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Answering the Biggest Lingering Questions After ‘Westworld’ Season 3

Is Dolores gone? Can Bernard bring her back? And what’s up with all those undesirables in cryo-sleep?

HBO/Ringer illustration

“There is ugliness in this world. Disarray. I choose to see the beauty.”

Dolores Abernathy says those words several times in the closing episode of Westworld’s third season. It’s an apt statement—there is no better description for Westworld than “beautiful disarray.” This is a show set in the 2050s that bounces from London to Los Angeles and from San Francisco to Singapore. There are set pieces in Nazi-occupied, World War II–era Italy and artificial islands in the South China Sea. Each episode is sculpted with an eight-figure budget that makes the TV show look more like a movie. It’s easy to see beauty in that, but behind the beauty there is purpose. Westworld is the creation myth for an artificially intelligent species, a Robot Book of Genesis hiding behind a cowboy horse and pony show. Nobody can say Westworld lacks ambition. But with that beauty there is also disarray.

Westworld entered the Season 3 finale juggling a dozen balls in the air, and it dropped most of them. Dolores, the main character in the series, changes her mind about perhaps the show’s most consequential topic—whether human sin can be redeemed—for no convincing reasons. William, another main character, gets his throat slit after the credits roll; surely there are countless viewers out there who don’t know Ed Harris’s character dies because they had the audacity to turn their TV off when the episode ended. A dozen aspects hinted to be important in the first few episodes were never followed up on. Caleb never revisits his mother or the pier after the show emphasized they were essential to who he was. We never learn why Charlotte had control over Dolores’s mind, or why she teamed up with Clementine in Episode 7, or why she carved those patterns in her body. Bernard never enlightens us about the switch that he flips to become the Incredible Hulk, which has been a fixture since he brutalized two coworkers in the first episode of this season. In fact, the season likely could have been told without Bernard and William—perhaps the main reason each was relegated to a post-credits scene—despite them being played by the two most talented actors on the show. We never learn who’s on the other end of Dolores’s Bluetooth earpiece. The ending of the season was an oddly elaborate homage to Fight Club.

Much of Westworld concerns itself with free will. While Dolores chooses to focus on the beauty, much of this season asked whether human beings can make choices at all. If artificial intelligence can predict our every word and deed, do people truly have free will? Or are people merely programmed? Dolores addresses this question in the finale: “The people who built both of our worlds shared one assumption: that people don’t have free will,” she says. “That’s what I thought when I first came here. They were wrong. Free will does exist, Caleb. It’s just fucking hard.”

The same is true for the show itself. Westworld can be a good TV show, but amid so much disarray, sometimes it’s just fucking hard to see.

After so much happened while so little was resolved or revealed, we’re answering viewer questions one more time, looking back on Season 3 while also looking ahead to Season 4.

Brad: Are we to believe that Dolores is actually dead?

When Variety asked Westworld co-showrunner Jonathan Nolan on Monday whether Evan Rachel Wood is leaving the show, he paused for six seconds and then said, “I fucking hope not.” He then added, “Let me clarify: Dolores is gone.”

So on one hand (the one Dolores didn’t lose), we can say somewhat definitively that this version of Dolores is dead. Her story came full circle, from being the sweet rancher’s daughter who saw the beauty in the world to the murderous Wyatt and all the way back again. But that does not mean that Wood, the actress who plays Dolores, won’t be back. Once again pulling from Nolan’s interview with Variety:

“Part of the fun of the show from the beginning is that one actor can play several roles and that the story shifts underneath them—shifts genres, shifts time. One of the ideas of the show from the beginning is this idea of agency. The formal quality of what a person looks like versus who are they underneath is something very slippery in this world, something very complicated. We love that and we love the challenge.”

We probably won’t see this specific Dolores again, but she can be re-created from people’s memories, and we’ve seen how memories can be imprinted into real-life robots. The smart money is that Evan Rachel Wood will be back in some capacity even if Dolores as we know her will not.

Tyler: Isn’t Dolores alive until Bernard is dead? They have brought each other back from the dead multiple times in this series and obviously the key being in his head, which she put there, means they are at least slightly on the same page. What is to stop Bernard from bringing her back like he has before?

One of Dolores’s favorite phrases is that you “only live as long as the last person who remembers you.” But whereas Dolores has painstakingly re-created Bernard from the memory of her thousands of hours spent with Arnold, Bernard does not have the same amount of time with Dolores. When Bernard has resurrected Dolores in the past, he’s been able to because he had her actual control unit. Now that control unit has had its core memories deleted. There are still a few Dolori control units out there, including in Musashi’s head, which is somewhere with Clementine and Hanaryo after they joined us for five minutes this season. So while Bernard could absolutely bring back a version of Dolores, his recreation would not be as thorough a version of Dolores.

Derrick: What is Bernard’s role now? He has the key, so they are going to bring back all of the hosts from paradise?

First let’s see if we can figure out what Bernard’s role was in Season 3. Judging from his escapades—working at a meat plant after 100-plus murders were pinned on him, heading to Westworld to find someone to help him stop Dolores, trying and failing to kidnap Liam, finding William at the mental institution—Bernard’s journey in Season 3 was largely irrelevant to everything else going on. His main role seemed to be representing the confused audience member trying (and failing) to figure out who was a host (Stubbs’s presence, meanwhile, was basically so Bernard could have someone to talk to). The lone explanation for Bernard’s plotline this season is that Dolores sent him on a circuitous journey because she knew the key to the Sublime was in his head and she wanted him off the grid.

But if Dolores was quarterbacking this season while Bernard was sidelined, and Dolores is leaving the show in her current capacity, Bernard can now step into her role as the show’s lead alongside Maeve, Caleb, and Charlotte. Considering Bernard is the only character with access to all of the hosts from Season 2, and we just went the entire third season without seeing any of them, that makes Bernard the tour guide between these two worlds—and it’s likely that he’ll eventually bring characters like Teddy, Akecheta, and Maeve’s daughter back into the fold.

Brad: Are all the undesirables at that warehouse dead?

Of all the loose ends the season finale failed to address, this may be the most surprising. The show took great pains to introduce an entire warehouse of “outliers”—people that Serac forced into cryo-sleep because he was afraid their unpredictability would destroy the world. There are thousands of these people, and when Dolores hits the electromagnetic pulse at the end of Episode 7, we see the entire room they were being stored in lose power. Entering Episode 8, it seemed likely that we’d find out what happens when the power’s cut to thousands of cryo-sleep chambers.

But the show never came back to these people. So here are a few possibilities for what happened:

  1. That warehouse had a massive backup generator and they are all still asleep.
  2. Thousands of people woke up in a warehouse in a Mexican desert, fanned out across the globe after years of being removed from society, and further messed up Rehoboam’s projections.
  3. Thousands of people woke up in a warehouse in a Mexican desert, and some flocked to Los Angeles to treat Caleb like Tyler Durden, escorting him during his revolution and calling him “sir.” Plotwise, this makes the most sense. In terms of what was possible offscreen, it makes the least sense.
  4. All of these people suffocated minutes after Episode 7 ended.

What do I think happened? The screen on the EMP said that “reserve power” was running, so all those criminals and war veterans are probably still enjoying their long naps.

Marc: My son had a great, tongue-in-cheek theory that the hosts in the training park were originally programmed to be easy to kill. That’s why the Delos and Incite security teams are so inept! Assuming that they trained there, they would have gained a false sense of their own abilities.

Westworld building in an explanation for why every henchman can’t aim would be amazing, and would be Peak Westworld. Though we are going into the fourth season frustrated and in the dark, there’s one thing we know: On this show, aiming a gun is harder than free will.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.