There Aren't Many Mysteries Left On Westworld Now
A crackerjack season finale fundamentally changes the show.
The season finale of Westworld has got me like Renée Fleming, y'all. It fills me with dark hope. This episode is so beautifully constructed -- it's such an elegant ending to an entertaining ride -- that I'm obviously interested in whatever comes next. But at the same time, I worry. Can it get better than this? Or are we doomed to diminishing returns?
Both my pleasure and my doubt stem from the fact that the mysteries of the season have been solved. Without them, it seems the show will have to fundamentally change. But before we get to that, let's recap how the various strands got tied up.
First of all, the Man in Black is actually the older version of William, which confirms the many internet theories that we've been watching multiple timelines all season. Now we know that back when he was young, William staged a scenario to make Logan seem loony, which gave William enough control over Delos to invest heavily in Westworld. Now, in fact, he's a majority owner of the park, which is why he can afford to wander through the scrub brush all day.
But William's still just a human being, so he can't accept it when he gets to the center of the maze and discovers it's all just an elaborate game that Arnold created to help Dolores gain full consciousness. When other hosts told William the maze wasn't for him, they weren't lying!
All this leads to Dolores beating the shit out of him and breaking his arm, though he does end up stabbing her again. This bums William out, because he's been pushing for Westworld to have real stakes for guests. This explains the look of joy on his face when, in the final moments of the season, a group of suddenly empowered hosts emerges from the woods and seems ready to assassinate the entire Delos board. Those unlucky humans are gathered to hear about Ford's final story, which is THEIR final story, too. Symmetry! Depending on the terms of Ed Harris's contract, I guess William will either die the way he wanted or spend next season figuring out what to do next.
Meanwhile...Ford. The show zigged and zagged all season about his true beliefs, but this week he reveals once and for all that he's been trying to undo the mistake of resisting Arnold's desire to set the sentient hosts free. His new story --"Journey Into Night" -- is really his plan to make all the hosts self-aware.
In his weary cynicism, Arnold feels the hosts must be willing to kill humans in order to avoid being destroyed by them. Since hosts are to be the new masters of the earth, they must be able to massacre the previous tenants. He knows this when he patches Dolores up one last time, and when he gives her the final push she needs to start hearing her thoughts in her own voice, not Arnold's. (As you'll recall, "hearing your own voice in your head" was floated as the last piece of the sentience puzzle.)
Fully awake, Dolores buys into Ford's ideas about power and survival, and she shoots Ford in the back of the head, as a grand finale to his speech to the board. This is just like he wanted, sure, but he didn't force her to do it. Not the way Arnold sorta forced her to kill HIM all those years ago. Back then, Arnold thought that having Dolores kill him and all the hosts would keep the park from going forward. (She was actually Wyatt. Teddy just got implanted with a false memory of "boy Wyatt.")
Arnold was wrong. Ford, though, seems to be right that if Dolores kills him of her own volition, she will go forward as her own self.
Speaking of killing: Ford also adjusted Maeve's programing so that "escape" would be her biggest drive. So in many ways, he set her on the path of recruiting fellow hosts and then getting them to become a murderous posse. And murder they do! Hector and Armistice kill a BUNCH of security guards and techies as they help Maeve get out of the park once and for all.
BUT...and here's the beauty part...Maeve ultimately resists her "escape" coding. She's on the train to leave Westworld, and she decides to go back for her daughter. She makes her own choice. Even though she knows that her daughter isn't really her daughter, she decides that the connection is still worth saving. Maeve is truly, truly free.
And I'd say Dolores is, too. She may have been coded with some murderous programming, but she's deciding what to do with it now. I wonder if she and Maeve will face off next season, or perhaps join forces.
See...this is the kind of thing I'm excited about. And then there's the post-credits scene where Armistice saws off her own arm to escape getting killed by security guards. I'd count on her being a loose cannon next year, given how much she enjoyed shooting a human for the first time.
But is that what the series is going to become? A straightforward shoot-'em-up where things are exactly what they seem? Is that going to be as enticing as this seductive ambiguity we got this year? And what about the glimpse we get of Samurai World? Will the show compensate for its lack of mystery by adding a new theme park that might overwhelm the whole narrative? (A similar strategy did not work out well on Orphan Black. Remember when they added all those boy clones?)
No matter what happens, though, this season was fantastic. I love a ripping good yarn told with intelligence and passion, particularly when it ends well. This story hit those marks so adroitly that I'm cautiously optimistic about whatever's coming next year.