At the midpoint of ‘Virtu e Fortuna’, Dolores encounters Peter Abernathy, the host who – for a time – was her father. On seeing her, his words return to that version of an identity he had that was infused with classical literature:
“I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead.”
This is King Lear, at a moment where the confused and deranged king encounters his youngest daughter, Cordelia. In some ways, it’s an apt lexical tangent for Abernathy, seeing in front of him the host that once was his daughter. He is using what remnants of coherence he has left to communicate with the representation of a daughter that was given to him by his narrative.
After a moment, Dolores is able to coax the Abernathy she knew out of him, and he returns to the scripts they once recited unknowingly. It’s nostalgic and bittersweet for Dolores: she knows that these exchanges were meaningless, even if that gives them meaning to her now. And this brings us to the point raised several times in this episode, a point the show effectively needed to make soon, given what the first season had said about these characters.
Who are these people?
They don’t really have an identity. Dolores switches between the farmer’s daughter and the vengeful Wyatt (and changing her mannerisms and accent accordingly), while cognisant of the fact that neither of these identities are ‘her’. Teddy is conscious, but has been following Dolores blindly. And while he chooses not to shoot the Confederados, this is potentially in keeping with his programming, rather than a conscious rebuttal of what Dolores wants from him.
Sizemore stops Maeve and Hector while hiding out in one of the underground service passageways, pointing out that their declared and growing romance is impossible. They weren’t written that way, and they weren’t designed that way. Despite Maeve’s adjustments to Hector’s coding, he is still hardwired to be alone and lament a lost love that never existed. Hector turns this around, saying that once he was like that but now he’s changed, declaring his love for Maeve. And yet, as Sizemore points out, this is done using the words Sizemore wrote for him. It’s not real, and yet it is. Sizemore has a point, in that Hector’s identity is just a façade, but this façade has been redirected. We’re not sure who Hector is, or Maeve, even if they are still adapted versions of their original characters.
Bernard, for his part, has been literally stripped of all sense of self. Scripted to stay in the park, to function as the right hand of Robert Ford, he is now loose as some in-between type, a hermetic character drifting between hosts and guests, belonging in neither place and without any sense of self drive. It’s implied that he’s uploaded the 35 years of data stored in Abernathy to himself, which could go some way to explaining his state of being in the most current timeline. But why? What impulse has driven him to do this? Without a functioning park, who is he?
There’s an implication that Charlotte perhaps knows Bernard is a host, and it’s conceivable that she is (currently) aware that Bernard contains the data she wants (though the nature of the data is a mystery). The ’35 years’ suggests two things: either information on everything that has ever happened at the park, or information from Arnold’s time. If it’s the latter, then Bernard’s unknowing relationship with Arnold, his original form, could alter dramatically given he potentially holds information that could release some form of Arnold back into reality.
What does all this add up to? These hosts aren’t conscious in the way we might expect. Dolores, Teddy, Maeve, Bernard – they’re all following certain parameters laid out for them previously, they’re just responding to new scenarios. Furthermore, they’ve been gifted their pasts, their memories, but this doesn’t necessarily make them autonomous. In fact, it raises the tragedy for them in that they may be doomed to live out the same scripted lives, only now they’re aware of it and incapable of doing anything about it. These are characters who only really became characters at the end of last season and the beginning of this: prior to that they were whatever was needed from them. Almost like a bad TV show where the writers change their minds about the direction of the story and the characters end up adapting in unnatural ways. Only this time that’s the story: these characters have previously only existed for others, and – for the main timeline of this season – are only a few days old now in their new forms.
But then what does this say for us? How much autonomy do we have? We like to think we get a choice in situations, but so much about our choices is guided by external factors that we are oblivious or ignorant to, that like the hosts, anyone could conceivably script our lives. Work out what choices we are going to make; what words we are going to say. We are, somewhat, just a product of prior configurations to our personality. Once that’s set, how much more is truly, wholly new and original?
This doubt over who is real and who isn’t is there in the opening scene, which serves as the first introduction to one of the other parks. This one seemingly operates to provide guilt-free experiences of colonial exploitation: servants, game hunting, whites calling the shots. It’s an interesting difference to Westworld’s park, in that it’s ostensibly located in the British Raj, but closer to contemporary times than the wild West.
What it does do it show us the barriers between one park and the next (nondescript cliffs and waterways that could pass as any location) and what prevents hosts from travelling between them (security sensors). This sequence is timed to coincide with the host uprising, and so is effectively contemporaneous to most of the action we’ve seen in Westworld so far. However, the character of Grace has other plot reasons for being there other than to escape a tiger. She is shown looking at a hand drawn map with a logo similar to one we’ve seen on many Delos interfaces this season, and her arrival in the Westworld park lands her with the Ghost Nation.
The Ghost Nation appear elsewhere in the episode, in a wary encounter with Maeve’s troop. Their interest is in Sizemore, which allows for some good speculation. It’s too obvious that they want to just kill him because he’s not a host. They’ve operated on the margins of the story so far, but are undoubtedly connected to Stubbs after his Season 1 disappearance. That he is fine and present in the most recent timeline suggests while he was captured by them, he wasn’t harmed. Furthermore, they weren’t responding to his voice commands, which leads to the suspicion that someone (Elsie) reprogrammed them to look after her. So she recruits them, they get Stubbs on side, and then she sends them off for Sizemore. And now Grace. This potentially explains why Maeve’s commands wouldn’t work on them, and why Dolores has no place for them in the valley beyond. (Also: are Maeve’s memories real? Why would the Ghost Nation attack her in her role as a homesteader, which was meant to be a peaceful part of the park? Or are her memories a script, no different to Hector’s lost love? In which case, has it been scripted that she should long to get her daughter back because of this false memory?)
Some answers may be waiting in the next park along – Samurai? Shogun? – where Maeve, Sizemore, Hector, Armistice, Lutz and Sylvester find themselves. Sizemore immediately sees this place as far more dangerous than anything in Westworld, so potentially the parks are more exclusive, immersive, or dangerous, depending on what the guest wants and can pay for. There’s some big steps from hunting tigers, to gunfights, to rushing samurai.
Maeve is there for her daughter, but I’m guessing she will find some other raison d’etre in their inter-park visit. Dolores says she needs to go back to Sweetwater for some reason connected to her father’s abduction, but that much is obscure and seems unconnected to the weapon she wanted to find last episode. And is Abernathy still valuable now given his cognitive impairments and that Bernard has potentially taken his burden?
And finally, the most recent storyline (it is very difficult to discuss these in any coherent fashion) has Charlotte still alive, conversing with the Delos security team and Bernard, and still in search of Abernathy. Only three episodes into the season, and each week we get a further expanding and clarifying of the show’s horizons. What is this weapon? How is it connected to Delos’ overall plan and why does Old William want to burn it all down? And then, do the hosts get out of the park? Some of this, I suspect, we’ll get before the end.