“I don’t want to play Cowboys and Indians any more, Bernard. I want their world.” – Dolores
At the end of a mind-bending episode of vaulting ambition Dolores can begin to go about her aim. After a season that opened up the confines of its original impressive sandbox world, ‘The Passenger’ blows the scope of the show apart, with real-world consequences in store for a third season of infinite possibilities. To be sure, thematically it has taken 20 episodes of TV to get to the stage Alex Garland’s Ex Machina reached in less than two hours, but this frustrating, operatic, ridiculous, grandiose journey was for the most part well-worth taking.
Trying to piece it all together into a coherent summary is an exhausting task, but here are the main revelations. The Forge turns out to be both a virtual playground of test subjects and a library with the code of each guest transcribed into book form. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) wrestle with each other over the meaning of freedom and their plans for the Valley Beyond, a virtual Utopia which Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has created for the hosts. This appears to the hosts as a dimensional rift through which a green, unsullied Eden can be glimpsed. While their data wanders like a free-range chicken, their bodies are pitched off the cliff of reality. This explains the hundreds of host bodies that litter the ground in the present timeline. Bernard shoots and kills Dolores as she attempts to destroy the Forge.
Maeve (Thandie Newton) is patched up and escapes her hospital gurney with the help of some obligingly resurrected hosts and makes it to the rift with her loyal band of cowboys and the remainder of the Ghost Nation; her daughter and ‘new mom’ in tow. This coincides with the murderous arrival of Delos and their secret weapon, dead-eyed one-woman Apocalypse Clementine (Angela Sarafyan). As her very presence triggers an outbreak of indiscriminate ultra-violence among the hosts, Maeve’s band legs it toward the rift. Sadly, Maeve doesn’t make it, mowed down by Delos bullets, and dying with her destination in sight, like Moses on Mount Nebo. She does however get to see her daughter and Akecheta reach safety, in one of the few moments where the episode eschews clever rug-pulling and really hits emotionally. It turns out there was more than meets the eye to the young girl, as Maeve had reprogrammed her with the memory of Akecheta’s (Zahn McClarnon) wife. As the two are reunited in the Valley Beyond, it was difficult to keep a tear from the eye.
Along the way we also lost Lee (Simon Quaterman), and Elsie (Shannon Woodward). Lee goes out quoting his own dialogue from his host narratives, sacrificing himself so Maeve and crew can escape the reliably generic Delos ops. Elsie is killed by Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) after threatening to expose the mass data harvesting Delos have been conducting for decades. RIP, guys (unless off course, they’re scheduled for a Lazarene return as hosts in season three).
Speaking of Charlotte, it turns one of the series’ great purely villainous characters has already had her comeuppance. Poor Bernard manages to unscramble his timelines to remember that he had taken the control unit from Dolores and implanted it into a host version of Charlotte, in perhaps the show’s biggest “Ta-Da!”moment. The real Charlotte met her end courtesy of her doppelgänger, who also kills Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) and the rest of the Delos team, before killing Bernard after asking him to trust her. We see Charlotte/ Dolores departing Westworld with some smuggled control units. She’s stopped and scanned by Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), which obviously gives her away as a host. Stubbs however, lets her through, either because he’s a host (some of his cryptic dialogue in the scene would hint at it), or because he’s on board with what she’s aiming to do, perhaps understandable given the behaviour of the human characters this season.
On leaving the park, she moves into Arnold’s home, complete with a machine for the creation of new hosts. She manufactures new versions of Dolores and Bernard. She reactivates Bernard and, following a theme that has ran through the the season, says that while their differing opinions on humanity may force them to be enemies, they are both vital for hosts in the human world to have any chance of survival.
Finally, the Man in Black’s run of fortune goes from bad to worse. He finds himself on the wrong end of a sabotaged gun when trying to shoot Dolores and has most of his gun hand blown off. A fitting piece of symbolism for a character who has become steadily emasculated through the season. When he finally arrives at the Forge, he discovers he’s in the far future as the Mesa is desolate and overgrown. A woman who appears to be Emily, the daughter he killed, begins to interview him, testing his fidelity. This confirms that his consciousness has been uploaded into a host (although why his host body retains his injured hand is a mystery).
This brings us just about up-to-speed with the end of the season. It’s been a turbulent, head-scratching ten episodes. Does the pay-off justify the build up? It’s a definite yes, but it isn’t without its problems. Maeve’s sad end, although being very moving in a way Westworld rarely is, was something of an anti-climax. The Super-Clementine threat was also dealt with rather summarily. Conversely, Dolores was granted a far more drawn-out conclusion. This is understandable given the pivotal role she’s played in the uprising, and the central part she’ll have in season three, but she’s been very much sidelined as a simple figure of vengeance, with none of the complexity she was afforded in season one. As such, it was difficult to be entirely invested in her expanded contribution this episode.
Westworld is now also suffering from the similar dramatic problem to Avengers: Infinity War; how much resonance and weight can this conclusion have when it’s unlikely that the deaths of several characters will stick? That Maeve won’t be brought back is unthinkable given Newton’s incalculable contribution; although her demise being final would be both dramatically rewarding and philosophically interesting, as almost a cautionary tale against free will (Maeve being one of the few characters to emphatically demonstrate it). Similarly, the several false ends of Bernard and Dolores may keep us guessing, but it also lowers the stakes.
Fundamentally, ‘The Passenger’ could, and perhaps should, have been the conclusion of the story. So many of the arcs came to a close; and the fate of Bernard, Dolores and the few control units she smuggled off the park could have been left ambiguous but still rewarding. Further expansion, while setting the scene for all manner of carnage, not least the Batman and Joker dynamic Dolores and Bernard appear to have established, can really only dilute the essence of the show. So much of Westworld’s dramatic charge was due to it being a relatively contained world, and the threat of the hosts breaking out and walking among us. Now that has happened, the surface tension has broken, and the odds are in favour of it sinking. Dolores might not want to play cowboys and Indians any more, but that was the show. Can it still be Westworld if it morphs into something completely different?
All of this is concern over where the show might be going rather than where it has been, and for the most part Westworld season two has been TV of the highest order, stuffed with excellent actors and production values to match much of modern cinema. It hasn’t quite reached the heights of the stunning first season, but it must be commended for not resting on its laurels.