry, and the staging is perfect for a whirlwind hookup. More importantly, though, the romance reassures us on one main point: A bit of danger is always more exciting than a sure thing.
That’s what makes the episode’s opening (and the narrative this season is pursuing) so much fun. There’s uncertainty, but not as it was in Season One. The question is no longer whether the writers are playing tricks on us, but whether the sentience of the hosts can alter the course of their prewritten stories. That brings us back to The Prince, from which the episode derives its title. The relevant section contemplates fatalism, with a twist: Our destinies and fortunes are instilled upon our creation, but with the savvy application of our wills and energies, we might be able to bend future circumstances to profit more or hurt us less.
Bernard’s (Jeffrey Wright) destiny is certainly in flux. His malfunctions are becoming more severe, all in the midst of a Delos operation to handle the host revolt and find the escaped Peter Abernathy. It’s through this that he reunites with Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale, who was mysterious enough during their last encounter (the first episode’s flashback) that she’s definitely one to watch. Or at least one of the top contenders for “people who know Bernard’s really a host”—which is a possibility that becomes more and more likely as the moments between the present and the pair’s premiere scenes are filled in.
Dolores, introducing herself now as Wyatt (Evan Rachel Wood), continues her quest for an army to survive the approaching Delos forces (hilariously, the QA department), which begins with the anachronistic delight of an Old West general getting a P90 machine gun. This will be much to the delight of dads around the world—especially mine—who always comment that what film characters defending, say, the Alamo or Helm’s Deep really need is a machine gun.
Since Bernard and Peter are captured by the same group with which Dolores has aligned herself, there are some truly personal and intriguing reunions. How much affection does the host retain for her father figures, both within the narrative and without? And how much affection do we retain for Peter, whose penchant for mumbling Shakespeare hasn’t gotten any less annoying? Dolores’ conversation with her host father is a heartbreaking analogy for senility on one level and for the ideological canyon that can grow between parent and child on another. Dolores is now the caretaker, both in body and in spirit.
Aside from these questions, this also reveals that Dolores and Maeve’s timelines—the ones we’ve been shown—align with the Bernard timeline that we know is the past. When we see Bernard walking around with Delos folks, we really have no clue about our hosts’ fates. That’s a scary little twist that leaves a lot of wiggle room for the androids to flex some newfound virtù in the interim.
Speaking of which, Maeve (Thandie Newton) continues her solo expedition (well, OK, accompanied by a duo of dumb dudes on opposite sides of the badass scale, played by Simon Quarterman and Rodrigo Santoro) to Hector’s still-rampaging gangmates and the forever cowering morgue men from the first season. She and her companions flee some Native American hosts in a chase scene that feels especially toothless after the opening’s tiger hunt gone wrong. The following dissection of the Westworld writer (and, presumably, some of the Westworld writers) makes up for lackadaisical action with thrilling conversation.
More of this comes when Dolores and Bernard realize that Peter is simply a poor vessel for an encryption key, carrying the code necessary to access the park’s true treasure. When the more technologically advanced oppressors come to crush the resistance with their bulletproof vests and cool war buggies, it’s just more proof that this QA team is more about value retention than it is about solving bugs. Everyone ends up dying (a small tweak to the initial plan of just MOST people dying), which sacrifices satisfying action for a too-quick, whirlwind display in service of a single twist that we already knew: Dolores is cold-blooded as hell; Teddy, not so much. The episode ends with a few whispers masquerading as bangs, with gunshots trying to lend tired “we’re not so different, you and I” speeches some of their resonance, and a few fresh bangs holding their own. The parks are colliding more tangibly than ever, which only throws more wrenches into the machine and introduces more ways to mess with Lady Fortuna.
Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.