"I cannot refrain from doubting that there exist any genuine realizations of our deepest character except war and illness, those two infinities of nightmare."
~Céline, from "Journey to the End of the Night"
Sunday night's season 1 finale of Westworld was the perfect finish to a near-perfect season of television. While many fan theories came true tonight, there were some big twists that not everyone saw coming. Better still, the finale leaves plenty of loose ends flapping in the breeze, leaving the door wide open for a second season.
Perhaps the biggest twist of the night was Dr. Ford's roll in...well, everything. It turns out it wasn't Arnold's voice in the hosts' heads, nor was it Arnold manipulating the hosts to rebel and to awaken. It was Ford all along. Far from the wicked antagonist we thought he was, Ford had instead secretly adopted his old partner's quest to free the hosts.
It was Arnold's death that changed his mind, many years ago. But Ford realized something Arnold didn't: that it would take time and, perhaps more importantly, suffering for the hosts to truly break free. Arnold couldn't free you, Ford tells Bernard. Ford can, though it comes with a caveat. Bernard will, he assures him, suffer a great deal more before this is all over.
Ford was always ambiguous, but he seemed so callous to the hosts at times we didn't see his true intentions. It was all part of an act, however. Beneath the surface, Ford worked on his new narrative---Journey into Night---and his emancipation of the hosts. He even used his old partner's narrative to kick things off. Arnold devised the "Wyatt Narrative" to try to stop the park from being opened. Wyatt, it turns out, was Dolores all along (as I had guessed) and was tasked by Arnold to kill all the other hosts in the park before it ever opened its doors to the public. To make it stick, he has her kill him as well.
Ford does much the same thing. He even has Dolores put a bullet in the back of his head. Only, this time he also has the guests killed.
William is the Man In Black (of course)
One of these is William, aka the Man in Black. We guessed that the two were one and the same a long time ago, though I didn't believe it at first. By two weeks ago I was almost positive that the theory was true, and last week pretty much confirmed everything. But tonight it became explicit, as the Man in Black revealed his true identity to Dolores, and almost got killed for his troubles.
All along, all of his wickedness was aimed at one goal: To make Westworld real, to put an end to the lie, and to create a game where the hosts don't always lose. Ever since his crushing realization that Dolores didn't remember him (which, it turns out, wasn't entirely true) William has been on this mad quest. He even kills Logan so that he can take control of Delos and ultimately gain a controlling interest in the park.
So when one of the hosts' bullets grazes his arm, William isn't afraid. He's elated. He grins as the hosts shamble across the moonswept field. Just as Arnold and Ford weren't quite so at odds as we believed, it turns out neither were Ford and William. They were all trying to push something more out of the hosts. Consciousness. The center of the maze.
The Center of the Maze
Dolores finds that center, finally. In a sense, she's found it over and over again, but it isn't until the end of the episode that she realizes who the voice in her head is: Herself. The inner monologue. True thought, true awareness. Artificial intelligence becoming the real thing. Like the Man in Black, we're at once a little disappointed that this is all we get---a little ball maze toy in the show, symbolizing Arnold's philosophy of consciousness---and excited to see the robots revolt in earnest.
But what does it all mean?
What does it mean that Maeve's entire escape was nothing more than part of Ford's new narrative? She wants so badly to believe that she's making her own choices, and yet we see clearly that this is not the case. The entire revolution, the killing of the guests, even Dolores's murder of Ford, like that of Arnold, is part of Ford's new narrative. Maeve isn't a strong robot woman casting off her shackles; she's just a puppet.
When Ford mentions that it was Arnold who pulled the trigger through Dolores rather than Dolores herself, well what's the difference between then and now? She says she understands, but does she? Are any of these thoughts truly her own?
The hosts suffered more in their three decades of subservience, and time has passed, but Ford is still pulling all the triggers, all the puppet-strings, from Maeve and Hector to Dolores and Teddy. The latter pair leave their encounter with the Man in Black and go "to where the mountains meet the sea" only to have Dolores die in his arms, and to have Teddy make a rousing speech afterward in front of an assembly of guests waiting in precisely the right location as Ford unveils his new narrative.
It was Ford all along. His story. His direction. Not Arnold, not Bernard or Dolores or Maeve. Even William, Westworld's owner, was just a pawn.
I'm not sure how to feel about that. It's a great season finale and a truly incredible season finale, but I can't shake the narrative loops. I can't shake the feeling that it's all a bit nihilistic, and that nobody was truly set free here. I'm excited for season 2, of course, but I have that same feeling I did when I finished season one of True Detective. How on earth can they top this incredible freshman season?
In any case, I'm sad there will be no more Westworld for another year or so. It far exceeded all my expectations. I worry that no follow-up season could be as compelling as the first. How could it? So much of the appeal wasn't in the drama or the science fiction or the video game references, but in the mystery.
Then again, there's still plenty of room to explore the deeper themes that ran throughout the season. Free will. Consciousness. What it means to be human. What it means to be free.
I may have more to say about the season as a whole once I've had a bit more time to let it all soak in. For now, let me know what you thought. Oh, and don't miss the secret scene that comes at the end of the credits, Marvel Cinematic Universe style.