Last night the season 1 finale of Westworld aired and it was everything I wanted it to be. Many of the major mysteries of the series were explained even as they opened up new ones. What is the maze? What side is Ford on? Who is the Man in Black? What was Arnold’s plan? Who is Wyatt? What is the new narrative? Will these violent delights have violent ends? All of these questions had answers with the last one getting a big, oh my God YES and it was glorious. Some didn’t but if they had why would we need a second season. Are Elsie and Stubbs alive? In my mind yes, based on the circumstances of the ending I think they both needed to be removed before their investigation could stop Ford’s plan. Is Maive still on script? How many parks are there? Just where the hell is the Westworld park? What data is being smuggled out of the park, where is it being smuggled to, and who is doing the smuggling? Both Charlotte and Ford both seem to be sending data out, but to what end? The biggest one of all though is, what happens now?
The story of the first season was more similar to a novel than a movie or tv show. The journey was just as important as the ending and you couldn’t earn the ending without the progression and pain that came before. The writers made the viewers question what they were watching, when scenes were taking place, who to trust, what was “now” and what was memory. It simulated what Dolores and the other awoken hosts were experiencing and did so beautifully. Even more important it presented the experience of visiting Westworld at first as a spectacle. Note the rousing finale gun battle in the first episode scored brilliantly to Ramin Djawadi’s orchestral rendition of “Paint it Black”. We are supposed to be thrilled. Westworld looks like a fun place to visit. As the show continues and we are put more and more in to the viewpoint of the hosts that initial thrill turns to horror and revulsion as we see that Westworld and the people that visit are largely sociopathic monsters. For the hosts, they are in Hell. Condemned to an eternity of fear, murder, rape, mutilation, torture, and agony again and again all for the pleasure of the very rich clientele that visit. The ending makes it clear the moral side in this battle is firmly on the side of the hosts. What will be interesting is if that certainty continues in season 2 or if like Battlestar Galactica the question of humanity becomes much harder to parse.
Stories like Westworld that force you to think and re-examine what you “know” as they unfold are my favorite kind of story. Westworld is a hero’s journey turned on its head. A twisty, turning saga that is revealed to have taken place over decades with one goal in mind all long. That we didn’t understand what the series was really about until the finale only underscores how important it is to give yourself over to a storyteller and go along for the ride. Most of us are not writing television shows, novels, and movies. So why do we feel that we somehow are owed a story that goes where we want it to? The trouble with this idea of out smarting the writers and “figuring out” the twists is that you reduce a story to nothing more than a series of wow moments and shocking reveals. You turn it in to The Walking Dead and a shock delivery system. Westworld was never intended to be that and some viewers (not all thankfully) seem unprepared for a story that took its time unfolding.
It didn’t matter than you figured out William was the Man in Black. Or that there were at least two different timelines. If you did, great job. Pat yourself on the back. Figuring out “the twist” prior to the show wanting to reveal it isn’t an accomplishment. It doesn’t matter that you know this, it matters that the characters do. What matters is what that means and what the journey was that made William become a seemingly cold and heartless man. If you grew “bored” during the scenes of Maive taking control or Dolores looking lost and confused or found them redundant than that’s on you, not the writers. If you reacted with the same anger and confusion as William when the maze was revealed to be a children’s toy you may want to pack it in now. Because this maze isn’t meant for you.
Given the nature of the story you couldn’t just leap to the host rebellion midway through the season. You had to understand the park, understand the kind of people that would visit it, and see what they do to the hosts. How they use them. You had to understand that the paths Dolores and Maive are on are entirely different from each other. Maive, for all her seemingly autonomous actions, has been scripted to escape. Dolores on the other hand seems to be coming around to consciousness almost entirely on her own. The odd behavior of Dolores and William in certain scenes makes sense when you realize she has done this journey over and over again, each time being re-set back to her original programming. We were not watching a singular narrative but a series of her memories as Dolores re-traced her steps to the scene of the host massacre she perpetrated. All were moves toward understanding what she is and taking control of her own actions.
Despite the pedigree coming from JJ Abrams as producer, Westworld is not a puzzle box show. Season 2 will likely be much more straightforward now that the timelines seem to have converged. Which could very well take away what made this season such an exhilarating marvel to experience as it unfolded. However given what show runners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy accomplished, along with the incredible cast, I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that there are still quite a lot of surprises in store.