Season two is all about women taking charge. Much of it is so satisfying. Some of it is intensely problematic. Welcome to Westworld. Spoilers ahead.
Last night’s episode began with a cold open – we learned that the stray tiger didn’t come from the Sumari section of the park but rather “The Raj,” a playland where guests get to be white people in colonial India, hunting (robotic) tigers. I have to admit, this makes no sense to me. If you’re into hunting, wouldn’t it be no fun to hunt robots? Although I suppose if you’re the type of person who likes to play colonizer (and not say righteous rebel underdog), then I guess you only want to play if the game is stacked FOR you. It’s entitlement taken to the nth degree. So I have to ask, if you’re into white supremacy, why not go all the way and just pretend to be the Klan? Is there a Plantation Park(™) where you can pretend to be a slave owner? Of is that going to be a different HBO show? I’m confused.
You too? Well don’t worry, because here too in “The Raj”, we have the classic Strong Woman archetype(™, again). She’s a great shot (whether her target is humanoid or feline). She likes her sex dangerous (gunplay is her foreplay) but consensual (can a robot really ever consent?). She is the character we’re supposed to empathize with as she faces some of the most exciting action sequences yet this season (a tiger literally chases her off a cliff). But she’s also a person who spends her vacation in colonial India, so are we really supposed to root her? When the other oppressed natives (we’ve switched to Ghost Nation now) capture her, are we supposed to hope she escapes them? Wait, is this Dances With Wolves? It’s unclear to me.
The other human woman we see in this episode is Charlotte and I have to admit, I was relieved to see her. I was worried her and Bernard were going to stay in that underground, blue-lit lab for the whole season until he kills her when she eventually finds out he’s a robot. But no! The show’s creators are more creative than me and she’s survived by being a self-possessed badass.
So the question is, can you root for Charlotte? Personally, I’m hoping she takes over the Dr. Robert Ford role – the mysterious, evil patriarch who appears to pull all the strings. In some ways, that would be quite a change – from an old white man to a young black woman. But while the demographics are different, those particular cues don’t work here – Westworld’s human society is apparently post racial (no one talks about race and we don’t see any racial hierarchy among the humans). Not sure how this dynamic is possible since racism is embedded into the foundation of the park, baked into each of the section themes. And of course, Westworld takes place in a moment in human history where the evil side of human nature seems to have taken over and racism IS DEFINITELY a big part of how human evil manifests itself, but here we are in a post-racial, evil-leaning human future. I guess you just have to suspend belief.
Speaking of the women we’re rooting for, this episode, we see uber host Dolores at her strongest, fiercest yet, taking bullets like she’s Wonder Woman reincarnated. But we also see her heartbroken and tender with her ailing father. She is clearly motivated by her love for him and the pain she feels at his crumbling mental state is very real.
In this episode, like the first in the season, we watch Dolores kill her fellow hosts without remorse, saying simply that not all are worthy of her salvation. And who is quietly questioning Dolores’ action but the hapless (one might even say ditzy) Teddy? As he watches Dolores’ ascension, Teddy is unsure of her role as judge, jury, and executioner as seen on his Ken-doll face and grand acts of compassion. Isn’t this the role the audience is playing as well? Aren’t we in the dark as much as Teddy? Aren’t we following Dolores for now? And aren’t our doubts also building? There’s a clever gender dynamic here with role reversal upon role reversal as we consider who we identify with, who is the true leader, who the true protagonist.
And then there’s my favorite, Maeve. She’s a collaborative and inclusive leader – her gang consists of humans and robots alike and she sees the value in each of them, relying on their different skills to advance her cause (cool language skills Hector, awesome blow torch Armistice, nice to see you Felix). Maeve’s motivated by love – the search for her daughter is the whole purpose of this quest after all. Not to mention that she is apparently defying her programming by building a (healthy!) relationship with Hector. This is the only healthy relationship on the show! Congrats Maeve!
So can Maeve be the model for the future? The more human-than-human robot? It was her group that destroyed so much of command in season one, allowing Dolores the head start she needed to get this far. Perhaps Maeve’s focus on the personal, on her daughter and her relationships, is what will really lead to robot salvation. Perhaps she’ll somehow set off a chain of events that unites the parks’ hosts across sections or even just positions the Ghost World members as heroes instead of savages. Wouldn’t that be revolutionary? Unifying oppressed peoples? Upending the violent hierarchy that powers Westworld and so much of our own world as well? A mother-daughter relationship changing the world?