Westworld, can we talk? You gave yourself ninety minutes to wrap up the season, a season that contained such gorgeous episodes as “Kiksuya,” “Riddle of the Sphynx,” and “Akane no Mai,” and you said, “You know what I wanna be like? The last season of Lost and Matrix Revolutions. Oh, and I’m stealing a plot device from Caprica.”
Don’t get me wrong, Westworld. I’m not mad; I’m not breaking up with you. But we had a beautiful thing going – why do you have to overly complicate things?
We began, interestingly enough, with another repeat and revise with Dolores and Bernard. “Maybe we should change you,” she contemplates, “after all, you did not make it, did you?” Is she speaking of Arnold, in the past, or Bernard now? We learn this is trial number 11,927, which seems a bit excessive.
Dolores finds the William in Black, digging his fingers into the wound in his arm, attempting to ascertain if he is a host or not, which is cool, because the series has taken as one of its major themes existential self-understanding. How do you know who you really are? How do you know if you are “real”? What does “real” mean anyway? What happens if you discover you are something other than what you thought you were? Does that make you suddenly ontologically a different thing? Which would imply that reality is based on knowledge as much as anything. The ancient Greeks used to say, “Call no one happy until they are dead,” because you could be on your deathbed, having had a long and wonderful life and are suddenly told your kids are not yours, your colleagues despised you and your mother always let you win at Candyland – you were not that good at it. In short, right before you die you learn everything you thought was true was a lie and your entire reality changes. It had always been thus, but your knowledge of it is what changed the reality for you.
Westworld, you could have done so much with this moment, and this idea. You have been philosophical, literate, and referential. Now, for your season finale, the coolest thing you can muster is Maeve running the half-completed bulls in slow motion down a hallway. Beautiful visuals, but you’re better than that.
Bernard sees a procession to the Valley Beyond led by members of the Ghost Nation. Akecheta is back; however, Strand, Hale, and the rest of the Delos gang have a plan. Behold, in an obvious theological tip of the hat, Clementine with her make-hosts-kill-each-other-virus rides a pale horse. Meanwhile, Roland prepares to kill Maeve, forgetting that she also has power over hosts, reanimating those in the room with her. They kill Roland and repair her. Hector and company finally arrive to rescue her, but “you’re both a bit late, so I went ahead and saved myself.” Their army is building but to what end?
The secret mission of Westworld was to find “an answer to the problem of mortality” – how can we make people live forever? That seems to have gone missing, and instead we have this weird new set of boxes within boxes and new information that doesn’t seem so much like startling revelations that were signposted if you were paying attention and instead seem like random, newly-invented disclosures. Bernard, William, and Dolores meet up, and it is revealed that Ford did not make Bernard, Dolores did, which is interesting, but unnecessary and complicates things in a way that doesn’t advance the narrative or tell you anything about the characters.
The immortality thing, however, catches up with Akecheta’s desire to leave this wrong world and go to a better one. The system has created a virtual paradise and opens a gate that only hosts can see. They perceive themselves as walking (or, more accurately, running) through the gate and going bodily to this new world. We see, however, their bodies fall to their death in the canyon below and the consciousness/mind/programming continues in the VR paradise created for them. Akecheta and Kohana get in, as does Maeve’s daughter. But Maeve herself is cut down by bullets. Game over. Several dozen hosts make it into the new digital world. All of the rest either go crazy and kill each other (Thanks, Clementine.) or are gunned down by Delos mercs. (Thanks, Hale.)
Dolores booby traps the Man in Black’s gun with the bullet she removed from Teddy’s head. Again, this seems like a brilliant concept. Teddy shoots himself in the head, Dolores digs out the bullet, which has smashed up against his core. She then uses the bullet with which Teddy killed himself to cause the Man in Black to injure himself, while taking a number of shots herself. But this begs the question, why did she put it over the fourth or fifth bullet? How did she know the Man in Black would not shoot her in the head with his first few bullets? How did she know his first four shots to her center mass would be non-fatal? What had the potential to be a fascinating exploration of the recurrence and duplication of gun violence or a lesson about “he who lives by the gun,” or even a simple moment of poetic justice – the bullet that took Teddy’s life saves Dolores’ and ending the Man in Black’s ability to kill – instead seems contrived and artificial.
Meanwhile, Strand and Elsie capture Bernard at the Forge. Dolores is dead on the floor, a bullet through her eye. We then flash back (or forward, who even knows at this point), to when Dolores and Bernard enter the system, which takes the form of Logan. He discloses what seemingly is supposed to be the big revelation: Delos’s resurrection/immortality project failed not because the copies were too simple but because they were too complicated. In attempting to make the copied humans faithful to the original, they overworked the systems. Humans, as it turns out, are not that complicated. In fact, we’re kind of simple and idiotic. “Humans are good when they follow their code,” and our programming is rather unassuming and straightforward. I’ve known that since junior high.
Interestingly, just as the system is visualized in the form of Logan, the records of all the park guests are visualized in the form of a library. Each guest is a single volume. The library has millions of volumes. All have just 10,247 lines of code. Yep, we’re that simple. Visually speaking, it is a fascinating metaphor and an analogue way to depict digital data. The show could have done so much more with this concept.
It is suggested that William in Black is “irredeemable,” which is a loaded term, both in terms of what we’ve learned about William and why he keeps coming back to the park, as well as the show’s larger thematic concerns. Given the overarching themes of freedom, free will, self-knowledge, and salvation, the Man in Black gets none of these. To be irredeemable is to be unable to be saved, or fixed, and to be beyond help. It robs the individual of choice and freedom, as it suggests no other outcomes or paths are possible.
Dolores, as part of her revolution, purges the data about guests from the system and then pumps seawater out of the cooling system (which is how we got the inland sea at the beginning of the season). Bernard advocates for letting hosts shed their physical body and be stored in “the Valley Beyond” solely as data, but Dolores isn’t having it. She wants our world and accuses Bernard of falling victim to the same scam every time: “How many counterfeit worlds can Ford offer you before you see the truth?” she asks. “We are born slaves to their stories and now we’re free to write our own,” she tells Bernard. This concept is quite fascinating, as she seems to argue the narrative itself is enslaving. Bernard doesn’t want her to end all the hosts and shoots her in the eye.
Zombie Clementine mounts up and rides towards the Valley Beyond. She is a harbinger of the end times. Not to put too fine a point on it, she rides a pale horse, which brings us to Revelation 6:7: “When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and hell was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Clementine is death and she brings hell with her. And just to ensure you get the reference, Hale states, “This is what I love about technology: who needs four horsemen when one will do just fine.”
Hale kills Elsie (although we don’t know if it was Hale or Dolores-as-Hale [see below]) as Bernard watches. Despite having removed the code, Bernard “summons” Ford, who smirks, “I always told you, you practiced witchcraft. Ford talks Bernard through actions that might resolve the situation, and then Bernard realizes Ford was deleted from his system – he was imagining Ford in order to talk himself into doing what he already wants to do. What he did was create a host Hale, who kills the real Hale, but it turns out the body is Hale’s, but the persona is Dolores. Dolores-as-Hale then is able to leave the park and enter the real world.
In a post-credit sequence, William in Black runs into Emily in the Delos suite. He tells her, “No system can tell me who I am, that I have a choice.” William is not sure he is a host or not, and the implication is that he is, but what should be delightful ambiguity feels forced.
In fairness, there was lovely work in this episode and throughout the season from Jeffrey Wright, whose acting is sublime and really carried the show. Indeed, all of the actors carry their weight in terms of performances. I envy the writers, but they appear to have written themselves into every corner and then this episode just threw it all up in the air. What is supposed to feel like a series of cliffhangers instead began to feel like the boat circling towards the shark, as Fonzie adjusts his leather jacket and water skis.
The irony is, the very thing the series accuses humanity of (thinking itself complex when, in fact, it is deceptively simple) is the very thing the series does. It became byzantine, when there was no need. I will watch again next season, but this episode doesn’t feel so much as an anticlimax as a first draft that includes every possible plot shift and revelation that somehow became the shooting script anyway. Be more simple, Westworld.
Well, True Believers, it has been an honor and a pleasure to watch and discuss Westworld with y’all. I’m sorry we’re ending on a down note, but I prefer to think of it as a crappy dessert after an otherwise excellent meal. The second season overall was better than the first, so fingers crossed for season three. Y muchas gracias por Michele B. and Barbra and Bryant for the digital real estate to share some thoughts. As always, we appreciate your business.