The whole season of non-linear storytelling, intersecting plotlines, phantom Fords (Anthony Hopkins), empowered Maeve’s (Thandie Newton), a driven Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and an utterly confused Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) comes down to some answers in “The Passenger”. Was all of the blood, death and perplexing timelines worth it? Let’s discuss….
Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Westworld episode “The Passenger” written by Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy, directed by Frederick E. O. Toye.
As the series has done many times before, “The Passenger” opens with a discussion between Bernard and Dolores. He asks her, “Is this now?” (something the audience has also been asking since the start of the season) and will bookend the ninety-minute episode with the same question to her once again, from a very different perspective. What lies between that question is a whole lot of traveling to the Valley beyond, some concrete answers for everyone (audience included), a weird CGI crack, and pretty much what we knew from the start – this tale is about the feasibility of free-will, and what humans and A.I.’s created from the memories and guises of humanity, will do to attain it.
As with the much of this season, “The Passenger” was a bloated episode that could have cut 30 minutes from its run-time to tell exactly what it did with less fat, and more clarity. By the end of it, my first thought was the entire season could have been 5 episodes shorter and still told the same stories with more precision and emotional payoff.
A lot of particular fat in this episode came from getting the various factions to the Valley and the Forge, which didn’t make for much dramatic tension. Once we discover (along with Bernard) that everything we saw at the start of this season was really the outcome of what unfolds in “The Passenger,” the episode mostly devolves into a game of trying to piece together the 10+ hours of the Season 2 jigsaw puzzle into some semblance of meaning.
We’re helped along with that with some truly epic, and on the nose, exposition scenes from Dolores and Bernard throughout. They likely exist so often and so long because the Nolans knew this whole show had gotten so damn complicated that without these overt explanations, no one would have a clue of what’s going on anymore. So, on one hand, I appreciated the verbal guideposts. But on the other hand, my finely tuned TV ear that appreciates great dialogue was incredibly disappointed in the copious knowledge dumps that kept happening in the least organic ways. For example, the Bernard and Ford sequence in the last act where Bernard is essentially telling us that Ford was always just a figment of his imagination was ham-handed and unnecessary if you want to allow your audience to try and piece this narrative together on their own. I know I would have been fine assuming, and perhaps pondering on my own the definitives. But, nope. We had to get told by Bernard what Ford’s appearances really were, when there was no need for an imaginary Ford to be told such a thing on screen because he doesn’t exist!
Outside of technique problems, the continued push for Lee (Simon Quartermain) to be ‘redeemed’ was proven to be a major fail in storytelling. In this particular episode, it was wincingly bad. His self-sacrifice to create a distraction for Maeve and her team to escape the Delos shootout had no real emotional impact. It also went on forever (like the hack monologue he recited) and never added any more insight into Lee's true character, or motivations. I’m mad he only took a bullet to the shoulder because that means he's likely going to show up in Season 3. No one needs that. No one.
Clementine really got the short end of the stick this season. Always the fragile plaything of the park in Season 1, she remained a victim into Season 2. She was mercilessly used by her own kind (Dolores), and then by Delos again in the end when they changed her code to make her the horsewoman of the Host apocalypse. She was sadly underserviced as a character in Season 2. Yes, not every character gets a heroic arc, but I'd have felt more if her character was given back some agency in the end.
Older William’s storyline (Ed Harris) was treated like an afterthought the entire episode until the tag at the end of the credits. It’s only in the final scene with his daughter, Emily, where they are back in the testing room that was the home of A.I. Delos that we get the full circle of William’s quest. All of young William's failures with his father-in-law's Host copy are implied to have been fixed with the reveal that the William in the park is also an A.I.. However, this Host version of William has seemingly raged against the idea that any system can tell him who he is, as he asserts that all of his actions have come from his own choices. Yet, that’s muddied by Emily saying that he’s been tested many times and their baseline interview is to verify his fidelity.
Whether, he’s a Host or not by this point doesn’t matter. Post his first adventure in Westworld, William became a wealthy stain on life. He was a morally corrupt human, and likely a morally corrupted A.I. And in the end, the twist stinger means nothing unless I care about what he is, and I don’t. The satisfying end to his story came in “Vanishing Point” with the knowledge that his secret, violent life in Westworld ultimately ruined anything of importance in his real life. He paid for his sins with the loss of every human he loved, as he continued to pursue his obsessions in the park. And the true sin of his life was how many innocent people he took down with him along the way.
So, what landed well in this season, and episode?
I loved that Akecheta’s (Zahn McClarnon) story paid off with the only happy ending of the entire sordid tale. He not only gave Maeve a window to save her daughter and replacement mom by protecting them as they ran into the A.I. Eden that Ford created, but his inner self survived to walk into Eden too so he could reunite with his soul mate, Kohana (Julia Jones). And knowing that Dolores/Charlotte ultimately chose to protect the Host souls inside Eden by hiding it from Delos makes that moment even sweeter. Someone deserved a damn happy ending!
And speaking of Maeve, while her overall search for her daughter felt like wheel-spinning for most of the season, getting to see her use her special mesh powers to ensure that her daughter made it into Eden was a worthy pay-off to her story. She kept her promise to her daughter, and never failed in her singular pursuit to be the mother she defined her entire existence around. I’m glad she was given that moment, even if it was bittersweet.
The big exposition dump where the system is manifested in Logan’s (Ben Barnes) corporeal form and takes Bernard through Delos’ (Peter Mullan) memories is an engaging sequence. It’s certainly the most unique use of exposition in the episode (and maybe the season), because we get to walk through the concept of why trying to re-create old man Delos was destined to fail. The moment Delos denies his son help one last time, eventually spurs the real Logan’s overdose, and that becomes the life defining decision that every version of Delos would come back to. The concept of that is a fascinating exploration of regret; the idea that we make choices that will fundamentally adjust the course of our lives, and become a kind of karmic stumbling block, is haunting. It’s the kind of interesting thinking I’ve been hoping the show would focus on more, instead of the killing ad nauseam.
The big reveal that Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) was killed and replaced by a Host that pretended to be Charlotte for the majority of the season was a strong twist that will certainly beget many fans re-watching Season 2 for any tells the character may have given away. And the knowledge that that Charlotte built another Dolores and Bernard in Arnold’s compound is a satisfying full circle for these last remnants of their creator’s true intentions. However, the idea that Dolores and Bernard will now be locked in a weird Batman/Joker type destiny as she seeks to take the human world and he tries to thwart her is sadly reductive and far less interesting than what their stories could be with more scope and imagination.
But all in all, it was a great thematic moment for Bernard to walk to the door of Arnold’s compound and decide on his own to go through it. After all of the turmoil inside the park, he chooses to accept the gift that Arnold and Ford wanted their Hosts to have – a choice. While free-will will continue to be debated as real or a collective delusion for humanity, the surviving Hosts know that choice is a gift and how they use it will define them once and for all.
Things to Ponder ...
I’m disappointed that Maeve’s sacrifice for her daughter will be swept away in order to keep the character (Thandie) part of the next season of Westworld. The implication in the last minutes that her two human lab advocates will certainly select her corpse as salvageable for Delos’ rebuild is a win for many viewers. But I would rather her arc feel more concrete rather than reversible so the show can actually claim an emotionally earned moment. Now, Maeve’s story is going to be about how much of the new version of her will remain, considering someone in Delos is going to have to recognize her code violations and try to wipe out that chaotic flaw. Lee isn’t dead so will her trio of enablers be enough to save the person she’s become? That’s certainly a story to ponder in Season 3, but one I am less interested in watching play out.
That was a large number of bedraggled human clients that Delos was able to extract from the park back to the real world. I can’t imagine any contract of entry in the world that is going to protect the park from some epic law suits and not drown the company in debt and insurance rate hikes that will kill the park for good. So, what’s the continuation of the story? Will Charlotte Hale/Dolores leave Delos to build a plan against humanity? Or will the failure of Delos create the perfect cover for Dolores’ plan to wipe out humanity in relative peace and anonymity?
That moment with Stubbs and Hale was an interesting one. He obviously knows exactly what Hale is, and he all but admits it when he says he was hand-picked for the job by Ford back in the day. He says loyalty was his core drive. Some will wonder if that means he too is a Host, implanted amongst the humans to be Ford's eyes on Delos and report back to him. Or it could be that he was just a human hired by Ford to have a moral compass and be responsible for every Host inside the park. Letting Hale out into the real world is perhaps the ultimate loyalty to his true boss, or maybe just his choice to let a Host be responsible for their own destiny outside of the park.
What do you think a third season of Westworld should be about and are you happy with how Season 2 played out?