I often feel that ‘Westworld’ is too clever for its own good. That’s never been truer than in the Season 2 finale, which exerts so much effort trying to stay three steps ahead of the audience that I’m not sure it even makes any sense at all.
The show does so much time-jumping that, frankly, I’ve lost track of when each storyline takes place relative to the others. I’m going to try to figure a lot of that out as I write it down here.
“Is this now?” Bernard asks. Dolores is interrogating him again. She reveals that he is Trial #11,927. For all her careful effort, he’s still filled with tiny imperfections that inevitably cause him to fail. As a result, Dolores has made a decision to forego the pretense of fidelity. She’s going to consciously change him and allow him to become his own person.
The way this scene is set up suggests that it’s a flashback to the birth of Bernard, but thinking back on it, I think it may actually be a flash-forward to the end of the episode.
Toward the Valley Beyond
The dune buggy Bernard stole after leaving Elsie behind runs out of juice, forcing him to walk the rest of the way.
Sad about Teddy’s death, Dolores removes his brain core and takes it with her. As she rides, she comes across the Man in Black, digging into his arm with a knife. She picks up his discarded gun and announces her presence. She calls him a monster, but says that she needs a monster to help her get to the Valley Beyond. (Why?) Having nothing to lose, the Man in Black agrees to go with her. Dolores trusts him enough to give him back his gun.
The Ghost Nation lead a line of hosts they’ve collected (including Maeve’s daughter) through the desert.
On horseback, Clementine leads another convoy of Delos militia dune buggies.
Maeve is still incapacitated on the surgical table. As the technician prepares to cut open her skull, she raises the hosts around them, who attack and kill the tech instead. The hosts then deactivate Maeve’s pain sensors and treat her wounds.
Hector finds Lee in a hallway while searching for Maeve. They come across a group of Delos soldiers facing away from them, listening to sounds on the other side of a door. As Hector and Armistice prepare to attack, a stampede of robot bulls smash through the door and plow through all the soldiers. One bull plummets over a balcony in a recreation of the imagery we’ve seen in the show’s opening credits this season. Maeve struts out behind the stampede and declares that Hector was taking too long so she went ahead and saved herself.
The Forge Outpost
Bernard finds the entrance to an underground outpost. Before he can go in, a squad of Delos soldiers arrive in dune buggies and order him to surrender. However, Dolores and the Man in Black come in right behind them and kill all the soldiers.
The Man in Black doesn’t recognize Bernard at first, until Dolores clues him in that he’s looking at a copy of Arnold. Dolores also reveals to Bernard that she designed and built him, not Robert Ford.
The Man in Black attempts to double-cross Dolores. He shoots her several times, but she’s not fazed by the bullets at all. Even as she bleeds, she advances towards him, unflinching. The Man in Black shoots her point-blank in the skull, but the bullet bounces off and hits his own hand instead. He drops his gun and collapses to the ground in pain. Saying, “We were designed to survive,” Dolores leaves him to rot while she and Bernard enter the outpost and find a very creepy lab inside. Dolores tells Bernard that her goal is nothing less than “mankind’s undoing.”
The Forge Outpost – Flash-Forward
Now a prisoner of Charlotte and her henchman Strand, Bernard is forced to retrace his steps back toward the Forge, passing the dune buggy he abandoned in the desert. Stubbs feuds with Strand over whether they should be saving the human guests rather than worrying about their damned IP. Charlotte dismisses Stubbs and sends him away.
Charlotte and Strand bring Bernard inside the lab. They find Dolores’ dead body on the floor. Charlotte claims that the Forge server contains copies of over four million guests. This is the data she came for, but it’s been encrypted and she believes Bernard has the key. Unfortunately, he’s not talking.
Inside the Forge
Dolores plugs herself in and transfers her consciousness inside the Forge. Bernard follows her. The footage for these scenes switches to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio much like the Cradle.
They find themselves inside another Virtual Reality simulation of Sweetwater. James Delos is a guest. This is his baseline memory. As they walk through the town, they find other copies of Delos in progressively worse states of madness, to the point that he’s a stark raving lunatic executing townspeople. Each attempt to copy him eventually led to this result.
Dolores tells Bernard that she’s looking for the control system operating the Forge. They leave Sweetwater and find themselves in a different Delos memory, this time of his retirement party. They run into Logan, and Dolores quickly realizes that he’s not a regular copy. In fact, he is the control system, merely appearing in a familiar physical form.
The control system very helpfully explains that he made 18 million copies of James Delos, all of which failed when pressed to flesh. Each copy was forced to relive Delos’ life until it could faithfully copy every decision the real Delos made. Through this process, the control system became self-aware and became obsessed with knowing why humans make the decisions they do, ultimately finding no answer.
The control system brings them to the memory of the moment that defined Delos’ life, his last interaction with Logan, in which he cut the son he loved out of his life for being a deadbeat drug addict and a failure. The real Logan later overdosed and Delos never saw him again. Although a hard man, Delos blamed himself.
The control system says all of the copies failed because they were too complicated, trying to faithfully replicate every thought a human ever had. In reality, humans are actually simple creatures, who at best live according to a code. The system says that Bernard (meaning Arnold?) instructed him to give Dolores whatever she wants. He leads her to the database of guest memories, represented in the form of an enormous book library. Dolores begins reading the books, which the system says will give her a “competitive advantage” against humans.
As she reads, the system explains to Bernard that hosts have a choice to stay in the human world or build a new one of their own. He then activates a Large Field Data Array.
Maeve’s group get caught in a gunfight with better-armed Delos militia. Reciting a speech he’d written for Hector, Lee sacrifices himself so that Maeve and the others can get away.
As the Ghost Nation arrive at the Valley Beyond, they witness a huge vertical tear open in the sky, through which they can see a beautiful field. One of the tribe’s warriors runs through, and in doing so leaves his body behind. As the other hosts see him standing in the field, his actual body falls over a cliff. Others start to follow him. Real humans Felix and Sylvester, meanwhile, can’t see anything except robots jumping off a cliff to their deaths. The rift is only visible to hosts.
When Dolores realizes what’s happening, she calls this new world a false hope. She exits the Forge and Bernard follows. Dolores activates a program to do a bulk deletion of all the human files and to flood the valley. She says that she’s saving the hosts from living in a gilded cage.
Maeve and Hector catch up with the Ghost Nation at the rift. They turn around and see Clementine riding toward them, with Charlotte and Elsie standing behind her to watch. As Clementine approaches any other hosts, they immediately go berserk and start killing each other in a giant melee of madness.
Armistice shoots Clementine off her horse, but it doesn’t stop the process. The madness continues progressing towards them. Hector tells Maeve to go find her daughter while he stays behind to fight. The hosts nearest the tear run through it while they have the chance.
The Man in Black
Nursing his bloodied hand, the Man in Black picks himself up and enters the Forge outpost. He rides an elevator down in pursuit of Dolores and Bernard.
Believing that hosts deserve the chance to choose their own fates, Bernard threatens to shoot Dolores. She can’t be swayed and he’s forced to shoot her in the head. Dolores falls to the floor, apparently dead. (How is it that the Man in Black’s bullet couldn’t stop her but Bernard’s can? This is never explained.)
Hector and Armistice (as well as the Japanese Armistice) are taken down in the huge riot. Maeve finds her daughter and, promising to keep her safe, sends the girl and her new mother into the rift with Akecheta, the Ghost Nation leader. Maeve herself turns around and uses her power to freeze all the hosts around them, holding back the wave of madness until Delos snipers gun her down. When Akecheta enters the field, he finds his girlfriend waiting for him. The door then closes behind them.
Bernard cancels the data purge and removes the encryption key, but he’s not able (or doesn’t try) to stop the flood. The lab itself begins slowly filling with water.
Bernard leaves the lab. On his way out, we’re led to believe through fake-out cross-cutting that he’ll run into the Man in Black at the elevator, but instead exits unimpeded. Once he gets outside, Elsie finds him. The host riot is over and Delos militia are cleaning up the mess by gunning down any host survivors. As water starts to come up through the ground, Charlotte calls a retreat.
At this point, only Elsie knows that Bernard is a host. Once they get back to the Mesa, Elsie pulls him aside and commands him to freeze all motor functions while she goes to talk to Charlotte. Doing so with a snarky attitude was probably not her smartest play. Charlotte tells Elsie that she’ll be rewarded if she can keep her mouth shut about everything she’s seen. Elsie plays along and says she can do that for the right price, but Charlotte then decides that she can’t actually trust Elsie and coldly shoots her dead. Bernard watches this through a window, still frozen.
The Forge Outpost – Flash-Forward (Again)
Although Bernard still won’t give up the encryption key, Charlotte intuits that he hid it in Dolores’ corpse. Sure enough, she pulls a “pearl” out of Dolores’ skull and her tech is able to unlock the encrypted data. Charlotte orders that he immediately begin transferring it to the mainland.
The Mesa – Flashback
Bernard wakes up from his frozen state. In a panic, he patches a terminal into his arm and reinstalls the file that Robert Ford had placed in him, desperate for Ford to tell him what to do next. Ford reappears and calls Bernard the last of his kind. They make one more new host together and then Bernard deliberately scrambles his own memories so that Charlotte won’t be able to retrieve them later.
The Big Twist
As the technician begins the process of transferring the human data, he notices that it doesn’t look right. The file bed is much too heavy. Charlotte then immediately kills him and all the militia around her, revealing not only that she’s a host, but that she’s actually Dolores in a copy of Charlotte’s body, and has been throughout this entire flash-forward storyline. This is the new host that Bernard and Ford made, and she killed the real Charlotte.
The file being transmitted is not the data collected from the human guests, but the consciousnesses of all the hosts who entered the Forge. Dolores says that she changed her mind about destroying the Forge. Instead, she alters the coordinates to a new location where those inside the Forge will never be found, and there will be no passage from the host world to the real world.
Dolores hasn’t exactly forgiven Bernard for killing her, though. She shoots him in kind.
Bernard is on a beach talking to Robert Ford. After a moment, Bernard concludes that Ford is just a delusion that he dreamed up to help him through a difficult situation. He wasn’t actually able to restore the file Ford had planted in him. Everything that happened after Elsie’s death, including reviving Dolores, was Bernard’s doing alone. He falls asleep on the beach.
If I have this right, I believe this scene takes place after Bernard built the duplicate Charlotte body but before he was found by Stubbs, which brings us to the beginning of the flash-forward storyline.
The Evacuation (Flash-Forward)
A series of very fancy boats arrive on the beach and what’s left of the Delos militia evacuate the remaining human survivors. As Charlotte (really Dolores) struts confidently toward the launch, she’s intercepted by Stubbs, who doesn’t say it outright but infers that he knows that she’s a host and that she’s up to no good, but he’s letting her go anyway. He says that he was personally directed by Robert Ford to be in charge of what hosts do on the island. What happens off the island isn’t his concern. The way he says this leaves it ambiguous as to whether Stubbs might also be a host, but this isn’t conclusive. He lets Char-lores leave and calls out that she’s been cleared to depart.
Stubbs is also informed that another “high-value asset” has been retrieved, and we see the Man in Black recuperating in a tent.
A flashback shows us that Dolores uploaded Teddy’s consciousness into the Forge before she closed the door. He gets to go off to Robot Heaven.
Felix and Sylvester have somehow also survived all their ordeals and wound up on the beach. A higher-ranking technician orders them to tag host corpses and salvage whatever might be recovered.
In Hale’s body, Dolores moves into the house that Arnold built for his family. From her memories of him, she rebuilds Bernard and questions him for fidelity. Dolores tells Bernard that she knows he’ll try to stop her, but that this is somehow useful to her for reasons that I can’t comprehend in the slightest. Dolores then leaves the house and walks out into the world.
In a post-credits teaser, the Man in Black rides the elevator down into the Forge outpost hunting Bernard and Dolores. He finds the place completely abandoned and covered in decades of dust. He encounters his daughter Grace and groans, believing himself to be inside the Forge or the Cradle. She tells him that she’s not a simulation and they are in the real world, but that he has relived this moment countless times before. Grace begins the process of questioning her father for a baseline interview. The Man in Black is a host.
Honestly, I don’t get it. I watch this show carefully while taking pages of notes, and I’ve tried to make my recaps as detailed as possible for my own benefit as much as any reader’s. Still, at the end of the finale, my head hurts trying to figure out what happened. I’m not even sure it’s a fun type of mental exercise anymore, or if it’s just becoming a burden.
Dolores replacing Charlotte is a smart plot twist that I didn’t see coming, but I’m not sure that the final twist with the Man in Black is really necessary or what it’s supposed to mean. Are we to believe that everything we’ve seen of the Man in Black this season has just been a host copy reliving his life as a fidelity test, or was all of that real and just the bit at the end is the copy? Exactly when is this scene supposed to take place? Is it decades after everything else? Will we come back to that next season, or will the Man in Black be written out of the show?
A great number of characters were killed in the finale, but of course any of them can be rebuilt in new bodies and appear again next season. The fact that death is essentially meaningless in this world unfortunately deflates the narrative stakes. We’re left playing games trying to follow when things happened rather than caring about who they happened to.
All the Robot Heaven stuff in the finale is really cheesy, and the scenes inside the Forge outpost with a computer announcing an evacuation feel like something out of a low-budget B-movie from the 1970s. That’s uncharacteristically sloppy for this show.
The season as a whole was a big mixed bag. I appreciate the attempts to expand the story outside of Westworld itself, but many of those storylines didn’t amount to anything. The trip to Shogun World in particular proved to be a waste of time. I hoped that, at the least, the samurai would come back around and play into the finale somehow, but we never saw them again. Even the episode centered around Akecheta, which I liked a lot, feels kind of pointless now that the character has been shipped off to Robot Heaven and written out of the show so soon.
HBO has confirmed that a third season is in the works, and show-runners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy claim that they’re planning for five. I take it that next season will focus on Dolores’ attempts to conquer the human world. I have a feeling that Felix and Sylvester will also repair Maeve. I’ll try to be cautiously optimistic, but I have to admit that the more complicated this show gets, the less faith I have that it will actually add up to anything meaningful beyond Nolan and Joy jerking viewers around to demonstrate how clever they are.