It’s always a struggle to decide where to start these recaps, including a Westworld Episode 10 season finale recap. Westworld‘s multi-layered—and as we learned for a fact last week, multi-timelined—plot doesn’t lend itself too readily to summary.
There are far too many all-too imperfect options: a straight recounting of events as they unfolded in the episode, which leads to lengthier recaps that feel a bit disconnected without the audio-visuals you get from the show itself; a character-by-character account, which necessitates some repetition and often some glossing over of the interweavings between storylines; going through each major plot trajectory in turn and trying to piece together each character’s involvement in it, which would be the most satisfying but for a show like this would lead to a mass of confusion. Each has its merits and drawbacks, none of them capturing the story completely; the same dilemma faced by the characters in the show.
Thankfully, the answers we received in this week’s finale give us another option: chronologically. We had the multiple timeline theory confirmed in Episode 9; Episode 10 showed us (mostly) which events happened in which timeline, and brought us to a startling season conclusion that brilliantly sets up Season 2, even if we might have to wait a year to see it. So without further ado, here’s what you missed if you didn’t catch last night’s Westworld‘s finale, and perhaps some additional clarity if you did but are still confused.
Westworld B.P.: Before the Park
Arnold’s fascination with Dolores and his attempts to lead her to consciousness started before the park even opened—there are hints that she’s not only the oldest Host still in the park, but one of the first ever built. After trying to lead her up a “pyramid” of consciousness, Arnold realized that the path to consciousness is more like a maze (dum dum DUM)—each choice Dolores makes can either take her inward, toward consciousness at the center of the hypothetical maze, or outward, towards the edges of the maze where madness lies. (double dum dum DUM). Dolores has almost achieved full consciousness and self-determination, but there’s still something holding her back.
The implications of this are far-reaching. There is no physical maze, aside from the toy that once belonged to Arnold’s now-dead son, meaning the Man in Black’s future quest is doomed from the start. When he’s repeatedly told that the maze isn’t meant for him, it’s truer than he could have known. It also means that the subtle choices each Host makes are all part of the path to consciousness, and that this path is circuitous, full of dead-ends, and anything but linear and certain. Then there’s the symbolism of the edge of the maze signifying madness, and the edge of the park signifying the wildest and most unleashed part of the property—and perhaps a sort of madness itself.
Arnold tried to convince Ford that they can’t open the park—that Dolores’ sentience and approach to consciousness is proof that she (and the other Hosts) are alive, and cannot ethically (and perhaps practically) be used and controlled as intended. Ford tells him that flesh-and-blood humans will never accept these AI robots as humans themselves, and that Arnold is dreaming. So Arnold decided to have Dolores kill every host in the park, and kill him as a way to prevent the park from opening (and developing), and as a potential final step for her to achieve true consciousness. She does go through with all the executions (and suicide), but other than that Arnold’s plan fails; Ford doesn’t see the Hosts’ humanity, the park opens, and Delores still isn’t fully herself when she returns.
At some point between this incident and Billy’s first visit to the park, Dolores and the other sentient Hosts make their way to the church with the white bell tower, following Arnold’s voice through the “maze” that may one day lead them to consciousness. It isn’t clear if this incident actually occurs or if it a false embedded memory–because Dolores relives her memories as though they were happening in the present (whenever that present may be) it could just be something Arnold or even Ford gave her to achieve his own ends. The same is true for the massacre carried out by Wyatt/Teddy; it may have actually happened, and it may be a new memory of an “old” storyline.
Westworld B.T.: Billy’s Time
Shortly after the park is opened—probably a few years—Logan, heir to the Delos corporation visits the park with his colleague and soon-to-be brother-in-law Billy. We’ve seen most of their adventures in other episodes so I won’t recap them here except to say: Billy falls in love with Dolores, realizes she is close to true consciousness, loses her, and goes on a park-wide killing spree trying to find her. He finds that he enjoys the fightin’ and a-killin’ (the rapin’ comes later), and wants to make sure Westworld stays afloat financially through Delos. His first step: taking Logan’s spot in the company. Billy sends Logan out beyond the edges of the park naked and tied to his horse, where he presumably dies of dehydration/exposure/excessive douchiness.
Billy returns to the real world to take control of the Delos corporation, increasing its ownership stake in Westworld and allowing Billy to return time and time again, indulging his darker whims in every corner of the park while pursuing the deeper answers that lie beneath it all. He does this, of course, not as Billy but as the Man in Black.
Westworld P.D.: Present Day
That brings us to now, which is the time shit really starts to get real. We know Ford has had his own secret plans for the park for some time, all shrouded in the mystery of his new narrative. We’ve also assumed—or at least we were supposed to—that his plans include preventing any Host from reaching true consciousness. It turns out, though, that for quite some time Ford has been pulling strings to help achieve Arnold’s goal—through Bernard-as-Arnold’s ongoing conversations with Dolores, by causing or allowing the “reveries” to become a part of the Hosts’ programming, through certain storyline machinations, and more.
His big plan, it turns out, is to kill the board and let the sentient Hosts take over the park, which is exactly what happens at the big gala unveiling his new storyline. Dolores and Teddy’s love affair does not, it turns out, transcend their programming, but even their existential crises (especially hers) has been manipulated to become a part of Ford’ grand narrative. As Ford gives a speech to the assembled board and other guests, Wyatt’s army emerges from the woods and fires on the Man in Black. Dolores comes up on the stage and, all according to Ford’s plan, shoots Ford in the head. She then begins firing into the crowd as Teddy does the same from the rear.
Meanwhile Maeve, who is presumably also operating in the present day (it has to be after the Man in Black started looking like Ed Harris instead of Jimmi Simpson), puts her escape plan into action, only to be told that even this plan is part of some new narrative. There’s an access code for “someone named Arnold” showing up in her profile. They end up re-waking Bernard who then reads off the plot points she’s already gone through as well as the next few. But she stops him after he says she gets on the train to depart Westworld. Maeve refuses to believe that she’s not in control, and her compadres cause the deaths of a few engineers as she makes her way to the elevator. A team of Westworld security bearing down on her, she escapes while Hector is left to fend off the guards, guns blazing.
After sitting down on the train, though, a mother and her daughter sit across from her. Maeve is overcome with thoughts of her own daughter. She gets off the train just before it pulls away, heading back towards the park (Felix found out where her daughter is inside the park), but is it free will or her programming? She’s been told that everything in the park is designed to keep her from leaving; are the mother and daughter on the train one more safeguard in place, and was the decision to stay all a part of her programmed escape plot?
That and other questions—including who is killed at the massacre Ford orchestrated—will have to wait for Season 2. I wonder if Ford himself is even dead—we see the bullet go into his head, see the blood, see him pitch forward, but what if that Ford is just a host version of the real Ford? And that leads me to wonder, what if Ford was always an AI? What if Arnold built Ford to be his partner, then Arnold can’t convince Ford of any Hosts’ humanity so Arnold effectively kills himself, then Ford builds an Arnold replica, and the whole thing is one big ouroboros? And can my attention span hold out for a year or more to get the answers?
One thing’s for sure: I’ll be binge watching the entire season again multiple times in the coming months, and I’ll share any amazing insights I come to right here.
Daniel A. Guttenberg is an Atlanta-based writer who fell into the startup world by accident and has been gleefully treading water ever since. He will be survived by his beard and his legacy of procrastination.