Westworld: Finale Review

The maze wasn’t meant for you. – Dolores

Theories confirmed, a major death, a lot of blood, genitals all over the place (activated or otherwise), and a narrative shift as a result of Ford’s final act. In 90 minutes, Westworld may not have won over any new converts, but undeniably placed a stranglehold on those already within its grasp. Somehow, the finale didn’t feel rushed, but still accomplished far more than I anticipated.

As will be the case with many of you, I can take a victory lap on some of my thoughts from the beginning, and ask for a mea culpa on others. Most of us came around to the William-Man in Black twist long ago, but until Jimmi Simpson reached down and picked up the black hat, it was all speculation. The way in which it was revealed was the very best of Jonathan Nolan, dating back to some of the high points of Person of Interest. When it was time to remove all wool from the audience’s eyes, it doesn’t come in a sentence. It emanates from multiple minutes of explanation, complete with flashback cuts that all weave together to complete the plot equivalent of one of Dolores’ vivid paintings.

William found himself, as a man, in the park, and there came a time where the lie broke his heart, and led to his gradual decline into partial villainy. We’ve talked about Delos Destinations before, but one thing we didn’t know was that this was the organization he and Logan worked for, even then, and we also didn’t understand the scope of the former’s influence on Westworld. I mentioned him holding significant stock as a possibility last week, but he actually holds the majority share, and his company is indeed the controlling party.

The center of the maze was handled beautifully, because it was shown as two different views of the same door. I mentioned over the past few weeks that the Man in Black was on a search for a zero sum game, a place where there were consequences to the decisions. He was tired of the video game, instead wanting a second real world, where the guests could die and the hosts weren’t on a track. The desire came from falling head over heels for Dolores, only to run into her on subsequent visits, but always on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Sticking with the game analogy, every time he goes back to Westworld, he’s pressing the start button after firing up the console. Once a game is completed, while there may be a saved file behind, the story is over. You remember you played it, and you recall the experiences you had, but your only option in almost every case is to start over, maybe with better statistics. Each character you might have gotten to know or interacted with doesn’t remember you, but you remember every move they made, and recognize exactly what they’re going to do.

It’s never as much fun to replay a long, story-driven video game. It’s not like rolling through a side-scrolling Mario game. But, as great as Red Dead Redemption was, the journey was so much better before that final cut scene. I use that title as the example because of the setting, but generally speaking, if you view William as the guy holding the controller, his emotions and actions are far more sensible. Also, if you ever just randomly executed someone asking for your help in RDR or Grand Theft Auto, or any game in which you had the opportunity to do so, you can’t cast aspersions on William.

Think of Westworld as virtual reality, where the immersion is much higher, but just as in VR, nothing you do matters OUTSIDE the VR realm. Unless you tell someone, no one knows you banged a fleet of women without their consent, after shooting their significant others in the face. What doesn’t occur in VR is legitimately falling for non-playable characters and those built into the software. Consider feeling true love for Dolores Abernathy, spending time with her, having experiences that felt genuine, and giving yourself over to her.

Then, when you come back a few months later and see her again, you still get goosebumps, but she’s just waiting for the first guest who picks up the can she dropped. Yeah, that would really suck, right? I don’t know that it would turn me into a grizzled Ed Harris, but if I had Evan Rachel Wood and all of a sudden I didn’t have Evan Rachel Wood, after falling for Evan Rachel Wood, I’d be a little bristly.

The larger story surrounds a struggle for purpose, which expands from Ford and Arnold to their earliest creations, to those that came later, and of course the employees of the park and its patrons. William found a life he preferred, but part of it was stolen from him. In this instance, the part that was stolen is any semblance of it mattering. That’s why the center of his maze is a Westworld with ramifications. If the hosts have choices, even if those things can then harm him, it becomes real.

The Dolores he might have run into in THAT universe wouldn’t have forgotten him. It’s not a death wish, it’s an overwhelming obsession for the amusement park to break the fourth wall on a permanent basis, shattering it and leaving only a reality in its wake. William lost interest in William’s life, and instead wanted to live as the Man in Black, whether or not it led him to a grave with rapidity.

The pure meaning of the maze, from the opposite view, is that the ultimate achievement is to honestly play God. It’s the belief that Christ created man in his own image, but when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, the idea of choice became apparent. In short, this is the concept of decision-making authority, coupled with consequence, even if the supreme being knows what those decisions are going to be. A host, created by Robert Ford or Arnold or anyone else, and one that is programmed, but eventually reaches equilibrium where the voice it hears is its own. She arrives at free will, and whether she leaves Westworld or not becomes up to her.

When that point is reached, she’s no longer under anyone’s control.

That’s what Maeve wants, but she also feels intense hatred towards the humans she believes have manipulated her and treated her like some kind of pet wearing a shock collar. What’s even more cruel, once she begins to doubt her autonomy, is that she’s been acting on the second level as if she had already achieved everything Dolores did when she pulled the trigger and murdered Ford. But, and it’s not all that surprising, the previous code manipulation set her on a second path, not as the madam in a saloon, but as a pseudo self-aware escapee, hell bent on revenge and getting out of the park.

For Charlotte Hale and those she represents, the center of her maze might come from a third door, one where she wants to crack Ford’s code so she and those of her ilk can profit, and cut him completely out of the future. Her plans extend beyond Westworld, even if she hasn’t admitted it yet, but as has been the case since moment one on this show, Robert is miles ahead of everyone else, and has a contingency for virtually every occurrence. How often have you seen an expression of even mild shock from this man? Not when Theresa was in the basement, not when Clementine picked up the gun, and certainly not when Hale visited him in his office.

Even when Dolores shot him in the back of the head, it was a moment he was prepared for and had set in motion. He orchestrated it, and led all involved to the proper place at the appropriate time.

Ford’s new narrative, the one William longed to understand and hosts like Dolores, Hector, Armistice (who is downright bone chilling as a character), and Maeve desired, began with his own death. The only way for the things to break the shackles and become…more than things… was the conscious voice that told Dolores who and what she had to become in order to walk through the door of the maze. And, to do it, she had to set fire to it before she closed it behind her.

Still inside that maze was Ford, and his sacrifice was necessary for her elevation. He wasn’t a unilaterally power-hungry monster, as he regretted his part in Arnold’s death, and indeed came to side with the hosts over the humans. He was helping them prepare for the uprising, or at least for the even playing field. That was the Robert Frost path I hoped Westworld would choose for the finale. We saw Maeve’s army in action, but it’s not just man vs. machine.

The show had more to offer than that overdone angle, and with Ford’s last words, things came into focus. This man was an artist, a damaged, misguided one, but his soul was still intact. He didn’t sell it for Delos glory or for worldly fame or fortune. Ford, just like William, didn’t want to remember there was another world outside of the park. And those he came to believe were enslaved? There needed to be justice. The scales had to be equalized. The guests were demons. The hosts were angels, but were living with their arms tied behind their backs.

No longer.

Did anyone see Dolores being Wyatt? That might have been the best twist of the entire season, even if in hindsight it shouldn’t have been. The key to the rouse’s success lies within the idea of Wyatt as a MAN. Teddy described him as a male, the Man in Black always asked about “him,” and in every single instance, he was referred to in a masculine manner. Even if it might have momentarily crossed your mind, the show repeatedly made Wyatt a man, so that when Nolan and Joy wrote the truth into the finale, it would be the direction no one anticipated.

William smiled as the newly recommissioned hosts approached from the forest, even after taking a bullet to the shoulder, possibly from Clementine. There, he saw the end of the maze. The stacked deck had been erased, and while it will be interesting to see what’s next for Hale, the board, all the tuxedos and dresses scrambling from the party, it’s the Man in Black that might be the most intriguing loose end of all. Ed Harris has signed on for Season 2, though how many episodes that might entail is anyone’s guess.

Curious by her absence was Elsie Hughes, who we didn’t see killed, but did see choked out by Bernard in his visions over the past two weeks. She may well be dead, but my guess is we haven’t seen the last of her. And, Bernard Lowe is still with us, meaning Jeffrey Wright remains with us, which is awesome. Felix isn’t a host, but he might finally realize what a dangerous existence he created with his handling of Maeve. By the way, if you didn’t watch through the credits, you missed a bonus scene, showing Armistice sawing her own arm off to stay alive. So, snake girl is also still hanging out. Terrifying.

Finally, for the second time in a Jonathan Nolan series (I point you back to the third season finale of Person of Interest, which is among my favorite episodes of any drama…ever), we got to hear Exit Music (For a Film) by Radiohead. I’ve gushed about Thom and the crew before, and if you’ve read my Twitter bio @JMartOutkick, you know they’re my band. This song is extraordinary, and just as it did in POI, boy did it ever fit the bill last night in Westworld.

Exit Music (For a Film) – Radiohead
Wake… from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape

Pack… and get dressed
Before your father hears us
Before all hell breaks loose

Breathe, keep breathing
Don’t lose your nerve
Breathe, keep breathing
I can’t do this alone

Sing… us a song
A song to keep us warm
There’s such a chill, such a chill

You can laugh
A spineless laugh
We hope your rules and wisdom choke you
Now we are one in everlasting peace

We hope that you choke, that you choke
We hope that you choke, that you choke
We hope that you choke, that you choke

I mean come on ladies and gentlemen. First off, the arrangement was spectacular, but even if it had just been the OK Computer album version, it would still have been just as effective. Apply the lyrics, or some portion of them, to virtually any storyline or character in Season 1, and recall it took place in the final minutes, when Maeve decided to get off the train in search of her “daughter” and Ford neared his last breath. If you loved these player piano songs or orchestral arrangements, some of them (with more being added) are available through Apple.

There were moments over the course of these ten episodes where things could have gone off the rails, and I’m certain some critics (maybe many) will find ways to hate the series and despise the finale. I loved it, even though nothing is without its blemishes and inconsistencies. I didn’t understand every second, but I now get the joy to go back and watch the entire season again, without having to take a note, or pause to write something down.

Last night, I chose not to type a word on my phone, which is how I usually take notes during an episode. I put the device out of reach, turned off the lights, and let Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy tell me an uninterrupted, unencumbered story.

I’m always fearful if I don’t jot down plot points. I just know I’ll forget something major, but what I discovered was I remember more today than I have for any other episode. It’s not simply because the finale was a stunner, although the description is accurate. It’s because great fiction, even straightforward fiction, stays with you. It sticks to you like honey. This was a terrific, entertaining, worthwhile piece of television last night, and sent Westworld off with a bang, both literally and figuratively.

Whenever Season 2 comes, and by that point, the show’s audience will have grown, we’re going to be ready to visit the park again. Word of mouth will make the DVD release (for those unable to stream as non-subscribers) a gigantic success for HBO, and though it’s likely 2018 before we return to this place, it will make the next vacation that much sweeter. This was the finale I wanted. This was scene after scene of high points, with resolution and a hopeful, unique ending. It was less complex than many of its predecessors, which played to its strengths. We weren’t left completely flummoxed or confused.

Plus, Anthony Hopkins was downright magnificent. He has a Morgan Freeman quality to him, so when he was describing the scene over the music, he could have been verbally illustrating Andy Dufresne’s emancipation. The gravitas and the calm in which he spoke made all of Season 1 feel big, and made what was to come seconds later huge, but more importantly resonant and emotional.

Westworld let us in for “The Bicameral Mind,” and as a result, 90 minutes felt like 45. Now, may I suggest you venture to Netflix and start Person of Interest over the holidays. When you feel like you know what the show is, please keep watching. It does take a little time to become more than a standard “case of the week” series, but once it does, it’s as rewarding an experience as you’ll find on TV.

I’m @JMartOutkick on Twitter. These violent delights have violent ends.

Written by Jason Martin