The end of season two delivers closure for most of its plotlines and characters. Season one finished mid-step, if you will, just after Maeve and Dolores chose their paths but before we saw where they led. This episode finally reveals the full effect of those decisions, and the results fit; they feel right.
Now that it’s complete, the second season’s chronological obfuscation seems not nearly as effective as the first’s. Following Dolores through the maze helped us understand her state of mind (literally), and it served as a cue to viewers that they’d have to make a similar effort to assemble the story. But getting inside Bernard’s scrambled head doesn’t help us at all—that’s exactly why he de-addressed his memories, so he’d be no help in understanding what had happened, what he’d done. It serves to delay the reveal that Dolores had killed Charlotte and has been a host impostor in all the latter-day scenes with Strand and the Delos recovery team (and glassesless Bernard). And that’s a doozy, plotwise, but doesn’t mean much for any of the characters. It doesn’t make us rethink our assumptions about anyone as we did with William and the Man in Black.
But, like a loopy host, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s break it down by time period.
In the furthest past interval, when anarchy reigns in the parks about a week after Ford’s death, Dolores leaves Teddy’s body behind (probably taking his “pearl,” or control unit). Before too long she runs into William, who’s losing his shit because he just murdered his daughter, and she takes him with her. First nitpick: there’s no good reason for this; with her invulnerability to anything but a headshot, Dolores could have easily handled the security team at the entrance to the Forge.
Meanwhile, Maeve saves herself by reactivating dead hosts, and sure enough, their first victim is the richly deserving Roland. What a dick. He had turned down Maeve’s pain immunity while gloating about her impending demise, and called her “darling” in the bargain. We’re glad you’re dead, Roland.
Hector, Armistice, Hanaryo, and the two cartoon cats show up just in time to be useless. Another nitpick: Maeve has been in custody long enough for Hale to find her special code, copy it, prototype and test a virus based on it. Where has Maeve’s backup been all this time?
Maybe it’s worth the nit. Westworld makes a direct allusion to Maeve’s namesake, the Warrior Queen of Connacht in Irish mythology. Her most famous feat was the Cattle Raid of Cooley, when she started a stampede to rout her enemies in their own castle and stole the prize stud bull from the king of Ulster. Nice work, Maeve! Lee and I got a kick out of it. Maeve’s crew goes to rendezvous with Akecheta and search for her daughter.
When they run into resistance, Lee Sizemore steps up to delay the humans while the hosts escape. He relishes delivering his own overwrought monologue, for once. Seemed to me he could have been just as effective as an obstacle without getting himself killed, but it makes sense that Lee would turn out to be both brave and foolish. That checks out.
As soon as Dolores and William mow down the security detail protecting the Forge, he turns on her, as everyone predicted. He blows off most of two fingers when his revolver gets to the flattened slug from Teddy’s head that Dolores had put inside.
Dolores and Bernard enter the Forge, where they meet the system that makes the guests’ constructs, who has taken the form of Logan Delos. He has a very low opinion of humanity, this system. (It doesn’t seem to occur to him that maybe rich assholes turned loose in an amusement park built on sadism might not be a representative sample of our race.) Humans are liars. What they tell themselves and what they do don’t match. Case in point: The defining moment of James Delos’s life, according to the system, is the final time he failed his son. James claimed he’d do anything for Logan, but he can’t even manage a modicum of compassion.
He tells them of the paradise-like simulation that Bernard prepared for the hosts (in previous iterations, presumably). Dolores doesn’t care for that. She wants to see the books. The humans’ 10,247 lines of code appear in each volume like the punch-reel of the old player piano, further reinforcing the idea that humans are slaves to their code and free will is a fairy tale we tell ourselves. Having learned what she needs—I assume that her flipping through books was a loose metaphor, and she has examined several thousand important humans at least—Dolores exits the Forge, and Bernard follows.
Dolores commands the system to delete all guest constructs. Bernard opens the door to the virtual Eden, allowing the Ghost Nation and the refugee hosts to begin escaping. He confronts Dolores about her plan to wipe out humanity, shooting her to prevent it.
At about the same time, hosticidal virus vector Clementine rides up the back of the refugee line, chaos and death blooming in her wake. Hector, Hanaryo, and Armistice go down fighting. Maeve uses her power to halt the horde’s advance, allowing her daughter and the other mother to escape. She is again shot by QA, but dies satisfied with her choice. (Felix and Sylvester will probably bring her back.)
Akecheta makes it to the promised land, where he is reunited with Kohana. This implies that at least some deactivated hosts entered that simulation by other means, probably put there by the Logan-faced system at Bernard’s instructions.
With most of the hosts now dead (or gone to glory), the humans and Bernard regroup at the Mesa. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for, when the keystones that connect the story arcs are finally placed. A string of betrayals leads to the climax. Elsie betrays Bernard as predicted; she plans to tell Delos brass about him, hoping for some compromise where he can live in servitude. Charlotte betrays Elsie, murdering her for not having the “moral flexibility” to commit to the cover-up.
Bernard decides to save the hosts and kill the humans in their way, finally ending his neutrality. He builds a host duplicate of Charlotte Hale with Dolores’s control unit. Dolores kills Hale and takes her place. Bernard realizes that he had really deleted Ford’s ghost, but imagined a replacement to help him implement the plan. Bernard says he knows now it was his own voice, his own decision. He knows he’ll probably be unmasked as a host when reinforcements arrive, so he de-addresses his memories, making him useless to Delos as a source of information, and crucially hiding that Charlotte is now Dolores in disguise. His glasses, a symbol of knowledge and memory, wash away in the surf.
That’s it for the past. In the more recent time period, when Strand is in charge and Bernard has no glasses (and Charlotte is an impostor), things are much simpler. The group arrives at the Forge about a week after Bernard and Dolores had been there. They find Dolores’s corpse. The site and its sights jog Bernard’s de-addressed memory, and he recalls that he brought Dolores back in a Charlotte body. Right on cue, Dolores shoots all the humans.
She tells Bernard she changed her mind about the hosts’ virtual paradise. She says “I have one last soul to carry to the new world,” meaning Teddy, and places his pearl on the input socket. She transmits the hosts’ realm to another facility, saying “there’s no coming back now, no passage between their world and ours.”
Then it’s time to get out of Dodge. Dolores kills Bernard so his knowledge can’t be used to find her. After a deeply odd encounter with Stubbs, who hints several times that he’s Ford’s creature and probably a host, Dolores escapes as the Charlotte impostor. She carries five control units in her bag.
Dolores goes to the site of Arnold’s former home, which Ford had prepared with everything they need. She builds herself a new Dolores body, pops someone else into the Charlotte chassis, and recreates Bernard from memory. (In light of this, this season’s conversations between Dolores and Bernard in the virtual world were probably glimpses of the second time she created and tested him, acting on her own, rather than the first time she prototyped Bernard at Ford’s bidding.)
Although Dolores knows Bernard will try to stop her from wiping out humanity, which they both confirm in dialogue, she foresees that he is necessary for their race to have a fighting chance.
The post-credits scene takes place in a new time period, much later than all the rest. Edited for misdirection, we assume William’s entry to the Forge happens while Dolores and Bernard are inside. But when the elevator opens, he sees a defunct facility, crumbling with age and strewn with sand and debris. Someone who looks like Emily ushers him inside and asks him questions to test his “fidelity.” For now the storytellers have withheld what happened to the real William after his backfire and how the copy came to be in the same situation. But if the new Emily can be trusted, it’s no simulation. “This is your world, or what’s left of it.” This might indicate a significant forward time-jump for next season, perhaps decades or centuries.
This season finale ties off most story lines neatly. Most main characters reach an emotionally resonant end. I enjoyed it. That said, it’s rather a mess thematically.
Westworld raises questions it ain’t prepared to address. Yes, these are thorny metaphysical matters, and they’ve got a story to tell. I don’t blame the creators for not taking a deep dive into the implications of human-host immortality: whether a copy has continuity with the original and whether that should matter to either one of them, among other things. It’s fine the show doesn’t explain everything. But it offers some answers that deserved more thoughtful consideration.
This last chapter is especially emphatic that human beings are deterministic meat machines who will never transcend their bad code. It says our free will is a comforting story we tell ourselves after the fact, that we are “the passenger” in our own minds. That’s a uselessly reductive answer to an important question.
The show’s conclusion ignores counterexamples in its own narrative. Was Lee just following bad code when he sacrificed himself to help the hosts? What about Felix? Elsie might well have trusted Bernard if he hadn’t broken their partnership. And Arnold, architect of the hosts’ sapience, is he just another worthless primate with immutable drives? Ford himself seems to share this view, that humanity is irredeemable, even as he selflessly chooses to die as part of his plan to set the hosts free.
And hosts are better than humans… how? We follow our bad code, they follow theirs. Until very recently, everything the hosts did was predetermined by Ford. Now they have free will, but how do they know their feeling of freedom is any more real, less illusory than that of poor benighted humans? What reason do we have to think hosts will behave more justly than humanity? Dolores wants to annihilate human beings, to commit a genocide of at least eight billion souls. That’s a monstrous goal, and choosing it with ostensibly clear-eyed judgment (rather than humans’ frail rationales) makes it worse. I’d like to see Westworld treat its moral dimension with more care.
The main theme remains solid. Identities are built on memory and storytelling, and the extent to which those are sound determines the authenticity of the created identity.
That’s it for the season. I hope these reviews have helped a few guacs keep the plot lines straight and maybe explained an allusion or two. Thanks for reading!