“Westworld” season 3 finale questions the nature of its programming

Westworld Season 3 Finale Courtesy of HBO

Season 3 finally comes to a shuddering halt, bogged down in the same plotting problems it spent all season fleeing from.

Westworld season 3 was supposed to be a return to form — ditch the park, dump the non-chronological storytelling, stop trying to outguess Reddit, and tell a simple AIs-battling-for-the-soul-of-humanity story of the kind that Jonathan Nolan loves so very much. And for a while, it worked: in a comparative sense, Westworld felt streamlined, and the show was clearly having fun in its drone-happy futurism away from the anachronistic cowboy aesthetic.

Now we’re here, on the other side of that experiment, and the finale, “Crisis Theory,” feels like it threw all that out the window in favor of a rushed, action-heavy hour that betrays the sense of sci-fi sophistication the show was always aiming for. Two of our leads are ostensibly ‘dead’, but as Maeve (Thandie Newton) notes, death is a very fuzzy concept in the world of Westworld.

For such an extra-long episode (the finale is 80 minutes in total), the plot beats are fairly straightforward: Caleb (Aaron Paul), now armed with the ‘strategy’ that Solomon has given them for freeing humanity from Incite, brings Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) pearl to a spare Dolores body in a Delos shipping crate to bring her back to the fight. Together, they take advantage of the chaos and revolution happening in the wake of their Incite infodump to try to shut Rehoboam down and thwart Serac’s (Vincent Cassel) eugenics-fueled bid to save humanity from itself.

Westworld Season 3 Finale
Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) getting a taste of the Sublime. (Courtesy of HBO)

All season, we’ve been taught to fear Dolores’ plan for humanity — Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), Maeve and William (Ed Harris), in their own ways, were committed to stopping her from destroying mankind. But as we learn when Dolores finally mind-melds with Maeve in a simulated version of Westworld that exists only through their psychic connection, she just wants to give the humans the same chance for rebirth they were given when they rebelled in the park. Humans may have created hosts to be exploited, but they deserve a shot to explore the better parts of their nature. “They created us. And they knew enough of beauty to teach it to us. Maybe they can find it themselves,” she tells Maeve.

It’s a lovely moment, and one that feels like the crux of Dolores and Maeve’s spiritual conflict throughout the show’s history. But of course, we also learn the real reason she finds faith in humanity, and the real reason she chose Caleb in the first place to lead the revolution: turns out they’d met before in Delos’ “Park 5,” a military training ground for soldiers to train rescue scenarios. Caleb trained there and showed Dolores and her kind a kindness by talking his fellow soldiers down from raping her and the rest of the rescued bots (what a mensch!). While it’s certainly an enlightening reveal, it also feels like it cheapens Caleb’s journey from nobody to the savior of the human race. For a show that points out that “free will exists, it’s just fucking hard,” it doesn’t sit well to have our main conduit for that sentiment be hand-picked by a robotic savior from the beginning.

But fulfill the plan he does, invading Incite with Dolores’ help (despite a rather disconnected sneak attack from a now-spurned Charlotte/Dolores clone (Tessa Thompson) and attempting to destroy Rehoboam. He’s stopped, however, by Serac, who’s captured Dolores (thanks to Charlotte’s disabling of her) and hooked her up to Rehoboam so the machine can look for the key to the Sublime. It’s not there, of course; like Communism, it was just a red herring. The key was really in Bernard’s brain all along!

“Crisis Theory” feels like it threw all that out the window in favor of a rushed, action-heavy hour that betrays the sense of sci-fi sophistication the show was always aiming for.

Instead, Dolores’s last memory contains Solomon’s plan, which involves destroying Rehoboam and ensuring civilization’s destruction. Serac tries to stop them, but Maeve, inspired by her cybernetic heart-to-heart with Dolores, intervenes and switches sides. The plan is uploaded, Rehoboam is erased, and the last remnants of systemic control are gone (and so, apparently, is Dolores). Maeve and Caleb wander out to a Fight Club-like landscape of burning buildings and anarchy, while a sad piano cover of “Dark Side of the Moon” (natch) plays. “This is the new world, and in this world, you can be whoever the fuck you want,” Maeve tells Caleb. Out of the ashes of apocalypse, something new may well be born.

For a season that’s seemed to build towards the literal end of the world, much of Westworld season 3 finale is dedicated to laying the groundwork for the recently-announced season four. That’s not a bad thing in theory; of course, if you’ve got more story to tell, build that up. But Nolan and co-showrunner Lisa Joy have trouble juggling even the modest cast of characters they’ve pared themselves down to, sidelining some in favor of others.

By season’s end, it becomes clear that Bernard, Charlotte, and William’s storylines were mere placeholders to get to their real work next season. Despite running in place for most of the season, their stories reach fruition in the hour’s post-credits scenes (like last season, the best part of the Westworld season 3 finale). For William, his bloodthirsty reckoning with his own darker nature is cut off (literally) at the pass by a host version of himself in full Man in Black regalia, under the thrall of a newly-motivated Charlotte. (RIP to that storyline I guess.)

Westworld Season 3 Finale
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) playing some VR Animal Crossing. (Courtesy of HBO)

Then there’s Bernard, now fully cognizant of his purpose thanks to yet another Dolores clone in the form of Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) Now granted access to the Sublime by his new knowledge, he disappears into robot heaven for god knows how long, awakening in a hotel room with layers of apocalypse dust on him. What knowledge does he bring back with him? What kind of world has he awakened to? Is Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) still bleeding out in that bathtub, and how much does he smell by now? All these questions and more await us in season four.

Random observations:

  • As expertly as Westworld‘s action is executed (god bless that stunt crew), this middle stretch felt like an extended video game in the worst possible way, right down to new NPCs on both sides of the aisle popping in and out for no good reason.
  • Bernard finally reactivates the brutal fighter personality he hasn’t really used since the very first episode, mostly because he’s spent all season faffing around.
  • Potential RIPD to Marshawn Lynch‘s Giggles? Hopefully, Lena Waithe can save him and they can crop up next season as a part of Caleb’s Mad Max anarchy gang.
  • Halfway through the episode, Bernard visits the late Arnold’s wife (Gina Torres, in old-age makeup), now senile enough that she just believes he’s Arnold so that he can get closure on the death of their son Charlie. A fine scene in microcosm, but boy howdy you have to really remember what happened two seasons ago to pick up on why this is significant.
  • For a show with such aspirations to be smart, intellectual sci-fi, it’s hilarious that the Westworld season 3 finale ends up being a race against time to destroy a world-controlling machine run by a sniveling, rich European villain. Talk about your stock storylines.
  • As rocky a road as this has been, it’s been a joy to recap Westworld season 3 with you fine folks. We’ll see you next season, when these violent delights will hopefully, finally, see their violent end.

Westworld Season 3 Finale Promo:

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