"I understand now," Dolores whispers into Teddy's ear in the final moments of Westworld's Season 1 finale. Diehard viewers can finally share the feeling -- and rest easy about Season 2.
Every mystery doled out by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan's expansive science-fiction drama came paired with a raised eyebrow. Maybe the show took place in multiple timelines, maybe the diabolical Man in Black was really William all grown up, maybe certain employees were hosts and certain employees were subservient to hosts and certain employees were sacks of human flesh ready to be blown away by hosts, but at the end, would it mean anything? Every episode left spectators with burning questions, but the biggest of them all was whether Anthony Hopkins' words of warning, or Dolores' pre-programmed introspection, would amount to anything more than philosobabble.
Joy and Nolan responded to skepticism with a bullet through Dr. Ford's genius brain. Or to use Dolores's words: "This world doesn't belong to them. It belongs to us."
Westworld had clear intentions from the beginning: These violent delights have violent ends. On the micro level, the Romeo and Juliet quote provided a splash of foreshadowing for inevitable bursts of violence (this was an HBO show, after all). Zooming outward, the Shakespearean line speaks to a greater destiny -- of host and human alike. The pursuit to create, to love, to trust, and to nurture others will ultimately end with catastrophe.
Cynical? Only if you think disaster, and the resulting emotions, are worth spending a lifetime avoiding. Ford debunked Arnold's obsession with "the bicameral mind" theory in Episode 3, but the empathetic scientist was on to something. Grief, and the little voice in our head who wrestles with those tough situations, is what makes us human. Joy and Nolan dedicated their Season 1 finale to making the case.
In order to lay waste to the Delos Corporation board of trustees, Dolores had to internalize the loss of her father, the loss of William, the loss of Teddy, the loss of her host victims during the first incident 35 years ago, and the loss of Arnold all at once. Difficult for someone whose mind is perpetually wiped, but through the innovation of reveries, and some gentle kicks out the door from Dr. Ford, Dolores found her way to the "end of the Maze." Sitting under the church laboratory, the farm girl absorbed her experiences and cleared her mind, leaving only her own voice -- a key attribute of the bicameral evolution -- to dictate her actions.
The finale only gives us a taste of the "violent ends," and may not even depict Dolores as a truly sentient entity. While Ford led the female host back down Arnold's Maze, leaving a pistol on the Westworld map to jolt her memories, she's still locked in a lane devised by her God-like creator. The final moments of the episode are essentially Ford going postal on Delos. The scientist described Arnold's death as suicide because, while Dolores pulled the trigger at point blank range, Arnold's programming turned the gears.
Ford's new narrative drives these bloody machinations, too. Maeve thought she was escaping the park, but she was just another blip in the master plan. An incoming wave of warriors capable of shooting humans (MiB, to be exact) will accompany Dolores in whatever destruction Joy and Nolan have in store for us in Season 2. What's curious is whether Dolores is conscious enough to go along with it. Ford doesn't believe his death will derail the plans. "Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin never died," he says in a speech. "They simply became music." He'll always be playing.
The Westworld finale resists naming the top of Arnold's proposed pyramid (and even in the reworked Maze diagram, the center is amorphous and mythologized by guys like Ford). Many fans have likened Arnold's original model to Maslow's Pyramid, where self-actualization is the key to human development. Dolores's attack could be supporting evidence, and an indication that she did in fact blossom into a state of true consciousness. Joy and Nolan spent a season teaching me to be more skeptical. This feels more like the bottom of an exponential line graph. Perhaps there's more to the Maze than the Westworld park itself can contain. Ford seems to understand that. "The divine gift does not come from a higher power, but our own minds," he reminds Dolores. As one eagle-eyed Redditor points out, Ford also reframed Arnold's original pyramid/Maze theory. He knew there was another step.
No moral Westworld viewer would watch the girl's tail-end fury and see rightful vengeance. She's unleashing primal terror and vengeance. We can see that in the Delos crowd. We can see that in Teddy's eyes. At the end of Westworld Season 1, Dolores seizes her own mind. But she isn't human. Not yet.
After the finale ended, J.J. Abrams popped up in talking head form to pose a question: What happens at the dawn of consciousness? It's the perfect Season 2 tease. Dolores has so much to learn -- a short list that includes: real time empathy, true love, and the taste of a prime ground beef burger -- but this is the beginning of something true, unleashed. Like an ape bashing in the skull of his fellow ape as the monolith funnels universal knowledge into its mind, Dolores is awakening to "all the feels." The test of being human is whether she can reel them back in without spilling too much blood.
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