Westworld finale recap: 'The Passenger' just changed everything
Mysteries were solved, lives were lost, and everything has now changed in a riveting and beautifully made episode
The Westworld season 2 finale “The Passenger” wrapped up so many of the show’s mysteries and delivered a couple few big surprises with a 90-minute episode that feature beautiful direction by Federick E.O.Toye, a gorgeous Ramin Djawadi score, terrific performances and stuck a landing that set the stage for an intriguing season 3. Granted, there was also some exposition overload as the drama strained to explain so many of the season’s ideas.
Below I’ve unscrambled this twisty episode — which jumped around between a few different timelines — into chronological order to help explain everything that happened (and you saw the surprise post-credits scene right? If not, go back and watch that first). We start at the episode’s true beginning with…
Before the Flood: Dolores lays with dead Teddy, then takes his brain Brita filter for a purpose that will be revealed later. She comes upon the Man in Black who’s been digging in his arm. “Seems you’ve begun to question the nature of your reality,” she quips, seemingly solving last week’s riddle — the MiB was digging in his arm because he was paranoid that he might be a host. She lets him tag along to the Valley Beyond.
They pick up Bernard and reach The Forge. The Man in Black tries to gun down Dolores, but she’s so in control of her body at this point that she’s no longer programmed to “die” unless truly essential parts get taken out. Dolores had sneakily placed a used slug in The Man in Black’s gun which results in a spectacular backfire blowing his hand apart.
Meanwhile, table Maeve orders hosts to attack a sadist technician who’s about to dismember her — with her pain receptors turned on. She gets patched up and reunites with Hector, Armistice, and Lee Sizemore. When more QA bad guys attack, we finally get that amazing Super Bowl promo scene we had almost forgotten about — Maeve using her powers to have robot bulls charge and gorge the QA guys in exhilarating slo-mo. There’s one terrific shot, as the bull rams the soldier over the stair railing, that literally had my jaw hanging open.
A little later, Maeve and company run into trouble and have an unlikely savior — Lee Sizemore. Do we buy that this epitome of human selfishness would sacrifice himself to give the hosts a chance? Perhaps not, but then again, he doesn’t seem to have much of a life outside of creating narratives for this park, and now that’s all going away. Maybe he decided that in a life that’s empty, he can at least die for something. It’s rather cool that Lee goes out in a blaze of glory by giving a speech he once penned for the hosts — really playing the game for the first and last time; Lee finally gets to be a hero.
Charlotte and Team Dune Buggy are led by zombie Clementine, who literally rides a pale horse as she readies to spread her annihilation virus (as in, the Pale Horse of death in the Book of Revelations, which Westworld couldn’t resist making obvious later on by having Charlotte crack a joke about it — yes, we got the biblical symbolism, thanks!).
At The Forge, Dolores and Bernard take a trip into the virtual world that Delos created Inside they meet a version of James Delos who has gone totally insane. “What humans define as sane is a narrow range of behaviors,” Bernard observes, “Most states of consciousness are insane.”
They stroll to the James Delos’ old house and find Logan — well, not really Logan, but a super mellow helpful virtual Logan based on James Delos’ memories of his son. This Logan has been tasked with running The Forge.
Logan shows us the ghost of James Delos’ Christmas past, the awful moment he rejected his addict son reaching out for help. “I’m all the way down now,” Logan said tearfully. “I can see the bottom.” This is a callback to the final words of the glitching host version James Delos in his fidelity apartment back in episode four this season. Logan explains the conversation was James Delos’ “cornerstone” moment that defined him as a person, which is a pretty messed up one to have.
Logan then gives us the lowdown on the park’s efforts to map human consciousness — and how it’s disappointingly easy to do. “I needed to know why they make the decisions they make. The more I look for an answer the more I realized: They don’t,” he says. “The best they can do is live according to their code. None of them are truly in control of their actions.” In fact, all it takes to accurately map a person’s behavior is about 10,000 lines of code — in other words, we’re about as complex as Linux from 1991.
To show this idea visually, we see a vast library with each book representing a different person the park has mapped. This looks so much more elegant than data on a Future iPad.
This library was the “weapon” Dolores spoke of — that armed with this knowledge of humans, she might be able to survive in the real world. She glances at a few volumes (including one on the QA team leader) and decides, Eh, I got the gist of it.
Logan decides it’s time to open The Door we’ve been hearing about all season. It’s a gateway to a virtual Eden for all the hosts who aren’t coming with her to the real world. Outside it’s represented as an open gateway perched on a cliff edge, tempting the hosts to go into the light, pass beyond its border, uploading their consciousness into this virtual paradise while their bodies are discarded below like lemmings. Let’s hope there’s a bit more to do in this iCloud heaven than walk around in green fields (at least “San Junipero” had some ’80s dance clubs).
So finally, we learn what “The Door” is, and it’s way more satisfying than last year’s metaphorical “The Maze” because this is something tangible — at least for the hosts — and crucial to the story.
Except selfish Dolores wants to deny the hosts an afterlife. Really, Dolores is the one who should be on that pale horse, not Clementine, because she’s the one who’s seemingly in favor of wiping out everybody — almost all hosts and humans alike. For being essentially a computer program, she’s almost like a religious zealot when it comes adhering to her beliefs. She begins to delete the data that mapped all the humans in the park in a process that is also expected to destroy the Eden virtual world too.
“No world they create can compete with the real one,” she says. “I don’t want to play cowboys and Indians any more Bernard! … You woke me from a dream, now let me do the same for you.”
Bernard shoots back: “I trust that you’ll kill as many as you can … this isn’t a dream, Dolores, this is a f—ing nightmare!” (another awesome Jeffrey Wright line delivery). Then Bernard shoots Dolores dead (for now) and cancels her purge of the human mapping data. Yet Dolores has done enough damage so that The Forge begins to flood.
Outside, Maeve and the hosts arrive at The Door and hosts began to enter. But now Clementine has shown up and begins turning the hosts against each other. Charlotte Hale doesn’t need to the kill the hosts like this, she just really wants to because she’s a rather terrible person.
Maeve has time to say goodbye to her daughter and uses her mind control to freeze the hosts. Her daughter goes off with her replacement mom and the Ghost Nation leader Akecheta into the Eden world. Inside, Akecheta is touchingly reunited with his long lost love. But outside The Door, Maeve is gunned down — and dies with a smile on her face, her season 2 mission accomplished.
The Door shuts. But The Forge fail safe has triggered a cooling flood of the system (I mean, that the system pumps out enough water to flood an entire valley seems totally ridiculous, but okay).
Bernard leaves The Forge, sees all the dead hosts and is quite bummed out. He’s further upset that Elsie, his ally, helped Charlotte kill them off. He’s beginning to realize he’s made a terrible mistake and chats with the Dr. Ford in his head — Dr. Ford is like Bernard’s Tyler Durden. “I should have listened. Now all the hosts are gone. [Humans are] just algorithms designed to survive at all costs. They think they’re in control they’re really just … passengers.”
“The Passenger” is, obviously, the title of the episode, and fans have speculated that it means something like Teddy’s brain being stuck inside Bernard for half this season (a clever theory, and actually close to the truth, but wrong). Instead, the title means something much more metaphorical: People aren’t really in control of themselves, that they’re passengers to their own flawed programming. Westworld is weird because it keeps telling us how horrible and simple-minded we are as a species yet also expects us to follow the most complex narrative to ever air on TV.
Now here’s where things got a bit tricky, timeline wise (I had to watch the finale twice to figure out where this midsection fit in). The survivors then convened back at The Mesa. Elsie orders Bernard to sit and stay, like a dog, further showing that even sympathetic humans won’t see hosts as equals. She confronts Charlotte and pretends like she might be willing to overlook all her corrupt behavior. But Charlotte sees right through Elsie’s halfhearted ruse and shoots her (Ahhh! Not Elsie!). “I wish you were the kind of person with the moral flexibility that I need,” Charlotte says. “I’ve read your file. That’s not who you are.”
Bernard sees this too and makes a new choice: He secretly returns to The Forge and gets Dolores’ Brita filter and prints out a new host body for her to occupy — not herself, rather, but Charlotte Hale. It’s nicely ironic that the park’s secret data collection program the Charlotte is so obsessed with protecting is also what enables Bernard to do this. We see Charlotte rather rudely discovering this, walking into cold storage and sees her naked body emerge to kill her and take her place. (I wanted just a bit more of a reaction from Charlotte here, just another second or two of comprehension, but ah well).
Bernard then alters his memory of what happened so that nobody will know — including himself — what he did. He goes back out and collapses in the flooded valley to wait for the QA team who will find him all messed up when they arrive at very beginning of the season.
After the Flood: Okay! Now we’ve jumped only a few hours into the future — and after Bernard and the QA team have had a bunch of adventures we’ve seen this season — and they enter The Forge. They find Dolores dead, seemingly just as Bernard left her. They also find the encryption key which he also left there to be discovered. They initiate transfer of the data to the mainland, but there’s something wrong — it’s the data of all the hosts who walked into Eden, not the guest data that they really want.
“You killed her,” Bernard says to Charlotte.
“Did I Bernard?” Charlotte shoots back in a response that’s quite funny and catty when watching this scene a second time and knowing the twist.
Dolores-as-Charlotte reveals herself and kills the QA guys. She’s still pissed at Bernard, but agrees to send the hosts in Eden someplace safe on the mainland where they won’t be found (presumably she’s hiding them in some massive Google server somewhere).
She also notes she has “one last soul to carry to the new world” and a moment or two later shoots Bernard. She’s actually doing him a favor (is there any other show where killing somebody is so often a favor?). She wants the Brita ball from his brain to pop in her purse along with four others. Dolores has no regrets, “I’d rather live with your judgment than die with your sympathy,” she says, which sounds like a brutal T-shirt slogan.
Okay. Are we still tracking all this? Are we still following? This seems to all hang together, best I can tell. Are there plot holes if we go back and watch from the beginning? Maybe? But let’s forge ahead, so to speak.
Dolores-as-Charlotte arrives on the beach for extraction. We see the Man in Black is here, and alive, but just barely. The neck-reader says she’s human — that’s more help from Ford in the machine, having changed that for her.
She’s stopped by Stubbs and they have a very interesting conversation. It’s not hugely obvious, but we learn here Stubbs is also a host (the episode’s director confirms this in an interview). The first tip off is that Stubbs sees right through her disguise in the first place (if you have a host who’s also your head of security, of course you’d want them to be able to instantly discern a host from a human). The second is when he says that he was one of Ford’s first hires and then notes that protecting the hosts is his “main drive.” So he’s yet another way Ford has put his thumb on the scale to enable Dolores to escape.
We see Maeve’s body on the beach, but her devoted fanboys Felix and Sylvester are left in charge with salvaging any useable host bodies, so presumably, they have plans to revive her.
Dolores gets on a boat to escape the park. She’s got five balls in her purse. Bernard is one, obviously. Who are the other four? Interestingly, we get a shot of Teddy in Eden — so Dolores uploaded him to give him the happy ending to settle into a peaceful life that he always wanted — except alone instead of with her. Love his expression in that shot. Dolores could still, however, have the Teddy ball with her and print out another one, I should think? Perhaps she brought her father too, but he was apparently too severely damaged, right? Did she get Angela’s brain after her body was blown up? This will be something fans will be debating for awhile, I think.
Mainland: Dolores is calibrating Bernard in a gray room with high windows. All season we were led to believe these scenes took place in the distant past, since we were told how Ford used Dolores to help shape Bernard based on her memories of Arnold. But this scene actually has been taking place on the mainland in Arnold’s house after Dolores escapes the park (and it’s confusing because Dolores has been wearing her classic rancher’s daughter dress in these scenes — this is a bit of a cheat because she’s not really wearing this, Bernard only perceives her as looking that way, then in this final scene she’s revealed to be back in her black dress and he’s revealed to be naked).
This house is apparently a home base for the revolution. There’s a host printer which will come in handy. She tells Bernard that she saved him even though she knows he’ll try to stop her, presumably because she recognizes that he’s extraordinarily capable and useful. “If I were human I’d let you die,” she says. “It will take both of us if we’re to survive. You’ll try to stop me, both of us will probably die, but our kind will have endured.”
We see Dolores leave the room with Charlotte Hale. So does that mean that Dolores has now doubled herself and is using both bodies? Showrunner Jonathan Nolan had an interesting response to this question in our post-finale Q&A (link at the end of the recap) which you won’t want to miss.
Post credits: A Marvel-liked surprise at the end. The Man in Black stumbles into The Forge facility. Only it’s apparently years after the events in the episode, with the facility in ruins. He then sees his deceased daughter, Emily. “Oh f—, I’m already in the thing, aren’t I?” he asks — The Man in Black is like a man in a Black Mirror episode who knows he’s in a Black Mirror episode and he’s constantly trying to figure out what the big twist in his Black Mirror episode is going to be.
Emily says he’s not in “the system” — so this is live, not Memorex– and leads him to an apartment that looks just like one park founder James Delos was trapped in as an experimental host for so many years. Emily begins to run a fidelity test on the Man in Black, except now he’s on the other end of the same test that he ran on his father-in-law for decades (literally now sitting where James Delos sat). The Man in Black’s expression as he realizes this is so complex I don’t even know how to describe it — this is why Ed Harris is Ed Harris.
My suspicion is that somebody (Ford or Dolores? Perhaps even Stubbs?) had the drone hosts print out a version of the Man in Black from the secret data vault, and entombed him in The Forge with a printout of his daughter as a kind of hellish punishment, condemned to get an ironic taste of his own technological medicine for all eternity — or, perhaps, as a way of creating a replacement for the Man in Black in the real world to aide Dolores’ mission. The scene takes place long after the main action in the show. I think the real Man in Black (who we see recovering in a tent on the beach at the end) is still a real human, not a secret host, and is unaware of his alternate self.
And so we begin to wind down. Westworld season 2 was at times brilliant and provocative and existentially thoughtful. Other times, the drama felt a bit frustrating and difficult to follow. There were terrific highs (that incredible James Delos “fidelity” storyline, the Akecheta-focused episode) and a few lows (Maeve stuck on a table for three episodes, all those protracted battles with unimportant hosts). The finale was, for me, a clear high — pulling off some very tricky storytelling and setting things up for radically different third season.
Check out my deep-dive Q&A with showrunner Jonathan Nolan answering my burning questions about the finale.
(Fun with predictions: I’m normally lousy at predictions, but my recap for the season 2 premiere concluded with a prediction for how this season would end that came rather close, yet naturally wasn’t perfect: “Bernard didn’t kill all the hosts. Dolores killed all the hosts. But maybe she programmed Bernard to think he killed all the hosts — including her — to cover her tracks. This is how she will escape the park. Sort of like Hans Gruber’s plan to blow up the hostages at Nakatomi Plaza. Bernard was literally left behind with the waters rising around him — just like in Arnold’s dream in the first scene — while Dolores and a few allies (‘the others’) are on a distant shore. We see Teddy dead, but we also are introduced to these removable CPU Brita filters. I’m imagining Dolores crossing the sea to the mainland like Daenerys Targaryen sailing to conquer Westeros, only instead of a dragon she’s got Teddy’s brain in her pocket.”)