(Spoiler alert: Please do not read ahead unless you’ve seen the “Westworld” Season 2 finale, “The Passenger,” which aired Sunday.)
Well, after an ending like that, where do we even begin?
“Westworld” brought its second season to a close Sunday night with a feature-length finale that threw us completely off our programmed loop. But while the episode, titled “The Passenger,” answered many a question we’d been pondering throughout the sophomore year of co-creator Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s HBO sci-fi series, it left us with a whole new mess of head-scratchers.
Seeing as we are still very much in TBD territory on an air date for the third season, we’ve got a long wait in store before we can stop scratching ours heads. But to help, TheWrap caught up with Joy to help us make sense of that Bernard (Jeffrey Wright)/Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood)/Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) murder-resurrection triangle; Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins) final fate; Maeve (Thandie Newton) and the other dead Hosts’ chances of being revived; the “real world” setting we’re entering in Season 3; and what in the heck was going on with the Man in Black/William (Ed Harris) in that unexpected post-credits scene.
And — in a very Ford-like manner — she even gave TheWrap the answers to questions we didn’t think to ask. See our exchange below.
TheWrap: So there was a lot of death in that finale [laughs]. What was the reasoning behind killing off so many people, especially knowing some people ( i.e. humans) probably don’t have a way of coming back?
Joy: In embarking on this season we knew, in a sense, we’d be telling a story of revolution, of war and the tragedy and inevitability of war is death. There are stakes to violence and it is mortality. And I love all of our actors. I think they are incredible collaborators, cool people, incredible talent and it truly is harrowing to lose any of them. But, you know, it’s in the service of the story and the story is something that we’re all working together to paint as realistically as you can paint a story about an AI revolution in a Western theme park [laughs]. And so for the drama to have stakes, the deaths must be real. And so, yeah, there was a lot of deaths [laughs].
TheWrap: Did Bernard have to be the one to kill Dolores (and bring her back) and did Dolores have to be the one to kill Bernard (and bring him back) — and why?
Joy: Yeah, when we were thinking of that — and you see it in the back of some of the shots, the picture of an M.C. Escher drawing of a hand, drawing a hand, drawing a hand, drawing a hand — and the ways that the things we create and give birth to, create and influence us. And that is the cycle that Bernard and Dolores have been locked in since before Bernard was Bernard — when he was Arnold. The fates of all the characters are integral in the storylines, but some of them chose a kind of different struggle, you know?
And this season was about choice. It was about respecting choice, as well as making one’s own choice. And throughout the season, one of the things Dolores’ character struggles with in assuming the mantle of basically military leadership was, as much as she wanted to protect the Hosts, as noble as her aims were to protect them from the darkness that she herself has witnessed so many times in humans, in order to do that on a basic military level, she had to take on some of the paternalistic traits that she was kind of vowing against in the first place.
It was a difficult dichotomy, but I think something that would realistically occur. So she made a lot of choices for a lot of people and came to regret those choices. Not necessarily because they were wrong in their outcome, or what her intended outcome was, but because it was wrong, she realized, to take away someone else’s agency, even if you disagreed with the choices they were making.
So, you know, she changed Teddy in order to “save” him. She knew he wouldn’t survive. So she took away his agency and made him something, even though I think it was designed to be temporary like, “Let’s just live through this so we can have this life together.” And then she was going to kind of dictate the fates of Maeve and Akecheta and all the people who fled to the Sublime, because, to her, that reality was not one worth pursuing.
But she sees the error of her ways later because of Bernard. He literally killed her to stop the monster that she had become. And in being resurrected by him — when he also realizes that she wasn’t full monster, that indeed without her plan, they would be wiped off the face of the earth, she would be the last of his kind — he brings her back, and in that time she has changed. She has realized that embracing choice is necessary. That as much as her goal may have been noble, she has to accept the idea that they were fallible and that she is fallible, unless unchecked.
I think it’s a very powerful notion, the notion that our personal views, although closely held, are not necessarily right. That part of what is noble is making sure there are checks and balances and a plurality of opinions. And that is something that she has grown to understand.
So when she brings Bernard back in the real world, she’s basically accepting that idea and embracing that idea, even if it leads to her own personal undoing. She knows that that kind of balance is what is needed for true freedom for her kind.
TheWrap: OK, is it safe to assume that going forward in the next season we’ll be in the real world more?
Joy: Absolutely. It was always the plan to explore the real world and we have Dolores there, Bernard’s there and a creature that is certainly inhabiting Hale’s body is there [laughs]. So we’ll come to know more of who “Hale” is. There are three Hosts out in the world and next season will really be an exploration of what they find and who they become.
TheWrap: So then there has to be someone in Hale who isn’t Dolores at the end there, cause Dolores is now back in Dolores — right?
Joy: Yes, that’s one of the things we’ll explore next season.
TheWrap: Where exactly did Dolores send the Hosts who went into the Sublime when she changed the coordinates?
Joy: I think what she’s done is she fulfilled their wish. They wanted to escape to a digital space where they could be truly free and create their own world, untarnished by human interference. And in changing the coordinates and kind of locking in and stowing them away, Dolores has finally found a way to accept their choice and give them what they so desired.
TheWrap: After the guest data in the Forge is erased, Hale/Dolores leaves with five control units in a purse. Who is in them? Maeve? Armistice? And can “Halores” remake them then?
Joy: There is Host data in the actual hosts who did not “sublime” — so their CPUs are still intact. So, if they didn’t sublime, those pearls still contain their information. In each of those little balls in the purse is a Host, so there is a handful of them — but not an infinite amount of them. There are five. One Host per pearl.
TheWrap: When Halores left the beach, it seemed like Stubbs knew it was Dolores — or at least that it wasn’t Hale. Is that safe to assume?
Joy: Yes! It is safe to assume. And there is a step further that you can assume too. And we don’t say it explicitly, but if you are left wondering with all [Stubbs’] talk, his knowing talk about, “I’ve been at the park a very long time,” and Ford designed him with certain core drives, and he’s gonna stick to the role he’s been programmed with; it’s a little acknowledgement of just why he might have his suspicions about what’s going on with Hale, and then lets her pass.
And doesn’t it make sense if you are Ford and designing a park and you have a whole master plan about helping robots that you would keep one Host hiding in plain sight as a fail-safe? Maybe the Host who’s in charge of quality assurance? And by the way, that was totally meant to be subtle [laughs].
TheWrap: OK, that went completely over my head. Now, since we saw Bernard realize he had been imagining Ford at the end there and was really doing all of those things by himself, does that mean Ford is gone for good this time?
Joy: Yes, Ford is gone. And yeah, I think it’s really — it’s interesting, because remember how in the first season with Dolores, in trying to come to consciousness she would hear Arnold’s voice while doing these things? And part of her embracing her agency and consciousness is realizing, “There is that voice. That’s not necessarily yours, that’s my voice. That’s my inner voice. And I have to achieve my own inner voice and inner instincts.” And embracing that voice is what brought her to full personhood.
And meanwhile, Jeffrey Wright’s character, Bernard, has been kind of struggling on his own. He didn’t even know he was a Host, because he was kind of very fragile when he was masquerading amongst the humans, so by the end of the season, you’re absolutely right, he manages to get rid of Ford — who did plant himself there as an emergency stopgap measure within the park to be upload into Bernard’s brain.
But once Bernard, who is an excellent coder, has ridden himself of Ford, he’s gone. And what we’re left with now is really a story about one Host, a new Host, kind of blooming into consciousness, who embraces his own inner voice, which he realizes has been guiding him in all the last major moves he’s made to ensure the future of his kind.
TheWrap: We saw at the end of the actual episode, before the end credits scene that blew my mind, that William survived. He was one of the ones on the beach, in the tent in that particular situation and timeline. But then we get to the end credits: OK, he’s clearly a Host but I don’t know if that’s one version of him or another and then we see [his daughter] Emily there, can you give anything to explain that and at what point and in what timeline that might be happening?
Joy: Absolutely [laughs]. So you totally nailed what the story is, by the way, and then we threw in that last bit just to tease some other s–t that’s gonna happen, before you drown in it. So you totally got it, you totally got it. And that last bit, the reason we put it after the credits was because we wanted to be like, “No, you have it. You have the story and the timelines. This is some s–t that we’re going to do next” is what that other thing was.
But it recontextualizes itself when you realize that the entire season we’ve been going, we’ve been putting cards up in terms of our timelines. There’s been two major timelines. And it’s just the traditional story structure of a noir, right? Investigators come to town and they have basically a witness in Bernard who can’t remember what the f–k happened at the scene of the crime. And then you stumble back to the scene of the crime, which was this war that was happening.
And the Man in Black is a part of that war. They are all moving towards the “Valley Beyond.” And when he gets right to outside the facility [the Forge] and after killing his daughter — who, you know, he doesn’t know if it’s his daughter or not — he’s still confused and like, honestly, psychologically spun out by his own sins, his own constant transgressions and living in this virtual reality. He himself begins to grow unsure of what is real and what is not.
And this leads to, you know, “these violent delights, have violent ends.” And he, in his confused and tortured mind, kills his own daughter, for real, and then proceeds to start hacking into his own skin because he doesn’t understand anymore what’s real and what’s not. And it’s grating him and haunting him. It’s in some ways a full reversal of what was happening to Dolores. He’s in a prison of his own sins and that prison is now his own damn mind.
Of course in that final showdown with Dolores, she rigs his gun and he basically blows off his own arm. Now, what we tried to do there is establish this context: he collapses on the ground, [Dolores and Bernard] go down, Dolores and Bernard have all the events that unfold down there. After Bernard kills Dolores, he goes to the elevator and you’re like, “Wait, the Man in Black! I think he’s gotten up and he’s coming down this elevator and they’re gonna meet! They’re gonna meet!”
And then it’s totally weird because no one is in that elevator. And that’s our only little clue that something is not what we thought. That there is something else happening here. And that’s what we pay off later.
‘Cause in reality, a man got his arm shot off. He’s just lying on the ground somewhere. And later on, when Hale, or Halores is leaving the park, you see him on a cot. He’s injured, but he’s alive, and he’s real, and he’s going out into the real world — along with a handbag of pearls and Halores.
But then when you see that post-credit vignette, it’s really just a tease of what’s to come. We kind of rounded out that story. And you’re totally right about the end and this is a tease as to what’s to come, because we see that one tiny bit where we thought he might be coming down an elevator. We see that pay off and we see again Katja Herbers [Emily] who he thinks, “Are you my daughter? What the f–k is this?”
But he’s in a very different timeline. The whole place looks destroyed, and then she explains that all of that stuff happened long ago. That was real. But now something has happened and the Man is now the subject — or some iteration of the Man is now the subject — of testing. The roles have become completely reversed.
And we get the feeling that, in the far-flung future, the Man has been somehow reconjured and brought into this world and he’s being tested the same way the humans used to test the Hosts. And that is a storyline that one day we’ll see more of.
TheWrap: So, because we do know that Emily died in the current timeline we’re in, is it fair to assume whoever is down there with this iteration of the Man in Black is similar to Dolores training Bernard? That has to be a Host or some other something if this is in the future and Emily died. Yes?
Joy: Oh yes, the Katja Herbers in the future talking to the Man in Black is now a Host version of Katja Herbers.