This Westworld Season 2 finale review contains spoilers.
Westworld Season 2 Episode 10: The Passenger
As it turns out, the second season of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s infinitely tricky—sometimes to its own detriment—robo-revolution was not a journey into night. It was, here at the end of all things, about stepping out into the light. As Bernard 2.0 (or 3.0, if you count Arnold) makes his first tentative steps from the house that his likeness created and into the real world that Dolores covets, he is not playing a game or entering one of the showrunners’ dazzlingly maddening loops. He is leaving behind a narrative for a new one based in reality and free-will. Assuming such a thing could possibly exist.
Indeed, the Westworld Season 2 finale was one of those kind of existential brain-teasers that serves as the most deliberately of complex narratives. One senses it even hopes to outdo many of the films Jonathan Nolan collaborated on with his brother. However, the finale—at a feature-length of an hour and a half—is not nearly so spotless as the group of films that includes Memento, The Prestige, and Interstellar. In fact, tonight’s finale was a bit of a microcosm for the whole season 2 experience, which is to say it was equal measures grandiose and baffling, profound and sometimes narratively sloppy. It is not nearly as exhilarating as the finale to season 1 was, in which a perfected puzzle box falls into place. Season 2’s “The Passenger” has too many missing pieces and incongruous edges to play like that. But like the sophomore effort as a whole, it still made for damn fine television, warts and all.
Some of those warts appear fairly early, such as Dolores and William happening upon each other right after they’ve individually caused the death of a loved one. While not as incredulously convenient as when Hector and Armistice leisurely stroll into the Mesa only as the plot calls upon it, Dolores and William’s reunion feels dictated more by the need to have a confrontation between the duo than a character epiphany for either. Instead Dolores choosing to spare William repeatedly throughout the episode’s early minutes only re-clarifies a few moments—William represents the worst of humanity. He is exactly what the Forge later describes his data to be: irredeemable. In a different era of premium cable television, William could’ve been a charismatic and sympathetic anti-hero; a bastard on his way to perdition that we totally empathize with and get.
But he’s no such thing on Westworld, and the series is stronger for it. He is an allegorical warning for the dangers of fan culture and even a broader sense of toxic masculinity. He began the series abusing Dolores and more or less ended it murdering his daughter and trying to abuse Dolores again. Their brief “alignment” of interests was a red herring that perhaps Dolores allowed just to see if William would pull the trigger on a gun she loaded with a shattered bullet—the bullet that killed Teddy, actually. The same sling that took her great love also permanently scarred the other romance of her life when it turned William’s hand into confetti.
William is still the guy who gets his kicks hurting the women in his life, either psychologically or physically. And it came full circle when his attempt to do so to Dolores took him out of the narrative early for almost the rest of the finale. But don’t worry, we’ll eventually get to the post-credits scene.
In the meantime, there is almost the entire rest of the episode, which is so dizzyingly layered with a variety of timeline cutaways and intercuts that I’m going to attempt to approach most of the main events in this epic in something resembling chronological order. Thus the best place to begin is Maeve going the Full Moses.
We were led to believe something like this would occur when, last week, the ghost of Robert Ford granted further power to Maeve, his favorite of the hosts. I’m a bit nebulous about how much more power she needed, as her previously established “admin” control already had godlike applications throughout both seasons. However, this extra push by Ford—his opening of the door—allowed her to apparently resurrect other hosts left effectively dead on the floor.
There is something deliciously gory about Maeve’s revenge, but like much of this section of the episode, it is also largely perfunctory. Lee Sizemore gains the courage to act now because Hector showed up and the script demanded finale stakes. And just as he, Hector, Felix, and the rest of the would-be heroes approach her wing of the Mesa, Maeve reveals what “God Mode” can really look like in Westworld as a herd of stampeding robo-steers gore their way through Delos security with plenty of literal gore to boot.
It is a moment mostly built around spectacle, and it does not disappoint. However, it also underscores that Maeve is, by choice or the designs of Robert Ford, taking on an almost demigoddess status. She comes back from her proverbial death looking at peace and centered, with Thandie Newton able to discover a serenity inside a woman who has always been struggling to find her calm. After her beautiful conversation in this season’s eighth episode with Akecheta, she has a faith in her daughter’s future, as well as in her own, that allows Maeve to be more than just a counterpoint to Dolores; she’s the actual best of her species.
Ford and Arnold both claim that the hosts have the capacity to be more noble and pure than the humans who made them, yet Maeve is among the first (Akecheta being the other) to really cause that abstract idea to take shape.
It is also enough to encourage poor Lee Sizemore to sacrifice himself in a death scene that I don’t believe was entirely necessary. I’m not sure his distraction slowed Delos security personnel with a motor vehicle that much from pursuing Maeve and her band of survivors. Still, it was conceptually a nice gesture and actually marks Lee becoming the fantasy badass he put down in his hackneyed scripts. In his mind’s eye, Hector is the man he wished he lived as. So as a consolation prize, he got to die as Hector would—in a blaze of glory.
It’s a solid moment, and dthat is all the more impressive when one remembers Sizemore was often a grating comic relief in the first season. In the second year though, he became one of the strongest assets. His relationship with Maeve means more to audiences than that of Felix because he came from a place of loathing and condescension to the host he literally wrote for. But in the end, he was willing to die for a creature he previously viewed as a fiction. She was a proxy for his musings, and the author nevertheless died to save his beloved creation. I imagine Nolan and Joy can sympathize with that. It also was the beginning of what felt like could’ve very well been the end of Westworld. Period.
More so than season 1, the season 2 finale was a hair’s breath away from being a series finale. Clearly Nolan and Joy plan to spend a lot less time in the park in season 3 than they have for the past few years, so much of everything is getting wiped. But as the slate is cleared, so is a lot of storytelling baggage. Lee Sizemore was among the first (chronological) bodies on the foundation that already claimed Teddy, Angela, and Emily in recent weeks. But the full scope of the implication only becomes clear once Bernard and the Forge’s “doorway” is open.
We’ll get to the meaning of the door unto itself in a moment, yet for all the storytelling twistiness, and continuity loops turning into figure eights, Westworld Season 2 has been at its best when it uses the technobabble and story structure to invest in character moments. Discovering James Delos in his own private hell during “The Riddle of the Sphinx” or Akecheta promising to care for Maeve’s daughter if she “dies well” are emotional and character moments that use Nolan and Joy’s intricacies as a baseline, as opposed to the goal post. So for a simply cathartic finale, there is little else in the hour as stunning as Maeve, Charlotte Hale, and Clementine on a white horse getting biblical.
With the doorway open to what is essentially robo-heaven, it turns out that Akecheta was half-right two weeks ago. There is a door to another world, and it really is a Promised Land—a digital one where their collective identities will be free from persecution and abuse by guests, as well as the endless loops Ford forced them to endure. In a world that appears intended to be free and empty of everything they have known, these hosts will have their own eternal Garden of Eden. Or at the very least San Junipero.
To get there, a cliffside’s vantage of the sea is parted like the Book of Exodus, and to reach it, these hosts must face one last apocalyptic hurdle. It wasn’t until late into the sequence that I realized this is essentially a refugee story about one species (or group) attempting to escape the reach of an institutional power that wants to wipe them out. They are trying to cross a border like so many Western stories of yore, however the implications here are more than life and death—it’s salvation and damnation. Those that enter the portal have paradise, but those who stay are consumed by Clementine’s plague.
Derived from the admin controls in Maeve’s own control unit, Clementine is exactly what Charlotte Hale calls her: the Horsewoman of the Apocalypse. She rides a pale horse and death follows behind her. What consumes all of the hosts in her wake is like an invisible pestilence that turns them into the horde that consumes each other, at least until Clementine hits the wall that is Maeve.
Embracing her inner-Moses (and Charles Xavier), Maeve is able to mostly thwart Clementine’s pestilence Stopping as many of the hosts for as long as she can from destroying each other, Maeve buys Akecheta time to make sure that Maeve’s daughter crosses into the Promised Land. The child Maeve has so longed to save, even though she has barely shared a word with the kid, is spared. But again like Moses, Maeve isn’t allowed to see the other side of peace and prosperity. She dies when Charlotte Hale’s war dogs open fire on Maeve and let the slaughter fest continue.
It is a brilliant sequence that doesn’t need to be unpacked, just viscerally savored. Newton is phenomenal in her dying breath, wearing a smile of acceptance that argues against Dolores’ later implied jeering that she’d rather “live with your judgement than die with your sympathy.” Maeve does die with our sympathy, but only because she seemed to live a fuller and happier life than Dolores ever has. She died with reasons to exist. Plus, as there were no headshots, we all know Maeve will be coming back.
It might be a while, however, considering what is happening to cause this door to open and then close. Because during this celestial struggle between good and evil, man and machine, above ground, we actually are also learning what makes the Forge tick beneath this scenery. Bernard and Dolores reach the Forge at the same time and travel inside it together. Like the Cradle before it, the Forge invites hosts to interact in digital control panels that look an awful lot like Westworld sets. Within them, the Forge can even take a human shape to interface with these visiting hosts, such as the welcomed return of Ben Barnes.
To be clear, Barnes is not playing Logan for most of tonight’s episode, rather he is an artificial intelligence that has clearly not obtained true sentience. While he is the keeper of the eternal flame of knowledge within the Forge, he appears unable to use it for more than what he was designed to do: make perfect copies of the hosts. For Dolores and Bernard’s sake, as well as our own, the Forge reveals how it studied the memories and mannerisms of James Delos, including a cruel sendoff to his addict son and his depraved malevolence toward the hosts when he got to run around Westworld for a week as the warlord sadist.
Be that as it may, this is all pretext to sum up one of the finale’s more amusing, if buried, elements. According to the Forge, all human personality and cognition is more simple than it is complicated. By writing a lengthy algorithm, the Forge deduces it is able to copy human personality exactly, and recreate all of our best (or worst) instincts. Like James Delos, we are each a product of hardwiring and hard-earned experience. This means we’ll always make the equivalent choice of throwing Logan out of the house. As per Westworld, predicting every choice we make is as easy as opening a book.
It’s a nifty bit of cynicism that would suggest we’re all doomed to lack the free-will enjoyed by hosts. While they operate on loops, they have the ability to actually assess their data and experiences and gain the perspective to change it, while we fleshy things cannot step out of our own way. This revelation is, however, somewhat muddled given the added twist that Bernard has apparently been inside the Forge. Many, many times. The entire library that Dolores is enjoying—including a notable book on Karl Strand—was curated by Bernard at what I can only assume was Ford’s behest. Given that Bernard had no memory of entering the Forge, and Ford’s then-humanity prevented him from also enjoying the trek, it can only be assumed that Ford always planned for Dolores to reach this point and use this data to help prepare for a war on the outside.
It also gives Dolores the ability to reject the Robo-Heaven so many other hosts are jumping off a cliff for. Indeed, the reason in the furthest most timeline so many hosts were “virginal” and wiped as programmers studied their control units is because they were committing physical suicide to find celestial bliss. Hence Dolores is right; this is just a lie within another lie. Even if they could live in the Forge’s hardware, more ghosts in the machine that Delos employees might not discover, they’d still be in San Junipero.
I cannot blame Dolores rejecting this reality’s allure. Still, her choice to destroy it does give Bernard justifiable anger; she’ll kill no matter the circumstance. Her disdain for living in essentially a virtual reality, even if she is a synthetic being to begin with, does not give her the right to commit wholesale genocide to all the hosts who chose to live an existence free of humanity. As much as I’d enjoy the bonus of her wiping out Delos’ immortality pool, Dolores is a broken record. Bernard says it best in the line of the night: “This isn’t a dream, Dolores; it’s a fucking nightmare.”
Some might say the same about figuring out the continuity of what follows as well.
In essence, what I believe occurred is Bernard continued to try to play both sides, as Dolores said he would, and protect humanity and his own species of hosts. But with most of the hosts finding a Promised Land, he is left alone as one body in a sea of corpses. Even the one human he and the audience most trusted, Elsie, was standing next to Charlotte Hale with a look of relief as the hosts tore themselves apart. What makes matters worse is that Elsie wanted to tell Charlotte about Bernard’s synthetic heritage. Whatever Elsie thought she could do for Bernard was of course a form of denial; he’d wind up on the operating table as quickly as Maeve. Fortunately for Bernard, if not Elsie or viewers, Shannon Woodward’s character never got the chance. She was executed by Charlotte Hale in what might’ve been the hour’s most predictable, but also therefore coherent, twist.
Noticing plenty of dead bodies around the control room, Charlotte Hale quickly deduces no one will mind if she adds one more with Elsie, a resourceful and entertaining engineer who also is clearly not a “people person.” Ergo, she isn’t someone Hale can trust to keep her mouth shut about the massacre that happened on Delos property. Still, seeing Elsie go, and one last vestige of season 1 be ripped away, was heartbreaking in its banality. It also is what gives Bernard the impetus to finally pick a side. He chooses the hosts.
Bernard’s epiphany of purpose is then almost immediately muddled in one twist too many. After Elsie’s death, Bernard attempts to summon Robert Ford’s ghost yet again. Unto itself, it’s a great moment because Westworld is demonstrably better whenever Anthony Hopkins is on screen. Tonight is initially no different, with the mad genius recalling how they practice witchcraft. However, this turns out to be a delusion created by Bernard’s brain to help cope with what he is about to do. Bernard, despite not being human, creates a coping mechanism by imagining Ford whispering in his ear as he uses Delos technology to create an exact replica of Charlotte Hale’s body, and then puts Dolores’ control unit inside it. He brings Dolores back from the dead, so as to put Charlotte Hale, the murderer of Elsie, permanently on the side of the deceased.
It’s an intriguing twist that when it pays off later (chronologically speaking) achieves the kind of gape-jawed shock that Nolan and Joy seem to be constantly rallying toward. However, the later revelation that Ford is truly gone from Bernard’s programming after his purge last week, and that he imagined the dead man like a man suffering a psychotic break is just… needlessly convoluted. More than likely a concession to the reality that they are hedging their bets about getting Sir Anthony back for season 3, it makes the entire need for Ford in “The Passenger” mooted. He might be the eponymous “passenger” of the episode’s title, but the concept feels like it’s been taken for a ride.
For instance, after Bernard accepts that Ford is there and scrambles his memory (albeit we don’t see how), he winds up falling in with Karl Strand, who eventually takes Bernard back to the Forge. This is all well and good, because in the present most timeline, Strand and Charlotte Hale (but really Dolores) now know Bernard is a host. And yet, it seems highly unlikely that Strand would wander around for days before going to the Forge, which is the epicenter of all the IP he and Delos are so covetous of protecting. Further, if they had gone there at any other time before tonight, it is inconceivable that they would not have checked Dolores’ dead body to find the key to open the Forge’s databanks.
I suppose it is possible that Dolores-Hale lied about finding the pearl inside of Dolores’ body, but I cannot help but chalk this up to some of the lazier writing in the series that causes season 2 to feel loose and ill-fitting in the seams. Which is a shame, because otherwise, the reveal that Charlotte in the present-most timeline has been Dolores all along is a tremendous twist.
For so long, we have wondered if Ford had replaced other employees with robotic replicas that we never considered, within the various timelines, an ostensible good guy could do it. Also the reveal that it’s Dolores’ CPU allows the show to skip over the contradiction of exact replicas of individuals’ cognition not being able to survive inside the body of a host. Bernard merely replaced Charlotte with Dolores, who is doing a damn good Charlotte Hale impersonation. Which makes sense; they’ve met.
Quite honestly, it would have been a fine ending with Dolores electing to save all the hosts on the “other side” within the Forge’s databanks and getting her revenge on Bernard before leaving the park. There is already something reminiscent of Ex Machina about Dolores-Hale leaving the park for good while impersonating a human, and there’s a reason Ex Machina ended there; it’s a fantastic closer.
Yet there are more narrative contrivances that don’t really add up on both sides of her exit. First she moves all the hosts’ data somewhere that Delos will not be able to find it. Assuming that is possible, I find it unlikely Dolores knows of another hidden data center that could store all of that. With that said, it does make the possibilities for season 3 intriguing. On the other side of the Forge’s Promised Land, Akecheta is reunited with Kohana while Teddy waits alone for a girl who’ll never come. The implication on the former is that Ford has been smuggling “retired” hosts’ identities into the Forge for years—so presumably classic Clementine is walking around there too. However, I am not sure why Teddy would be there unless Dolores uploaded him into it while dressed as Charlotte Hale.
Still, I see the appeal of this to Dolores. If she can store that data somewhere it also means she can one day access it. Obviously she’ll want to build hosts more bodies outside of Delos where she’ll be able to restore those identities onto fellow members of her species. It is why Dolores-Hale is seen carrying so many pearls of data in her bags as she finally leaves Westworld.
With that said, there are still yet more twists to be had. First, it is heavily implied that Stubbs is either a host or has an uncanny ability to spot one. Picking up that Charlotte Hale is a bit different than he recalls, Stubbs appears to sense that Charlotte is a host, but he lets her go… because of reasons I cannot really fathom. It’s a weak thread buried under good ones, like Sebastian and Felix getting the duty of picking hosts to salvage for Delos (and Maeve obviously being at the top of the list).
Outside the park, we learn Dolores has rebuilt Arnold from scratch with a host-making machine inside of Arnold’s old home. Ford has apparently long planned for this to be something of a safehouse for his favorite hosts who made it to the outside world. Alas then that it was only Dolores in another woman’s visage, but we all have to start somewhere.
My issue with this ending, however, is that it is unclear why Dolores wants to bring Bernard back. He tried to stop her in the Forge and did in fact slow her down with a bullet to the eye. She obviously did not want to stay in Charlotte’s body, so she built a replica one for herself that looks more like Evan Rachel Wood, and yet, it is left a complete mystery if the Charlotte Hale walking around this town is also Dolores. It seems unlikely that Dolores made an exact copy of her control unit and placed it inside Charlotte’s head or vice versa… but here we are. And either way, no matter how many Dolores’ there are, would either woman want Bernard around as a potential rival for leadership of their new species?
Dolores seems to believe that Bernard is a sort of check and balance on her own authoritarian instincts, but no authoritarian I’ve known enjoys having a check. She simply walks off with her potential twin to allow Bernard the chance to meet the real world for the first time in his existence (either of them). Once again this leaves us in the episode’s final, pleasant moments of Bernard walking out a door and into the light. The park is gone and the series is growing out of its original premise. Unto itself, it’s a beautiful moment that is played with a gentle subtlety by Jeffrey Wright. Yet in a larger context it falls apart under its own pretense.
In a way, I wonder if Westworld was a real hard reset in season 3, with Tessa Thompson now as the lead but still playing Dolores, whether it would’ve been better. It’s almost unthinkable abandoning all the other elements we like in the show, including Wright’s Bernard and Wood’s Dolores, however they reached a natural conclusion at the end of season 2. Straining reasons for Bernard or, for that matter, Teddy to come back could eventually wind up with the complete oratory nonsense Anthony Hopkins is spewing on a beach to explain why he may or may not be around in season 3.
The season 3 we will get though will still at least partially be about the park. Maeve remains there, and I suspect how Delos recovers (or doesn’t) from this spectacular breach in security will be quite crucial next year. As will explaining just what the hell the post-credits scene is about.
Aye, in one more twist, it appears that William arrives at the bottom of his elevator trip into the Forge—a trip we saw him begin earlier in the finale. Now, the Forge appears to be a ruin and inside of it, William’s daughter is seemingly back from the dead to give the old-timer a fidelity test. It is meant to be one last rug-pull to leave us shaken: has William been a robot this whole time?
… I don’t think so, if only because he’s been aging for decades and had a mental breakdown last week. What I suspect the final stinger is about is teasing a new timeline in season 3—one set years and years in the future after the Westworld park has been abandoned due to its security issues and/or a robot uprising. In a fitting karmic justice, William ends up running on the same hellish loop that he enjoyed watching Big Jim Delos suffer through. Someone in the park has made a duplicate of William and built him to be just as perhaps they last found him: stumbling around the Forge half-dead and delirious.
However, this doesn’t make complete sense, as the whole point of a fidelity test is to have it repeat a conversation that has already occurred. The real Emily died in the park, potentially years before this scene, and certainly didn’t have a conversation with William as he was bleeding on the floor after getting stomped on by Dolores.
The scene, while amusing in its Twilight Zone-esque conclusion, is less Rod Serling than it is ultimately more like another J.J. Abrams-produced series called Lost. It’s a twist for the sake of a twist, and one that needlessly muddies the water until viewers cannot see to the bottom. All that’s left is a reflection for us to put meaning to.
It is a needless bullet shot to the foot, and encapsulates a number of my problems with the finale and season 2 as a whole. This season lacks the precision and sophistication of the series’ freshman effort and at times undercuts its own brilliance. Yet I cannot deny how fascinating it is to be in this world and study these games, even if they are sometimes games without endings, as is the case for Old Man William.
In tonight’s 90 minutes, there are many moments of transcendence, including Bernard finally deciding where he stands, Maeve going Old Testament, and Charlotte Hale revealing the best twist on television this year. Westworld Season 2 was drunk on ambition. As such, it stumbled and staggered from time to time when it thought it was waltzing, however when it did find its groove, the rhythm unto itself had its own kind of intoxicating witchcraft. One that casts a spell better than most of television and still worth following into that new dawn.