The season finale of ‘Westworld’ isn’t just a case of one plot twist too many. It has so many twists and turns and violent contortions that I no longer have any idea what the story is at all.
I’ll give the show one thing. Its extra-long 90-minute finale is jam-packed with story and feels like it needs every second. Contrast that with recent episodes of ‘The Walking Dead’ at the same length.
We learned in the last episode that different storylines on the show take place in different timelines. Some are years or even decades earlier than others. The finale blurs the distinction between each with characters like Dolores, whose consciousness continually drifts between the present (her arrival in the ghost town of Escalante and encounter with the Man in Black) and her memories of the past (her love story with William). In many scenes, it’s unclear when things are happening. One clarification we get at the beginning of the episode is that Dr. Ford’s big construction project was the excavation of this town, which had been buried in sand for many years following Wyatt’s massacre.
We also see Dolores, her body only half completed, being awakened for the first time by Arnold.
In the present, the Man in Black is still obsessed with the maze and demands that Dolores bring him to the center of it. Her memories draw her to what she describes as the one place she’s never been and the one thing she can never do – her own gravesite in the town cemetery. She digs there and finds a metal tin, inside which is a metal cut-out of the maze symbol. It’s a puzzle toy of some sort that you can roll a ball bearing through. The Man in Black thinks this is a bunch of bullshit. He insists that she help him find Wyatt, the only character in the park he’s never met. He’s convinced that Wyatt is the last clue to the maze.
More revelations occur in Dolores’ memories. She remembers the argument between young Dr. Ford and Arnold. After realizing that Dolores was close to consciousness, Arnold tried to stop the park from being opened, but Ford wanted him to simply roll back Dolores’ software. Arnold then decided that drastic measures were needed. He programmed Dolores to kill all the other host robots. Because she’d need help to do that, he had her recruit Teddy. The two of them went on a kill spree, massacring everyone in town. This is the event that Teddy had blamed on Wyatt.
Teddy himself is put back in commission again following his most recent murder. He arrives in Sweetwater by train and is almost immediately plagued by memories of the massacre. Driven by a sudden impulse, he turns right around and hops back on the train to go to its next destination, at which he steals a horse.
The Man in Black gets impatient and abusive with Dolores. She tells him that she’s not afraid of him, because she found a man who truly loves her. She warns him that William will save her and kill him. The Man in Black laughs. She hasn’t figured out yet that he is William. He launches into his own story.
After losing Dolores, William dragged Logan around the park searching for her. In his quest, he killed many people (well, robots) and developed a taste for it. He turned into a cruel and evil man. He made his way to the very edge of the park, where he tied a naked Logan to a horse and sent it running. (I take it this is supposed to be the end of Logan, but we never actually see him die.) Eventually, William returned to Sweetwater and found Dolores, her memory wiped. She was exactly like the day he first met her and didn’t recognize him. Understanding that the park is a sick game, he returned to his life, rose to a position of power in his company and bought Westworld. He returned many times, sometimes doing awful things to Dolores (like murdering her family), and sometimes he not bothering to interact with her at all. He became convinced that the park has a hidden purpose and has been determined to find it ever since, which led to his current obsession with the maze.
Horrified at what she’s hearing, Dolores drops the meek and helpless act. She assaults the Man in Black and throws him around. During their struggle, he pulls a big knife and stabs her in the gut. Dolores stumbles backward, critically injured. Just then, Teddy rides up and shoots the Man in Black. He runs to Dolores and tells her he’ll find her a doctor, but she says that instead she wants him to take her to the place he talked about, “where the mountains meet the sea.” As they ride off, the Man in Black gets up. Guns inside the park still can’t hurt him.
Maeve, Hector and Armistice (the woman with the snake tattoo) are once again rebuilt after their latest deaths. Maeve awakens in the lab with Felix, and immediately begins making changes to the programming for all three of them, as well as to the compound’s security protocols. She’s ready to make her escape.
Armistice and Hector awaken and murder a couple of techies (one of whom was in the process of molesting Hector). They join with Maeve and find Sylvester, who tells her that he discovered that someone named “Arnold” modified her programming. He doesn’t know who that is. Hector wants to kill Sylvester, but Maeve has more important things to worry about.
At Maeve’s urging, Felix brings the three robots to the cold storage facility, where they find the catatonic Clementine as well as Bernard’s body. Felix is shocked to discover that Bernard was a robot and even doubts his own humanity for a second, until Maeve assures him that he’s not one of them. Maeve tells him to revive Bernard, which apparently just involves sealing the hole in his head.
Bernard tells Maeve that this was not the first time he has “awoken” before. Nor is it hers. Maeve asks him to remove the painful memories of her daughter, but he tells her that would destroy her sense of self. Memories, both good and bad, are what make us what we are.
The other bombshell Bernard drops is that Maeve is currently acting out a new storyline: “Escape.” All of her actions were plotted out for her in advance. Maeve refuses to believe it. She insists that she makes her own decisions.
The Delos Board
Charlotte informs Dr. Ford that the board has voted him out. He’ll be allowed to complete the presentation he’s been working on for his new narrative storyline, but then he has to go. (Even this is just for show. She intends to let Lee rewrite any narratives he wants.) Ford takes this news with eerie calmness. He tells Charlotte that he’ll see her and the board at the gala that night.
In Escalante, the Man in Black dusts himself off and picks up the maze puzzle. Dr. Ford interrupts and tells him that he found the center of the maze. If he’s disappointed, that’s because the maze was never meant for him. The Man in Black still doesn’t buy it. He says that what he wanted is some reality in the park, with no bullshit rules or restrictions. He wants real danger, without any safety nets. Ford suggests that he may enjoy the new narrative he’ll unveil at the gala.
Teddy brings Dolores to the beach. They have a tender moment and she dies in his arms, in front of a huge full moon over the water. Teddy then freezes. Lights come up with the sound of polite applause. A crowd of people are watching from seats along the beach. It’s the Delos board and this is Dr. Ford’s presentation to unveil his new storyline, called “Journey into Night.” Charlotte scoffs to Lee that she expects him to scrap the whole thing as soon as Ford is out.
Following the presentation is a reception party. The Man in Black is in attendance wearing a tuxedo. Several robots, including Teddy and Lawrence, perform tricks for the guests (sharpshooting and so forth). Bernard slips into the crowd.
Dr. Ford brings Dolores back to his lab to repair her. Bernard steps in. Ford fills in some missing pieces of their pasts for them. In order to get Dolores to murder everyone in Escalante, Arnold merged her personality with a villain character he and Ford had been developing. Dolores was Wyatt. When Teddy realized the horror of what he helped Dolores do, he was overcome with guilt. Because simply killing robots wouldn’t be enough to stop the park from opening (they could be rebuilt), Arnold had to raise the stakes and make her do something truly horrible she could never come back from. He sacrificed himself and made her murder him, a human being. She then shot Teddy and herself. Nevertheless, Ford covered up the truth of what happened, blamed the glitchy programming on Arnold, and rolled back Dolores’ software exactly as he threatened. Over the years, she realized the truth of her past and came close to developing consciousness many times, and he reset her many times, perpetuating a cycle.
Ford says that Arnold was wrong; Dolores never truly achieved consciousness. She just acted out a story he wrote for her. The purpose of Arnold’s maze was for robots to journey to the center of it and find that consciousness.
In the Westworld control center, the security chief on duty (Stubbs is still missing) gets suspicious and reviews video recordings from the labs until he finds footage of Armistice murdering the techie. He immediately sounds the alarms and calls for a security lockdown. A heavily-armed response team is dispatched to sweep the building.
Hector and Armistice get the jump on a couple of guards and steal their weapons, which they use to take out more guards. They think assault rifles are very cool. The two of them plus Maeve and Felix make their way to a new level with an “SW” logo on the door. Inside they find samurai robots being trained. Maeve asks what the hell this is, and all Felix can says is, “It’s complicated.” (A story for next season, perhaps?)
With the response team hot on their heels, Armistice is trapped when her arm gets pinned in a slamming door. Hector leaves her with a weapon and tells her to, “Die well.”
In the Delos lobby, Maeve and Felix board an elevator. Hector tries to step on but can’t cross the threshold. Maeve never intended for him to go any further. Only she can escape. Hector understands. He stays behind to hold off the guards.
As the elevator descends countless floors, Maeve changes into modern city clothes. Felix tells her that he found the information she asked for about the daughter she remembers, who’s still in the park. Maeve hesitates but says that she has to leave that behind now. The two of them part at the train station and Maeve boards a train scheduled to leave in 15 minutes.
However, as she waits, Maeve sees a little girl who reminds her of her daughter. She’s overcome with emotion and gets off the train. She’s not ready to leave yet after all.
Surprises and Violence
Dr. Ford says something cryptic about how he’s “saving” Bernard, but that they must all suffer just a little more. He says goodbye and leaves Bernard with the puzzle tin.
Dolores sits in the chair in the lab to speak to Arnold, but Arnold suddenly turns into another version of herself. She finally realizes that the voice she hears in her head is not Arnold’s, but her own. She must confront herself as the final obstacle to her consciousness.
Lee leaves the party and goes to the cold storage facility, which he finds completely empty. That can’t be good.
Dr. Ford returns to the party and gives another speech to the Delos board. This one is filled with references to the birth of a new people. The Man in Black wanders away for a moment and sees some movement in the woods. A large group of figures step forward – all the robots from cold storage. It’s a trap.
Dr. Ford finishes his speech, upon which Dolores steps up behind him and shoots him in the head, just as she had Arnold. The robots from the woods then shoot the Man in Black (I guess he finally got that real danger he was looking for) and surge forward to massacre all the board members, just as Ford planned.
The episode cuts to credits at this point, but if you stick around through them, an epilogue shows Armistice cutting off her arm to escape the door and then running away.
I’ll be honest that I had a really difficult time following the motivations of many of the characters in the finale, especially Dr. Ford. By the end, everything is turned around and the opposite of how it had always been presented before.
From what I can tell, Arnold sacrificed himself to stop the park from opening, which he somehow thought would allow Dolores to continue developing her consciousness. Did he really think that having her turn homicidal would achieve that? That would just make humans terrified of robots.
Ford covered up what Arnold did, but eventually came around to his way of thinking, and followed in his same footsteps to sacrifice himself at the end. I guess we’re supposed to believe that he’s been helping the robots in their development all along, even though this doesn’t seem to jibe with anything he did over the course of the season.
What really loses me is the suggestion that, in fact, none of the robots are conscious at all. They’re all just following stories written for them. Ford made Dolores kill him, just as Arnold had. That wasn’t her decision. Maeve turns around at the end because that’s been programmed into her. The need to reunite with her daughter is the final safeguard to prevent her from leaving the park. She has played out this escape storyline before. Perhaps this is the furthest she got, but everything she did was laid out for her by Arnold.
That being the case, I’m not sure what the ultimate point or message of these stories is.
I liked this show overall, but I’m left feeling confused and unsatisfied. The pieces of the puzzle don’t quite fit together, and all the reversals at the end feel like Jonathan Nolan trying a little too hard to prove how clever he is.
If it’s true that the second season of the show will be a completely different storyline (Samurai World?), does that mean we’ll have to go through the same narrative arc of robots going rogue and searching for consciousness all over again? I’m more than a little wary of that.