As promised, Westworld finally divulged its secrets during last night’s season finale. After being teased so long, the many reveals and twists were satisfying — though, inevitably, not all landed at the same level of logic, effectiveness, or emotional force. Here are the 10 main revelations from Westworld’s Season 1 finale, ranked by how well they made sense of the jumble of story lines, characters, genre mash-ups, and existential questions that the HBO drama had been hinting at for so long.
10. William is the Man in Black — and he wasted his whole, pathetic life.
Westworld’s most obvious twist also turned out to be its least satisfying. There’s some cruel comeuppance in the MIB’s slow surrender to the MRA — apparently William’s version of “finding himself” meant giving himself permission to rape the womandroid he once loved. And Westworld’s corrupting influence — those “violent delights” we keep hearing about — led him to misspend decades playing a game he can’t win. But it wasn’t just William/MIB’s time that was squandered, but ours as well, since the show presents us with no reason to care about him once his identity and devolution are revealed. (Also, what kind of regressive future is this where dying rich men still pass over their daughters to hand over their life’s work to their son-in-law, i.e., a virtual stranger, and a creepy, brother-in-law-abusing one at that?)
9. Suffering is the key that opens the door to consciousness.
It’s no wonder that Westworld has often felt as clinical as solving an equation: the show’s been doing exactly that. For all you budding world-destroyers out there, here’s Westworld’s formula for artificial self-awareness: dreams + suffering = consciousness. I once dated a guy whose job it was to peel back the top half of mice skulls and zap their brains with electricity while they were just going about daily mice business. (I don’t miss my early twenties at all.) Mice have reveries, and they certainly feel pain. If dreams and suffering mattered as much as Westworld says they do, we’d be calling Pinky and the Brain our overlords by now.
8. The show’s experiment of “TV as a game” was far better in theory than execution.
Again, this is no real surprise. Westworld had terrible pacing problems throughout its first season, and its greedy withholding of character-defining disclosures made for an aloof, unexciting lead-up and a crammed finale that, even with a 98-minute running time, didn’t give characters enough space for twists and backstories to land. It’s fine for writers to sustain mysteries over long arcs, but they also have to dole out enough reasons along the way for us to invest in the stakes of those mysteries. Westworld simply did not.
7. The last samurais are trapped in Samurai World.
Viewers like me who wanted to learn more about the world outside the theme park were denied by the finale — and, with Maeve’s return to her hated home, presumably will be rebuffed by Season 2 (out in 2018) as well. Still, it was a treat to learn about the existence of Samurai World. Things are already pretty hectic in Westworld by the end of the finale, but I hope we’ll get to learn at some point whether the hosts in the other parks gain consciousness as well. (Also, come on, Westworld, no badass lady samurais? It’s always one step forward, one step back on gender with this show. And don’t @ me about how that’d be ahistorical, because pretty much everything about the Wild West depicted in the park is wrong.)
6. Ford was the secret mastermind behind the hosts’ rebellion all along.
Ford’s sometime-during-the-last-30-years transformation from the replicants’ oppressor to their Robespierre was enough of a disclosure to finally nail him down as a just-barely good guy. (Not cool trapping Dolores, Maeve, and company in loops of constant agony until they decided that enough was enough, though.) But Ford’s about-face against humanity — and his ultimate loyalty to his old friend, Arnold — were rushed by the finale, which was too crowded with other delayed disclosures to finally give this excessively cryptic character some humanity. Sir Anthony Hopkins can do wonders even with an interminable monologue, but I wish Westworld had also given him something else to do besides get his medulla oblongata sprayed everywhere.
5. Maeve was coded to escape — and fail.
Throughout the sticky mire that was Season 1’s plotting, series MVP Thandie Newton made Maeve the easiest character to root for. It’s too bad the closest Newton ever got to a James Bond–type role was co-starring alongside Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II, because her crisp London accent and chic, sly delight in outsmarting her enemies would have made her a pretty great 007. But it’s her initial determined denial to forget her daughter — and later her irrepressible love despite knowing that those feelings are programmed into her personality — that give meaning and a compelling sense of duty to Maeve’s character.
4. Maeve lets Felix, whom she praises as “a terrible human being,” live.
Once at the mercy of Felix, Maeve has found herself deciding the luckless lab tech’s fate in recent episodes. The question’s always lingered: Will Maeve allow Felix to survive after he helps her self-actualize, or will she take her vengeance against him as one of her first acts of asserting machine’s power over man? That she lets him remain alive turned out to be one of the very few moving developments in the finale. Most humans treat the hosts as punching bags for their aggression, but Felix always treated Maeve like a person. It was sweet to see her return the favor.
3. Dolores and Teddy killed everyone in Westworld at Arnold’s behest to save them.
Westworld ultimately isn’t very interested in complicated philosophical questions (see: No. 8), an indifference that gave short shrift to one of the finale’s thorniest issues: Is it more moral to subject a creation to suffering so she’ll ultimately reach consciousness, or to never allow her to suffer at all? Arnold chose the latter (and a short-sighted suicide) that ultimately did nothing, while Ford elected the former. Perhaps Ford had no choice in the matter — it seems like Westworld was going to open no matter what — but this ethical debate is one of the most fascinating questions the show has arrived at so far. Too bad it was soon discarded.
2. “The gods are pussies.”
Self-explanatory. Humans are terrible and apparently only like to fight when they know they’ll win.
1. Arnold sacrificed himself to save his creations.
At long last, the finale gave us the story about what became of Arnold and how he came to die at the hands of Dolores. The opening scenes, with Beta Dolores in half-human half-cyborg form, were cool (very Ex Machina), and the conflicts Arnold had with Ford went through various ways humans can treat their creations: ruling through fear and decimation like the Old Testament God, treating with care and compassion like the New Testament God, eschewing all responsibility for them like Dr. Frankenstein, or simply peddling them like commodities — not like a god at all, but a capitalist. We now know that Arnold was a Prometheus — punished for his gift to lesser beings, who now have the power to use that largesse to make themselves the equals of their makers. Prometheus misjudged, though, not taking into account how strongly his fellow gods invested in the division between humanity and the divine. Arnold did, too: With greed so little on his mind, he didn’t foresee how it might drive others to ignore his intentions and put the hosts into the very situations he wanted to rescue them from. That he died for so little is a tragedy; that Ford was apparently touched enough by his friend’s sacrifice to continue his legacy gives us hope.