Posted on Monday, December 5th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Westworld‘s 90-minute season finale delivered the goods, answering the most pressing questions, providing dramatic closure to the major characters, and still finding several opportunities to turn this entire weird world on its head and set up a very different second season. And while this is the rare Westworld episode to shut more doors than it opens, I still have ten questions to ask before we begin the long wait for more of 2016’s most intriguing and frustrating and entertaining new show.
Was the Truth About the Man in Black Satisfying?
“The Bicameral Mind” got its housecleaning out of the way early on: yes, Ed Harris’ Man in Black is the older version of Jimmy Simpson’s William and he’s not just a member of the Delos board of directors, but the majority shareholder of the company and therefore, the guy who literally owns Westworld. And while anyone who watched this season carefully knew this was coming, the scope of William’s journey from “nice guy” to maniac still packed a wallop. We saw the puzzle pieces lining up, but Even Rachel Wood’s Dolores did not and the look of betrayal and heartbreak on her face is more powerful than any plot twist.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about William’s role in the season finale is how it reveals him to be as petty and monstrous as he appeared to be in the first episode. When the gunsmoke clears, William’s mission wasn’t about saving Dolores from the park or awakening the Hosts because it’s the right thing to do – it’s about breaking the game so it can be more challenging. I’ve written before about how this aging wannabe gunslinger is a science fiction riff on the alpha gamer and “The Bicameral Mind” drives that home. He wanted to find the center of the Maze so he could unlock Nightmare Mode and create a new challenge. Damn everything, and everyone, else.
So yes, it was satisfying for him to truly learn that the Maze wasn’t for him and even more satisfying to watch Dolores kick his ass through a church, giving him a taste of exactly what he wanted. And in a weird way, he ends up getting exactly what he wanted – a Westworld without rules. It’s telling that he looks pleasantly surprised when a host shoots him in the arm, drawing real blood. Let the games begin.
Was That Final Arnold Flashback Satisfying?
After all of that mystery and all of that build-up, the truth about Arnold Weber is remarkably simple by Westworld standards. The co-creator of the park realized that the Hosts could become self-aware and that to open the park would be an unforgivable offense against sentient beings. So he recruited the first “human” Host, Dolores, to execute her fellow creations before they could follow her down the same path. Of course, this plan also involves her killing Arnold himself, a suicide-by-robot plan to put an end to the grief he still feels over his dead son. It’s in these scenes that we learn the actual origins of the Maze – it’s a representation of the path to sentience, an inward journey of self-discovery. It’s also remarkably simple (if a little vague) by Westworld standards.
Of course, the park does open and Arnold’s death is swept under the rug. But it’s his demise that does serious damage to Westworld’s bottom line in those early years, leading to Delos swooping in to buy everything. The rest is history. 35 years of weird, horrible history.
The real importance here is the revelation that Dr. Ford has come to agree with his old colleague’s worldview, even if it took him a few decades to come around on it. Even more important are their diverging worldviews – Arnold only wanted to protect the Hosts from humanity while Ford wanted to arm them against their oppressors. Arnold, curious and sensitive, would probably be aghast at what Ford has done with his mission statement. Westworld, the show and the place, is not built for kind souls.