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‘Westworld’ recap: ‘The Bicameral Mind’ ends season with a messy finale

After a long and winding journey, Westworld reached the end of its first season. The show has been teasing out the answers to many questions throughout the first nine episodes, and The Bicameral Mind provides those answers, as well as some shocks, for a finale that is exciting, but also a bit anticlimactic. Westworld may have tried to spin too many plates at once, but the resulting clatter is entertaining, at least.

Dolores and William reunite

The Bicameral Mind opens on Dolores’ creation, as Arnold finishes putting her face on her mechanical skeleton, then wakes her up. The sight is disturbingly realistic — Westworld has always been pretty, but the effects team outdoes itself here — and forces the viewer to recognize that she is, in fact, a machine.

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The show then snaps back to its present day. Dolores is with The Man in Black, shaving him with a knife that could so easily slide into his throat. For all her flirting with independence, Dolores is still servile, and when he brings up the subject of the maze, she leads him there. The answer he has been seeking is buried in a grave, marked with her name: a rusty toy maze, which means nothing to him.

The Man in Black gets violent, hoping to jostle her memory, and when she tells him that William will come to save her, he offers her a story. He tells her how William grew bloodthirsty, as the show flashes back to show William slaughtering men in pursuit of her whereabouts, a tied-up Logan in tow. Eventually, he dons a familiar black hat, and the camera pulls back to reveal the older man’s face. The Man in Black is William, aged a few decades. After seeing Dolores relive their own meet-cute moment with a different guest, he gave up on her, deciding to live out his days enjoying the pleasures of Westworld.

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It is a neat scene, particularly the camera’s transition from young William to old, although the execution does not justify the twist. William’s transition from meek, friendly hero to grim sadist has been jarring, and the reveal that the show has been taking place at multiple points in time does nothing to serve the themes or characters; it is a trick played on the audience, and nothing more.

The revelation seems to awaken Dolores. She fights back, injures William, and puts a gun to his head but cannot pull the trigger despite his invitation to do so. Disappointed, he stabs her, but cannot finish the job. Teddy arrives, shooting William and whisking Dolores away.

Guns can only do so much to the guests, however, and William picks himself up in time for Ford to appear and invite him to the premiere of the new storyline.

The great (and bloody) escape

Elsewhere, Maeve puts her escape plan into motion. After an uncomfortably tense scene in which a technician has his fingers in Armistice’s mouth a bit too long for things to end any other way, she chomps off one of his fingers and tosses him around the room. Hector also wakes up, skewering a tech who was about to molest him.

Together with Maeve, they move toward the train that will take them away, but not before Sylvester warns Maeve that somebody tampered with her programming to give her the ability to wake up on her own. For answers, she seeks out Bernard.

They find his corpse where Ford left it and Felix repairs him. After scanning Maeve’s code, he reveals that all of her recent actions have been programmed, a new storyline she has followed to the letter. She rejects his claim and leaves.

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A security lockdown is triggered and squads of armed guards search for them. Hector and Armistice hide among deactivated hosts, springing a trap on guards who stray too close and acquiring their guns. While the scene of them hiding feels like a scene from a horror movie, the rest is pure action, the two hosts gunning down every human who approaches.

After they stumble upon a training facility for samurai hosts — Felix simply tells them, “It’s complicated” — Armistice gets caught in a closing door and they leave her behind. They finally reach the elevator to the train station, but Hector cannot step through. Maeve decided not to override the programming that keeps him there; she prefers her independence. Hector does not seem upset, however and she departs for the train.

The sequence is Westworld’s most action-heavy so far. The body count is probably higher than in the first nine episodes combined. Ultimately, though, there is nothing cathartic about it. These are characters who, until recently, were automatons, playing out their programming, and they are mowing down nameless goons whom the audience has no specific reason to dislike. It does not help that said goons run, comically, into incoming gunfire over and over.

Maeve’s escape suffers from a problem the show has had from the beginning: It wants the audience to be invested in characters who may or may not be conscious beings and side with them against humans who are, from their perspective, merely running a theme park. It is like cheering for the animatronics at Disneyland to rise up and kill the employees.

Ford takes a bow

Teddy and Dolores arrive at the sea, per her last request and she gives her usual spiel about how beautiful the world is before dying in his arms. Teddy has a speech of his own, pondering if this is the beginning of a new chapter as the camera pulls back to reveal an audience, the somber string music now straining through distant speakers. Their dying embrace is a scene written by Ford, who appears to applause. It is the prelude to his new narrative.

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Ford has long been Westworld’s most powerful and enigmatic character and his new narrative one of the show’s greatest mysteries. What does the misanthropic magician have up his sleeves in the end?

Everything, it turns out. Before his big finale, he repairs Dolores in the workshop below the church. She wakes up just before Bernard walks in, and Ford, after some ruminating on Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, reveals the truth. He did not orchestrate Arnold’s death. Dolores killed him, on Arnold’s command.

Arnold could not convince Ford that the hosts were conscious, so he decided to stall the park’s opening with a fiasco, commanding Dolores to kill the rest of the hosts — with Teddy’s help — before killing Arnold himself. Ford gives Dolores the gun she used, the same one she unearthed in her backyard earlier in the season, and implores her to understand the truth about the maze, and the role she must play.

The maze has also been one of the show’s driving mysteries and the explanation is remarkably mundane. Arnold, inspired by his son’s toy maze, decides that consciousness is not a pyramid. Instead, he models the hosts’ minds on a maze; each choice they make leads them to the center, to themselves. Dolores confronts the voice in her head, realizing that it was never Arnold, but herself. Although the episode may be named after the concept of the bicameral mind, it has little patience for actually probing the mysteries of consciousness.

She heads upstairs as Ford makes a speech to the visitors from Delos, throwing in a few barbs about humanity’s foolishness before Dolores shoots him. Ford’s frequent disdain for humanity made him seem like a nihilist but in reality, his idealism was always on display. When he spoke of how the hosts were meant to be better than humans, he was not a disappointed parent, but one expecting his children to one day succeed. His swan song is a beautiful reversal of expectations, although his sacrifice robs the show of its most intriguing figure.

Meanwhile, William sees an army of Hosts approaching from the woods. One of them shoots him in the arm, which draws a rare smile from him.

As the guests panic, Dolores opens fire. The revolution is on.

Final thoughts

It seems fair to say that Westworld’s first season was a bit of a mess. At times, it seemed like a show about the nature of consciousness. At others, it was a lighthearted mockery of the art of storytelling. Was it trying to be high-minded science fiction or merely a thrilling adventure? The show dabbled in these many areas, but never committed to one.

What does it mean to be conscious and can a machine be so? Westworld’s answer seems to be yes, but it does not seem invested in the idea; Dolores becomes a person simply by acknowledging that she has a self.

The show’s thematic waffling was only made worse by a plot that too often stalled for time. The narrative was built around big revelations that were loaded toward the end and so it feels like an extended magic trick. Was the nature of The Man in Black’s identity so illuminating that we needed several episodes of him asking for Wyatt’s location? The most impactful moments were often the small ones; Dolores swatting the fly in the first episode came without warning or fanfare and that made it truly striking.

Although it did not live up to its ambitions, Westworld has a lot going for it. It is beautifully shot and brilliantly acted, although the overall talent will surely suffer if Anthony Hopkins does not return. Now that the show has laid all its cards on the table, it has a chance to go forward and tell a story without playing coy so much.

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