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‘Westworld’ Finale Review: Season 2 Closes With Gripping Battles for Control and Debates Over Human Nature

In Season 2, Episode 10, "The Passenger" doesn't just take us from life to death, but also to the space in between.

Westworld 210 Evan Rachel Wood

HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Westworld” Season 2, Episode 10, “The Passenger.”]

Diagnostic Report

All the timelines finally collide, the hosts make their escape, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) lays out her endgame, and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) confronts the nature of his reality. Plus, viewers got to go inside the Forge and witness a whole lot of people get shot and killed (including at least one series regular)…

Damn, a lot sure does happen in these 90 minutes. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is go character by character.

What Happens to Maeve?

After she escapes Delos’ control and sends a herd of robot bison rampaging through the Mesa hub, the surviving hosts go on a pilgrimage to the Valley Beyond, a journey Maeve (Thandie Newton) wants to help them complete. In between the hosts and the promised land, however, is Delos Corp., whose initial attack has pinned down Maeve’s posse until Lee (Simon Quarterman) does what might be the first noble thing he’s ever done in his life, sacrificing himself (while delivering one of his patented hero speeches) so that the rest of the posse can get away.

However, the Delos forces have deployed the weaponized Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) to be a “rider on a pale horse,” and as she rides through the line of escapees, they all descend into madness and violence. Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), and others are all lost to the violence, but before she too is slain, Maeve holds off the hordes long enough for her daughter, Akecheta, and others to escape. While Maeve is presumably dead at the end of the episode, her old friends Lutz (Leonardo Nam) and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) indicate at the end that they may choose to salvage her — if only for the code she still possesses.

Hold Up, What Is the Valley Beyond?

The Promised Land — a.k.a. the literal “way out” promised to the hosts by Ford (Anthony Hopkins) — turns out to be another realm of reality, one completely virtual. This is important: Pay attention to when the aspect ratio (a.k.a. the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen) changes in this episode: Anytime we go to widescreen, it’s a moment that takes place within the Forge or a similar space.

The Valley Beyond is described as “a virtual Eden, unspoiled and untouched by the world you came from” — entry to which, beautifully/tragically established by a brutal piece of staging, requires abandoning one’s physical form. (Even on a show where we know death for the hosts is rarely final, there’s a gruesome quality to the cut from the beautiful pastoral field the hosts see to what happens in reality — a pile of bodies at the bottom of the cliff.)

Westworld 210 Zahn McClarnon

What Happens to Dolores and Bernard?

After leaving behind Teddy’s (James Marsden) body (but taking his data core), Dolores encounters the Man In Black (still really hard to think of him as William), and the two of them partner up for a short time, fighting off a few Delos employees before encountering Bernard (Jeffrey Wright). It’s then that Dolores reveals she was the one who built Bernard; their many one-on-one scenes together over the years have been a series of tests meant to calibrate him as a replica of Arnold, before she decided to make some alterations. She and the Man in Black also end up parting ways, after he turns his gun on her and it backfires, mangling his hand.

Dolores and Bernard abandon him and head down into the Forge, where they link up to the system and get to have a conversation with the system itself, which presents as Delos’ son Logan (Ben Barnes). Things also go to widescreen here, while Not Logan explains how initially, he believed humans to be extremely complex, but then realized they were a far more simple algorithm to decode.

When Dolores and Bernard return to the real world, Dolores is armed with the information she needs to destroy the human race — as well as the “gilded cage” built by Ford. Bernard shoots her before she can do so, though.

Afterward, Bernard staggers out and is discovered by the Delos recovery team, officially bridging the narrative gap in the storylines… as far as we know then. Turns out, as Strand and his team bring Bernard back down, once again, to the Forge control center, Bernard did one other thing before being discovered on the beach: He created a physical replica of Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), into which he implanted Dolores’ mind.

Dolores makes sure to shoot Charlotte immediately, which means the Charlotte we’ve seen in the post-beach timeline has really been Dolores all this while. Dolores-as-Charlotte uses this second chance at life to eliminate Strand and his team, before telling Bernard she’s changed her mind, and will not only preserve the Valley Beyond, but send it somewhere safe. (She even adds Teddy to the Valley before doing so.) However, she then shoots Bernard, because “there was never any way for us to escape as us,” adding his data core to one of several in her bag before making her way to the beach in an effort to leave the island.

Westworld 210 Jeffrey Wright

While she nearly gets stopped and checked for her human status, our ol’ buddy Stubbs (played by Luke Hemsworth, who drops some cryptic clues hinting he might also be a host programmed by Ford) gets her through security and onto a boat. On the mainland, she discovers a host-building machine she uses to replicate her old body as well as Bernard’s. She, the Charlotte host form, and Bernard are now free to explore the real world. “We have work to do,” she tells Bernard, acknowledging their differences in opinion but the fact that they’ll need to cooperate to help save their own kind, even if he doesn’t agree with her desire to destroy the human race. “We are the authors of our stories now.”

White Hat or Black Hat?

Let’s use this section to acknowledge that Charlotte Hale, in the scenes before her death and replacement with Dolores, revealed herself to be truly evil — in a show filled with shocking deaths, a human-on-human shooting like the cold-blooded murder of Elsie (Shannon Woodward), makes a real impression. Tessa Thompson has been a powerhouse all season long, though, and it’s exciting to imagine what might be in store for her come Season 3. Even in the finale, the way Thompson handles the shift that reveals Dolores lurking within is a feat to admire.

Player Piano

Radiohead has always been a touchstone for this series, so it’s hardly a surprise that showrunners (and the finale’s authors) Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan picked a deep cut to close out the episode: “Codex,” from the 2011 album “The King of Limbs.” While it plays over Bernard’s emergence from the basement of what can now be recognized as Arnold’s house in Hong Kong, the lyrics prove far more relevant to the ascent of the other hosts to the Valley Beyond: “Slide your hand / Jump off the end / The water’s clear and innocent.” It’s true Arnold is also making his own leap here, but the water he’s entering cannot be described as innocent.

Wait, But What Happens to the Man In Black?

Prior to the end credits, we last see the man best known as William descending in an elevator down to the Forge… But he never exits while Bernard and Dolores are down there, and in the post-credits scene we see him instead exit into the ruins of what’s left down below.

Note that the aspect ratio doesn’t change here, seemingly confirming “Emily’s” (Katja Herbers) statement that “the system is long gone” as she leads him into the same holding chamber where William used to test James Delos. However, the ruin before them makes it clear that we are operating within a new timeline here, especially after Emily makes it clear William’s testing has been going on for “a long time.”

William states his purpose in pursuing this quest of his — to prove that “no system can tell me who I am, that I have a fucking choice.” And yet, Emily makes clear, he has failed in that, as she begins another round of testing, in search of “fidelity.”

Westworld 210 Ed Harris

In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

Well, as of the final minutes of the episode (minus the post-credits sequence) viewers are as far forward in the timeline as ever. And with the tether to human reality more fragile than ever, it’s not impossible to imagine massive leaps forward in the narrative as the series goes on. For right now, at least, there’s something of a sequential understanding of what happened in the days following Ford’s death. Which is a bit of a relief — until you consider the question of what exactly the post-credits scene means in terms of William’s existence.

Paired Off

The fascinating cycle that links Dolores and Arnold/Bernard is in some ways the most intimate relationship on the show now: Arnold created her, and then she recreated him, but with some changes. This also, for the record, officially means that “Westworld” is engaging with the concept of The Singularity, the vaguely apocalyptic theory that once artificial intelligence learns to reproduce, and improve upon itself, the end of human civilization will result.

Season 1 of “Westworld” was subtitled “The Maze.” Season 2 was subtitled “The Door.” Season 3 promises to open up a lot of huge issues.

These Violent Delights

So, here at the end of the season, let’s go over where things stand in terms of who lives and who dies…

Still Alive: Dolores, Bernard, Stubbs (may also be a host), the Man In Black (at least in one timeline), Maling, Lutz, Sylvester.

Human, and Pretty Certainly Dead (Though Who Knows With This Show): Charlotte Hale (though her host duplicate is free in the real world), Lee Sizemore, Elsie Hughes, Robert Ford (as even his code has been purged from Bernard), Logan Delos, James Delos, Juliet, Antoine Costa, Karl Strand, Emily, lots of other humans.

A Host, and Technically Dead But Could/Will Likely Be Revived: Maeve, Hector, Armistice, Clementine, Peter Abernathy, Angela.

A Host, Alive in the Valley Beyond: Teddy, Akecheta, Kohana, Maeve’s daughter.

This means some major plot work will be required for most of the series regulars to return for a new season. Though, as previously mentioned, this is not a show that struggles to find ways to bring back actors. (Always nice to see Ben Barnes again, as just one example.)

Best Quote

“You never really understood. We were designed to survive. It’s why you built us, so that you could pour your consciousnesses into our forms. But your species craves death. You need it. It’s the only way you can renew, the only real way you ever inch forward. Your kind likes to pretend there’s poetry to that. But really, it’s pathetic.”
— Dolores

While Dolores does have something of a change of heart toward the end of the episode, this speech defines a lot of important aspects of the season finale, especially how from the non-human perspective, human nature boils down to a very simple struggle for survival. As the show continues to grapple with the quest for immortality, all the issues raised here will continue to be important, perhaps most especially the idea that there’s poetry in the fleeting nature of life; it’s maybe something we tell ourselves, as mortal humans, but does that make it less true?

Honorable mention, by the way, for another vicious line from Dolores: “I don’t want to play cowboys and Indians anymore — I want their world, the world they’ve denied us,” largely based on how Evan Rachel Wood just tears into it. She’s been really solid all season long, but the range of rage she shows in this episode is so nuanced and fascinating, there are easily three or four scenes which could represent her performance during this year’s Emmy Awards.

Westworld 210 Rodrigo Santoro

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

So Dolores, in the real world, has her original body, but there’s also the Charlotte Hale-shaped host form. Does she also contain Dolores’ psyche? And while the two Dolores-es seem to be teaming up at the end of this episode, will their interests always be aligned? Dolores vs. Dolores sounds like a fascinating arc for the future.

Stupid insignificant question, but this is the place for them: Why does the virtual library of human souls have a virtual bar cart with virtual decanters of virtual booze?

“I’m sending them and their world to a place no one can find them.” Did Dolores send the Valley Beyond into space? Or to THE MOON? How awesome would it be if “Westworld” Season 3 took place partially ON THE MOON??? (The answer to that last one, at least, is “very awesome.”)

Final Reveries

There’s so much to process here, with revelations that will surely keep fans engaged in deep analysis for however long it takes the show to return; this is especially true of the post-credits sequence, which is in some ways almost impossibly cryptic.

But on a narrative level, it does hold together remarkably well. The weakest part of “The Passenger” is, probably, the shifting choices of Dolores, which are a bit more show than tell, mostly expressed through dialogue and occasionally hard to track. Otherwise, a whole helluva lot happens in these 90 minutes, with the complex mingling of timelines not proving impossible to track. It does get a bit repetitive to see so many characters shot to death over the course of the episode, but that’s a relatively minor complaint, especially when you consider how that’s balanced with the intensity of the Valley Beyond escape and related twists and turns.

An interesting thing to do, after you watch the Season 2 finale, is to go back and watch the pilot episode of “Westworld,” just to appreciate how dramatically the show has evolved since then (while also looking for any clues that might have indicated where things ended up today). Even just the bold implementation of nudity and sexual violence in the context of a playland for adults, in contrast to Season 2’s very real-world stakes, feels like a jarring shift.

“Westworld” has gotten flack for occasionally feeling like it’s prolonging its narrative, but it’s a show which has remained committed to fascinating and bold choices week after week, avoiding the predictable whenever possible. “The Passenger” is not an easy episode to decode entirely, and we still have plenty of questions about what happens next, but only in the best way.

Grade: A-

“Westworld” Season 2 is streaming in full on HBO NOW. Season 3 has already been picked up by HBO.

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