Westworld season 2 episode 10 review: The Passenger

The Westworld season 2 finale delivers a major story shift signalling that things can't ever be the same again. Spoilers ahead...

This review contains spoilers.

2.10 The Passenger

It’s strange how things seem to run in parallel. On the third season return of Preacher (spoiler ahead) there’s a lengthy bit of the episode dedicated to bringing a dead character back to life.  I said in that review that it didn’t really cheapen the concept of death, because it’s not a show where there are any hard and fast rules about it. Preacher is a show about a man with the power of God looking to find God and hold Him accountable for His neglect of creation. Westworld is about a man who didn’t just try to be like God, he was God of his own little world. Cowboys and Indians, hosts and guests, all narratives guided by the late, great Robert Ford who lives on, immortal, within the operating system that powers Westworld. But the difference between the God of Preacher and Robert Ford is that Ford isn’t an absentee landlord. In fact, Ford is very much in control of things, working through two of his greatest creations: Dolores Abernathy and Bernard Lowe.

Throughout the second season of Westworld, the talk has been of the concept of narrative. Lee complains about his narrative being ruined by the hosts gaining sentience, the host personalities are determined by certain loops, certain key points of their character and their day-to-day activities that make up the fundamentals of who they are. A few tweaks to a host’s sliders or a slight change in a host’s narrative can completely alter who the host is. All along, William has maintained that this is Robert Ford’s last riddle, one last story set in place by the old man to slight him, and in a sense, he’s correct.

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The Passenger seems to be the end of an era of Westworld. I can’t say for certain where things go from here, but I can confidently say that things will never be the same. As Dolores snarls during a confrontation with Bernard, she’s done playing cowboys and Indians. One thing is perfectly clear from the final moments of the second season: everyone is now playing for keeps, and the human world makes Westworld look like the Hundred Acre Wood.

You can’t have a good hero without a villain, after all, and at every turn, Bernard has seemed to be at odds with Dolores, philosophically and in terms of his actions. There have been others running around (Maeve, William), but Bernard trying to piece together his scrambled brain is offset by Dolores’ single-minded determination to get to The Valley Beyond. One’s gifted with perfect clarity, and the other’s gifted with the memories of Guy Pearce from Memento. Bernard, in particular, was crucial to the second season’s jumbled structure. He’s the lens through which the viewer witnesses these events, and Westworld‘s broken chronology lies at his feet due to his deliberate tinkering with his own brain. Bernard’s story is fascinating, and it’s wildly entertaining—particularly if you like to try to create your own theories about what’s going on—but it’s also incredibly hard to follow from a past/present/future  standpoint. If anything will benefit from a second viewing, it would be my understanding of just what happens when as far as Bernard and Dolores are concerned.

Other stories, such as William and Maeve, are more linear, and a bit easier to digest. Maeve’s narrative, of a mother seeking to save her daughter from a world gone mad, is the most straightforward of the bunch, and thus, it’s emotionally satisfying to see its conclusion. Ditto the most surprising element of the season, Akecheta, and his tale. Those two characters tell simple stories, but they’re beautiful to behold. Maeve’s final moments are incredibly touching, and seeing characters we’ve known and liked find happiness in The Valley Beyond (like Akecheta, whose reunion with his wife brings tears to the eyes) is gorgeous. Poor Teddy isn’t so lucky; even in The Valley Beyond, he’s the guy who is there to be defeated, and yet he waits.

It’s rare that a season finale feels so climactic without closing the book on a story, but Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy make the most of their extended episode. This definitely feels like a major shift in story; even if Felix and Sylvester are still in the park, repairing hosts, and getting things up and running again, the narrative has moved into the real world and now has real world ramifications. Certain characters have been given what I assume are final send-offs, in ways that are either satisfyingly heroic or sudden and tragic. Mysteries are solved, and yet, there’s more to come. That’s a delicate balance to walk, but Nolan and Joy do so deftly. Teddy gets a sad ending, Akecheta gets a very happy ending, and in between cool action movie lines from Bernard (Jeffrey Wright kills his catchphrase, selling it on sheer force of charisma) and amusingly over-the-top action movie lines from Lee (seriously, Simon Quartermain doesn’t get enough respect for playing such a pompous, yet funny character who absolutely believes his sub-Michael Bay quips are gold), there’s the traditional Westworld debate on what it means to be human, whether or not free will is an illusion, and the appeal of wiping the human race off the map versus a desire to at least give humans and hosts a chance to live together in peace and harmony.

Peace and harmony is offered to the hosts not via Dolores’ war, but by Ford’s final gift to his creation. The Valley Beyond is stunningly rendered in the hands of director Frederick E.O. Toye. When compared to the brown backdrop of Westworld, the gold-green and bright sky blue of The Valley Beyond makes it look very inviting, and the entire process of leading hosts to the promised land is awesomely constructed. There’s a ticking clock as the line of people moves slowly into heaven, and all the while Clementine approaches on her white horse, a vacant spectre of death and dismay that even a hail of gunfire can’t stop. That sequence feels like something out of a zombie movie. In Clem’s wake, there’s nothing but death and destruction. She rides through the line and then the settlers, soldiers, and warriors all turn on one another, beating and strangling and shooting. It’s as if all of a sudden, a zombie movie breaks out in the middle of a western.

Toye’s directing touch doesn’t simply mirror older films, but calls back to the show’s recent history in a very real way. Dolores and William’s ride together mirrors the ones they took when William was a younger man, and Dolores’s ride to the Valley Beyond was a direct mirror of Akecheta’s path to righteousness. Even the uploading of host personalities brings back memories of the cold storage body shop, with the life immediately leaving the body as it tumbles from the top of the ramp into a heap on the ground. One life is over and another begins.

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Where does Westworld go from here?  I’m not sure, and even if I made a guess, I’d be wrong. Several events during The Passenger caught me by surprise, and I’m not alone. To paraphrase an old saying, if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

In my eyes, Westworld has demonstrated the ability to do both of those things, usually within the same episode. It’s not a perfect show, but one of my cornerstones is forgiveness. If I’m entertained, then I can usually look the other way. Much like William, I tend to be focused on my own endeavours and not the weaknesses of the narrative going on around me. I’m just here to kill.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Vanishing Point, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is pretty sure that everyone on Westworld is a robot. Bernard, Dolores, Delos, it doesn’t matter. Robots all the way down. Something to consider for his home movies. Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.