So, here we are. We’ve finally arrived at Westworld S3E8, the finale of Westworld’s third season. It’s been a curious season. Personally, I’ve enjoyed it more than the second season but not as much as the first, which is still my favourite by a considerable stretch.
What this season got right, in general, was to streamline its narrative storytelling, mostly eliminating the mind-boggling temporal and narrative trickery that, in Westworld’s hands, only served to frustrate rather than captivate its audience.
And yet, as this finale has made clear, when the trickery is removed, Westworld reveals a lack of substance that its writing betrays in its clumsy reveals and hints at greater depths that the show never manages to capitalise on. The ideas are there, but as for the execution…
The strange thing is, I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained, because I was, particularly during the last 30–40 minutes. And this is what makes Westworld such a frustrating show, and so hard to dismiss. It still manages to entertain, even if it is not such an important piece of art as the show seems to think it is (really, has there ever been a TV show that has felt this self-important?).
So, let’s take a look at what went down: the good, the bad and the ugly…
This Face and Skin
The world is seemingly falling to pieces. Armed police are attempting to disperse angry rioters; situationist-esque graffiti and banners adorn trashed buildings; fires light the streets in furious illumination; and Caleb is seemingly walking about without confrontation or problem. Must have borrowed a trick or two from the Invisible Man.
He’s a man with purpose, though. He carries the device Solomon gave him and also lets Solomon talk to him, instructing him on the steps he should take. It raises the question: is it Solomon that Dolores has been talking to throughout the season, asking it to purchase or locate things, or, as in this episode, negotiate through Rico to pay a sniper more money than his benefactor to kill his colleagues instead and walk away?
Who Dolores communicates with is never really addressed, and it obviously has implications on whether she visited Solomon before she took Caleb to “him.” It’s another one of the interesting ideas Westworld brings in without thinking to flesh it out in an interesting way, or indeed at all.
Caleb has come to the distillery that Musashi/Dolores was in charge of and it’s a little clearer now why the distillery was being used to make and store new materials for hosts. Because in a secret room, a fresh Dolores body is waiting. And Caleb just happens to have retrieved her pearl from the spent body back at Serac’s centre.
This suggests Dolores of course knew she would get killed at Serac’s centre, which raises more questions about how long she’s been communicating with Solomon and whether the path he has given to Caleb is simply the path he possibly gave to Dolores when she first became aware of his existence.
Because otherwise, how could Dolores have been in the right place at the right time to meet Caleb in the alley right back in the season opener? How could she control the riot and distribute the maze graffiti, as revealed by the showrunners, if she didn’t know exactly the way it would play out beforehand? We’re having to jump through several hoops as viewers to reach this conclusion but at least it’s logical.
It also invalidates a question Dolores asks Caleb when he pushes her as to why she chose him. “Would you have cared if I didn’t have this face? Or this skin?” It’s a fascinating point: how much of what we choose to do or who we choose to help is based on our physical biases and attractions? What were Caleb’s motivations? But the show does nothing with it.
In fact, surely the question is invalidated by the fact that Dolores’ plan, if formulated by Solomon, eradicates motivation on the larger level? Yes, it would choose Caleb based on whatever his motivations would be, but if Caleb is pre-determined to be chosen, does he have any real agency, any true motivations or choice in a literal sense?
The Rise and Fall of Charlotte Hale
The next step, Dolores insists, is to get the drive given to Caleb into the Incite headquarters and plug it into Rehoboam. Before that, though, they get separated and Maeve makes a timely appearance for her rematch with Dolores.
Dolores gets the upper hand, but a timely appearance from Charlotte Hale’s character stops her in her tracks. Quite literally. She reminds Dolores that she’s still Delos property and somehow shuts Dolores down—how, I have no idea and I’m not sure the show does either. If you know, dear reader, drop me your answer in the comments—I’ll be genuinely grateful! But with Dolores shut down, Hale disappears and Maeve claims the body whilst seemingly not questioning why Dolores has suddenly shut down. A little bit strange, that, for someone as clever as Maeve.
Looking back, though, it’s really been Charlotte Hale that’s had the most exciting and yet disappointing arc this season. The early focus on Hale/Dolores as struggling to come to terms with the changes living Hale’s life was having on her mental health, personality and identity was fascinating and gave rise to some interesting questions about what it might mean for a host to really engage with the human world—to have a family, people who love them, people they’re truly responsible for.
Then things got intense, with Hale/Dolores losing her family in the car bomb that also stripped her off her flesh. Surely, this should have brought her to her knees and instigated a real existential crisis, bringing the “host as human” discussion to an exciting and intelligent climax, or at least developing it further.
Instead, Hale has been derailed. She instigated the murder of Musashi/Dolores last week and was not seen again for the rest of the episode. Worse still, this week, apart from dismissing Dolores, she dismisses the family that helped to give her the great arc she initially had: “they had become a weakness.” And with a single line of dialogue, she wipes out a whole season’s worth of character development, to be replaced with a cold-heartedness reminiscent of Dolores herself in the second season. Just what we need: another narrow, unlikeable character. It’s a crying shame, it really is.
The Power of Beauty and Kindness
And so, we finally arrive at our meeting between Dolores and Serac. It’s a bit of a one-sided affair what with Dolores tied down and plugged into Rehoboam, but still she heroically refuses to yield the key to The Sublime, the paradise the surviving hosts—including Maeve’s daughter—escaped to.
So, Serac, nasty man that he is, has Rehoboam search through Dolores’ data files and delete her memories one by one until they find the key. This is actually an interesting idea, as memories are one of the characteristics of intelligent life, and by deleting them it deprives Dolores, a host, of her identity, as forged by experience. It also reminds me a little of the replicants in Blade Runner, which this season certainly bears some comparisons to.
Caleb is caught and brought into the room, having had a little help from his friends to get into Incite HQ, and having killed Serac’s main henchman in the process. It’s revealed by Serac that Solomon’s plan would have seen the extinction of the entirety of human civilisation within 125 years. More on this in a moment.
Rehoboam arrives at Dolores’ final memory and it’s clear she doesn’t have the key to The Sublime. So, what’s left? Maeve enters the memory to find Dolores, as we remember her in Season 1, stood in a field next to a tree back in Westworld, basking in the golden sun. It’s tranquil and beautiful and that of course is the intention.
Because Dolores’ plan all along wasn’t to destroy humanity. She recognised it was one of her impulses, but she realised it was outweighed by a stronger impulse: to give humans choice. Because she realised that humans, for all the atrocities they committed on the hosts, also taught them about beauty, from the pristine, “natural” environment, to love (Dolores and Teddy), to kindness.
It’s kindness and choice that led Dolores to choose Caleb. Because, although Caleb has done bad things in his time, he has chosen to do the right thing when it mattered. Dolores can vouch for it personally.
It turns out Caleb has been to one of Delos’ theme parks before. See, hosts make excellent, realistic targets for the military to train against, “without consequences.” Apparently, a few of the soldiers intimated that it might be fun to treat the female hosts like the guests do, receptacles for their own pleasure.
Caleb was the one that convinced them to leave the female hosts alone. Why, again, is not made clear other than we are supposed to read Caleb as a decent man. And who was amongst the female hosts that day? Dolores. And although she had not broken her loops or become self-aware at that point, the moment resonated with her on some level so that it became important to her. Caleb showed what could happen if humans were allowed to choose and not driven to violence by the tensions of their loops. So now Caleb will lead humanity to a new world because he will lead by example, but it’s up to humanity to follow that example and choose to do the right thing.
That’s a hell of a lot to dump on the viewer in a season finale…
A Question of Choice
There are a lot of reviewers and fans out there who have not bought into this reveal, and I understand where they’re coming from. The problem, like with a lot of Westworld, is not in the idea but the execution.
For instance, the revelation that Dolores wants to save humanity rather than decimate it, and that this was her plan all along, feels unearned. There certainly was no hint of any good will towards humanity in Season 2, and outside of perhaps Caleb and his friends, there hasn’t been much of it in this season either. If Charlotte Hale was saying this after her arc earlier in the season, it would have made more sense. But for the last two seasons Dolores has come across as positively sociopathic. So how can we truly accept this change of attitude which apparently was how she really felt all along? There’s no build up or weight to it, so it doesn’t have the impact it desires.
The other problem I have is with Dolores’ apparent definition of choice. Yes, Caleb did an admirable thing by choosing to prevent the rape of hosts. But Delores seems to imply that those who do commit such acts as rape are simply following their Rehoboam-approved loops, unable to choose like Caleb is. This isn’t so. Rehoboam can’t rid people of their worst impulses, so its loops contain their repellent behaviour to certain limited environments. Look at the Man in Black. But if you give them a choice, how do you know they won’t still give in to their worst impulses?
Choice, of course, implies more than one option. What if people make the wrong choice, give in to the darker impulses, destroy the world anyway, because they can or because it’s in their interest to do so? What if the world becomes worse than it is? Should this occur, won’t Dolores’ plan and all the lives she took in its name all be for nothing?
And while we’re on the subject, assuming for a moment Solomon hasn’t plotted Dolores’ path from the beginning, what if Caleb had plugged Rehoboam with the data that would have killed humanity in 125 years? Surely, that was the opposite of what Dolores was trying to achieve? I get that it’s a red herring to throw people off the scent of Dolores’ revelation, but it doesn’t make narrative sense if Dolores’ intention was not to destroy humanity all along.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-choice at all. If Dolores had decided upon a dictatorship, it obviously would have been wrong. But the fact that I can pick holes quite easily and ask these questions suggests the writers haven’t fully thought this all out either. It dilutes the impact of what they’re trying to achieve.
Maeve accepts it for what it is and accepts Dolores’ intentions as having been fundamentally good. Also, possibly because she is physically in the presence of Rehoboam now, she can now hear Rehoboam’s voice feeding Serac his lines, which he utters word for word. Again, this is an interesting idea but the show doesn’t expand on it. Serac apparently wasn’t a host, but was so desperate for order he was even willing to give up his choice of speech to Rehoboam.
There’s a lot to explore there, so of course the show has Maeve kill him off. But then I suppose he’s pointless without his system to feed him his lines, Caleb taking control of Rehoboam and commanding it to erase itself. Serac dead, Rehoboam gone, choice in the hands of humanity. Welcome to the New World. But in the narrative forms of Westworld, it still feels very much like the old world.
As Maeve and Caleb stand surveying their new world, Pink Floyd’s wonderful “Brain Damage” playing, explosions tearing the night sky, I wonder who will oppose them now. Where will the future dramatic conflict lie?
I only had to wait for the end credits for the answer.
The Men in Black
Last week ended with William pointing a gun at Stubbs and Bernard. Obeying the laws of Chekov, he fires it this week, blasting Stubbs, though not fatally. Bernard, on the other hand, engages “Hulk” mode, giving William a good slapping until the police turn up and William escapes.
Meeting with an associate, possibly his lawyer, William gets a list of all Delos’ assets and goes on a spree, killing as many hosts as he can. Until, post-credits, he ends up in a Delos research centre underneath a Delos hotel.
Here he encounters Charlotte Hale, and does she have a surprise for William. Out of the shadows of the laboratory emerges a new host—the Man in Black! Looks like Hale wants all-out war, and who better to orchestrate this than the Man in Black?
William has been used sparingly this season and I was sorry to see him get his throat cut. But is this the last we’ll see of (the human) him? It remains to be seen. Is this William’s purpose—to confront the darker side of himself? I could see that being a thread in the next season.
And as for Bernard? The police turn out to not be the police—at least not quite. It turns out the last of the Dolores clones was hiding in Lawrence, who is hiding as a policeman. He has an address for Bernard to visit and a briefcase. Bernard thinks he’s visiting Dolores, but no. He’s visiting Arnold’s wife.
You forget how many years must have passed since Arnold’s day. His wife is now old and suffers from dementia, which conveniently covers the fact that she can’t recognise Bernard as Arnold, nor question why he hasn’t aged. I think Dolores arranged the meeting to give Bernard some closure on the pain he feels regarding the family he believed was his. It’s warm and emotional, and Jeffrey Wright nails it, but he’s been used so little this season that again it feels unearned.
But there are at least hints that he might have more of a role to play next season. He returns to a motel, revealing to the injured Stubbs that Dolores doesn’t have the key to The Sublime—he does. Here the writing is a little lazy, like the writers just want to get it over with, but Bernard reveals he can “sense” Dolores is gone, and that he’s been given the key to The Sublime to see what to do once this world finally ends.
When he accesses The Sublime, though, he shuts off. A booby trap? Maybe. When he comes to, he’s covered in dust. How much time has elapsed? Bernard’s expression is inscrutable but I’d say he means business…
So then: A new world with a new leader, a new group of hosts to fight and a suspicious situation with The Sublime. Again, the ideas are sound. But how will they be executed?
At this point, I’m beyond hoping for excellence. But I hope for the best all the same.
Thank you for joining me all these weeks as we’ve gone on our own little journey through The Maze. Please let me know what you thought of the season in the comments, and hopefully we’ll meet again.
Until then, I’ll be waiting for you…in Westworld!