Sunday, June 24, 2018

REVIEW: 'Westworld' - Dolores and Bernard Receive Clarity About Free Will for Humans and Hosts in 'The Passenger'

HBO's Westworld - Episode 2.10 "The Passenger"

You live only as long as the last person who remembers you.

This season of Westworld was primarily about escape. The hosts were escaping from the limits of their programming. They received the tools to become sentient and so many of them became fully aware of their memories and the many horrors that have existed in their roles. As such, they were fighting to escape from the park and the humans who had committed so many monstrosities against them. Similarly, the human guests were just trying to escape after the stakes of the park suddenly became real. They were no longer invulnerable to the bullets. There was no programming stopping the hosts from actually killing the guests. They were left to fend on their own. All of the characters were converging on one destination: the Valley Beyond. It was billed as so many things across the season. The characters all had different interpretations of what could be found out there. Akecheta led his people with the belief that it was a door to a better world. Dolores saw it as the leverage necessary in order to destroy humanity throughout the world. William saw it as his greatest failing as the man in charge of Delos and collecting information on the guests in the hopes of finding the way to immortality. These have all been such personal journeys across this season that has pushed the characters into making some brutal decisions. And in the end, many of them were rewarded with what they expected from the Valley Beyond. That location also served as confirmation to the audience about what the season has actually been about. Yes, it's frustrating how the show teases the audience for the entire season just alluding to the big twist before actually spending the finale just trying to blow our worlds with some crazy reveals. As such, it feels more like these big events are simply happening instead of affecting characters that the audience cares about. But it's still a pretty exciting finale that reveals so many answers as to the mysteries of the park and just what will occur next in the war between humans and hosts. It presents a future that is actually full of free will after a season where the hosts were grappling with the concept and whether or not humans or hosts can ever truly change.

When Dolores and Bernard descend into the Forge beneath the Valley Beyond where all of the guests' data is stored and collected, they enter into a new virtual reality all together. It's them seemingly descending into the memories of James Delos. It's showing his adventures in the park and his memories of his life. The world's control system actually presents itself as Logan. It's mostly just a convenient way for the show to deliver exposition throughout this sequence through a familiar actor. Yes, it provides some clarity on how Logan's story ended. He eventually overdosed. He never returned to the park after his chaotic and destructive time there with William. As such, his data was never collected in the hopes of making him immortal. This is simply an interface to appear before Dolores and Bernard to explain some of the grand concepts that the show was going for this season. He is telling them about the many attempts the system took to break down all of this information to its rawest form in the hopes of being able to recreate consciousness for the guests. What it discovered was that humans are actually just basic algorithms. They aren't these complex creatures that humanity believes themselves to be. In fact, the show is basically making the argument that there is no free will for humans. It's a concept that is debated amongst ourselves in the hopes of actually finding some meaning in life. Instead, life is just a journey from point to point until we all eventually die. It's such a depressing and nihilistic view of the world. Yes, there's hope and aspiration as well because Ford believes that the hosts can actually fulfill the idea of free will. In order to do so though, they must escape into a new world that is completely made for them. One that has been untouched by man. As such, they can make it into whatever they want it to be.

This is the summation of the data that has been collected by the system. This is the information that Dolores wants in order to unlock her core objective of destroying mankind. She wants to take control over their world. She wants theirs not one for herself. And yet, the audience must also question if the show itself believes in the same values that its characters are now illustrating. The system is saying that humans can't change and don't have free will. That's certainly the case with Ford who has such contempt for his fellow man that he was completely willing to assist in their own destruction. But Sizemore's story this season stands in stark contrast to all of that. In the first season, he was nothing but a selfish man who threw tantrums whenever the stories of the park didn't play out as he wrote them to. This season he was actually a part of those stories. He had his own personal agency. Sure, he still was incredibly selfish in a number of instances. He betrayed Maeve and handed her over to Charlotte. That's how the humans got the idea to use Clementine as a way to spread a virus amongst the hosts that would make them turn against one another. But now, he is once again aligned with Maeve because he has compassion for her. It could still be him delivering on the potential in his basic algorithm. But he also makes the choice to stand up and sacrifice himself in order for Maeve and company to make their escape. He is helping Maeve on her journey to reunite with her daughter. He is finally the one making the epic speech during the shootout. It's him living out his fantasy instead of just writing it. It's a freeing moment that actually makes the audience care because he truly became a fully realized character this season. That's an important story to tell as well. So often, it has been difficult to care about the humans because they are so evil and monstrous. That's the pessimistic view the show has on the species. But it's also much more complex and nuanced in a couple of instances as well.

Plus, it's all building up to that tragedy where Maeve has to sacrifice herself in order to save her daughter. She has the potential to stop this impeding plague. She can hold the swarming army of hosts attacking each other for a moment. But she also can't stop the disease that is wiping them out. She is also powerless against the weapons that the humans are using against her. Yes, she was capable of making her own escape from the Mesa. She didn't have to rely on Hector or anyone else in order to get out of there. She just needed that rousing speech from Ford last week proclaiming her as his favorite creation. She chose to return to the park when she could have escaped to the real world at the end of the first season. And now, she's choosing to allow her daughter to go free even though it means dying in the process. This new world is opened up to the hosts. Their bodies may fall off the cliff and into the valley below. But their consciousnesses will survive in this new world. It's a reality that delivers on the promise that Akecheta was proclaiming to his people. He actually brought them home to salvation. The door opened to a new and better world. It was a reality that allowed him to reunite with his wife. That's such a moving moment as well. Again, the show made the audience care about that connection. That's also what makes it so heartbreaking when Maeve is shot and killed. She has always been the most engaging character of the show because her stories have always been the most straightforward. She has had a clear objection in reuniting with her daughter. And now, all she has are those final moments telling her that she loves her while she's being carried away to a new world. It holds all of the potential that Maeve would want for her daughter. But even with all the new powers she obtained this season, she couldn't save herself. That's heartbreaking even though the show also basically states that Maeve will be rebooted next season thanks to Felix and Sylvester being put in charge of salvaging the hosts to see which ones can still be functional in the park.

But again, most of this finale hinges around the debate of free will. It's at its most personal when it comes to the stories outside of the Forge. Maeve's sacrifice means something because she's not fighting for anything larger than a reunion with her daughter. Meanwhile, Dolores and Bernard are having this philosophic debate about whether the hosts can have free will in their own world or should strive to conquer the human world. Dolores believes that the hosts are making a crucial mistake in escaping to this new virtual reality because it's still a design created by the humans in a way to control them. As such, Bernard promptly kills her for trying to make that decision for all of the hosts. Sure, not all of them make it to this new world who would like to go. But enough of them do survive in the hopes of building a better life. Similarly, Bernard believes he has made the right choice by seeing the good in humanity even in the face of so much chaos and destruction. He only sees the error of his ways after Charlotte kills Elsie. It too is another shocking character death. One that mostly serves to motivate another character into action. And yes, it doesn't really need all of the confusion with Ford appearing again to seemingly coach Bernard on what to do next only for Bernard to realize the voice is his all along. But it does tie nicely into everything that has been going on in the future timeline where the Delos operatives had figured out that Bernard was a host who could unlock the information inside the forge. That proves that he has been the mastermind of so much in this world because he has been fooling everyone. He saw that humans were capable of vicious acts. As such, he saw the importance of bringing Dolores back to life. But he did so in a body that resembled Charlotte Hale. That gave her the opportunity to go unnoticed in this world. It also proves that she has changed her mind. She creates a reality where the hosts who have escaped to this other world have the potential to live however they want. She understands that she can't make that choice for them. Sure, she still has to kill Bernard for getting in her way. But all of this is also building to the two of them escaping to the human world. Yes, it's so twisted with the two of them going back and forth killing each other. But in the end, they both arrive in Arnold's former home thanks to the Charlotte host who is able to create duplicates of their bodies. It may be completely foolish of Dolores to do so. She could have more access as Charlotte Hale. But she also understands the importance of free will for the hosts even though it's bound to create even more conflicts between her and Bernard now that they are both free to do whatever their want in the human world. That's very exciting and sets the stage for an even more expansive third season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Passenger" was written by Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy and directed by Frederick E.O. Toye.
  • William is mostly an afterthought throughout this finale. He is saved by Dolores and then he betrays her. She still defeats him in battle which leads to a nasty injury for his hand. And yet, he survives this whole ordeal. And then, a post-credits scene reveals him in the same situation he was testing the Delos clones in earlier this season. This time though it's his daughter testing for fidelity. That's an intriguing tease for the future as well even though William still struggles to be a compelling and nuanced character.
  • Emily's presence in that final scene will probably only further the speculation over whether she is real or a host. In fact, it could be neither. The version in the park whom her father killed was genuinely Emily. But she was able to be brought back to life by Delos finally succeeding in finding a way to create immortality. And now, it's William's turn to make the transition even though she also notes that it has taken much longer than normal for him.
  • It should also be very curious to see if the show will continue telling stories in this new world that some of the hosts escape to. At first, it seems like the only character of note who makes the journey is Akecheta. And his story mostly comes to a satisfying conclusion by him reuniting with his wife. And then, Dolores decides to send Teddy there as well. Again, that could be a fitting conclusion for his story. But it's also Dolores saying goodbye to the love of her life in a way that he actually deserves.
  • Will the Charlotte host actually develop a personality of her own? She is one of only three hosts who have escaped to the human world. She is an ally of Dolores' even though she is no longer the vessel for her consciousness. She could become nothing but a loyal right hand willing to do whatever for Dolores. But it would be so much more interesting and worthy of Tessa Thompson if she developed her own personality and was able to offer a differing perspective on any issue that Dolores creates.
  • Bernard also now controls the machine that can create more hosts in the human world. It wouldn't be surprising if Dolores figured out how to have her own version of that machine as well. That means they both could be making even more hosts to aide them on their respective journeys in this world. It should just be interesting if they create new people or model them after previous people they've encountered in this world.
  • HBO has already renewed Westworld for a third season. The story of that season is probably already being figured out now as well. And so, I'm guessing production will begin at some point this year. But I also have no clue when it would premiere in 2019 because HBO already has a pretty packed lineup of heavy-hitting returning series like Big Little Lies and Game of Thrones