You gotta hand it to HBO: Their shows know how to deliver explosive endings. No matter how uneven the season of television that came before it, the finales are always blue-fire-breathing game-changers. They may not always be narratively-warranted or cogent, but they are explosive.
Which brings us to the end of Westworld Season 2. After what felt like nine hours of exposition following the host revolt at the end of Season 1 and throughout the current one, the revolution’s leader, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), and its accidental architect, Bernard/Digital Ghost of Ford (Jeffrey Wright), sent some of the hosts off to Host Valhalla and got themselves out of Westworld. Oh, and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) got a big ol’ dose of reality. (Does none of this make sense? Read our recap here.)
It was a whiplash-inducing, extra-long episode that completely rebooted the series for a whole new narrative in Season 3. (Dolores is off-world, y’all!) To try to wrap our heads around what just happened WIRED convened a council of Westworld guests—editors and writers Angela Watercutter, Jason Kehe, Jason Parham, Ellen Airhart, and Westworld recapper Sandra Upson—to dissect the final tick-tock of the show’s second season.
Angela Watercutter, Senior Associate Editor: As I’m sure you’ve all noticed over the last few weeks, I’m something of a Westworld skeptic. I haven’t exactly loved this season and I’m not 100 confident all of this setup is actually going anywhere. I enjoy the concepts and performances, I just struggle with investing in it. It’s a smart show, but the creators seem to think that making a cerebral drama just involves spending a lot of time literally in the heads of its cast. Seriously, how many scenes this season featured a tight shot on Jeffrey Wright as we watched him furtively try to clean up his own code or remember some long lost nugget of info?
The finale was no different—half of it was spent in The Forge with Dolores and Bernard in brain scanners, immersed in a simulation run by Logan Delos (Ben Barnes), who informs them that humans are predictable and can be reduced to a few thousand lines of code. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ What came after, though, was some actual action. Bernard killed Dolores! Bernard realized he’d made a huge mistake and brought her back again in the form of Delos shill Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson)! She got off of Westworld and went to Arnold’s house! Literally everyone is a deus ex machina! OK, jokes aside, I appreciated this ending. I don’t know that it fully paid off the season, but I have to admit I was cheering Dolores-Hale as her plan came together. Also, I kind of loved that when she got to Arnold’s house she made a new version of her previous self and kept the Hale one. If the future is one ruled by Evan Rachel Wood, Tessa Thompson, and (maybe) Jeffrey Wright, then I, for one, welcome our new host overlords. What about you guys?
Jason Parham, Senior Writer: I made it to episode five.
Watercutter: Jason, I don’t blame you. That’s also where I started to lose my enthusiasm.
Jason Kehe, Senior Associate Editor: People, PEOPLE. If Season 1 was wading into the ocean water, Season 2 was that unexpected drop-off. You know, that spot where the comforting sandbank suddenly gives way to nothingness and you have no idea if there’s a floor anymore at all. But then you find a little patch of rocks. Cuts your feet a little, but at least it’s solid. Or a pleasing warm spot. Did I pee, or is this a gift from the water gods? This really energizes me, I must say. There aren’t too many shows on TV where you’re absolutely, comprehensively confused most of the time—knowing all the while that the creators themselves are right there with you, treading water in the open sea!
Sandra Upson, Senior Editor: I might have been the only person on the internet who didn’t mind all the simulation worlds. Bring on the worlds within worlds!
My main complaint with Season 2 was that too many characters seemed frozen in place. Dolores with her Machiavellian streak was the worst offender. (The shot of her curled up next to Teddy’s dead body was the most relatable she’d been all season.) [Eds. Note: LOL.] But Hale, too, never developed—I don’t think we learned a new thing about her until she got robo-fied. Also, can we just take a moment to be thankful that Bernard finally has a new head? We’re done with the disoriented muttering and head-holding, which felt cartoon-y all season long.
Next season, with our key characters out in the outside world, I bet we’ll have more room for Dolores to be vulnerable and, I don’t know, maybe fall in love with a human. As for Hale, I wonder if the series will do anything interesting around the ideas of embodied cognition—what happens when you have two copies of the same consciousness in different bodies (if that’s in fact what happened)? Surely they’ll evolve in different directions; maybe they’ll even end up competing. It’ll be fascinating to see how that plays out.
On a separate note, what did you guys think about the Ashley Stubbs bit at the end? Was it just that he knew Hale so well that he could tell she wasn’t herself? Or was he saying that he, too, was a host? For one beautiful second I thought he’d been turned into a Stubbsbot and inherited Teddy’s brain orb, which would have been glorious. But no.
Ellen Airhart, Reporting Fellow: I agree with Sandra that the character development felt unsatisfying. In the recap for episode five, the one that seems to have lost everybody, Sandra wrote that Maeve’s relationship with her daughter was not convincing. And it didn’t feel more authentic after that episode, though there was the whole scene in the house with the Ghost Nation. I like Maeve as a character, but this problem with her “core drive” threw me off and made her death seem less-than-poignant.
I’m also annoyed that I’m still confused about where everyone was during crucial events. As Sandra said during a real-life conversation today, there are just so many elevators. How did Bernard not run into the Man in Black on the way down to The Forge? Where is the Man in Black during any given moment in the episode, besides the part in the beginning when he’s with Dolores? The writers are no doubt setting him up for a side plot to the story of Dolores tearing up the real world a la Amy Adams in Enchanted for Season 3, but the questions about time and place feel frustrating, not exciting. After all, it was supposed to be a finale.
Upson: I share those questions, Ellen. Still, I’m excited about seeing what happens with the Man in Black. I found him frustrating for most of this season, because I never understood what motivated him or where he was going. Not to get too literal, but when he was out in the wilderness, how did he know whether to turn right or left at the next tree? That subplot only snapped into focus for me in the finale—that his real goal in finding “The Door” was to delete all the data Delos had collected on him. Now I’m super curious about what happened when he finally dragged his sorry self in there, and what it was we saw in the epilogue with his daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers). It seems like that encounter occurs in some future timeline that will get developed in Season 3, but in the meantime, how am I supposed to think about his missing hand? Why does he look exactly as dusty and beat up as he did when we saw him blow his arm off?
Watercutter: Sandra, these are all good questions. If the Man in Black is a host version of William, which seems to be the case since Emily is testing his fidelity, is it possible that he just went into some kind of sleep mode after he lost his hand trying to shoot Dolores? Does that explain the strange passing of time between the moment he got to The Forge and when he actually made his way in? Also, since Logan in the simulation mentioned—while walking through a room that contained a host William/Man in Black—that he’d been testing thousands of outcomes and people really never changed, perhaps the epilogue was just a simulation? Actually, I don’t really think that. I think that on some level the Man in Black/William had known from early on that Ford had given the hosts a way out and had been going back into Westworld again and again until he could get to The Forge and, essentially, delete himself out of the system. Whatever game it was that he was playing with Ford was what he needed to do to accomplish that.
Sandra, I’m also curious to see what happens with Dolores and Dolores-Hale. To riff off what Jason Kehe was saying earlier in a Slack conversation, my dream scenario involves the two of them falling in love. Because, let’s be real, there is no one Dolores loves more than herself. Dolores + Dolores-Hale = 4eva. I wish them a lifetime of happiness, character development, and world domination in Season 3.
Kehe: Right? They’re totes gonna have a twin robot sex scene kissy thing. Staple of modern sci-fi, practically. And one has to die, of course, probably saving the other to make up for a massive betrayal. Also, I have to point out the Matrix-y vibes in the finale. Very Architect/Oracle sort of dynamic.
Watercutter: Jason, you are so correct about that. As for Stubbs, what was the thing he said about Ford giving him orders to look out for the hosts? I think he might’ve had an inkling of what was coming and when he noticed that Hale was acting slightly off, he connected the dots.
I dunno, am I crazy and overthinking this? Am I stuck in my own loop?
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