Backup your memory: Spoilers abound through the season two finale of Westworld.
Reddit, the human hivemind, discovered all of Westworld's secrets last season, and it clearly made a profound impact on the show's creators. Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have crafted a sophomore season so focused on confounding that hivemind that they've left all sense of humanity and drama in the dust. That was finally made explicit in a finale that felt like a magician frothing at the mouth to explain how he pulled off an unimpressive trick.
After a lengthy ride through the Valley Beyond and four endings, the show sacrificed the characters for plot. Cold, clinical, cynical plot. A plot that turned Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood (and Tessa Thompson)) into a single-minded machine of cruelty. A Magneto who's done looking for splendor in the broader plain and can't recognize that the physical world isn't any more or less special than a digital paradise awaiting her people. She responds now to everything exactly as you expect her to--more stringently following a code than she ever did as a host.
A plot that turned Maeve (Thandie Newton) into a martyr with super powers that run hot and cold. There when she needed them most, gone when the script needed her to fail. An übermench brought low by the stray bullets of Security Guard 1 and Security Guard 2.
A plot that turned Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) into a fractured mind stuck in the jumbled narrative concept that destroyed any sense of momentum the season might have had. As if sticking its tongue out at the Reddit crowd, the show's multiple timelines had everyone fooled with the added benefit of sucking the life out of the story.
A plot that forgot to give The Man in Black (Ed Harris) an ending.
It turned a cast of interesting figures worth fighting for into a grotesque crew devoid of anyone you'd cross the street to spit on. That's not always bad. Antiheroes can be great fun, but Westworld seemed allergic to hope or joy or sarcasm or anything that might have made the ride compelling, which is why the only time my heart skipped a beat during "The Passenger" was when I saw Maeve's smiling, lifeless face gazing on as her daughter (Jasmyn Rae) crossed the doorway into the promised land just before this season's MVP, Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), realized the bullet that felled his body didn't matter once his consciousness had crossed over. His reuniting with Kohana (Julia Jones) was a megaton bomb of catharsis in an emotional wasteland.
Watching the finale, I couldn't shake the concept of Infinite Regress--the logic trap where every proposition is proven true by a subsequent proposition, requiring an infinite amount of propositions to prove the first one true. It's turtles all the way down, my friends. Logan (Ben Barnes) is with his daddy at the bottom to see 'em.
Westworld nodded toward Infinite Regress when
The Architect The System (a.k.a. strangely lucid Logan) blithely stated that human beings weren't just bound by their own natures, but that those natures were laughably simple ones. It comes up again when Bernard and Dolores briefly discuss free will, raising the question of what propels us to make a genuinely "free" choice.
For example, if we ask The Man in Black why he killed his daughter Emily (Katja Herbers), he might say that he thought she was a host planted in the game by Ford. We could ask why he believed that, and he'd have an answer, but he'd better be prepared for an infinite amount of questions to determine if he was truly acting consciously or if fate or coding or whatever name you'd like for it drew the bullet from his gun. Was he destined to kill his daughter because of his nature? Or was he making a conscious choice separate from outside cause?
It seems that while Delos was creating an immortality solution for each guest, they were also revving up a philosophy engine that could provide an answer for the deterministic nature of humankind. Turns out we're basic.
But Infinite Regress explains the show's second season structure, too. They drop an image (dead tiger) or scenario (flooded valley) and then have to prove its validity with another image or scenario which then needs its own backstory which needs its own backstory.
Then Ford comes back. Then The Man in Black survives three shootouts, but is also maybe a host because there's also maybe a host version of his daughter who's testing him for "fidelity." Dolores survives being shot a half-dozen times but then dies when she gets shot once and finds new life in a host lookalike of Hale (Tessa Thompson). And the show keeps returning and returning and returning to these characters, unable to keep them out of harm's way but unable to leave them dead, infinitely looping back in on itself. Cut to Westworld engineers being asked to salvage the hosts worth saving (Hi, Maeve!).
It feels like the show is retconning everyone as it's being written.
Still, there's no one left on the show to argue for humanity, and people like Hale keep proving The System right, so the computer comes out on top in the argument for why people are just the worst.
The revelation with Hale's death and her resurrection as the new shell for Dolores' consciousness was a clever use of the technology, despite being almost immediately undermined by the return of Dolores Prime. Now there are two of her? Was it not enough that she got a new body? Infinite Regress for season three.
Dolores' final chat with Bernard where she explains their roles in the upcoming battle was a final betrayal of the bigthink ideas the series once rallied around. "I'm gonna be a villain, and you're gonna try to stop me," she essentially said. "And I kept you alive for no better reason than we all have these roles to play."
After all that talk about free will, after all the pain and sorrow of pawns striving for control over their own lives, after all the lofty conceptualizing of where we derive the meaning of our lives from, it turns out that everyone ends up acting a lot like television characters.
- Stubbs is a host, right?
- Glad Westworld skipped right to Lost's final season in its second season.
- Seriously, Stubbs? Host? Yes?
- How did Teddy's body get into the lake?