3.5 out of 5 stars

In the finale of Westworld, everyone’s headed to the Valley Beyond (a.k.a The Forge), either expecting an entrance to the real world, or at least a better world. Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) leads his Ghost Nation tribe and a convoy of likeminded folk to “the promised land”; Maeve (Thandie Newton) escapes from the Mesa after regaining her ability to control unawakened hosts, with a little help from Hector (Rodrigo Santoro), Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), and Lee (Simon Quarterman); and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) found the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and took him along to The Forge with Teddy’s brain module, where they find Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) has already arrived.

“The Passenger” had everything converging on the one location, with characters after much the same thing, and yet it was still a very complicated and confusing feature-length episode. I’m still not sure why the writers continue to tell their story non-linearly, but suspect it’s because they’re not convinced a straightforward A-B version would be very interesting.

When you summarise what happened this season, from premiere to finale, it’s perhaps understandable they want to hide the simplicity with narrative gymnastics. There’s enough of a reason for the trickery, as much of it stems from Bernard’s scrambled memories, but the problem is the writing doesn’t make this stuff look effortless and worth the aggravation. It’s not easy to write mystery shows, of course, without tempting a backlash if the questions start to outweigh the answers, and the answers aren’t rooted in characters you care about. The way it’s often being handled makes things feel very frustrating.

Just when you think you’ve got a grip on where you are in the overall timeline of Westworld, something happens to make you lose your place in the story. There were plenty of moments in “The Passenger”, featuring characters other than Bernard, where I wasn’t entirely sure if events were taking place in Bernard’s present or past.

Anyway, I think I just about wrapped my head around what happened.

  • Dolores and Bernard found their way into The Forge and entered its system through transfer units, echoing scenes from inside The Cradle, to find a version of Sweetwater where the “baseline” of James Delos’ personality was being run. Even stranger, the ‘system controller’ has taken the form of Logan Delos (Ben Barnes) and believes it’s cracked the algorithm of what makes humans, so there are 4 million copies of guests all ready to inserted into host bodies. They just need to crack that transplant procedure. It’s also noted that the problem with human-hosts is human minds aren’t as adaptable to change, so there may never be a way to grant humans immortality. (Not sure I buy into the reasoning here, but there we are.)

  • The Door was revealed to be the gateway to a simulated world (the Sublime), created at The Forge and ready to upload hosts into. So the pilgrims on their way to the Valley Beyond were met with an enormous vertical rupture in space, with a beautiful meadow seen beyond it, which they ran into and were zapped into a virtual heaven. Their bodies then fell, discarded, over the edge of the cliff The Door was obscuring, explaining that reservoir full of dead hosts from the premiere. Of course, it wasn’t explained why Teddy (James Marsden) was floating in said reservoir, as he committed suicide somewhere else entirely last week and Dolores didn’t take him to the Valley Beyond. This appears to be a huge plot hole, frankly.

  • Most of the host characters made it through The Door —with a particularly touching moment where Akecheta was reunited with his lost love - except for poor Maeve. She did what she could to hold back the brawling crowds - their psychotic rage triggered by the presence of Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), sent to destroy the hosts by Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) — but ultimately Maeve had to watch her daughter make it to the next life without her.

  • Dolores had no time for the sentimental notion of a Door giving hosts somewhere to be free, as that’s just another “gilded cage” to her, so she opted to instead destroy the system and flood the valley. This forced Bernard to shoot her through the eye, killing her instantly, although in one of the episode’s better twists she was later resurrected into a facsimile of Charlotte’s body (‘Halores’?) and has thus been posing as Charlotte for awhile now.

  • However, Halores kills Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård) and his men, uploads Teddy’s module into the Sublime, and then kills Bernard. Later, Halores is permitted to leave the park by Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), who seems to know she’s a host but is happy to turn a blind eye - suggesting he’s either given up caring, or has been secretly on the side of the hosts for awhile. And we notice Halores has has smuggled out several host modules (or “pearls”) with her, to presumably revive other hosts in the outside world.

  • Much later, Bernard is reborn inside Arnold’s home by Dolores (who now has her own body back, utilising host-building equipment Ford had installed there), and notices a copy of Charlotte is present (presumably a body for one of the pearls smuggled out of the park, but we don’t know who yet - possibly Abernathy?) Intriguingly, Dolores makes it clear that to survive in the real world they need to remain enemies, and leaves him in the house as they leave to conquer the world in season 3.

  • In a post-credits scene that’s somehow even more confusing than anything that happened in the episode itself, the Man in Black makes it down to the Forge and discovers it’s been long since abandoned. More messing with the timeline? His murderer daughter Emily (Katja Herbers) is there, and she begins to interview him as he once did James Delos, testing for “fidelity”. So, considering we saw the MIB was being evacuated from Westworld in the scene where Halores escaped into the outside world, one assumes this is happening months or years later? But I therefore can’t explain why the MIB has a fresh hand injury (caused by the backfiring gun Dolores gave him), as that doesn’t line up with the Forge looking like it’s been unused for years. And how is Emily there? Was she a host after all? Or does she become one? And is she testing the fidelity of her father’s copy in The Forge, inserted into a host, while the real MIB hasn’t actually died yet?

The season 2 finale was certainly very entertaining and contained some beautiful moments. I really liked Lee Sizemore’s last stand, protecting Maeve by becoming the hero of his own story for once; the moment Akecheta’s arc reached a happy ending was also a heartwarming way to cap events from the year’s standout episode “Kiksuya“; it was very exciting and emotional when Maeve was having to save her daughter’s future by facing off against Clementine; and there were some riveting moments of drama between Bernard and Dolores, both wrestling for superiority because they have such different thoughts on what hosts should become. And yet Dolores respects Bernard enormously, as he’s her creation and in some ways is the perfect bridge between humans and hosts.

But it was also guilty of being needlessly complicated at times, which is a problem that tarnished season 2 as a whole. The best episodes were ones that didn’t play around with time and perception quite as much, which is a sign audiences love clarity. Some mystery is fine, but when you’re struggling to comprehend things it becomes unforgivable. Not everyone will want to sit down and thrash out what happened with a flowchart, they’ll just be made to feel stupid… until they eventually get tired of feeling permanently bewildered and just stop watching. The post-credits scene with the MIB definitely felt like a needless twist, perhaps foreshadowing the extent of what season 3’s non-linear approach will be—with Dolores in the present trying to bring down mankind, with other characters existing in a post-apocalyptic future wasteland with Westworld as Ground Zero.

Westworld will return, but this episode felt like both a turning point and jumping off point. With just a few changes, “The Passenger” could have worked as a series finale, and what comes next will presumably mean less Westworld and more real world. Is that what viewers want from a TV series based on the idea of a robot theme park going wrong? It’s edging closer to Battlestar Galactica/Caprica territory. I just hope the writers have a definite plan for what they want to do, and they spend more time on the fundamentals of character and story over mystery and twists. The best episodes and most people’s favourite characters are those that are more conventional, so the writers would be wise to realise why that is and dial back the brain-frying way this story’s being told.