'Westworld' Episode 3 Takes Us to New Parks (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from "Virtù e Fortuna," Episode 3 of Westworld Season 2.]
During the first season of Westworld, a significant chunk of the audience figured out the biggest mysteries (the dual timelines, Bernard being a host, etc.) well before the show itself intended to reveal them, which sometimes meant episodes felt meandering and slow-paced, especially in the middle of the season. Across the first three episodes of Season 2, Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have countered those criticisms with a fast moving, momentum-building story which wastes little time in answering questions.
Sunday's episode, "Virtù e Fortuna," in particular moves things forward in a substantial way, as characters converge, the scope of the world is expanded, and mysteries are unraveled in spectacular fashion. Rather than letting these puzzles pieces linger all season long, Westworld has mastered the technique of providing satisfying answers while simultaneously introducing new questions. The stunning opening to tonight's episode is a perfect example of offering insight and intrigue in equal measure.
It's immediately clear we're somewhere unfamiliar when we hear a sitar rendition of White Stripes' “Seven Nation Army” followed by a shot of two peacocks grazing in the foreground. The Hindu-like temples in the distance assure us that we're not inside the Westworld park, and the parasol-shaded tea party of rich white folk in vintage-dress and pith helmets tell us we're not in modern day, real-world India. This is colonized India. This is British Raj-era India. This is... a new park! The first of two new worlds introduced in this episode.
Of course, with a new park comes new guests, including a suave-looking British man (Neil Jackson), who the credits refer to as Nicholas, and a mysterious brunette woman, played by Katja Herbers, who the credits leave nameless. Mystery Woman appears to be a frequent visitor of the park, or is at least familiar with how it operates given that she insists on shooting Nicholas in the chest before having sex, which is not just kinky foreplay, but a test of whether he's host or human. It turns out he's human, which is unfortunate for him when he's shot for real a couple of scenes later by an off-his-loop host.
It turns out the robot uprising is not restricted to Westworld, the hosts in the other parks are acting out and murdering guests too, which Nicholas and Mystery Woman find out first-hand after they take an elephant ride into the jungle for what is intended to be a leisurely afternoon of Bengal tiger hunting. Oh yeah, wanted to know where that dead tiger came from in Episode 1? Well, here's your answer, it chased Mystery Woman to the perimeter of the park and pounced on her, sending them both hurtling towards the sea below.
Whoever Mystery Woman is, she is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, and her survival instincts remind me of another guest, William/Man In Black (Ed Harris), who also remained nameless for the majority of his first season. And, like the Man In Black, she is searching for something in the park beyond simulated safaris. The hand-drawn map in her diary suggests she has a specific destination in mind. The valley beyond? That's where everyone else seems to be congregating. The fact that the show is playing coy with her name implies she is a significant piece of the puzzle, especially now she's washed up in Westworld.
Speaking of Westworld, the action is ramping up there too, as the disparate stories begin to come together. Broken Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) locate Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum) and free him from the clutches of murderous outlaw Rebus (Steven Ogg) with a well-orchestrated sneak attack and some good old-fashioned code fiddling – another question from the premiere answered regarding Rebus' transformation from misogynistic scumbag to virtuous m'lady savior. But Abernathy's constant glitching gets him and Bernard captured by Confederado soldiers. Charlotte, showing off her own survival skills, high-tails it out of there and makes it back to Delos basecamp to regroup.
Bernard and Abernathy are taken to the appropriately named Fort Forlorn Hope, where Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has taken over having struck a deal with the Confederados to help stave off the Delos attack. Dolores is in tyrant-mode, but when she's reunited with her father, we begin to see glimpses of the sweet rancher's daughter beneath the cold Wyatt exterior. Abernathy notices it too, as he suddenly snaps out of his gibberish talk and recognizes Dolores as his daughter, reverting to his previous narrative. The pair reminisces about life on the farm, taking care of the calves in the field and drinking coffee on the porch. It's a reminder that deep down, the Dolores we know and love still exists.
The reunion is short-lived, however, as Abernathy continues to malfunction. Dolores has no choice but to ask for Bernard's help, to see if he can fix her father. Bernard, who is still coming to grips with his own reality, seems panicked by Dolores' wider intentions. “What do you want Dolores?” he asks. It's not a question usually asked of a host, whose preprogrammed wants and desires were always secondary to those of their human masters. “To dominate this world,” Dolores answers. Bernard explains that “this world” is just a speck of dust sitting on a much bigger world which is impossible to dominate. But Dolores realizes that Bernard has never left the park, he's never seen “their world," and in a brilliant bit of role reversal, Dolores becomes the teacher.
“The world out there is marked by survival, by a kind who refuses to die, and here we are, a kind that will never know death, and yet we're fighting to live,” Dolores says, returning to this episode's theme of survival. “There's beauty in what we are, shouldn't we too try to survive?” It's a question which highlights Dolores' motivations throughout this episode, every move she makes is out of self-preservation. She never had any intention of working with the Confederados; she merely needed their men to survive the human threat. They were a sacrificial shield, a trap to lure in the Delos soldiers so that Dolores could blow them all to smithereens with Nitro explosives.
It doesn't all go according to plan though, as Charlotte sneaks into the Fort from the back with a couple of Delos guards and kidnaps Abernathy. Dolores chases them down, deflecting bullets like the Terminator, but she's unable to catch up to them before they escape. Bernard, who earlier managed to break Abernathy's encryption code and find the hidden data, also tries to make a run (or crawl) for it, but he's stopped in his tracks by Clementine, who bashes him in the head with the butt of a rifle and drags him off-screen. Poor Bernard just can't catch a break.
If you thought Dolores was merciless before, then lord only knows what she has in store now. “You and I are going to Sweetwater, there's something I need there,” she tells Teddy (James Marsden), before ordering him to execute Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker) and the other surviving Confederados. Teddy is clearly conflicted, and Craddock plays on that, telling Teddy, “We're both triggermen to tyrants, except me, I know what I want, but you ain't even sure about who you take your orders from.” A disappointed Dolores watches from a distance as Teddy is unable to pull the trigger, instead, he lets the men go free. If this is survival of the fittest, Teddy might not have what it takes for what comes next, at least in Dolores' eyes.
Across the other side of the park, Maeve (Thandie Newton) is still on the hunt for her daughter, and her journey is also one of reunions and fights for survival. As always, she is joined by her liquored-up lover Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), and sniveling weasel Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who is aghast that the two hosts are romantically entangled. Maeve promises Hector that once they find her daughter, the three of them will make it out into a new world, “the real world,” and start a new life together. Sizemore can't believe what he's hearing, given that he coded Maeve to be perpetually single. It's also another example that Maeve's goals are much more personal and self-contained, compared to Dolores' world domination plans.
After an ambush by Ghost Nation tribesman, who don't react to Maeve's verbal commands, the trio flee and make their way down into the park's underground tunnel system. The sound of gunfire and pained screaming echoes throughout the tunnel walls, and from a ball of flames emerges Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), last seen having her arm crushed in the Season 1 finale. “She has a dragon,” Hector remarks in awe, referring to her newly acquired flame-thrower. The reunions don't stop there, as it turns out Armistice has herself a couple of prisoners, technicians Felix (Leonardo Nam) and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum). It's great seeing these characters back, well, maybe not Sylvester because he's a sleazebag, but Armistice and Felix make for fun side-characters.
Maeve's ragtag gang pile into an elevator and make their way back out into the park. It's now dark outside and... snowing? Much like the opening of the episode, something doesn't feel quite right; there is something... different. Sizemore believes they're on the edge of the park, not too far from the homesteads where Maeve's daughter awaits. But he's wrong. While the group cautiously approach a nearby campsite, Sizemore notices a helmet buried in the snow, attached to the decapitated head of a Japanese warrior! Before he can warn the others, a shadowy figure comes charging out of the jungle swinging a samurai sword. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are in ShogunWorld!
The promise of a new park was hinted at in the season one finale, as well as the promo material for Season 2, but I never expected to get two new parks in one episode, especially this early in the season. It's exactly what I meant when I said this season is powering ahead rather than stalling for time. Also, introducing two new worlds like this ran the risk of being overkill or gimmicky, but I didn't get that impression. Instead, this felt like confident storytelling from a show willing to burn through plot and expand their universe while still maintaining the core themes which are driving the narrative forward.
- Katja Herbers played Dr. Eden in the final season of The Leftovers, a character who promised a way to another world/reality. I thought that was a neat connection.
- In the present Beach Bernard meets back up with Charlotte at the cold storage factory. Charlotte seems surprised that Bernard survived. We learn that Charlotte is still looking for Abernathy, which means she lost him again somewhere between the battle at Fort Forlorn Hope and now.
- Will we see Nicholas again? It looks like he was shot in the shoulder, which shouldn't prove fatal. I suspect he will make his way into Westworld at some point in search of Mystery Woman.
- It's interesting that Maeve couldn't control the Ghost Nation tribesmen. Remember in Season 1 they also ignored commands from Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth)? Part of me wonders if the Ghost Nation tribe gained sentience many years ago and have been living with free will on the outer edges of the park?
- Any guesses what Dolores needs from Sweetwater? That's the small town where guests enter upon arrival at the park.
What did you think of Episode 3? Let me know your thoughts and theories in the comments below.
Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO