Westworld’s first season finale is everything that the cast and crew had been promising and that its fans hoped for – a grand resolution to the season’s overarching narrative, offering both obvious and subtle answers to nearly all of its questions, but also ending on something of a cliffhanger note that promises much more to come in the second season.
The finesse with which everything was handled was impressive, and the answers were never pat, even if they were seen coming a mile away (William [Jimmi Simpson], we’re looking at you). And, perhaps most importantly, Dr. Robert Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins) new narrative proved to be simultaneously surprising and fully expected – which is to say, feeling as if it fit every single clue that had been dropped since the first very episode, providing an organic climax as opposed to an artificial surprise ending.
In order to process everything, however, we had better slice it up into its constituent pieces-parts and tackle them one at a time, or we just might otherwise end up like some of those poor, unfortunate hosts that go insane after getting just a peak at their own consciousnesses.
The reveal of the Man in Black’s identity
That Ed Harris’s Man in Black ended up being the future version of Jimmi Simpson’s William is not a surprising development for all keen-eyed (re)watchers, as the number of links between the two characters – from repeated lines of dialogue to the leftover picture of William’s fiancé being the piece of evidence that set off Dolores Abernathy’s (Evan Rachel Wood) father, Peter (Louis Herthum), way back in the first installment – were simply too great to be ignored.
But what was more impactful was the way in which the information was conveyed. The Man in Black and Dolores find one another at the church, the site where both believe the center of the Maze is located (more on which in just a moment). As the sweet rancher’s daughter continues to act out her memories in the present – remember, hosts can’t differentiate between different time periods – she leads the black-hat cowboy to her “grave” and digs up a children’s maze toy, the clear originator of Arnold’s Maze’s logo that continues to dot Westworld’s landscape. Frustrated that all this time might have been for naught (again), the Man in Black begins to viciously beat his host companion (again), prompting her to say that her savior, her one true love, will be arriving shortly to slay him and rescue her: William.
Delighted at her ability to remember their time together – and, perhaps, delighted at the opportunity to inflict a whole new type of pain on her – MIB begins to regale the story of how his very first time in the park, 30 years ago, ended. William viciously hunts down and dispatches all hosts who had spotted that era’s wayward Dolores (especially those soldiers who had had their way with her), and he learns that, quite to the contrary of what his entire life had led him to believe up until that point, he had a propensity for violence – and a glee at being able to finally inflict his will upon the world. This epiphany leads to another: that Delos needed to get behind Westworld and become its major financial backer to ensure its continued existence, and that, furthermore, he was perfectly suited to run the company in place of his would-be future brother-in-law, Logan (Ben Barnes). The latter is stripped naked and left to die out in the periphery of the park (although, it must be asked, where were the behind-the-scenes handlers, who are able to seemingly track every guest who sets foot on the property? Wouldn’t they have been able to track Logan down and rescue him at some point?).
The revelation to Dolores proves to be one of the final steps necessary in getting her to finally shed her ignorance and successfully complete Arnold’s Maze. The end result, in the short term, is the breaking of Old William’s arm; in the long term, it’s to help lead the liberation of Westworld from its human overlords.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
The reveal of Wyatt’s identity
After being plagued with visions of walking streets that are filled with the dead for the entire season, and after learning early on in the series that she wasn’t physically capable of firing a gun (thanks to her programming), and after realizing just last week that she was the one responsible for killing Dr. Arnold Weber (Jeffrey Wright), Dolores finally finishes taking the memory plunge and recalls that, after an extended period of tutelage under Arnold, she is manipulated into becoming the purveyor of all the carnage witnessed in her flashbacks. This, in effect, makes her Wyatt, the mysterious and over-the-top baddie that Ford introduced as the build-up to his new narrative (Dr. Ford said his new story would have elements of the truth embedded in it, remember), with Teddy Flood (James Marsden) truly being her partner in crime.
But this, it turns out, is only half the story. Later on in the episode, as Robert unfurls the full explanation – and confession – to the on-the-cusp-of-self-awareness Dolores, he includes the little tidbit that Wyatt was, indeed, a character that both he and Arnold were in the midst of developing to titillate their soon-to-arrive guests three-and-a-half decades ago, and that Arnold partially merged this still-incomplete figure with Dolores’s character in order to have her act out his part of serial killer. This makes Ms. Abernathy both literally and figuratively Wyatt, and it certainly means that she is the one who will help to end the world as everyone in Westworld knows it and help usher in a new era – though, once again, we’re cutting to the end of the story here.
What needs to be addressed in the here-and-now is the reason why her creator temporarily subsumed her personality to Wyatt’s: he wanted the sweet release of death though was, apparently, unable to do the deed himself. Or, perhaps, he saw a certain level of poetry in having his adopted child be the one to help him see his literal one once again, in the afterlife – or, the final possibility, he felt this would give Dolores the final push needed to have her tumble into sentience.
The reveal of Arnold’s Maze
As Dolores and Man-in-Black William locate the physical center of the all-encompassing maze, the former is aghast to learn that it’s not the answers to all of her life’s deep existential crises – and she’s even more horrified to realize that this isn’t the first time she’s solved the riddle.
And the nature of the riddle is this: the Maze is neither a literal quest nor a figurative metaphor – it is an ontological journey, a “test of empathy [and] imagination,” as Ford puts it. It is a conceptual framework for the structure of consciousness and, more importantly, how the hosts may be able to achieve it, and the idea for using a child’s toy as the basis and representation of this framework hits Dr. Weber when he is holding his late son’s literal toy. This makes its burial at Dolores’s symbolic grave completely inconsequential – and which thereby makes William’s entire set of actions across the entire season almost completely worthless (in both time periods, it can be argued).
This revelation begets another: the final loop that Dolores finds herself in, the cycle of yearning for something so much more than what her simple, pre-scripted life affords, but yet never quite being able to leave it all behind (not that she even [fully] wants that, as she rather defiantly tells young William and Logan in a previous episode that she doesn’t want to enter the outside world that they are both so clearly willing to leave behind to enter hers).
This, however, isn’t fully fair to her – Arnold’s manipulating her to gun down her host brethren in the streets of Escalante all those years ago may have helped her reach a sort of apotheosis if it weren’t for Robert Ford’s intervening hand, rolling her back to a previous build and forcing the process to start all over again. This makes her actions – and her realization that the voice she’s been hearing in her head is her own all along, just as Weber intended when first enacting the bicameral-mind setup of the androids’ programming – as we neared the end of the finale both triumphant and bittersweet… the perfect ending for Westworld’s freshman outing.
The reveal of Ford’s new narrative
The long-awaited arrival of Dr. Robert Ford’s new storyline, appropriately titled “Journey into Night,” clicked inevitably into place as all the other revelations arrived in their pre-ordained sequence, making it something of a meta-narrative and one that touches upon all of the season’s various developments.
The idea behind the initiative, as Ford explains to both Dolores and Bernard, was to reenact Arnold Weber’s Wyatt incident from 34 years ago, only this time allowing the ensuing existential fallout in the form of Dolores – and, of course, Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), who was meant to be smuggled out of the park in a type of fail-safe manuever – to go unchecked. This, in turn, acts as the catalyst to Westworld’s transition of control from the human employees of Delos to the hosts themselves, who can act as a new type of species on this planet and usher in a new world – exactly as all the grandiose exposition about Wyatt promised.
There are two critically important points to touch upon in the set-up and denouement of this narrative. Firstly, the signals that were secretly being broadcast from the abandoned building that Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) located four episodes ago and the core programming alterations that were instituted in Maeve from the very beginning were all at the direct hand of Ford himself, prepping the stage (almost literally) for “Journey into Night’s” arrival. Secondly, the fact that it took nearly 40 years for this handing of power over was the slow realization on Ford’s part that, yes, while some of the hosts were, indeed, gaining self-awareness, they still weren’t ready to deal with the savage, deadly animals that human beings truly are; they needed to be seasoned with more suffering, that universal ingredient that sweetens all dishes, in order to understand that while the world is not what they want it to be, it can be made that way, by force and blood and sacrifice. There are no easy paths on this planet, and even androids need to reckon with this simple, unalterable fact.
This is why a number of humans are slaughtered during the performance, whether they be security guards down below as Maeve institutes her escape or Delos board members who are shot by Dolores herself on Westworld soil. Ford, as noted previously, isn’t a sentimental man; he isn’t afraid to treat the hosts like slabs of meat – slashing their faces with knives, for instance – so why should his fellow man be treated any differently?
The revelation of other worlds in Westworld
A short recap of “The Bicameral Mind’s” biggest reveals wouldn’t be complete without even just a quick mention of a conspicuously-placed Easter egg for what the second season will have in store: the samurai hosts seen training as Maeve and her group attempt to hightail it out of Dodge. The fact that there are other parks is underscored by the location of Maeve’s “daughter” – she’s in park 1, sector 15, zone 3 – and was already hinted at far earlier in the season, when the original version of Peter Abernathy quotes dialogue from a murder-mystery-show build.
Still, this doesn’t undermine the excitement of opening up these other parks and being able to visit them in the slightest, and it nonetheless makes the prospect of a second season all the more impossible to wait for.
Here’s to the sweet hereafter, Bernard. We’re willing to wait for you to see what’s coming next.