“I dunno,” Caleb says. “The world looks a little like a nightmare, Dolores.”
“Change is messy,” Dolores replies. “Difficult.”
Take a look around, people. They’re both right!
Set in a chaotic, desperate world that’s a bit too close for comfort right now, Westworld‘s season finale (“Crisis Theory”) is based on the hope that Dolores can have her apocalyptic cake and eat a new-world utopia, too. Concerned with her and Caleb’s quest to upload the Solomon supercomputer’s plans for revolution into its successor Rehoboam — and with Cerac and Maeve’s attempts to stop them — it’s an ugly action thriller that asks us if humanity has enough beauty in it to be worth saving.
Dolores thinks the answer is yes — though it seems to take her some time, and a lot of dead goons, to arrive at that conclusion. Fighting their way through riots and security guards, she and Caleb infiltrate the secure zone around the Incite, only to be captured by Maeve. Madame Millay is still doing the sinister Cerac’s bidding so she can reunite her with her daughter via a key to the Sublime in Dolores’ brain. Her patron, meanwhile, is desperate to access all that juicy Delos data in order to shore up the crumbling new world order.
In the process of all this fighting and speechifying, we learn a lot. Dolores picked Caleb to lead the human uprising because he once saved her from his fellow soldiers (she was being used in a military training exercise at an all-American simulation at a Delos park). She also doesn’t have the key — she passed it to Bernard using a copy of herself in the body of our old pal Lawrence (hi, Clifton Collins Jr.). It turns out Cerac is the biggest slave to the system of all: Using his brilliant but mentally ill brother’s voice, Rehoboam directs his every move.
But even as he strips away Dolores’s digital memories to find what he’s looking for, she gets her wish, uploading enough of her consciousness into the supercomputer to allow Caleb to access it…and delete the whole damn thing. There’s also one last Maeve swordfight against the bad guys; lit only by muzzle flashes from her attackers’ guns, it’s the coolest-looking battle of the season. They exit to an old-timey version of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage,” the same song that very first Season Three teaser used way back when.
Unfortunately, the version of Dolores occupying Charlotte’s host body has other plans. As this rogue copy tells the real deal via hallucinatory holograms, she’s been born again hard and is ready to lead a real robot revolution against humankind.
Her right-hand man in this quest for vengeance: the Man in Black. No, not William himself — more like a host who embodies all his most violent traits, dutifully recorded by the park’s hat-based surveillance tech. In the finale’s first stinger segment, Billy gets punked out by his robotic doppelgänger in seconds (we’d say “murdered,” but you never can tell on this show). Cue a lingering shot of a new host army being prepped.
But wait, there’s more! Playing one last card, it also flashes to Bernard coming back online in the motel room we last saw him in…only now everything is now covered in an inch of dust. Has the apocalypse happened? Is this the far-flung future? Did housekeeping simply fall down on the job?
Maybe we’ll find out next season. Maybe we won’t. Westworld is as stingy with answers as it is relentless with its questions. Pop quiz: Can you describe Dolores’ grand strategy? It’s got something to do with Rehoboam and Caleb and Bernard and a bunch of copies of herself and “revolution” and “choice” and “free will,” whatever that means in this context. Other than a bunch of cryptic allusions to a masterplan scattered throughout the season, her plan was never made clear. It didn’t help that she seemed to vacillate between cold-blooded killer and teary-eyed sentimentalist several times an episode. At least Maeve had a concrete need to explain her actions and decisions. By contrast, Dolores is like a complicated jigsaw puzzle that when completed shows no picture at all.
Which is a bit like Westworld, isn’t it?
We’ve been complimentary of the show’s pulpy genre thrills: the ultraviolence, the smoldering cast, the cool VFX. This episode had all of that in spades, including gunfights, swordfights, creepy cop uniforms and creepier robotic exoskeletons. (“Would you have cared,” a semi-completed Dolores asks Caleb, “if I didn’t have this face or this skin?” Given the insectoid biomechanics underneath her beautiful exterior, the answer is probably no.)
But as overwrought as previous seasons may have been, they feel much meatier than Season Three’s fast-food sci-fi. Yes, the short, eight-episode order has something to do with that. But so does the decision to leave the parks (mostly) behind and hopscotch across the real world. Characters with varying degrees of sentience and self-awareness, navigating the vast expanse of Westworld and its sister attractions — you felt the vastness in the way road movies can make you feel like you’ve gone on a journey. The show had ideas, while often wonky, that felt suitably large. This time around, as characters mowed down black-clad security goons by the score and zipped from San Francisco to Singapore with ease, it feels slight, weightless, and way too fast.
Does this mean there’s a possibility of a future Goldilocks season, one that’s not too pretentious and not too poppy but juuuust right? Contemplating that question makes us feel a bit like Westworld‘s protagonists, standing on the precipice of either the end of the world or the creation of a new one. Are we willing to take the chance on Season Four, knowing it could be either dorm-room-philosophy bullshit or cheap thrills or something better than both? There’s no supercomputer to tell us what awaits us. It’s simply a matter of our own free will.
Previously: Insane in the Mainframe