Endless Twists and Apocalyptic Turns Close out ‘Westworld’ Season 2
Tuning in for the season two finale of HBO’s “Westworld” comes with the threat of profound dizziness by the end. The entire series has always been a brain teaser disguised as an action thriller, but the final chapter of the second season becomes a relentless exercise in endless twists. This is not necessarily a bad thing and it is a great hour and a half of television, combining grand ideas with suspense. It all builds towards an apocalyptic crescendo that refreshes the storyline while promising something truly epic for the next incarnation.
“The Passenger” hurtles every development of the season into one big cataclysm. In the show’s typical fashion, we flow in and out of the present, memory and reality. But the main thrust of the episode is that the hosts are now embarking on a massive journey for “The Valley Beyond,” which is a kind of heavenly passage into a paradise for the Hosts to finally live in absolute freedom. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), designer of the portal, is still our key guide through the chaos that ensued in the “Westworld” park, as he found himself captured by security forces led by Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) and also by the awakened Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who has been waging guerrilla war against her former human masters. As most of the hosts march for the digital heavenly portal, another woke host, Maeve (Thandie Newton), escapes from the park lab where she was being tortured and tested, slaughters the remaining human lab rats with her fellow hosts and escapes for the portal. Maeve also hopes to finally reunite with her daughter before entering robo nirvana. Meanwhile William, or the Man in Black (Ed Harris), has a final stand-off with Dolores, even though by now he has been left behind by the immense swirl of events. But two challenges present themselves for the hosts to attain freedom. Hale and her goons are racing to catch them all and Dolores herself doesn’t want to cross over into digital bliss, she wants to cross into the mainland off the island, where humans live, and where she wants to carry out an ultimate takeover.
“Westworld” is such dense material that simply describing its narrative in a review does little justice to its technique. The timeline is continuously scrambled. What you might be watching now could be from the past, or it might be a conjured memory, or a mix of both. This is particularly true with season two, which abandoned the first season’s debauched theme park feel. In this season the hosts had rebelled, rampaged through the park and became a sort of Spartan army seeking freedom. The main creators and writers, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, had fun this season teasing us and then shocking us. Main characters such as Teddy Flood (James Marsden), were killed off and Bernard’s own personal story became so convoluted you wondered if Nolan and Joy themselves even know who he is. There was also a wonderfully creative episode following the Native American character of Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon). But it all comes into clear focus at the end of “The Passenger,” like a thick science fiction opus finally giving some answers.
Of course the challenge is to somehow find time to breath during “The Passenger,” which features a final 10 minutes that make even Jonathan’s brother Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” look lightweight. The only somewhat clean resolution (for this season at least), belongs to William, who tries to kill Dolores, only to find out her body can bleed, but not die from his bullets. He ends up blowing off his own fingers, and is left helpless as Dolores rushes to take the database holding every host brain. The season premiere posed the enigma of why Bernard was washed up by a lake, where countless host corpses were floating. Here we learned what happened. As they entered the portal into the host heaven, their digital minds went into the other realm while their host bodies fell into the water in the real world. The rest were all slaughtered by Hale and her goons when they reached the escapees. Wait, so no more hosts? Well Nolan and team take advantage of every precious HBO minute to deliver twist after twist. When Dolores rebels against the cultish trek to the digital heaven, she makes her intentions clear for a host revolution and provokes the system into flooding the entire park. Because Bernard knows her programming so well he knows she will try to carry out a holocaust of humans. So he shoots her. This is recounted by Bernard while being interrogated by Hale. Just then, Hale turns around and kills the security men. Follow me, please. Bernard saved Dolores’s mind and put it into a host version of Hale! So now Hale is the new Dolores, literally. Yes, dear reader, this was merely one twist in this massive finale, in addition to surreal shots of security forces fighting off robotic bulls charging down hallways.
Despite all of the dizzying story developments, “The Passenger” never loses the very identity of the show. This is a slick TV show that also harkens back to classic, philosophical science fiction. The bloodshed and apocalyptic moments are also decorated with discussions about the nature of humans, flashbacks to the tycoons who ran the park and their family squabbles, and how such human experiences are natural to actual human life (something the hosts are trying to comprehend). The main theme of the series thus far, that of slaves liberating themselves from their masters, now enters an interesting new phase. With Dolores now out of the park, she will go wage war against the species that made her. The final scene between her and Bernard is a bittersweet exchange where she expresses her admiration for him, but realizes they will now be adversaries.
“Westworld” now leaves the park and follows the path of other sci-fi narratives in expanding the narrative into a wider vision outside of its original domain. Dolores will declare war on the humans. The fate of the other hosts remains vague, as would expect with this show. It’s all one big brain twister, but because it’s well done we simply catch our breath and wait for the next ride.
“Westworld” season two finale aired June 24 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.