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Westworld season 2, episode 3 recap: Virtù e Fortuna

Westworld offers a stronger, but still hollow, episode

John P. Johnson/HBO

Let’s talk about that cold open for a bit, because it was really good.

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Westworld season two, episode three.]

There was the linking of the park to British colonialism, which was already an amusing idea, but then it ran with the premise to introduce us to two human characters trying to seduce each other while proving they are, in fact, human. They both ignore other stories to spend time with each other, but it takes a gun to prove without a doubt that they’re not hosts.

It’s a neat thought experiment. Why go to an artificial paradise to playact a historical situation in which people in the past were already dominant over others, and then ignore the easy pleasures being offered in order to make a connection to another human? Who are these people, and what are they looking for? The idea that you’d want to escape from your escapism after a while is a meaty one.

Then, as we already know, the hosts go rogue, and those answers are going to have to wait. If they’re ever going to be provided. But we get another peek into why people may want to visit the park, and what pleasures they might seek there. This is a big step forward from the last episode, which mainly repeated things we already knew.

Then there’s the power struggle between Hector and Lee. Lee is upset that Hector has broken out of his programming to fall for Maeve, but Hector points out the change that happened when he realized his past was just programming. That sort of thing changes a person, whether they’re synthetic or not. Hector then launches into a speech that Lee finishes for him ... because of course Lee write it before programming Hector with it. They’re bound to each other, for good or ill.

And Maeve sidesteps the whole thing by pointing out Lee had programmed an ex-girlfriend into the game, killed her off and then wrote a version of the person he wishes he could be. Someone handsome, who gets what they want. Your creations can have a bad habit of seeing through you, it seems.

And this theme of characters explaining themselves well continues across the storylines. Dolores is even able to make her case to Bernard in a pretty effective way. She’s seen outside the park, and in her eyes it was a world filled with beings who were fighting not to die. The hosts can’t die, or at least they don’t have to. They’re fighting to live. “There is beauty in what we are,” she says.

And hey, Armistice is back! With a flamethrower! Some of the hosts are having a lot of fun hunting down the guests, and I guess she’s one of them.

Westworld is at its best when it adds a goofy layer on its Black Mirror-lite storylines, and this episode does that quite well. We know that Peter Abernathy has been turned into something like a walking USB stick for a huge file, but the show does that thing where a character says “Oh my god” or “This explains everything” and then cuts to another scene without sharing the reveal with the audience. It’s a cheap trick, but it works.

jeffrey wright and evan rachel wood in westworld season 2 John P. Johnson/HBO

But the rest of the episode is shakier. Why do the humans attack the fort by walking straight into enemy fire? We know that the rescue team has to clear the park sector by sector, and Dolores has already tortured her way to learning where that’s going to happen, but the strategy of lining up and attacking an entrenched position straight from the front seems a bit suspect.

The answer to why this plays out this way is, of course, because it makes for a good visual and gives the producers an excuse to blow shit up. But Charlotte shows us how easy it would have been to sneak in through the sides or back. It doesn’t seem like the soldiers would be willing to die for the extraction of a single host, so this battle was a just a bad plan that Dolores and Charlotte both used to get what they wanted, no matter who else died. It exists because the producers of the show wanted a nice, cinematic battle. You can’t really think about it too hard, or at all, before it falls apart.

And it sets up another reveal: Not all hosts are fit to survive in Dolores’ mind, and extraction of the data is much more important than the lives of the human soldiers according to Charlotte. Neither character cares about the lives of anyone else when it comes to getting what they want.

But this attitude leads to discord when Teddy refuses to execute the surviving hosts, a move that Dolores sees and notes. Bernard has been knocked out by Clementine Pennyfeather — still the best-named character on the show — and Peter has been taken by Delos, with Dolores’ men in hot pursuit. For now, though, she’s headed to Sweetwater. There’s something she needs there.

So this was a better episode in terms of asking interesting questions and moving the story forward, even if aspects of it that were supposed to be dramatic often came across as deeply silly.

The problem that the show has yet to address is that none of these characters are very sympathetic, so there isn’t much in the way of emotional stakes when they clash. You don’t have to present the viewer with characters who are clearly good or bad, but you do have to lay out what each characters wants and make us care about whether or not they get it.

And right now Westworld continues to float on momentum. Let’s hope the show gives us a reason to care, and quickly.

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