WESTWORLD Looks Eastward and Explains That Tiger

Steering you toward a sure thing: we’ve got spoilers ahead through  Westworld season 2, episode 3.

Westworld just pulled off a masterfully seamless transition with “Virtù e Fortuna.” The bookends of the episode introduced us to Grace (Katja Herbers) in British Raj World and promised us a trip to Shogunworld very soon. The extended stay with the new character who likes to shoot her lovers just to make sure they aren’t hosts cracked the show wide open. It also gave us a new character whose every move is magnetic.

Grace is sharp and confident, dangerously sensual, and seems relatively chill about leaving the confines of one park for another (but less chill about the tiger about to rip her face off). Just as Maeve ( Thandie Newton) and Dolores ( Evan Rachel Wood) have settled into what will likely be their mode of operation for the rest of the season, Westworld has flawlessly introduced a new player to the game.
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To recognize how difficult a maneuver that is, consider the last time your favorite show introduced a new character and made you immediately care this deeply about them. Sorry, Poochie. It just doesn’t happen that often, and it happened at exactly the right time.

I say that because the other big flip the show pulled off tonight was turning its established genre balance on its axis. Last season Westworld was about bored rich people in the futuristic present visiting a fabricated western past while robots inched toward sentience. This season, because of the stakes being real, Westworld is about settlers in the old west of the present fighting against futuristic invaders with far superior weaponry. It’s more Western than sci-fi now. Plus Kurosawa. And a tiger.

It’s not like Dolores and Maeve’s stories have ossified in a dull way. It’s that the tingling, mysterious edge to everything they did last season has been replaced by respective, singular purposes. A maze replaced by a straight line.

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That changes the show’s core DNA, which explains why watching “Virtù e Fortuna” felt more like watching an episode of Game of Thrones than Westworld. Characters had tense conversations about power, Dolores Red Weddinged Colonel Brigham (Frederic Lehne) and his whole crew, and we got an explosive battle sequence. Dolores is evolving into Cersei Lannister. I can’t wait to see if she chops all her hair off.

To that end, Teddy (James Marsden) has messed up big time. Poor, sweet, stupid Teddy. If you’re going to defy a direct order and let a bad guy go in the name of mercy, don’t let your girlfriend/dictator see you do it. The question now is how Dolores Lannister will deal with a man who’s picked up her fallen can ten million times. Is there room for compassion in her reign? Or is the west dominated solely by the way of the gun?

Westworld also feels more Western than sci-fi now because we spend most of the time thinking of Dolores, Teddy, Maeve, and the others as people instead of robots. We still see them occasionally for what they are underneath, but the bulk of their actions are gingham-clad, horse-riding, steppe-navigating maneuvers to build an old timey army and defend a fort with Winchester rifles. Self-aware or not, the west is the world they know.

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That includes Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), who is a highly intelligent robot modeled after an AI genius…who also finds himself in the middle of a classic Western rescue mission. Yes, it helps that he and Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) were able to reprogram the milk-chugging outlaw to be kind, but 99.9% of that scene was ripped straight out of the Western canon.

Since Dolores and Maeve have clear tasks ahead of them, the Mystery Box elements of last season that launched a thousand thinkpieces adorned with question marks rest squarely on Bernard and The Man in Black’s shoulders. The latter’s quest isn’t even that mysterious as presented in its current form. So far, we haven’t cut away to the past to learn something we should have known to properly contextualize his journey.

Bernard, on the other hand, is still a jumble of foggy memories and questionable motives. He knows about Delos’s secret mission to monitor the guests, he knows about Hale’s interest in Abernathy, he knows that Abernathy has a bunch of stuff in his robo-brain. Is he still somehow under Ford’s posthumous control? Like a dream within a dream, his shaky self-awareness may still be in service of his old master’s demands. Servitude disguised as freedom.

Just for fun, Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) knocked out the show’s remaining repository of mysteries and dragged him off to who knows where.

Stray Thoughts:

  • It’s great to see Armistice again! Snake-faced Terminator is the best.
  • Seriously, why did Clementine knock Bernard out? Why? Have they ever even been in the same scene with any major consequence before?
  • If the robots in Westworld couldn’t harm guests with their bullets, and there’s a Shogunworld, how does that safety feature work with swords?

Images: HBO

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