WARNING: FULL SPOILERS
Westworld has been an excellent example of great science fiction in its relatively short lifespan. It asked questions about humanity’s true nature as we followed a “robot apocalypse.” There were some genuinely shocking and often emotional moments in the second season. However, it would also stumble as it sometimes wallowed in its own mystery and ambiguity.
The season finale, “The Passenger,” suffered just a bit from this. With its time jumps, contradictory tone, and an often rushed feel, it could get overwhelming. But once you cut through the ambiguity, it was a great finale to the second season. As all of the show’s main characters converged on the Valley Beyond, there were amazing moments, tragic deaths, and satisfying ends. But while we got the answers to enduring mysteries, some tantalizing new possibilities were introduced.
The Lady Triumphs
In multiple flash forwards and flashbacks, we saw Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) finally triumph…in a round about way. Her hatred for humanity was palpable as she led Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and William (Ed Harris) to the Forge. She was confronting two sides: The irredeemable Man in Black, the source of many of the atrocities in her life, and the one who helped lead her to her consciousness…her innocence.
First, we learned that Bernard and Dolores shared a much more intimate connection: She created him. This made Bernard’s decision to kill her all the more tragic…and ironic. A creation killing its creator. She was threatening the sanctuary created by the Forge…the “Door” that led to a utopia for the Hosts. Bernard, with his compassionate nature, could not let her destroy it or humanity’s world. It was an ignominious end for Dolores…one that most of the audience probably never bought.
Dolores’ return was always expected, but how she did it was surprising and supremely satisfying. Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) took one step too far as she murdered one of the few good humans in Westworld, Elsie (Shannon Woodward), making Bernard bring the the avenging Host back. Bringing her back in a Host version of Hale was great. The two strong woman have been at odds all season and to see Hale finally pay for her sins as Dolores gunned her down was amazing. The only thing more amazing was when Dolores/Hale took down Strand and his men in the Forge.
Thompson has always been great, but seeing her channel Dolores’ cadence was pretty entertaining. It wasn’t an exact imitation, allowing Thompson to really play with the role a bit. That the Hale host was still around by the end of the episode was great, playing with the possibility of a brand new version of the character.
And that was the best aspect to emerge from Dolores’ escape from the park. The possibilities of the Host in the human world were intriguing. Would she realize Bernard’s fears and kill any human in sight? Or would she be more subtle and take their world as she promised? “The Passenger” introduced a dark but intriguing future for its central heroine.
The Conscience Falters
One of the more interesting traits of this season was the difference between the male and female characters. The women of Westworld have never questioned their motives and drove towards their goals. The men have either faltered or looked for outside influences to blame their decisions on. Bernard and his fractured memories were the epitome of this dynamic and came into full play in “The Passenger.”
Bernard was the catalyst in the end game of the finale. But as Dolores pointed out, there would have been no need to bring her back if Bernard had simply listened. Yes, he represented her innocence, but naivete was always a part of that. He believed in peace, a noble trait that seemed out of place in this dark world. When he needed a touch of darkness, he called on Ford (Anthony Hopkins) to help him build the Hale Host.
At the end of the episode, Bernard questioned Ford’s existence in his head. He had deleted him after all. But even as Ford dismissed this notion as just another unreliable memory, it showed just how doubtful Bernard could be. His indecision almost led to the death of every Host in the park. But he was also looking for someone else to blame as Dolores…a Host capable of murder…was unleashed by his hand.
He had a guilty conscience…something that didn’t necessarily make him weak. Just more human than most humans in Westworld.
A Noble End…
Maeve (Thandie Newton) made the ultimate sacrifice to save the one she loved most. Many fans may have hoped for a happier end for the Host who seemed the most noble. But she and her group…Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), Armistice (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) and Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto)…all made the ultimate sacrifice as Hale’s “Typhoid Mary” Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) was unleashed on the caravan of Hosts heading to the Door.
Maeve had her triumphant moments. Tired of waiting for rescue in the control center, she did so herself, unleashing mechanical buffalo on the QA Responders guarding her. It was another satisfying moment, one that should have been seen as a warning: It would only get worse from here. Triumphs have often been fleeting in Westworld.
One of the more surprisingly emotional moments was when Sizemore (Simon Quartermain) went down for Maeve and her companions. It was a nice final moment, as he spouted Hector’s infamous speech from the first season…complete with a premature interruption from gunfire. Sizemore finally became that man who could only write about…though we never actually saw his body. And in science fiction, if you don’t see a body, then they weren’t necessarily gone.
Maeve went out for the noblest of reasons, as she shared one last memory with her daughter. It was brief, but hit hard emotionally. And it was great to see Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) not only survive, but also reunite with his true love. “Kiksuya” was one of the best episodes of the series, with Akecheta breaking out as a standout character. Having this tragic character finish with some happiness warmed the heart.
And then there was the personification of all the sins of humanity, the Man in Black. William’s conclusion probably caused many fans to gasp as the after credits scene seemingly confirmed that he was a Host…or at the very least might become one.
In the review of “Vanishing Point,” I was disappointed at the “William may be a Host” twist. It was still disappointing here, but with the way the it was presented, “The Passenger” emphasized the importance of choice. William wanted to prove that he had a choice, that he didn’t have to follow a narrative. This scene played out like a possibility, not necessarily the truth. It may have been in a far flung future, years after the events of the second season. Whatever the case may be, it proposed an intriguing story in the future.
A Simple Algorithm
The Forge dismissed humans as simple machines with a simple code. One defining moment could control everything they did. That they were incapable of changing. This idea might have been the first moment the Hosts felt unsympathetic. If you look at my previous reviews of both seasons, you will see that I have always been on Team Host. But in “The Passenger,” this felt like an oversimplification of the human experience. Yes, humanity was influenced by our moments, good or bad, but to suggest that it couldn’t move beyond that was scary.
The Forge and its programs, even Dolores, were looking for simple answers. Not unlike us. The events of the episode contradicted this, as Sizemore sacrificed himself for Maeve. Ford gave his life to bring Hosts their freedom after initially viewing them as nothing more than machines. Felix had always been sympathetic to Maeve. These humans changed.
But this may have been the set up for the real fight to come. Has Artificial Intelligence become the threat that we have always feared? It has been a central theme in Westworld…Do machines ultimately need humanity? Had humanity fallen so far that they were deserving of Dolores’ wrath? Or do the machines just not understand?
Season Three has a lot of questions to answer…
Choice Between Shades of Gray
Dolores was in the “real world” by the end of “The Passenger,” able to wreak havoc…but she recreated her opposite in Bernard. She stated that they could not be friends, that they may likely come into conflict. So a new conflict, one that most probably didn’t see coming, has been set up for next season. Not only do these Hosts need to survive in a world where they may be killed should they be discovered, they may also clash over how to survive.
It wasn’t a choice between good and evil. Dolores was capable of so much violence…but she still decided to save those Hosts that chose that new sanctuary she hated so much. It was particularly touching to see her bring Teddy (James Mardsen) to the sanctuary. Bernard stopped Dolores because of her murderous ways…but he brought her back to save the Hosts. And how will Maeve play into this? Felix and Sylvester found themselves in charge of salvage and stood over Maeve’s body…could they bring her back.
There was a lot to sort through in “The Passenger” as the time jumps literally boggled the mind. At what point did Bernard make the Hale Host? How long did it take to make one? And the twist where Ford may or may not have influenced Bernard felt like mystery for mystery’s sake. Finally, the whole episode suffered from the rushed feel that plagued some other episodes this season.
But ultimately, the season finale was a great conclusion to Westworld’s continuing robot revolution. We will see just how violent these delights will get.
SCORE: 9 OUT OF 10