This week’s episode of Westworld is entitled “Virtu e Fortuna,” an homage to the infamously ruthless Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli advocated for leaders to rule with pragmatism and eschew guiding principals of morality. For Machiavelli, a leader with “virtu” would be one that can make the necessary decisions to advance their agendas. When a virtuous leader is met with “fortuna” or fortune/luck, that leader is capable of deftly managing the situation despite his or her inability to predict it. The question is, in the case of Westworld, who is the leader with the most “virtu”? Both hosts and humans have been met with unexpected circumstances — but who will prevail? And what does it mean to do so?
No Escape From Reality
Westworld is beginning to sow a paranoia about who is an AI and who is “real” — the very word “real” here seems arbitrary, for now sentient robots of this universe, while man-made, question what it means to be human at all. A glamorous woman tests her potential lover’s authenticity by shooting him with a gun that would “kill” an AI, but merely disarm a member of the human species before sleeping with him — the value of the conquest much higher when seducing a human lover, rather than an AI.
A lush savanna that surrounds two new characters, who travel by elephant and wear traditional safari garb, clues that this new environment is yet another “world,” a companion park to Westworld. The travelers discover a massacre when they arrive at camp, and a brutal host holding them at gunpoint. The female traveler narrowly escapes death (her male companion is not so lucky) only to be confronted by a tiger. She races away, going so far as to leave the boundaries of the park, but the tiger is not confined by the limits it should be and attacks her. The image of that tiger crossing the threshold into the real world is parallel to the overall message of this season — there is no longer a boundary between the real and the robot, and the humans are no longer in control.
There is Beauty in What We Are
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is still out trying to save the park’s board members who are slowly dying at the hands of the hosts. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) — going by Wyatt — is still recruiting an army to join her in fighting the humans who will eventually come from them. She arms the confederatos with a modern machine gun and shows them its power. She shares a poignant moment with her father, whose own journey to self-awareness is hindered by failing tech. He has some ability for recall — memory seems to be the key to sentience — but each time he begins to remember, he experiences glitches that impair him from truly experiencing his own consciousness. Dolores and her father repeat a sequence of dialogue from the time before their awakening, bittersweet with the realization that although marked by the sweetness of their memories and love for one another, the words themselves were written for them. Disenchantment mars their shared recollections, the way memories from childhood become sad in the context of adult understanding.
Bernard, at Dolores’ request, investigates what could be wrong with her father. He discovers that a piece of software has been hidden inside the father, his character masking a large and heavily encrypted file. As the army prepares for an ambush, Bernard decrypts the disturbing file. The gunshots begin to fly, and it becomes quickly evident that the old West firepower is no match for contemporary armaments. The humans quickly lay siege to the AI’s fort. The take Dolores’ father from Bernard, clearly after whatever file lies hidden within his mind. “What’s so special about this host?” a member of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson)’s team asks her, before speeding away. Dolores manages to use the men to draw the human security forces in closer, and then blows them up with a hidden landmine. “The truth is we don’t all deserve to make it,” says a very Machiavellian Dolores when her plan is questioned. But her confidant Teddy (James Marsden) is unable to embody the same “virtu”. He follows his moral compass and allows the militia Dolores ordered him to execute to escape.
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have preprogrammed into your artificial existence. pic.twitter.com/VVLCFZLgvt
— HBO (@HBO) May 6, 2018
A #MeToo Militia
An abundance of female leaders is at the helm of this season. On the human side, there is Charlotte, who seems to be the only board member capable of doing her job. On the AI side, both Dolores and Maeve (Thandie Newton) are in command of separate missions. It is gratifying to see a future in which women drive the plot and unapologetically demand respect and wield authority. Especially in an environment created by men, where most if not all female characters were originally designed within sexist plot lines that gave them no agency, the female leaders of the rebellion in season two are fueled by the atrocities that have been committed against them.
Westworld continues Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
Photo and video credit: HBO