So, let’s dig in. Let’s start at the end. Why? Because endings are often disappointing. Whether a series, a relationship, a film franchise, or college, what began with such promise, such fun, and such great times can often end in a manner that is dissatisfying. I can think of only a handful of texts, television series, plays, and films that I thought, “That was the perfect, natural ending that did everything it was supposed to.” If you’ve read some of my other reviews for Fanbase, you know that I felt the same way at the end of Game of Thrones. As I wrote with that review, I was once again reminded of the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don’t know why we expect finales to be satisfactory, and yet to be a fan, as I have often noted, is the triumph of hope over experience.
Watching this episode was like watching an athlete or martial artist who had trained for a long time for their big moment and then just kept blowing it. You keep watching, rooting for them to do better, and then they screw up again and you just ache, because you know what could have been and should have been. (C’mon – all that buildup and training!) Multiple times while watching the show, I asked aloud, “That’s what you decided to go with?” The wife just settled for, “C’mon! That’s so dumb!” It was like watching a kid kill at a spelling bee and then lose the final round with the word “duck.” All you had to do was finish strong…
Since this is a season finale and not a series finale, we shall be kind and gentle, knowing the story goes on, but I must point out two things: first, that the internets has a lot of issues with this season finale and I find myself standing more with those who were disenchanted by it than those who thought the series runners nailed it. I have not given up on the show, but it feels like lazy writing. Second, even when it thwarts our hopes, Westworld still nails the episode titles. “Crisis Theory” sounds like a cool, generic Westworld episode title, but it actually refers to a theory of Karl Marx’s. Simply stated, it is the theory that the rate of profit in a capitalist system tends to fall, leading to crisis. In other words, the system is set up to eventually unspool and fall apart. What makes the title extra appropriate, however, is that even Marxist scholars don’t quite understand what Marx meant by it, nor can they agree on whether or not the theory even works. So, the title refers to the eventual necessary crisis and collapse within capitalism but is also a chimera of a theory that is neither fully understood nor agreed upon. Yup, sounds like Westworld. (Weird side note: Marx predicts the collapse of capitalism and the rise of the proletariat, but for him it is a metahistory: a story where the future is already written. Nowhere in his writings does Marx say we need to work to make this happen; he says it will happen on its own eventually. You don’t need to be a communist or a socialist, capitalism is destined to fail and be replaced by something else. Yet Westworld shows different factions of human and host either working to perpetuate the status quo indefinitely or bring about the revolution now, both of which in classical Marxist theory are destined to end in failure.)
Perhaps the biggest issue with this season of the show is that it never quite settled on what it wanted to be, other than not the first two seasons of Westworld. “Get ‘em out of the park! Show Los Angeles in the future! A computer knows exactly what’s going to happen, even if we don’t! William is a psychopath! Everybody’s Dolores! Bernard deserves a season of little to do! Let’s bring back characters at random – and here’s the kicker – they’re Dolores too!!!” I mean, it’s inventive, but, in the end, it became a bit much and characters began to behave in manners inconsistent with the story to that point.
Case in point, the complexity of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder herself changes a lot. Let’s look at this hot mess. Two anomalies for the finale: There is no pre-credit sequence, and the show is 75 minutes instead of 60. Okay, cool. Dolores is alone, in her blue dress, in Westworld. “I was taught to see the beauty. What I was taught was a lie. And when I saw the world for what it really was, I realized how little beauty there was in in it.” Okay – so there is ugliness in the world, but Dolores can still see the beauty (remember last episode she talked about how beautiful the Mexican desert was).
Caleb is on a motorcycle with Dolores’ pearl while Serac wants to put an end to all this while William got the drop on Bernard and Stubbs. Saying, “Time to atone for my sins,” William shotguns Stubbs who will spend the rest of the episode slowly bleeding out and looking frustrated that he doesn’t have more to do. Bernard turns off his nice-guy programming and looks like he is about to beat William to death. The arrival of police spares William, who flees, but it turns out the police are Lawrence, in his only season three appearance. He has the briefcase from Pulp Fiction for Bernard. He is also Dolores. He gives Bernard an address and says to “meet her” there. Turns out Serac has been the puppet of Rehoboam the whole time. He built the machine and now the machine controls him, and he wants it to control everyone. [Cue Bond theme.]
Meanwhile, our boy Caleb goes to 3547 Hope Street in downtown Los Angeles (DTLA for those who watch local news) and finds a Build-Your-Own-Dolores Kit. He builds one, gives it the pearl, and they converse about the point of all this. She tells him Delos and Incite do not believe in free will; she does. Rehoboam seems to prove that free will is an illusion, and we are predestined to our fates (“So, he’s a Calvinist…”). “They are wrong,” Dolores asserts, “Free will does exist – it’s just fucking hard.” I’ll agree to that. And that, ladies and gentlemen, might actually be our big takeaway from the season, perhaps appropriate during a time of Covid-19, Murder Wasps, new black holes, unrepentant Corona Protestors, and Trump – free will does exist, but it’s fucking hard, because to actually have it requires both hard work and understanding, the latter aspect also including empathy and the ability to see how your actions will play out not just for yourself but for the concentric social, cultural, and environmental circles around you. It also requires giving up any and all excuses. Dolores’ big plan is not to end humanity but to give it real free will, a gift which, frankly, I suspect most of us don’t actually want because it implies responsibility for all that follows.
“Change is messy, difficult,” Dolores continues to wax philosophical now that she has a skin suit on with skin-tight leather on top. (Seriously, is that the most sensible thing to start a revolution in?)
We have two big bads at season’s end. Serac decides to go for Bond villain (only fair since Dolores and Maeve were dressing like Bond women for the first half of the season), announcing his plans and getting frustrated when his plans and his headquarters all come crashing down around him in the final reel. Has this guy never seen You Only Live Twice? Goldfinger? Moonraker? Hell, I’ll even settle for Austin Powers. The other one is Dolores Hale, the artist formerly known as Charlotte. She is out to damage and destroy a lot of folks including, well, everybody. She has somehow inherited Serac’s holographic projector, so she simply shows up to gloat and unnerve others. She tells Dolores her family was something she “needed to shed.” Here’s our first character consistency moment. The whole thing that defined Dolores Hale as opposed to Charlotte is that she actually cared about her family and promised to protect them at all costs. If anything, she is out for revenge for them, but to say she is now glad that piano is off her back seems to reduce her complexity as a character.
Meanwhile, Dolores and Caleb are working their way through a riot in DTLA near the Incite Headquarters and Rehoboam. They also run into Maeve, who wants round two. Dolores’s new body is built to last, though, so Maeve is on the losing end. But Dolores Hale shows up and is able to paralyze Dolores. Caleb continues on through the riot, meeting our old friends Giggles and Ash, the former of whom gets shot by the cops and the latter of whom sticks around to help Giggles, ending in their arrest. Again, two great characters get a cameo and are immediately removed from the board. Many opportunities missed there.
Caleb steals a police helicopter, but the real surprise is that the address Lawrence gave Bernard is Arnold’s wife Lauren, who must be incredibly old now. At first, she is uncertain who he is or why he is there. “An old friend wanted me to visit you to make amends before it’s too late,” he tells her. The sentiment is nice, the moment is lovely, it is perhaps the only character moment for Bernard in several episodes. It also serves no real purpose and makes no sense when you think about it. Why would Dolores want Bernard to see Arnold’s elderly widow? What does Bernard do with this experience? While the rest of LA is rioting, Stubbs is dying in a hotel bathroom, and hosts are fighting for their survival, Bernard visits someone who isn’t actually his wife or connected to him in any real way. “It’s okay, Arnold,” Lauren says to him, comforting him on the loss of their son, indicating she knows who he is, except he’s not the real Arnold – he’s Bernard with an entirely different history and agenda.
While Arnold works out his guilt for a child not his, Serac brings the captured Dolores to his headquarters and straps her to a platform under Rehoboam with all kinds of wires jammed into her, because Bond villain. He tortures her by permanently deleting her memories, which is actually one of the best/worst things in the episode. We’ve seen this kind of thing before with everything from ST: TNG to Johnny Mnemonic and even Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, but Serac is a Bond villain torturing Dolores not physically but by taking away the only things that actually matter to her: her free will and her personhood, which is made up of all the things that make her her. Caleb is also captured and Rehoboam reveals that if he had uploaded the program on the data stick, human civilization would end within the next 125 years. (At this moment, I’m thinking about Gandhi, who, when asked what he thought about western civilization said, “I think it would be a good idea.” The end of a dying civilization might just be a mercy kill.) Please note, it’s not the end of humanity – just “civilization” – Marx’s crisis theory playing out. The system collapses. Funny thing, if I have learned anything from pop culture, it’s that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, and we have a bad habit of rebuilding on the ruins and then forgetting why they were ruins in the first place.
Dolores and Maeve have a chat in Westworld (in Dolores’s mind), and Dolores explains to Maeve the plan. She isn’t out to end humanity: “Maybe they should exist. But is that really our decision to make?” which I read to mean that humanity must choose free will and to not be predestined to collapse within the next century or so. “We can annihilate them, or we can tear down their world in hopes of building a new one.” (So, Dolores is a Bernie supporter, okay.)
The light goes on for Maeve – “Your plan wasn’t to end the world – it was to convince one man to see the light.” Wait, what? And Maeve – she also wanted to convince Maeve. Press pause please. So, Dolores is ready to end humanity but then remembers some people are nice, so I guess maybe she won’t? That is the cynical interpretation. The showrunners ran up to the cliff, then turned around and said, “Nope, she did something else.” [Tells you more about me and my fandoms than Westworld, but I immediately thought of the ending of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in which the studio made them change the speech at the end, when the apes have pretty well conquered and Caesar then says, “But now... now, we will put away our hatred. Now, we will put down our weapons. We have passed through the Night of the Fires. And who were our masters are now our servants. And we, who are not human, can afford to be humane.” – The film is called CONQUEST of the Planet of the Apes and as soon as they conquer, Caesar says, “Eh, not yet. But someday we’ll rule it all, so we’ll just stop now.” WTF, Caesar? You won. Why you deciding to call a do-over after the revolution?] Then, Dolores tells Maeve, “They created us. And they knew enough of beauty to teach it to us.” Again, I like the sentiment, but is this really why Dolores shot all those people in Westworld, killed all of those folks who work for Delos and Incite, started a riot, killed a lot more people, and now will sacrifice herself so everyone will have free will because humans taught her about beauty in a world with so little of it? It seems inconsistent for the character, and it lessens her in a way.
The English poet John Keats wrote to Benjamin Bailey in 1817, “What my imagination seizes on as beauty must be truth.” Okay. So, Dolores sees that little bit of beauty in the midst of the ugly, decides that is the truth, and proceeds to bring down the system in a different way. Hmmmm. Maybe upon second viewing, it will make more sense and I will like it more. [Later] Nope, Keats and I agree, you need to do better, Westworld.
Speaking of beauty, though, that fight with Maeve in the dark was dope. Serac is wounded, everybody else but Maeve and Caleb are dead, and Maeve took a few bullets anyway.
Speaking of Serac, his James Bond villain thing is working out about as well as it does for James Bond villains. When he attached Dolores to Rehoboam, he created a two-way street. He could erase her, but she could climb inside the computer. She locks him out of his own computer. Maeve says, “Rehoboam, execute the final command. Erase yourself.” And the glowing cylon sphere gets a blue screen of death and crashes forever. Serac loses all the prognostication, plus at least a hundred and twenty pages of this novel he had been working on, and you know he doesn’t back up his files.
Which brings me to one of the last “Really?” moments. Maeve and Caleb then just walk out, leaving Serac on the ground, alive and whining. Uh, guys – he still has all his money, a private army, lots of weapons, and men loyal to him, not to mention the ownership of Delos and all that host technology. At least Bond has the good sense to make sure the villain is dead and then make some bad pun upon confirmation of said death. At least shoot Rehoboam so that part of it falls, crushing Serac’s head underneath it, and then when you meet up with Lawrence and he’s like, “Where’s Serac?” Maeve could say, “He couldn’t come. He’s got a lot on his mind.” [Cue loud Bond theme!]
Turns out Dolores was not the key for the information stolen from Delos – she hid it in Bernard. He goes to the hotel, opens up the briefcase, puts on some cool VR glasses, and promptly collapses. Cue the credits.
BUT WAIT! Then, we get to the talked-about post-credit sequence. Establishing shot of Dubai (You can tell it’s Dubai because the Burj Khalifa is in the skyline, but it is no longer the tallest building in Dubai. It’s gonna be the future soon!), “Delos International Dubai” confirms the sign outside a building. William enters, is rude to the receptionist, shoots a security guard, and makes his way to the basement lab. He’s dressed in black again and back doing what he does best – killing and causing pain, but now in the real world.
“Well done. You’re right on time, William,” Dolores Hale tells him, just before she unleashes the host William, who proceeds to slit the throat of real William. “Welcome to the end, William,” the Host in Black intones. [See! That right there is some James Bond level stuff – you guys can do it!] Season four just got either more interesting or confusing or both.
Lastly, Bernard comes back online in the hotel room. He is covered in dust and has a purpose in his eyes, which leads me to ask, “Is there no hotel maid service in the future? Did he pay for the room for a year or three in advance and just hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door the whole time? Because how was he able to be there for so long he is covered in dust but no one has been in the room. Not even to replenish the shampoo. Cool visual, nonsensical story. Gotta do better than that, bro.
So, gang, word on the street is we’ll all be back here for season four sometime in 2021. That is, if there is a 2021. We’ve been in quarantine for so long, I’ve lost track of the day, week, and year. Anywhoo, Happy 4th of July, everyone. It has been a pleasure. Thanks to Michele, Barbra, and Bryant, as well as the parents who worked so hard on all the costumes. Vaya con Dios…