Westworld Goes East in “Virtù e Fortuna,” Because Rich White People Love Them Some Colonization
Ooh! Honey! Let's go pretend to be colonizers in Asia! What fun!
While we’ve seen a smattering of guests of color in the park, and we have Charlotte Hale as the representative of corporate power, the fact is that the “fantasies” of Westworld are designed to appeal to rich white people who love them some colonizing and appropriation. This week’s Westworld shows us just how much fun rich white people seem to think colonizing is, even during whatever future this show takes place in. Ooh! Honey! Let’s go pretend to be colonizers in Asia! What fun! It’ll be a nice change from pretending to steal land in the Old West! [**SPOILERS WILL ABOUND IN THIS POST AND THE COMMENTS! BEWARE!**]
The official synopsis for this week’s episode, “Virtù e Fortuna,” is “There is beauty in who we are. Shouldn’t we, too, try to survive?” The line is Dolores’, as she tries to convince Bernard of the righteousness of her cause. However, throughout the episode she proves that she isn’t only interested in survival, but in domination. And not just domination of the humans, but of fellow hosts, including Teddy, the man she supposedly loves.
The title of the episode itself is telling, as it speaks to the philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli.
But before we get into that, something that struck me about this episode was the way that it framed the revenge of the hosts that represent marginalized people in the real world. In a way, they’re marginalized twice over, as they’ve been forced to play the role of those who are beneath even certain (white) hosts.
The episode opens in what seems to be a different park entirely, set in India during the British Raj. A guest named Grace (Katja Herbers) sits with an attractive blonde dude who clearly wants to get some. After putting him through a pretty intense test (Grace shoots him with a Westworld gun to see if he’s a host, because she wants to ensure that he’s human and truly desires her), they have sex, and then go off to hunt Bengal tigers.
There’s something up with Grace, and I imagine that she might figure heavily into this season’s overall story. Despite her being cornered by Ghost Nation warriors who appear ready to scalp her at the end of the episode, Herbers is credited in two more episodes. So, either she makes it out of that pickle, or she appears in flashbacks, and her importance will be revealed that way.
Good, because I need to know what’s up with her journal, and why she’s got a map in it:
When they arrive for the Bengal hunt, Grace notices that all the hosts that are supposed to be there are gone. She discovers the bodies of dead guests, and watches in horror as the blonde dude is shot by the Indian guide who brought them there. She finds a pistol and uses it to defend herself against the guide before running off … only to be chased by one of the very Bengal tigers she was there to hunt.
It charges at her, and they both go flying off a cliff and into the ocean. She survives that, only to make it to shore to be cornered by the aforementioned warriors.
That isn’t the only time we see the Ghost Nation in this episode. As Maeve, Hector, and Lee continue their journey to the “Homestead” setting where Maeve’s previous storyline took place to look for her daughter, they run into some Ghost Nation warriors. Maeve immediately recognizes one as the man who attacked her and her daughter at one point in her old story, and she becomes petrified.
Hector, however, speaks their language and talks to them. (I love that they just had a conversation with no subtitles—if any of you know what exactly was being said and what language they were actually speaking, please say so below!) They have no interest in causing trouble for Hector or Maeve. They only want Lee, the human.
That totally makes sense, the hosts being all woke and all, now. Whereas Ghost Nation natives were programmed to be “bloodthirsty savages” in the game, coming after “homesteaders” like Maeve in the process, they now seem to want to take their revenge on the humans who got their jollies off of that stereotype, and in this case, the specific human who wrote that story.
So, in this episode, we have the Indian hosts rising up against their “British oppressor” guests, and we have the Ghost Nation hosts rising up against Westworld’s human guests, and the creator who wrote them to be racist stereotypes. They’re taking control of their narrative, and their lives, entirely separate from Dolores and her endeavor.
So let’s get into that Machiavelli shizz, shall we?
Virtù e Fortuna are two concepts that come up in Machiavelli’s The Prince in relation to leading a people and a nation. Virtù encompasses desirable qualities in a leader, speaking to qualities like pride, bravery, civic humanism, strength and ruthlessness when necessary.
Fortuna, on the other hand, is fate or chance—that which cannot be controlled. A good leader, according to Machiavelli, uses virtù to overcome fortuna: if you can control a situation with enough virtù, you can mitigate the effects of chance. Neither virtù nor fortuna have a value on their own. They are only valuable in relation to their positive effect on the state, and a good leader knows when to be ruthless and when to be civil.
Machiavelli also talks about free will in The Prince, basically arguing that human beings have use of their free will to a certain extent, but that fortuna determines an awful lot. Human beings, according to him, never have complete control over fate, but they do have some.
Dolores is certainly trying to do a lot of controlling in order to mitigate the effects of chance. She insists that the host armies she comes across fight at her side, whether they want to or not. She speaks to Teddy as if he belongs to her, waking him up, but never asking him what he wants to do, taking his love for granted and giving him orders.
She is trying her damnedest to exercise virtù—negotiating and being diplomatic when necessary, being ruthless when necessary—and is almost a perfect Machiavellian leader. However, there’s something else that Machiavelli talks about in The Prince that Dolores is risking.
The quote that most people remember from The Prince is this one about whether it’s better to be loved or feared as a leader:
Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.
So, Dolores is definitely working on the fear thing, right? And in the case of Teddy, she spends a lot of time assuming that his love will keep him loyal. However, the whole love and fear thing only works when you consider it in the context of this other piece of The Prince‘s philosophy:
Only the expenditure of one’s own resources is harmful; and, indeed, nothing feeds upon itself as liberality does. The more it is indulged, the fewer are the means to indulge it further. As a consequence, a prince becomes poor and contemptible or, to escape poverty, becomes rapacious and hateful. Of all the things he must guard against, hatred and contempt come first, and liberality leads to both. Therefore it is better to have a name for miserliness, which breeds disgrace without hatred, than, in pursuing a name for liberality, to resort to rapacity, which breeds both disgrace and hatred.
There’s love and fear, but then there’s hatred, and hatred from the people is to be avoided at all costs. The ideal as a leader, according to The Prince, is to be loved and feared. If you have to have one or the other, being feared is better, because people need to know there are consequences for disloyal actions.
However, a leader wants their people to fear them, not hate them, because while love can be fleeting and doesn’t guarantee loyalty for that reason, absolutely no one wants to be loyal to someone they out-and-out hate, and that’s how rebellions happen.
All Dolores does is expend her resources liberally. She uses the Confederate soldiers as actual fodder to keep herself safe, laying waste to a good portion of her fighting force for seemingly no reason, earning the hatred of Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker). She tries to control the fortuna that would go along with that hatred by having Teddy kill the major…but she doesn’t count on Teddy’s free will.
I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT. The moment where Teddy becomes his own person apart from Dolores and finally disagrees with one of her orders and acts in direct opposition to it. As he stands about to shoot Major Craddock as ordered, Craddock tells him that he thinks they are similar in that they have both taken orders from ruthless leaders. Craddock, however, says that he knows who he is and what he wants, whereas Teddy doesn’t, and is “pathetic.”
Teddy insists that he and Craddock are nothing alike, because Craddock is “just a child,” as Dolores put it when explaining why they go easy on most hosts. Because these children “don’t know any better.” It’s this that softens Teddy and prevents him from shooting Craddock. Teddy understands what it’s like not to see, and then to see. To be awakened. He can’t bring himself to shoot a fellow host who doesn’t get it.
So he lets Craddock and the others go. Dolores, meanwhile, is shadily snooping on him and watches him defy her. She looks extremely disappointed. And betrayed.
That’s the fly in all this political philosophy ointment: individuality. Talking about what makes a good leader, and how a leader can control their country’s destiny is all very well and good. But the people under a prince, or a Dolores, are each trying to control their individual destinies, even as their leader is attempting to do the same on a macro level. All fortuna really is is the free will of other individuals, their every action leading to a chain reaction of other actions and conditions.
Even the most well-programmed individual can’t be predicted. As an individual host, Teddy could glitch, or break down. As an individual with free will, he can change his mind, or say ‘no.’ Dolores was an individual who awoke on her own and in her own time, and the actions of this woman growing in consciousness led to revolution.
It’s only a matter of time before other individuals stand up to her the way she stood up to her own oppressors. That’s the way of things. Also the way of things? Dolores, the white rancher’s daughter reacting to her oppression with more oppression. Just saying, you don’t see Maeve, the black brothel madam, out here trying to dominate everyone. She just wants to live her life freely.
“Virtu e Fortuna” portrays a stark contrast between white characters and characters of color in how they inflict and/or deal with oppression. Rich white guests who indulge in racist stereotypes and “the good ol’ days of the Raj” to unwind and have a good time. The blue collar white girl whose innate sense of entitlement allows her to wreak havoc to get what she wants, hurting host and human alike if it means achieving her goal. Showing emotion and not giving a crap about the host revolution when her father comes into the mix. Suddenly, the “greater good” matters less, because she has something personally at stake.
Meanwhile, the Indian and Indigenous hosts slaughter those who’ve slaughtered/abused them, but have the sense and decency to spare and protect their own kind. Maeve will kill if she needs to, but her interest is not in dealing with the humans at all, but in finding her daughter and living a life with her and Hector. She just wants to be a part of the real world. Dolores wants to control it.
So really, the “new” world order is just like the old world order, but with female robots.
SHOGUN WORLD! We end with Maeve encountering her first samurai. I’m very curious to see how Lee wrote samurai and how Shogun World’s hosts respond to the end of human oppression.
CLEMENTINE! She loves knocking people out and dragging them places now, doesn’t she? What is her deal? Where exactly does she sit in all this. Is she Dolores’ “muscle?” Is she on her own journey?
PETER ABERNATHY! Charlotte finally got her runaway host and is bringing him back to Delosthe same company that would’ve let her die if she didn’t find them their “package.” Here’s another example of a character of color programmed to serve the interests of rich, white people. And she’s not even a host!
BERNARD! He opened that encrypted file that was stored in Peter Abernathy and was very much trying to keep it to himself. What did it say? And how/why is he going to keep it from Dolores?
What did you think of this week’s Westworld? Let’s talk about the host revolution below!
Westworld airs Sundays at 9PM ET on HBO.
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