This post contains some spoilers for Westworld season 3 episode 8, ‘Crisis Theory’.
As the days have turned into weeks and then months of a lockdown with no definite end in sight, and the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc in our lives, those of us who can, have sought recourse in whatever comfort is available to us — especially the comfort of pop culture or art.
Comedies that ease our soul, bring a few hours of laughter and light to days that could desperately do with some. Books and films and TV shows about civilisation-threatening events and outbreaks. True crime. Old favourites, where the characters are as familiar to us as our friends. New favourites, now that there’s maybe a spare hour to spend scanning Netflix — time that you would have otherwise spent on your commute.
Watching Westworld‘s season 3 during this period, I’ve found myself wondering if it had been broadcast at the wrong time. Perhaps the return of an absorbing new set of episodes was exactly what its deeply engaged fandom needed. Another source of solace. But in another way, its premise seemed so misplaced: of a moment in time so far ahead, when the lines between humanity and AI had blurred and blended; a dystopian world order and apocalyptic threat so distantly in the future — who would care about that now, when it seemed like we might not even make it through the next year?
A few weeks into the chaos of the coronavirus crisis, on a day when the barrage of bad news seemed particularly unrelenting, I reached out to a friend. We traded doomsday prophecies but also reminded ourselves of uplifting displays of human kindness, resilience and solidarity. At the end of our conversation, we concluded: “The world has never seemed both, more shitty and more worth saving, than at this time.”
It seemed true enough. All around us was evidence of our stupidity, our malice, our baseness — and also our best selves. All around us was evidence of our ugliness, and all around us there was evidence of the beauty we were able to create, moments that seemed sublime and transcendent.
And a reflection of that dichotomy can be found in the dazzling Westworld season 3 finale.
As Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) left the world of the Delos Parks behind, she found that the humans in the “real world” were no better than hosts in how they too adhered to loops, and “programming”. Their lives were not a function of choice but of the algorithms predicated by the AI system Rehoboam. It determined what opportunities were available to them, and weeded out “outliers” — those that didn’t fit neatly into its strategies.
But as she made her way through this world, recruiting Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul) to her unspecified cause (which was generally assumed to be the destruction of the world but had the more immediate focus of stopping Rehoboam), squared off against Serac (Vincent Cassel) and by extension, Maeve (Thandie Newton), while also using the copy she planted in Charlotte Hale’s (Tessa Thompson) body to infiltrate Delos, the individual elements of this story haven’t always fit in seamlessly, or been similarly spectacular.
The storylines involving Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and William/The Man in Black (Ed Harris) have felt tacked on — addendums to the story occurring elsewhere.
This eighth episode too has its flaws, stuttering a bit until it comes together in a soaring climax when — as expected — Maeve and Dolores confront each other. Except, it is not when these perfectly matched antagonists do battle, but when they finally come to understand the other.
“Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. The disarray. I choose to see the beauty. To believe there is an order to our days, a purpose.”
In season 1, those were merely the words that showed us Dolores’ programming — the character she was meant to be. But in the season 3 finale, Dolores shows us that that’s who she really is. When she repeats the words to Maeve, you can hear the emphasis on “choose”.
For Dolores, it is all about choice — about giving people the freedom she didn’t have for the majority of her ‘life’. “Free will does exist,” she tells Caleb, “but it is hard.” It is hard — the framework that is propping up the world must be brought down before a new one can be built in its place. And perhaps this new framework will be an imperfect one, but it will be one of humanity’s choosing.
Her choice of Caleb was a careful one, as Maeve discovers. Among the long undisclosed secrets of Delos has been the existence of “Park 5”. (On the Delos Destinations website, this previously appeared as a restricted area, but now bears the legend ‘defense contracts only’.) It turns out that Park 5 is where soldiers are trained in simulations involving “live targets” (namely the hosts) while Delos’ system also collects data on them (just as it does with guests at Westworld, Shogun World, The Raj, and one assumes War World if it has an existence outside of a simulation). Dolores had encountered Caleb here, and made note of what set him apart from the others.
“You have done terrible things, and you have done generous things,” Maeve tells him, after laying waste to Serac’s men in a thrilling sequence illuminated only by flashes of gunfire and the glint of her katana. “She didn’t pick you for your capacity for violence, but for your capacity to choose.”
This is a finale that represents the very best of what Westworld can be — visually, thematically, emotionally. In writing its ode to humanity, it also writes an ode to itself. And of course, it sets up the narrative strands that will take the show into its fourth season.
Maeve discovers that Serac, who enslaved the world to Rehoboam, is himself under the system’s control; he has long since ceded his mind to Rehoboam’s, who now speaks and acts through him.
Charlotte, currently inhabiting a hologram-like presence, but later building herself a body, throws enough of a spanner in Dolores’ plans to take down Rehoboam to bring about her end. Then she takes off to her new location: the Delos offices in the Middle East, where she is creating a horde of new hosts, among whom is a copy of William. The real William, meanwhile, having made his way there, is assassinated (finally!) by his machine version.
It also emerges that Dolores never had the key to the data from Sector 16; Bernard does. After a shootout with William, he is given the package that perhaps Musashi sent out before being executed in Jakarta, and an address. When he reaches the address, he discovers it is the home of Arnold’s wife Laura. They speak of their son, Charlie, and of how Bernard/Arnold has never been able to let his memory go. Laura tells him then that she never let go either — but this remembrance was what helped her stave off the darkness. In a throwback to Akecheta, in essence, what she tells Bernard is that you only live as long as the last person who remembers you. And so, remembering is an act of hope, an affirmation of life in the face of death.
Before Bernard (with an injured Stubbs) accesses the data from Sector 16, he realises too that Dolores’ plans notwithstanding, the world was headed for destruction anyway. Serac and his brother merely staved off the inevitable for a while, and at a dubious cost. But what comes after the end of the world? This is a question Bernard must now find an answer to, and in which his “living memory” as well as the data from Sector 16 may play a pivotal role. Perhaps it is to find a way to capture what was best about it, the moments when it transcended the ugliness, and keep that alive.
“So many of my memories are ugly,” Dolores tells Maeve. “But the things I held on to until the end weren’t the ugly ones. I remember the moments when I saw what they were really capable of: moments of kindness, here and there. They created us, and they knew enough of beauty to teach it to us. Maybe they can find it themselves…
“There is ugliness in this world. Disarray. I choose to see the beauty.”
When Maeve accesses Dolores’ mind, she finds her ‘cornerstone’ — the purpose that runs through her thoughts and actions. And it is not to destroy humanity but to help save it; to create a world where the hosts who were sent into the Valley Beyond can also be brought back, to live alongside those who created them, both races truly free.
It is a world Maeve and Caleb are now tasked with building. This finale makes evident that their task will not be easy. Rehoboam has been destroyed, but already Charlotte Hale has set her plans into motion, and where those will lead is anyone’s guess at the moment. But, “this is the new world darling” Maeve tells Caleb, as they look out at the destruction of the status quo, saying the words she was programmed to say so often before, but now delivers with conviction: “And in this world, you can be whoever the fuck you want to be.”
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Updated Date: May 04, 2020 17:39:40 IST