Westworld The Passenger Review

Welcome to our weekly recaps of HBO’s Westworld. This Westworld review takes a look at the season 2 finale, “The Passenger”. Be warned: spoilers follow.

Westworld season 2 finale maeve

The Passenger

Westworld has already been renewed for another season, but the show as we know it is now officially dead. Any remnants of the original series were officially killed off with the game-changing, mind-blowing, kind-of-nonsensical season 2 finale, “The Passenger.” I applaud Westworld for effectively blowing itself up with this episode. I just have no idea how much more milage the show can get out of its premise going forward.

“The Passenger” is an episode about endings and new beginnings. About saying goodbye to an old world, and rushing forward into a valley beyond. But first, there has to be a lot of awkwardly-staged carnage, and some whopping twists.

Here’s what we learned tonight: the Charlotte Hale of the present timeline isn’t Charlotte Hale at all. She is, in fact, Dolores reborn. Bernard constructed a robo-Hale and implanted Dolores’ brain in it, and then Dolores-Hale killed the real Hale. This is pretty far out there, and perhaps the showrunners did this to convince rising star Tessa Thompson to stick around a little longer – she’s now essentially bumped up to lead instead of supporting player.

That reveal comes near the end of this feature-length episode. Before we get to there, there’s a lot of scenes of all the show’s characters gathering together in one location: the Forge, where Delos has been storing the stolen minds of every single park guest. “Every single guest who ever set foot in the park, copied!” cries one of the Delos staff in a moment of heavy-handed exposition. “4 million souls!”

Last week’s episode featured a cameo appearance from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five. In my review of that episode, I guessed that this was likely foreshadowing regarding Bernard being “unstuck in time,” like the main character of Vonnegut’s novel. Sure enough, that’s what’s going on here – and what has been going on all season, in a sense. Bernard deliberately scrambled his memories in order to throw off the Delos staff, and as a result, the finale keeps jumping in and out of different timelines.

In the “present”, we see Bernard as prisoner of Charlotte Hale (who isn’t actually Charlotte Hale) and the Delos staff. They enter the Forge and find Dolores’ dead body, shot through the eye. This triggers a flashback to how Dolores ended up dead.

Dolores comes across the Man In Black (Ed Harris), who is still digging into his arm with his big-ass knife, trying to surmise if he’s a robot or not. She orders him to come with her, and gives him a gun – which might look foolish on her part, but is part of a calculated plan. She’s loaded the gun with an already-fired bullet, and later, when the Man In Black inevitably turns on her and tries to shoot her dead, the gun backfires and blows some of his fingers off.

The Man In Black ends up writhing in the sand as Dolores encounters Bernard (“Of course, you’re here!” she says when they cross paths). Dolores and Bernard take an elevator down into the Forge command center, and end up hacking into the virtual Westworld (which is helpfully presented to us once again in letterbox format, so we can keep track of what the hell is going on).

Westworld The Valley Beyond

The Door

In Virtual Westworld, Bernard and Dolores encounter…Logan Delos! Sort of. The virtual Logan is the face of the system that controls the Virtual Westworld, and boy oh boy, if you’re not a fan of exposition dumps, I’m sorry. Because Logan is a exposition fountain, explaining just what’s going on here: Virtual Westworld is a testing ground, and it was being used to test the recreated brain of James Delos. We see Virtual Delos wrecking havoc through the land, gunning down people and behaving like a real jerk.

Logan reveals they made 18 million different Delos copies until they got the right one – but the copies only worked in the Virtual Westworld. Once they “pressed them into flesh” in the real world, they failed. Through this trial and error, the system discovered the solution: the reason the physical bodies were failing was because they were too complicated. Human beings are really quite simple when they’re broken down into an algorithm – at least according to Logan.

This is a lot to take in, but I’ll be blunt: it doesn’t really matter much. Because after a scene depicting a memory in which the real James Delos turns his back on the real Logan a few months before Logan overdosed, James Delos becomes a distant memory, and the episode kicks into overdrive.

Virtual Logan says that in the past, Bernard had visited the Forge countless times. Bernard set things up so that the hosts would have a choice: stay in their world, or to build a new one – a “Virtual Eden,” as it were. The Forge is able to rip open a crack in the fabric of reality, leading to a lush, beautiful, picturesque world (that only the hosts can see). The plan is for the hosts to step through this “door,” which will leave their bodies behind and transmit them into a brave new world free of the horrors (and humans) of this one.

All the hosts have gathered in a long line, like something out of the book of Exodus. At the front of the line is Akecheta and the members of Ghost Nation. Bringing up the rear is Maeve (Thandie Newton) and her gang. That’s right: after three episodes of being bedridden, Maeve is back on her feet. Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto), Felix (Leonardo Nam) and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) all help Maeve break out of the Westworld lab where she was being held (with some assistance from some mechanical bulls), and rush off to find both Maeve’s daughter and the door. Along the way, Lee Sizemore sacrifices himself so the others can get away, and please, for the love of god, let him really be dead. We see Lee get shot by Delos security, but the scene abruptly cuts away as the bullets are flying, which might indicate he’s still alive. Knowing this show, he probably is. Boo, hiss.

Just as Maeve catches up with the rest of the hosts at the opening to the Valley Beyond, in rides Clementine, with her newly-installed super mind control powers. Clementine’s very presences causes the hosts to begin killing each other in an all-out brawl. This is meant to be a huge, mind-blowing moment, but the staging is rather terrible. There are several shots where we can see the extras literally waiting for their cue to start fake-punching each other, and it robs the scene of the impact it should have had.

The idea of the Valley Beyond sure is lovely, and it looks like a swell place to escape to. But Dolores, being Dolores, isn’t satisfied. “That world is just another false promise” she tells Bernard. Her plan is to destroy the Forge and the Valley Beyond with it. Bernard is understandably horrified, arguing that the new host world is boundless and that the hosts can make it whatever they want and be free. But to Dolores, it’s just one more “gilded cage.”

“I don’t want to play cowboys and Indians anymore!” she spits in rage. She wants the real world. Even if that means killing everyone and everything in her path. Dolores begins the process of erasing the data in the Forge, closing the door to the Valley Beyond, and flooding the real valley all the hosts are lining up in. Bernard has had enough – he shoots Dolores through the eye, bringing her reign of terror to an end…for the time being.

Clementine is gunned down, but her death isn’t enough to stop the hosts from their big brawl. The only one who can (momentarily) stop them is Maeve, who holds them off long enough to allow her daughter (and her daughter’s new mother) to escape into the Valley Beyond. And then she’s gunned down by Delos security. The last host to make it through into the Valley Beyond before the door closes is Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), who is then reunited with his Kohana (Julia Jones). It’s a lovely moment, and at least someone had a happy ending here.

Westworld season 2 finale

The New World 

The hosts who didn’t make it through are systematically slaughtered as the valley begins to flood. Bernard stumbles out into the sunlight where he’s reunited with Elsie and the Delos team. Bernard insists he has a way to save the hosts, but no one wants to hear it. And he begins to realize he’s made a big mistake – he probably should’ve listened to Dolores, and let her…kill everyone, I guess?

Back at the Westworld command center, Bernard watches in horror as Charlotte kills Elsie. Then and there he makes a choice: he calls Ford back for help, and then gets to work building a the robo-Hale to put Dolores’ control unit into. Which brings us back to the present timeline we started at, where Dolores-Charlotte reveals herself, kills off the goons from Delos, and then kills Bernard too. She also beams the Valley Beyond…into space. Where no one can ever get to it.  

After “Dolores” kills Bernard, we’re shown one last flashback. Bernard and Arnold are together on the beach, and Bernard reveals that after he erased Ford from his memory, Ford was gone for good. So the Ford that helped him out in this episode wasn’t really there after all, but rather part of his imagination. And then he plops down on the shoreline, to bring us back to the moment that opened this season.  

All of this gives way to a big montage ending that looks straight out of a Christopher Nolan movie. As Charlotte, Dolores is able to escape the island back to the mainland. First, she has a brief encounter with Stubbs, who reveals that he knows exactly who she really is, and that he’s probably a host as well (sure, whatever!).

Felix and Sylvester are put in charge of deciding which dead hosts can be salvaged, and they zero in on Maeve’s dead body, indicating she’ll be back for more. The Man In Black is still alive, but injured. And dear, sweet Teddy gets to live on as well – we see him standing with a big grin on his face in the Valley Beyond. Dolores sails off to freedom, carrying a bag full of control units. Episode over, right?

No. There’s more. After all of this mayhem, we see Dolores interviewing Bernard in a basement room. “Is this now?” he asks. It is – after getting back to the mainland, Dolores rebuilt her old body, and rebuilt Bernard as well. The Charlotte-bot is also there too…which I don’t quite get. Is Dolores’ mind inside two bodies at once? Or did Dolores create a new mind for the Charlotte robot? I guess we’ll have to wait till next season for that answer.

In the meantime, Dolores gives Bernard a speech reminiscent of the Joker telling Batman that they’re destined to battle each other forever in The Dark Knight. Dolores is a force of bad, Bernard is a force of good. Dolores will kill anyone she has to to achieve her goal of world domination, and Bernard will try to stop her. Oddly enough, Dolores seems okay with this. She says that despite their opposite viewpoints, the two need each other to survive. And then she leaves him. Bernard gathers his clothes and steps through a door, out into a brave new (unseen) world. Episode over, right?

No. There’s (still) more. We’re treated to a baffling post-credit scene in which we learn that yes, the Man In Black is indeed a robot! Does this make sense? No, it doesn’t. Especially in light of everything else that happened in this episode. Earlier in the episode, we saw the injured Man In Black get into an elevator to ride down into the Forge. But we never saw what happened after that, and as the episode is drawing to an end, we’re treated to the sight of the injured Man In Black on a cot on the beach. Here, however, we see him step off the elevator and encounter…Emily, who is somehow alive again.

“I knew it!” the Man In Black groans. “I’m already in the thing, aren’t I?” (The “thing” being the Virtual Westworld.) Emily says that’s not it at all – this isn’t a simulation. This is reality. And then she leads the Man In Black into the same swank apartment where we once saw William, the young version of the Man In Black, testing the robot James Delos. “How long has it been?” The Man In Black asks Emily, and Emily contends that it’s taken “a lot longer” than they expected. And then she says it’s time to test the Man In Black for “fidelity.” What a (dumb) twist! What can we make of this ending? When is it even taking place? Is this the real Emily, and does that mean the Emily who died in the park was a host? Is this now? It’s safe to assume that the Man In Black we spent time with this season wasn’t a host the entire time, but somewhere in the future, a host Man In Black exists. But when? Who the hell knows! See you next season!

“The Passenger” is a big, exhausting episode. To its credit, it moves at a clipped pace, making great use of its one hour and thirty minute runtime. The Charlotte Hale twist is a nice touch, and I loved the moments where the hosts escape into the beautiful Valley Beyond. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like a large portion of this season was ultimately useless. The James Delos plotline seemed interesting at first, but in the end, it seemed to exist solely to set up the idea of the Forge and nothing more. The Man In Black story was compelling…until it wasn’t. Dolores’ revolution got her out of the park, but to what end? Now that we’re closing the book on Westworld season 2, the season as a whole feels like a frustrating experiment. I can appreciate that the show swung for the fences, and that it’s now going to turn into something new, and different. But I can’t help but come away feeling like huge chunks of this season were ultimately fruitless. I don’t know what the future holds for Westworld. That’s both exciting, and frustrating. What does this show want to be in the end? I’m not convinced anyone behind-the-scenes has a concrete answer. We finally made it to the Valley Beyond. But what lies beyond that?

westworld man in black season 2 ending

Stray Observations and Questions

  • The Delos staff want to figure out which of the dead hosts are salvageable, which suggests they’re just going to…reopen Westworld again? I guess? Good luck with that!
  • The scene where Stubbs reveals he’s (possibly) a host felt like the writers trying to quickly justify why this character has stuck around so long, and I really didn’t buy it.
  • One nice detail in this episode: the millions of stolen minds in the Forge are represented by millions of books on endless rows of shelves.
  • Tessa Thompson’s Evan Rachel Wood impression was an absolute hoot. She nailed Wood’s cadence perfectly.
  • Frederick E. O. Toye directed the hell out of this episode. Some of the shots here – Clementine galloping on horseback towards the crack in the sky; Arnold and Bernard standing on the beach – are stunning.
  • Best episode of the season: “Kiksuya,” without question. Worst episode: “Phase Space,” which felt like mostly filler.
  • MVPs this season: Zahn McClarnon, who is hopefully fielding a ton of offers from other shows and movies right now; Jeffrey Wright, who balanced all of his characters inner turmoil just right; Evan Rachel Wood, who made the best of some truly terrible speeches.
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