Westworld season 3 finale recap: Apocalypse now
Westworld season 3 ended in a rather Westworld-ian way: By hitting its narrative control-alt-delete keys all at the same time for a potential re-re-reboot of the story for next season.
There were fistfights and gunfights and discussions about fate and free will and a lot of walking across pedestrian bridges at night.
The bottom line is Dolores got what she wanted, just like we always assumed she would: Her master plan was executed, uncoupling humanity from Incite's AI ball and bringing about the beginning of the end. Dolores did have a change of heart, however, and decided to once again see the beauty in the world, just like her original rancher's daughter programming mandated, and she explains that's why shutting down Incite won't bring global destruction necessarily because she believes humanity is perhaps capable of finding a better path. But everybody else on Westworld — and certainly the show itself — seems to continue viewing humanity in rather cynical terms: We're pretty horrible, so let's root for the robots. And certainly, those exploding skyscrapers after the AI ball switches off suggests that if we have enough technological power, everything goes to hell if we're left to our own devices for 10 minutes.
The finale comes at an interesting time amid the current pandemic. We see protesters in the HBO drama wearing face masks and the show seems prescient. And we are right now in the middle of the sort of "mass casualty event" the AI ball speculates will happen if we're alone left to chart our own course. And if you're a cynic, there are certainly recent headlines you could cite to make the case that humanity is indeed quite bad. But there has been far more evidence lately of mankind's civility. The vast majority of people have rapidly embraced an entirely new social contract, radically different patterns of behavior, in order to protect themselves and others around them -- look Westworld, we've broken our loops! Early in the pandemic crisis, there was a rush on gun stores by those fearing a surge in civil unrest, and some of the wealthy headed for isolated areas and bunkers. But during the last couple of months, crime has declined dramatically around the world. As Steven Pinker's 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature documented, humanity has been gradually getting less violent and chaotic over time, even though (and perhaps because of) our ability to document and share what's going wrong in society with others has dramatically increased (granted, much of our progress is due to the control systems we have put in place — such as law enforcement and a justice system, which are arguably primitive versions of Serac's AI ball — but since humanity collectively and largely democratically decided to put those systems into place and have kept them going, I'd argue that still counts as a win).
One of Westworld's showrunners is Jonathan Nolan, who is a brilliant screenwriter. Among his film works is arguably the best comic book movie ever made, 2008's The Dark Knight. Oftentimes this season on Westworld I've thought about the final sequence where The Joker has rigged the two ferries crossing the harbor and the clown prince of crime is convinced the passengers on one will choose to blow up the other to save themselves, trying to prove a point about the animalistic nature of humanity. They don't, of course -- because no summer tentpole movie is going to end that way. But you get the impression watching Westworld that Nolan firmly believes the passengers on both boats totally would have blown each other to smithereens and they probably wouldn't have thought about it too hard either. In that specific scenario, I've always thought there was a pretty good chance somebody would have pulled the trigger as well.
But, in general, even now during this crisis — and actually because of the crisis — I think Westworld underestimates the human side of the equation. Another pop culture reference that keeps coming to mind when watching this season is what Brad Pitt's idealistic David Mills said to Morgan Freeman's world-weary cynic William Somerset in Seven. Somerset kept saying he was quitting the police force because he couldn't handle the bottomless evil of its nameless rainy city, to which Mills replied: "I don't think you're quitting because you believe these things you say. I don't. I think you want to believe them because you're quitting. And you want me to agree with you, and you want me to say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're right. It's all f---ed up. It's a f---ing mess. We should all go live in a f---ing log cabin.' But I won't. I won't say that. I don't agree with you. I do not. I can't." Of course, we all know how Mills' story turned out.
Anyway, if anybody has a reason to be cynical, it's Bernard Lowe. The poor man waited around all season for a character motivation or a clear purpose only to upload himself into the Sublime, as if to say, "Forget this season, I'm out of here!" Yes, Bernard had a nice chat with the real version of the woman he was programmed to think was his wife, so he got some closure on those painful memories of the son he'd never had.
Unfortunately for Maeve, it looks like she's still going to be questing for her phantom daughter going into season 4. (Her daughter is a program, can't somebody just make Maeve a new one?) And just as Dolores Skywalker was about to perish, Darth Maeve turned against Emperor Serac in his black-and-red throne room. I did really like the reveal that Serac had grown so reliant on the AI ball that he's actually just a meat puppet secretly following its instructions this whole time. See, it all starts with driving whatever route that Waze tells you to take, and this is how it ends.
So did Dolores die? We watched her memory hard drive get defragged like she was running DOS. I suspect her consciousness went into the AI ball and then, perhaps, elsewhere? Or perhaps she'll be re-downloaded from the ball somehow to save the world from Halores? To quote another HBO series: What is dead may never die.
As for Caleb, we got a nice bit of backstory that explained that Dolores already knew Caleb was both a good solider and a good human from a military training exercise he once had at Westworld (in this show, just deciding not to rape captive hosts means you're a good person -- again, the bar is low). His future is likewise murky now that his purpose has been served. Congrats Caleb, you're like the opposite of John Connor.
And then there was William. The Man in White, now in black again, decided he was going to kill all robots. In a post-credits scene, William goes to Delos Dubai suspecting hosts of being bred. In perhaps the biggest reveal of the episode, Halores rolls out a host version of William — ah-ha, so this was what was being fidelity tested in last season's post-credits scene. Host MIB kills human MIB as Halores' host printer goes brrr.
So Dolores wanted to destroy humanity, then changed her mind, but her actions basically put humanity on a course for destruction anyway, probably, and now Halores has taken up Dolores' original mission of hosts overthrowing humans to help bring about the end of the world even sooner, as well as to ensure the survival of her species.
In another potential season 4 hint, there was the use of Pink Floyd's classic "Brain Damage" over the credits and it's iconic lyric "I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." Though the song's title is alone befitting of the finale storyline, I'm on record as saying there is no way Westworld does not eventually go into space, and I don't think we saw those shots of rockets landing in a previous episode for no reason. My bet is there's a time jump before next season — as hinted by that final shot of dusty Bernard being awoken — humanity has collapsed, Halores and the MIB are running our new robot overlords, some characters talk of resurrecting Dolores as a savior, and perhaps some characters have given up on Earth entirely (the moon might be the Westworld version of an underground pandemic bunker). As Michael Caine said in Nolan's Interstellar, "We're not meant to save the world, we're meant to leave it."
Westworld season 4 will be back in 2022, assuming the Hollywood production machine can resume in a relatively timely fashion. Maybe our current global event will be a distant memory by then, or perhaps we'll still be dealing with the medical and economic fallout. But I won't predict that we'll all be dramatically worse off than we are now. I won't say that. I don't agree. I do not. I can't.