This recap contains spoilers about tonight’s Westworld finale “The Bicameral Mind”
There are many things in life that are complicated: rocket science, film profit participation, and human relationships.
Or more to Delos executive Charlotte’s (the sublime Tessa Thompson) exclamation in tonight’s finale, “This place is as complicated enough as it is.” That’s right, add Westworld to life’s list.
However, that’s a positive testament to HBO. With Westworld, they’ve allowed creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy to completely move the needle on complex storytelling. No other network arguably could take a risk, get away with it, and paint such an acute, labyrinth episodic TV series, chock full of subtleties and Easter eggs that move the narrative. Some compare Westworld’s intricacies to HBO’s first season of the Wired, or even ABC’s Lost. One thing is certain and that is after trying to figure out this Rubik’s Cube of a show for the last two months, tonight’s finale “Bicameral Mind” is truly the best of the series’ ten at an hour and a half. There’s enough payoff in the episode to keep one giddy, and enough metaphors and foreshadows to keep you rewinding the DVR through Christmas.
Even if one was half asleep during USA’s noir complexity Mr. Robot‘s last summer, it was feasible to comprehend its mid-season twist that Elliot was in jail, and hallucinated his seclusion in his mother’s house during the first half of the season.
With Westworld, it was essential to deep-six a trio of espressos before indulging: Its characters quietly and casually tossed lines that pointed to bigger reveals. Ditto for the show’s production design, props and costumes which indicated that the action was taking place across three timelines (35 years ago, 30 years ago and present day). Read when Logan stabs Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores in episode 9, we see her robotic guts made of pistons, indicating the action of the scene is taking place decades ago, because that’s how robots in the park were made then! Talk about hidden details. It’s no wonder that Anthony Hopkin’s Dr. Ford points to Michelangelo’s painting “The Creation of Adam” and tells the robo prairie girl about the hidden brain in the art which took someone 500 years to discover in the painting. Perhaps centuries from now, we’ll still be deconstructing Westworld. “The message being that the divine gift does not come from a higher power, but from our own minds,” Ford explains about the painting.
Tonight’s finale, “The Bicameral Mind”, marked the second episode to be directed by Nolan after the premiere episode “The Original”. There were a number of twists and turns tonight, so we’ll try to pare it down to the basics.
At the top of tonight’s list, we finally have a bingo: Young William (Jimmi Simposon) had grown into the Man in Black (Ed Harris), who invested in Westworld, arguably after the death of Dr. Ford’s partner Arnold. Fans were keen about this for quite some time, and finally, Harris’ black hat sharpshooter downloaded Dolores to the reality of who he really was and is.
How did a good guy go so bad?
Well, William kept looking for Dolores. He double-crossed his douche brother-in-law Logan (Ben Barnes), whose family ran Delos. William learned who he was at his core while looking for Dolores: a violent, ruthless guy (“He found himself among the dead,” MIB says about his younger self). In sum, he got tired of chasing Dolores. “I really ought to thank you Dolores, you really help me find myself” says older William/MIB. They’re near the cemetery at the church. This is the center of the maze, and Ford has left a tin with a maze game in it near Dolores’ tombstone. MIB finds it and doesn’t get it. He’s pissed. He beats up Dolores. She tells him, “One day you will perish…with the rest of your kind in the dirt, your bones will turn to sand, and upon that sand, a new God will walk. One that will never die.” If that isn’t a foreshadowing to the robot revolution, I don’t know what is. Later, later on in the episode, Ford confirms another point that clever fans figured all along: The timeline we’ve been traversing has been 35 years. Ford admits he’s been “trying to fix his mistakes” during that time, riffing off a quote from atomic bomb papa J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Teddy ultimately shoots MIB down, saves Dolores and trots her off to the sea where she dies in his arms. We later see MIB gets up, he’s approached by Dr. Robert Ford to attend a big soiree that night. Ya see, earlier in the show, Charlotte revealed that the board voted, and Ford will announce his retirement at a big party that night. It turns out part of Ford’s retirement has been the whole show of MIB tracking her down, and Teddy saving her. As Teddy lies with Dolores in his arms on the beach, like the end to some 1950s romance movie, he tells her “If we can find a way Dolores, some day, a path to a new world, and maybe, it’s just the beginning after all, the beginning of a brand new chapter.” An audience is watching on the beach and their applause is great. Ford steps out and says the narrative is “Journey Into Night”. It was all a show, and a tuxedo-clad MIB is in attendance. Earlier, MIB tells Ford that the discovery of the tin is “bullshit”. MIB always wanted a game that wasn’t programmed by Ford’s rules where the opponents always lose. “I wanted them to be free, free to fight back,” says MIB. “I tried to tell you, the maze wasn’t meant for you,” says Ford, “It was meant for them. I think you’ll find my new narrative more satisfying.” Ford gestures for MIB to join the evening’s soiree, Ford’s retirement party.
In other news, Thandie Newton’s robo prostitute-turned-freedom fighter Maeve is doing it her way, “No one is controlling me, I’m leaving!” she tells a rebooted Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) as she seeks to bust her way into our world with her posse of Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and Armistice (Ingrid Bolso Berdal). Perhaps, they’re the new Gods in season 2?
HQ learns about Maeve’s rebellion; they watch video of Armistice killing one of their technicians. A Swat-like team chases after them. The unit stands among a series of frozen robots. We see Hector and Armistice. She slices one of the Swat soldier’s necks. Armistice and Hector have guns and begin taking out the squad. Hector, Armistice, Hector, Maeve stumble upon a combat room…is this Samurai World? The letters SW are on the door. Felix (Leonardo Nam), the park technician who is enabling Maeve’s rebellion tells the posse, “It’s complicated.”
Somewhere during this melee, Maeve finds the bullet-in-the-head Bernard (this is likely going down at the same time as Ford’s retirement party or just prior). Felix is shocked to see he’s a host. “Wake up!” commands Maeve. Bernard remembers everything after his reboot. “It’s not the first time you’ve woken me either,” Bernard tells Maeve (see it’s a small line like that which will linger on, and turn into something down the road in a future episode). “How many are there like me?” asks Maeve. “A handful,” says Bernard. “We get tossed out and f***ed and murdered,” asserts Maeve. “No, most of you go insane,” says Bernard about the severe emotional recall that she and Dolores suffer. Her posse takes out more of the HQ’s squad members with their guns. Blood is splattered all over HQ. “The Gods are pussies,” says Armistice. Felix slips Maeve an attache case, “Everything you told me to get, it’s all in there,” he tells her. Possibly all the intel for the park? One piece of paper he leaves her with: the coordinates of her daughter’s whereabouts in the park.
“I can’t take you with me darling,” Maeve tells Hector, I’ve always valued my independence”. The doors open and Maeve heads down the elevator.
At a certain point, Dr. Ford takes Dolores back to the shop, wakes her and introduces her to Bernard. Ford reveals how Arnold re-calibrated Dolores. In short, it’s fair to say that as Arnold lost his child, Dolores was a new one for him to play with. He was trying to make a new free form robot in her (one we can obviously see was a terminator-killing machine). Essentially, suffering spurred the motivations of these androids. In a flashback, we see the scene whereby Dolores shoots Arnold (who looks like Bernard), then Teddy, before turning the gun on her Holly-Hobby-dressed self. Back to present, Ford says, “Tell me Dolores, did you find what you were looking for and do you understand who you need to become if you ever want to leave this place? Forgive me.”
Back in the church, more back and forth between Bernard and Ford as we’ve seen in recent episodes. The puppet tells his master that the spirit of Arnold lives on in the park; the ghost in the machine presides. “You think you will never lose control of this place,” says Bernard, “’Arnold is still trying to free us!!”. Ford tells Bernard that Arnold’s m.o. was that the robots would find themselves through pain and suffering. “Arnold didn’t know how to save you, I do,” says Ford, “It’s time to understand your enemy. In order to understand this place, you have to suffer more. It’s time to say goodbye.” And with that Ford gives Bernard the tin of the maze game (that Dolores and MIB found).
Ultimately, Dolores (the pants clad one) finds herself in the old basement cell where Bernard would deconstruct her, where she revealed to him in the last episode that she killed his doppelganger spirit Arnold. It’s here that she learns that the spirit–the voice–that’s been guiding her along through the maze was the older prairie version of herself ,not Bernard. Again, no coincidence several episodes ago that both Dolores-es caught each other’s eye in the Mexican-like pueblo.
Back in the elevator, Felix tells Maeve that her daughter is alive in the park. “No,” says Maeve, “she was never my daughter any more than I was”. She loads a gun, compliments Felix on being a terrible human being, and enters the subway lobby to head out of Westworld HQ.
Maeve sees a mother and daughter on the train, and soon longs for her own daughter. She gets off the train and heads back up the escalator to Westworld…Bernard told her earlier that she really didn’t have freedom; someone messed with her programming and her destiny has been pre-planned all along. As soon as she steps out of the station, the power goes down in all of Westworld. Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) who was always fighting for his storylines to shine through with the robots, opens the steel room where most of the frozen androids once stood —and they’re all gone.
These scenes are quickly intercut with Ford’s retirement party, where he regales the crowd with his love of stories, and how he’s developed a new narrative.
“As you don’t want to change, or cannot change, because you’re only human after all,” Ford tells the crowd, “But then I realized someone was paying attention. Someone who could change, so I began to compose s new story for them. It begins with the birth of a new people and the choices they will have to make and the people they will decide to become.”
“And we’ll have all those things you always enjoyed, surprises and violence. It Begins in a time of war, with a villain named Wyatt, and a killing,” he continues.
We see MIB, smoking, with a bottle of whiskey looking at the forest line. The Native Americans descend and MIB is shot in the arm by Clementine (Angela Sarafyan). But he does not fall (good assumption: MIB/Older William lives).
Dolores, in prairie costume tells Teddy at the party, “This world does not belong to them.”
“This will be my final story,” says Ford. Soon after, Dolores takes Ford’s place on the stage, shoots him in the head, and then begins to shoot everyone in the crowd. End scene.
The animals have officially turned on their masters. But there’s more…after the end credits we see Armistice cutting off her own arm as she’s stuck in the door, continuing to fight the SWAT team with a grin.
There’s likely a billion interpretations for what all these twists and turns mean, however, all of this comes back to one big theme that Nolan and Joy have been focusing on throughout the season: Do the same ethics which rule our lives as humans apply to the artificial things in our lives that we create? If it’s not OK to kill a human, is it just fine and dandy to kill an android? These moral questions extend over into society’s ongoing fixation with cloning.
As Joy told us back in October, “There’s something happening with the robots, and from that point of view we examine human nature, and question the actions that the guests are taking. What does this say about us?”