The last time we saw Thandie Newton’s rebellious robot Maeve in Westworld’s penultimate season one episode, she was warning, “Next time you go looking for the truth, get the whole thing. It’s like a good fuck: Half is worse than nothing at all.”
Well now that we’ve seen Sunday night’s season finale, we can say that we were certainly aroused, but ultimately left—as Maeve cautioned—a bit creatively blue-balled.
Major questions weren’t answered. Major plot twists were revealed that fans had figured out weeks before. And it all builds up to a rousing, though slightly confusing uprising that closes out the episode just as things were getting good.
A lot of buildup, but ultimately frustration? It’s the trajectory of Westworld, in general.
The show arrived under unmeetable expectations that it be the next Game of Thrones. Its first episodes laid out this expansive universe and planted seeds of plot all over the damn place, only to annoy us when they weren’t sprouting fast enough. Literally, this show sometimes moved so glacially it felt like watching grass grow.
Some characters were criminally underdeveloped (ahem, James Marsden’s Teddy). Some mysteries were flat-out uninteresting. And, because of persistent foreshadowing and because of our familiarity with Michael Crichton's 1973 film the series shares source material with, we were waiting for a big, bloody uprising… only to be given about 90 seconds of it.
That’s not to say that Sunday night’s finale wasn’t thrilling. When it wasn’t painfully confusing—at one point two characters analyzed a Michelangelo painting—there were sequences of television more cinematic and visually exquisite than most television has ever dared to be. And there were some pretty great twists, too.
The first twist came when The Man in Black (Ed Harris) finally reveals to Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) that he is actually William (Jimmi Simpson). Nothing on television this fall has been less surprising.
Fans have been theorizing about this twist longer than they whispered about Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) actually being a host made in the image of park creator Arnold. Not only were they right on both counts, but they even guessed tangential specifics about the reveals.
We learn that at the center of the maze is literally a maze. A toy maze.
Arnold left it there as a test for hosts who would become sentient. If they could find it, it meant that it was too dangerous for the park to open. When Dolores found it years and years ago before the park even opened, Arnold fought with Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who overruled him and decided to go forward with the launch.
To sabotage him, Arnold programmed Dolores to kill all the other hosts—enlisting Teddy’s help. Those flashbacks of Teddy and the mysterious Wyatt mowing down all the other hosts? It turns out that Wyatt was actually Dolores. (A bit of a “let’s make this up as we go along” twist.)
Then, realizing that he’d need more than a robot massacre to keep the park from opening, Arnold programs Dolores to take a human life: his. We watch Dolores shoot Arnold in the head in a flashback scene.
Meanwhile, The Man in Black is pissed that the maze he’s spent decades chasing is just a damn toy. And, sir, I agree.
He’s so angry that he starts stabbing Dolores, who is rescued by Teddy and finally taken to this place “where the mountains meet the sea” that she wouldn’t stop going on about. Evan Rachel Wood is saddled with some gruesomely melodramatic dialogue in these scenes, but damn if the skilled actress doesn’t tear into every last word of it.
Just when things seem like they can’t get any more maudlin—Teddy cradling a whimpering Dolores as she bled to death, moonlight reflecting off the ocean waves behind them, the sappiest score imaginable swelling—it’s revealed that the scene is actually the start of Dr. Ford’s mysterious new narrative. Teddy and Dolores had been performing the scripted dialogue in front of the narrative’s glitzy unveiling, attended by DELOS board members in fancy gowns.
Dr. Ford reactivates Dolores and Teddy, who resurface at the gala. As Dr. Ford announces that this new narrative will be his last, given his forced retirement, he tells the crowd the story “begins with the birth of a new people, and the choices they’ll have to make and the people they will decide to become.” Whatever the hell that means. And then Dolores shoots him in the head, begins shooting at the other board members, and an army of lobotomized hosts emerge from the woods and start their robot uprising.
It’s eerie, and shocking, and what the entire season had built towards. Ford’s final narrative turned the sentient hosts against his enemies—all these board members who had been seeking to shut him down. Maybe his goal and Arnold’s goal was one in the same. We’re going to have to wait until season two to find out.
And, Jesus Christ, all this and we haven’t even gotten to Maeve yet.
The series, clearly, is a feat of editing. Such a feat, in fact, that lazier viewers may not have noticed. And when it comes to Westworld, anything short of tuning into each episode multiple times armed with spreadsheets and copious notes should be considered lazy.
The show’s multiple timeline structure might be one of the most ambitious and layered narrative challenges a series with this much popularity has embarked on, and it was executed with precision—so much precision, in fact, that most episodes were immensely confusing.
Some of the show’s fans relished in that uncertainty—mounting fan theories, connecting the dots, and enjoying the stargazing at the show’s constellation of plots and timelines. Others simply grew sick and tired of never knowing what the hell was going on.
For the latter group, too, the grievance didn’t lie solely in frustration over being confused. A challenging show with large scope is commendable, and it’s what we supposedly crave in this new age of #peakTV. Their issue was that, for them, the characters and journeys teased and explored in some of those more confusing arcs weren’t interesting enough to merit the kind of investment required to make sense of things.
When Vulture’s Brian Tallerico, for example, published ahead of the finale a guide to the show’s multiple timelines and flashbacks, I tweeted how valuable the handiwork was for those of us who have been too bored to pay close enough attention to pick up on the editing tricks and narrative sleight of hand.
Personally, and it’s alright if I’m out on an island here (though I suspect I’m at the very least part of an archipelago), I couldn’t give a shit about the maze.
Sure, the maze is the whole point of the show. But whoo-ee did I zone out every time The Man in Black was going on about it, or when Dolores and William were looking for the center of it, or anytime Teddy spoke. In fact, anytime the show was in the actual Westworld park, I shrugged my shoulders. “More Maeve, please,” was generally my reaction to any episode of the show.
To that regard, even with a robot uprising on the horizon it was Maeve who stole this episode.
After the damage she suffered in her suicidal fire, she is completely rebuilt, with Felix (Leonardo Nam) subbing out her vertebrae with one that won’t explode when she attempts to leave the park.
Getting out of the park, it turns out, was a bloodier experience than anyone expected, with Rodrigo Santoro’s Hector and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal’s Armistice in full Terminator mode as her accomplices. (From biting off a tech’s finger to severing something even ghastlier in the finale’s post-credits scene, Armistice is giving Maeve a run for her “Westworld’s biggest badass” money.)
The whole thing had a heist element to it that gave the sequences more of a pulse—one that barely beat under the battle scenes and carnage that littered the Old West in the Westworld park.
Maeve learns from Bernard, who she gets Felix to reactivate following last episode’s suicide, that she has actually been programmed to make this escape plan; that it’s not a rebellion she’s making of her self-aware free will. It’s devastating news for Maeve, who flat-out refuses to believe it: “Bullshit! No one’s controlling me. I’m leaving.”
These moments—Maeve’s increasing sentience, the questions about who is controlling who, the mysteries about Arnold and Bernard and what they had planned—were for my money the best arcs of the first season. It made the payoff of watching her strut out onto that train to finally leave the park so much more gratifying, and then her decision to get off the train and head back into it to find her daughter all the more gutting.
For all this talk about robots, you have to be able to relate on a human, emotional level to these characters. Maeve is the only one they pulled that off for.
But regardless of your feelings towards Maeve’s botched escape, the glimpse at the uprising, or the anticlimactic reveal about The Man in Black and William, there are so many more unanswered questions that are likely to leave fans frustrated.
What did DELOS want with the host codes that they were trying to smuggle out of the park? Was it Dr. Ford’s plan all along to launch this uprising? Where the hell is this theme park and what year is it?
And what of the fate of my favorite character, the fly?
The mark of a good season finale, of course, is to answer enough questions to satisfy viewers and leave enough unanswered for you to want to come back for more. Of course, given the amount of fascination there’s been with Westworld’s first season, and the sure-to-be vocal reaction to Sunday night’s finale, it’s us who don’t have control. We’ve already been programmed to return.