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‘Westworld’ Goes Out With a Long-Overdue Bang

In the season finale, the show turned from meticulous plotting to flat-out fun

(HBO)
(HBO)

What a beautiful mess that was.

The finale of Westworld was the best the show has been since the pilot. That doesn’t speak well of the season as a whole — saving almost everything of significance for a single episode of television all but guarantees that said episode will be satisfying, even if the rest of the season wasn’t — but it made for a damn fun hour and a half Sunday night. (It even felt like it deserved an hour and a half, a first for a movie-length episode of pretty much anything!) What made it fun, however, wasn’t what’s been driving Westworld or its fans up to now. “The Bicameral Mind” felt like a baton passing: enough with the elaborate theorizing, from viewers and characters alike. Bring on the robot war, coherence be damned!

We’ll start with the reveals. Sure enough, the Man in Black informs Dolores that he’s an older version of William, one who’s acquired a taste for violence and the majority share in Delos to indulge it. The Man in Black wants to give Dolores free will, but not for Dolores’s sake — all it took was witnessing another guy’s meet-cute to convince him she wasn’t worth fighting for. It’s for his own satisfaction. Thirty years diving ever deeper into the park may have ruined his ability to think bigger than it.

As it turns out, Ford has the grander ambitions. Westworld’s refusal to disclose such a major character’s primary motivations has been downright infuriating, especially as it continued to use baroque speeches and AP Lit–level block quotes to obfuscate the fact that Ford was never really saying anything at all. And even though Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy couldn’t resist penning one last monologue — one that cited J. Robert Oppenheimer, for God’s sake — it was at least a monologue in which Ford revealed his master plan. He’s not a monster who ignored his partner’s wishes, then added insult to injury by making a replica to be his accomplice in the park’s subjugation. Arnold’s suicide-by-Dolores actually convinced Ford of the host’s real consciousness; he just disagreed with Arnold’s methodology. Where Arnold thought Westworld had to be called off, Ford has used it to train his charges and make them familiar with the enemy. Thirty-five years later, he’s deemed them ready to fight.

This opens up all kinds of questions. After all, Ford essentially subjected 2,000 beings he recognized as people to 35 years of rape and torture — was that really necessary? But there’s not much point in asking them, because other parts of “The Bicameral Mind” seemed to dial down substantially on meticulous plotting. Given what a blast it was to watch, that may be for the better.

Maeve’s death squad (brought to you by Ford!), for example, was marvelous as spectacle and nonsensical as plot. Even if Ford managed to shut down the security hub, how was there a coordinated assault on Maeve and friends but not a peep of warning at the gala? How was Maeve able to walk away from nearly a dozen casualties and onto a train? One possible answer: Who cares? There’s a freaking Samurai World! We’ve been aching for a glimpse of whatever space-age future Westworld is an escape from all season, and widening Delos’s scope feels like the first step toward getting one.

Yet no transition felt more symbolic than Dolores’s. Her chopped and screwed timeline robbed Dolores of linear development, the biggest casualty of the show’s mystery-preserving confusion. That arc got a flashy, bombastic conclusion as Dolores, not William, found the center of the maze; in the fulfillment of Arnold’s bicameral mind theory, the voice in her head switched from Arnold’s to Ford’s to her own. She’s come into her own and achieved consciousness, and we got the trippy visual of Evan Rachel Wood talking to herself to match. Then she gets to blow Ford’s head off and lead the charge in a host-human race war. It’s on!

In the season’s final moments, in fact, a reversal takes place. Dolores, onetime damsel, is now a terrifying robot supremacist. That makes sense; it’s something Westworld has been building to all season. It becomes interesting, though, when contrasted with Maeve, who’s spent a few episodes in femme fatale mode only to walk away from her Ex Machina moment and return to the park in search of her daughter. It’s disappointing in that it denies us our most obvious path to seeing more of the world outside, but it’s also a simple, powerful demonstration of Arnold’s main innovation: Pain is the key to humanity. The little girl Maeve sees in her dreams may not technically be her daughter, yet embracing her will enrich Maeve beyond the brusque, unsentimental personality her handlers forced on her, not to mention the Strong Female Character mold (“I’ve always valued my independence”) her writers did. It also makes for a more dramatic expression of free will than bailing.

Neither Maeve’s maternal instinct nor Dolores’s bloodlust requires much of the narrative back-flipping that’s characterized Westworld thus far. That’s what I’m hoping for from the show to come: less of the intricacy and deception it can never fully pull off — Ed Harris wasn’t fooling anybody, and all those commenters wondering why security cameras weren’t picking up on all this had a point — and more storytelling that’s direct, dramatic, and yes, a little silly. For its first nine episodes, Westworld had a carefully choreographed dance. Now, the choreographer’s dead. With that exit come both all-out chaos and real stakes, and those are much more important than mystery. They take Westworld from something mechanical to something flesh-and-blood. Fitting, isn’t it?

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.