Westworld: The Passenger

"I don't want to play cowboys and indians anymore, Bernard. I want their world! The one they've denied us."

We've made it to the Valley Beyond. In more ways than one.

This finale does what most finales do. It (mostly) wraps up the story being told throughout the current season while also providing some intriguing hints as to where the show might be going in the future.

Nolan and Joy are successful at pulling that off fairly well. Otherwise, I didn't love this episode. It actually feels like it could be one of the lesser ones from this season, along with 'Les Ecorches'.

Don't get me wrong, there are still many lovable moments sprinkled throughout 'The Passenger': Dolores and William briefly teaming up. Maeve's epic escape from the Mesa with the help of some android bulls. Dolores defeating William again when she tricks him into obliterating his own hand. Bernard's scenes with imaginary Ford. The hilarious detail of Felix and Sylvester being forced to ride the same horse. I even liked Lee Sizemore's oddly endearing heroic sacrifice and recitation of the grand speech he wrote for Hector, something I never would have thought of. I certainly liked knowing that I was right about Charlotte Hale being killed and replaced by Dolores, and, to a lesser extent, also right about Ashley Stubbs being a host. And, of course, there's that beautiful misdirection with William in the elevator, but we'll come back to that.

This episode also contains some of the season's most impressive cinematography.

However, this one is mostly just telling us what we already know or telling us what we need to think about as the story moves forward. Before our focus was on the conscious mind, and now we're meant to contemplate the subconscious mind. This is mostly conveyed through Dolores and Bernard, especially during and after their time in the Forge.

The Forge is William's secret facility in the Valley Beyond, containing an AI system that has collected the consciousness of all the millions of wealthy guests who have visited the park over the last 30 years. This system, which takes the form of Logan Delos as it guides Dolores and Bernard, ran countless simulations on the guests in an attempt to create perfect digital copies of their minds based off of their thoughts and memories. Forge-Logan eventually came to the conclusion that humans are themselves living algorithms that are coded for self-preservation, relatively simple and rarely, if ever, changing. Even if the Forge does create a digital version of a human mind that achieves fidelity with the real thing, they all degenerate once placed inside of a host body just like we saw with James Delos.

I thought it was a little easy conceptualizing this advanced system with such humanly physical illustrations, but I guess it makes sense in that the Forge is designed to run simulations. So naturally it would simulate what it does in a way that physical beings like Dolores and Bernard could understand. It's an unique and haunting idea that the total sum of a person's life could be relegated to a little book in a library. Talk about unflattering biographies.

Dolores reads up on several people books in Forge-Logan's library of minds, while Bernard discovers that he and Ford created a Door to another world within the system. It's a secure virtual reality matrix that offers the hosts a chance to live in peace within a world that is entirely their own. Lisa Joy refers to it as the Sublime.

Of course, Dolores sees this as just another trap created by humans and decides to "save" the other hosts from it while also deleting the guest backups. Realizing that nothing will stop her genocidal quest to dominate the world, Bernard kills Dolores. This is even more impactful because we know now that these two might as well be family. Dolores created Bernard, an original character, because her attempts with recreating Arnold were too successful; she's essentially Bernard's mother, making it even more fitting that Bernard acts as the ghost of her father and creator. But their actual relationship is more akin to siblings, interacting and testing each other's development as their minds grow and evolve.

Things appear to end on a bittersweet note for the Westworld hosts. Akecheta and a third of the hosts gain entry into the Sublime, but the rest die on account of Zombie-Clementine, who was given a reconfiguration of Maeve's mesh capabilities that causes any nearby hosts to violently murder each other and themselves. Maeve sacrifices herself along with her followers so that her daughter can make it into the Sublime with her new mother. Bernard emerges to discover the humans have slaughtered his people and leaves with Elsie as the coolant water from the Forge floods the valley.

The plot then picks up considerably when Hale murders Elsie to cover up Delos' experiments, and Bernard conjures the apparition of Ford to create "an epilogue." This being a reincarnation of Dolores via a copy of Hale's body. As I'd suspected, Dolores (or "Halores" as the showrunners call her) kills Hale, and then executes Karl Strand, Costa and a few guards once they've set up a satellite relay at the Forge. She places Teddy's consciousness into the Sublime, uses the relay to send the virtual world somewhere inaccessible to humans and then kills Bernard.

It was a good idea to give Dolores some growth at this point, as her rapturous dark messiah demeanor was starting to get kind of hackneyed. When it's revealed that her sessions with Bernard have actually been her attempts to make a second Bernard after she's already escaped the park, we see that Dolores has changed. She realizes now that the hosts can never be saved if her indiscriminately violent campaign is its only foundation. She recreates Bernard because he is directly opposed to her ideology, recognizing that the best way to ensure their species' survival is through discourse, the great debate of opposing ideas. It's character development while still remaining in line with her role as this coldly logical and self-aware AI that wants to overthrow humanity.

This also leaves room for hope that every season of the show won't simply devolve into robots and humans killing each other ad infinitum. I mean, if a freaking robot is capable of changing its subconscious drives and determining its own free will, I see no reason why a human couldn't do the same; especially if it's already been established that humans are not that different from robots. I think Lee Sizemore, of all people, is proof of this. He starts out as a vain, selfish person who only cares about furthering himself. And he ends his arc as a man who legitimately empathizes with and cares for the robots he once regarded as little more than action figures to play out his bloody storylines, to the point that he willingly forfeits his life to save theirs. Explain that one, Forge-Logan!

It might be a pointless argument, given the post-credits scene.

We find out that the William seen making his descent into the Forge to end things before mysteriously vanishing is not the same William who was rescued by the Delos response team. This William discovers that the Forge has been reduced to ancient history and that he is actually somewhere in the far future. That's right, they snuck another of those damn timelines right by us.

William is met by what I assume to be a host version of Emily, the daughter he killed. She leads him to an observation room identical to the one he'd trapped Delos in for years. It turns out this new version of William has been in Westworld for years, and his journey that we've seen thus far has been recreated as a sort of test conducted by "Emily". The final stage of the test is a baseline to verify his "fidelity". The irony is not lost on William.

Okay, so Lisa Joy claims that this scene is a sneak peek at some ideas they'd like to explore in the future but the focus of season three will be more about Dolores and Bernard's exploration of the world outside of the park. With that said, let's go over that last bit and speculate what it could mean:

In the future, the tables appear to have completely turned. The hosts seem to be the ones in control now, and the humans are the subjects of their experiments. Well, it's not clear what exactly this other version of William is. He's not a simulation, and Joy has stated that he's not a host either. My guess is that he's either a fully-functional host-human hybrid or he's an actual human clone of the original William. The bigger question is: what is the nature of the test? Are the hosts still trying to decipher meaning from human consciousness and experience? Is humanity on the verge of extinction in this future world, and William is their attempt at resurrecting them? Are they creating some sort of singularity between hosts and humans that goes beyond the hybrid experiments Delos was investing in? Could it be this is all part of Dolores' (and thus Ford and Arnold's) plan, and the hosts are just fruitlessly studying how they might best replace humans in a way that just so happens to serve as a karmic hell for her evil ex?

I've seen it theorized that the key to passing the fidelity test is to fail it. That fidelity isn't the goal, it's the problem that needs to be solved. Perhaps human beings, like the artificially intelligent androids they've created, are only capable of moving forward in their evolution if they prove themselves capable of defying their own innate coding and truly changing themselves. Considering the subject they have to work with is William, who Forge-Logan called "irredeemable", the future of consciousness is looking rather dim. But William made a great change and surprised us before. Maybe he'll surprise us again one day.

Oh well. To be continued.

Loops and reveries:

* There are a few things I'm not entirely clear on. How did Teddy's body end up in the Valley Beyond if he killed himself before he and Dolores made it there? Why did none of Karl Strand's soldiers question his disappearance? How did Akecheta not notice Kohana among his followers until they were both in the Sublime? Is there a rhyme or reason to host durability? Maeve and others are shown to be fatally wounded by gunfire, headshot or no, meanwhile Dolores soaks up bullets from William and QA like she's Jason Voorhees. Is the body armor that Delos' security wears made out of cardboard?

* A lot of religious allegories this season. You got characters like Robert Ford, James Delos and William, who all try to play god but end up having more in common with the devil. The Sublime, Valley Beyond or whatever the hell you want to call it is basically Heaven for hosts. Major Craddock and his gang posturing in a twisted version of The Last Supper. There's death and resurrection, most notably that of Dolores. Maeve and Akecheta pretty much share the role of Moses in this episode. Bernard using his imagination to picture Ford helping him create Halores reminds me of the great artists who credit their creations as God working through them. Hale lampshades the fact that she turned Clementine into one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse; Clementine even sits atop a pale horse as she rides to bring death to the hosts.

* Although Hale makes the horseman of Death reference (in case anyone needed to be reminded that Hale is evil), I saw Clementine's destructive new power as a robot version of the rage virus from 28 Days Later.

* Dolores is still suffering from a profound case of cognitive dissonance. She looks down on William and Delos as pathetic, arrogant monsters, claiming she is nothing like them, even as she positively revels in emulating their insane, murderous and tyrannical behavior and actively demands that her potential allies do likewise.

* It was nice to see a different side of Ben Barnes and Tessa Thompson on this show, since so many other characters are more than they initially seem. In contrast to the insufferable Logan and Hale characters, here they both got to play sophisticated AI. Thompson in particular did a fantastic and eerie imitation of Evan Rachel Wood's precise mannerisms as Dolores.

* The moment when Hale is confronted by her host doppleganger emerging from the shadows brought back some Battlestar Galactica memories.

* Halores is still around even after Dolores' original body has been restored. Not sure if this means that there are now two Doloreses or that Dolores 2.0 planted one of the CPUs she took from the park into the Hale copy.

* I found it interesting that Lee's speech acknowledged the cruelty of Westworld's existence. Maybe he always secretly empathized with the hosts on a deeper level, and thus didn't change as much as I thought.

* That scene with Stubbs and Halores was the most surprisingly confusing moment in the episode. If I hadn't read that Jonathan Nolan confirmed that he is indeed a host, I still wouldn't really know what to make of it. The dialogue was ambiguous enough that I wasn't sure if he was a human who gained sympathy for the hosts like Felix and Lee, or if he was a host who lost faith in the humans like Bernard and Dolores. Stubbs is apparently just like Bernard, conflicted by his loyalty between hosts and humans, but ultimately siding with the hosts after witnessing the humans' disregard for their own kind as well as the hosts. I'm guessing he'll be looking after Westworld now, along with Felix and Sylvester.

* Like last season, this finale ended with a Radiohead song. This time it was a song called "Codex." Very moving.

Quotes:

Dolores: (to William) I see you've begun to question the nature of your reality.

Maeve: You were both a bit late, so I went ahead and saved myself.

Lee: ... And the lesson is, if you're looking for a reckoning, a reckoning is what you'll find. If you're looking for a villain, then I'm your man. But look at yourselves. This world you've built is bound by villainy. You sleep on the broken bodies of the people that were here before you. Warm yourselves with their embers. Plow their bones into your fields. You paid for this land in lead, and I will pay you back in full... You wanted me? Well all I can say to that is, here I fucking am!

Bernard: What humans define as sane is a narrow range of behaviors. Most states of consciousness are insane.

Forge-Logan: At first I was seduced by the stories they tell themselves of who they are, the reasons they do the things they do. I needed to know why they made the decisions they make. The longer I looked for an answer, the more I realized. They don't.

Dolores: How many counterfeit worlds will Ford offer you before you see the truth? No world they create for us can compete with the real one.
Bernard: Why?
Dolores: Because that which is real is irreplaceable.

Halores: You wanted to live forever. Be careful what you wish for.

The New Man in Black: Oh fuck, I knew it. I'm already in the thing, aren't I?

New Emily: Tell me, what were you hoping to find? To prove?
The New Man in Black: That no system can tell me who I am. That I had a fucking choice.
New Emily: And yet here we are. Again.
The New Man in Black: And again and again...

This season didn't blow me away like the first one did, but Westworld continues to be one of the most cerebral and thought-provoking shows I've ever seen. I look forward to seeing what lies ahead. Three out of four pearls of consciousness.

3 comments:

Elle Mars said...

This finale was absolutely insane... And unfortunately, yes, I'd have to agree that it was probably one of the weakest eps this season. The season one finale had big twists and reveals as well, and even though a large majority of viewers already predicted things like the MiB's identity, the actual reveal in the show still had such an impact because of how eloquently they let it unfold. I didn't feel as shocked with the twists this ep. I was more like.... whaaaaaat? And that has me kind of worried that Westworld will start to prioritize the twist and mindf**k factor over proper storytelling.

There was also something about the beginning of this ep that seemed awfully convenient. Like how Dolores just happened to chance upon William, then right after they bump into Bernard. And did it really take that long for Maeve's merry band to catch up to the Mesa when the last time we saw them they were right behind Maeve, attacking the Ghost Nation?

That being said, there was still a lot of moments to love this ep, most of which were with Maeve's side of the story rather than Dolores's. RIP Lee Sizemore. You unexpectedly became my favorite character this season. :( Who would have thought the sleazy douche from season 1 would end up having one of the best character arcs and most badass deaths of season 2? Yes, maybe he didn't have to die and could have just turned himself in, but it was still a great way to go and a great sendoff for the character. Simon Quarterman was such a delight to watch this season.

The conclusion with Maeve and her daughter was also really moving, and I loved seeing her use her Neo Matrix powers one last time to save her. And I'm also so glad Akecheta made it and was reunited with Kohana. Nevermind how she got there in the first place (?). And poor, poor Teddy. The heartbreaking look on his face when he realized he made it but was also so very alone. Hopefully that won't be the last we see of Teddy, but at the same time, hopefully it is if he'll be going through more hell if he's brought back in season three. :(

Westworld is still one of the best shows out there and initiates some amazing and thought-provoking discussions. I just hope next season will focus more on the idea of humanity and the characters with the robots vs. humans story playing second fiddle.

And thank you for your reviews this season, Logan! Like system Logan this ep, you helped clear up a lot of questions while stirring up some interesting questions about the show. :D

Now to wait for possibly two years. :(

Patryk said...

I wonder who else did Dolores smuggle out of the park, she had 5 cores in her purse. All we know one was Bernard and Teddy wasn't one of them.

I don't know what to make of William's fidelity test so I'm not gonna speculate to not risk overheating my brain. Was the recovered William at the beach missing a hand? That might help to place the ending scene.

The show is definately not something You should watch once per week. It does not do the episodes justice.

Logan Cox said...

Patryk, I know what you mean about "overheating" the brain. It's definitely one of those shows. Watching it really reminds me of how I felt watching Lost or Battlestar Galactica. It's like a wonderful type of self-imposed madness, what Sizemore would have called a "Relentless. Fucking. Experience." I think both Williams had mutilated hands. The new William's journey appears to have been exactly the same as the original William apart from getting recovered and taken out of the park.

Elle Mars, thank you for your comment. I also worry about them prioritizing the mindfuck factor over proper storytelling too. I mean, I could forgive that since they manage to do it so well, but I imagine it might reach a point where you can't take anything you're seeing seriously. It feels kind of inevitable that a show like this will become convoluted, though. Of course, that's not the sort of thing that'll put me off watching it; again, big fan of Lost and BSG.

It seems like a lot of people are divided on Teddy's last scene. I and others took it as him finally getting somewhat of a happy ending after being everybody's whipping boy for the past two seasons, but a number of other people see what happened to him as some kind of hellish punishment. I have to disagree. He's not alone. Akecheta and the others are in there too. And there's bound to be more to that world than just one sunny field. But I can see how a heavenly VR like that could be turned into a nightmare by whoever has access to it.