Westworld: 2.03 Virtù e Fortuna
We got our first look at a new park this week - and no it wasn't Shogun World (though Maeve and co. may have wondered into it by the episode's end). This time it was British colonial India, where two guests (Katja Herbers' Grace and Neil Jackson's Nicholas) flirted over afternoon tea, indulged in some kinky passions to prove they weren't hosts and then took a lovely afternoon elephant ride in the jungle to hunt bengal tigers (all accompanied to Ramin Djawadi's wonderful Indian rift of the classic 'Sweetwater theme').
It was a strange opening sequence, disconnected from the rest of the narrative, at least until the discover of the guests murdered in their canopy as their hosts turned on them. Nicholas was quickly dispatched but worse still was Grace hunted by a tiger she had come to hunt; knowing that guests could be killed made her potential fate particularly nasty.
The chase sequence was incredibly tense, both thrown off the cliff into the water and tying into the tiger found washed up on the shores of Westworld in episode one. As for Grace, it seems her survival might be short lived, escaping the jaws of the tiger only to be skinned alive by Native American tribesmen known to scalp their victims.
I'm intrigued to see where these tribesmen play into the grander scheme of things; Ashley Stubbs managed to survive an encounter with them after the season one finale (by the way - will the fate of Shannon Woodward's Elsie Hughes ever be resolved?) while Maeve was able to halt them for a brief while as she, Hector and Lee continued their search for her daughter. However, her memories of the brutal attack on her homestead that saw her separated from her daughter, led to another frantic chase to a secret underground facility that added another nail biting scene in an already thrilling episode.
It was great to see Lee continuously outside his comfort zone, tagging along as Maeve and Hector's lackey. He attempted to exert some dominance, as he argued against Hector's change of programming - a romance between Hector and Maeve should never have happened - but this only reinforced the idea that the hosts could gain free will, a thought he is obviously deeply uncomfortable with.
There were also some fantastic developments in Delores' story line. Her manipulation of the Confederate armies, and in particular Major Craddock and Colonel Brigham, gave her all the cannon fodder she needed to fight off the superior human forces. Calling herself Wyatt, she has become a woman utterly ruthless with her own agenda, though unlike Maeve she is someone it is hard to feel sympathy for. But perhaps that's the point; as one of the protagonists of Westworld, Delores' goal is to rage war against humanity, that's hard to sympathise with no matter her treatment over the years. Maeve's search for freedom and family is a much more relatable quest.
But Evan Rachel Wood is such a good actress that she remains totally engaging even when her actions are cold; the slaughter of the confederate soldier hosts was a particularly brutal, bleak moment. The atrocities at hand were harrowing to watch, so much so that even loyal Teddy went against her and decided not to execute Craddock and the last of the Confederates. Just what this means for their 'romance' remains an intriguing mystery as her own actions.
The episode did offer some vulnerability to Delores at times; her reunion with Bernard - speaking openly of his model on Arnold - was a refreshing twist on their past connections; now that she is aware of the real world, her experiences have surpassed his. There was also some real tenderness in her reunion with her 'father' Peter Abernathy, driven crazy by sinister programming designed to hide secret code within. It's a code that Charlotte Hale seemed to retrieve during the fight; we also saw glimpses of the future timeline as she revealed to be alive and in control at headquarters. Tessa Thompson's character certainly seems to have replaced the masterful, schemer role defined by Anthony Hopkins' Ford in season one - always one step of the audience and the characters, with her own secret agenda.
Virtù e Fortuna was another masterful episode, giving audiences glimpses of the wider parks - and the spreading host escalation - and continuing to unravel the fates of several characters. The battles were bloody, the chase sequences tense and the mysteries deepened; if the standard of storytelling after three episodes continues for the rest of season two, this looks to surpass the majesty of the first.