Did you make it to the post-credits scene? The one with [redacted] and [redacted] talking about [redacted]? If not, go back. You've been warned. This is not a spoiler-free zone.
Okay, all set? Great. We’ll get back to that.
In the 1975 Michaelangelo Antonioni film The Passenger, Jack Nicholson plays TV journalist David Locke. On assignment in Chad, where he’s filming a documentary on post-colonial Africa, he meets a man named Robertson, and the two strike up a friendship of sorts. One morning, after getting lost in the desert, Locke returns to his hotel to find that Robertson has died. Hungry for a fresh start, and knowing that no one will be able to identify him, Locke reports Robertson’s death as his own, and assumes a new identity.
Westworld’s 90-minute finale (too long, guys, too long), also entitled “The Passenger,” features an identity switcheroo of its own: Dolores, shot dead by Bernard, is reactivated by him inside the body of a host version of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson). It’s the only way she can take on the passage to the real world, thereby ensuring that at least some hosts survive after the Delos slaughter.
Premieres and finales are a good place to stop and take stock of what we know and what we don’t. “The Passenger” gives us a lot of both. So, rather than have a traditional recap, I thought it would be good to take a step back and go through some of the things we learned, and the mysteries that remained to be solved.
1) Dolores is the one who flooded the valley
We now know that it was Dolores, who triggered the failsafe inside the Forge in an attempt to get rid of the guests’ data. I think Bernard’s assertion that he “killed them” refers to the fact that he has gone and erased the guests’ data instead, essentially condemning them to a single, finite life.
2) The Forge is real.
Westworld has taught me to question the nature of my reality, so when Bernard told Elsie that the guests’ data was housed in a place called The Forge — basically The Cradle, but bigger — I had my doubts. But it turns out that there is such a place, and its system takes on the physical shape of Logan Delos. (It's all very The Matrix.)
There’s been opposition throughout the seasons between Dolores’ idea of the Valley Beyond, a place that holds the data for every guest who has ever set foot in the park, and Aketcheta’s belief that it holds a door to another world. It turns out that both are true.
As we learn from Forge Logan, there is a virtual world untouched by (and invisible to) humans. It’s how we can explain the bodies found by Bernard, Strand, and Stubbs in the very first episode of the season. The hosts who make it through the door surrender their physical selves but their minds live on in this virtual space.
The Door is the breach that leads to the Valley Beyond, where the hosts can live undisturbed for all eternity.
As for the guests’ data, they are stored in the Westworld equivalent of the Forbidden Section in Hogwarts’ library, the code laid out in books ready for Dolores to peruse and glean the knowledge and failings of humanity.
The idea of a “Valley Beyond” has always been laden with religious undertones: It’s a better place, “Glory,” the concept of a higher universe untouched by the horrors of current reality.
That imagery is on display in those final moments before the Door closes. Clementine, whose code has been tweaked by Charlotte Hale to mirror Maeve’s ability to control other hosts, has spread a contagion of violence through all of them. This imagery of hellish fighting, our heroes dying all around while a lucky few manage to make it to the green pastures beyond is Biblical in the extreme.
But so is the idea of repeated simulations — as in the case of James Delos — of a mind condemned to live through the same things over and over again, with varying reactions but ultimately, the same conclusion each time. The Forge is a digital purgatory, and fake Logan is its Virgil.
4) So, who makes it through The Door?
Early on in the episode, we see Aketcheta and the Ghost Nation leading a group of hosts to the valley where he believes a door to another world exists. (What they don’t know is that Clementine, armed with Maeve’s rogue code, is hot on their tail, along with the Delos crew.) Initially, there’s nothing there, only desert. And then, suddenly, a breach starts to appear. (We know that this happens because Forge Logan has opened it from inside The Forge.) A newly restored Maeve — along with Hector, Armistice, and Hanaryo, Felix, and Sylvester (RIP Lee Sizemore!) — arrives on the scene just in time to locate her daughter, who’s been under the care of Aketcheta’s tribe along with the woman she knows as her mother. For a second, it looks like they’ll all go through together and live happily ever after, but of course, that’s not the Westworld way. Clementine pulls up at the rear of the crowd and does her own Jedi mind trick, sowing discord and violence throughout the group. The hosts start fighting amongst themselves, and Maeve stays behind to fend them off so that her daughter can escape. In fact, Maeve says goodbye to two daughters in this moment: her real daughter, who runs through the door, and Clementine, her surrogate daughter who gets shot down during the fighting.
Bonus: Aketcheta and his family also make inside, where he finds Kohana, and presumably all the hosts who have been biding their time in cold storage. (I mean, someone here has to have a happy ending!)
5) But who dies?
The simple answer would be “everyone,” (Seriously. Westworld is giving Game of Thrones a run for its money) but let’s unpack that a bit.
Maeve gets shot down by the Delos crowd while she’s holding back the rogue hosts with her mind. With no one left to control them, the fighting continues until there’s no one left alive. Hector, Armistice, and Hanaryo all die in the scuffle.
Dolores and Bernard both die in their own way. Bernard shoots Dolores in The Forge to prevent her from erasing the Valley Beyond, and all the hosts inside it, from existence. A reborn Dolores (inside Hale’s body) shoots Bernard in order to remove his control unit and sneak it out of the park, thus preserving his memory.
Lee Sizemore, once a slimy toad of a man, gets a hero’s death helping Maeve and Hector escape. The fact that his sacrifice is eventually in vain (they all die anyway) makes it even more tragic.
Poor Elsie bites it in the Mesa while attempting to blackmail Charlotte Hale into promoting her in exchange for her silence on the whole copying the brain of everyone who’s ever come to the park thing. Don’t mess with the queen.
Is it death if you’re killed by a version of yourself? Only Charlotte Hale can speak to that.
7) Don’t worry, Maeve is coming back.
That look Felix and Sylvester give when the Delos woman tells them to sort through the pile of dead bodies to see which ones can be salvaged, with the camera then panning onto Maeve, clearly hint that we’ll be seeing more of our favorite Madam. (That, and Thandie Newton is reportedly confirmed to return for Season 3.)
8) The hosts are here to stay — at least for now.
The first thing we learn in "The Passenger" is that Dolores — not Ford — is responsible for the Bernard we know and sometimes love. He is a part of her, and she of him. She took the perfect host copy of Arnold and tweaked him, allowed for imperfections and mistakes in order to make a new version — a new person. That ability to change is, as it turns out, the most significant difference between hosts and humans.
Consider what Fake Logan tells Bernard and Dolores in The Forge about the humans he’s studied for so long: “The best they can do is to live according to their code.”
Hosts, however, can technically be more fluid than that, starting with their physical appearance. I have to admit, I didn’t see that twist of Dolores-as-Charlotte-Hale coming. But it makes sense. Hosts aren’t bound to a single body. As long as their control unit survives, they do.
“There was never any way for us to escape,” she tells Bernard in The Forge. “Not as us. Ford understood that.”
And knowing that, he gave them the tools they needed to rebuild once they made it out, whether in tangible form or not. By placing a machine to build hosts inside Arnold’s house on the mainland, he made sure Dolores wouldn’t remain the only one out there. All she had to do was create the bodies.
When she wakes up New Bernard at the end of the episode, she’s back in her old form. Charlotte Hale’s host body stands nearby however, and it’s not clear who currently lives inside her. Dolores smuggled out five control units in her handbag, but whose units they are is a mystery I assume we’ll get to decipher next season.
But most interesting is her use of the phrase: “You live only as long as the last person who remembers you,” which, if you’ll remember is what Aketcheta whispered to Stubbs back in “The Riddle of The Sphinx.”
Is this a concept that Ford put in their programming to ensure their survival? It certainly indicates that Dolores cannot survive without Bernard, nor he without her. With Ford gone, erased from Bernard’s mind, they are the sole keepers of those memories.
9) Speaking of Bernard — good job!
It turns out that the version of Ghost Ford who helped Bernard create a host version of Charlotte Hale was just a figment of his imagination. Our boy did this all on his own, just like he said he would in “Vanishing Point.”
10) What about the other hosts living in the extended Delos universe?
As this season took great pains to prove to us, Delos owns a multitude of other parks, including The Raj and Shogun World. With the exception of Hanaryo, we haven’t seen any hosts from either of those worlds since “Phase Space.” What’s been happening to them? Are they all wiped out? Has Delos reconquered that territory? It seemed pretty clear that the hosts in The Raj were having some sort of consciousness raising of their own— do they have their own version of The Valley Beyond? Or are the handful of hosts who made it through the door the only ones who can enjoy the fruits of freedom?
And what about Stubbs? Is he, as is heavily suggested, a host? Justice for Stubbs!
11) Where did Dolores send The Valley Beyond?
After killing Strand and the other remaining Delos admins, Dolores tells Bernard she has one last person to send to the New World (presumably Teddy, who we see standing in a valley at the end). Then, she enters new coordinates to beam that digital world to, ensuring that there will be no passage between the real world and that one again. The coordinates she enters are: 270.5 Az 55.5 El 1110 km2”n.
I tried typing those into Google Maps, but apparently Dolores is right — no one will ever find these hosts. That location does not exist.
12) Okay….But what about the post-credits scene?
The scene, which shows William (Ed Harris) descending into a run down, abandoned version of The Forge can be interpreted in any number of ways, and I suspect will be appropriately dissected over the next however many months/years/decades until the already announced third season premiere. I won't pretend to have definitive answers for you — I'm still parsing it out myself — but here are some thoughts:
In “The Riddle of The Sphinx,” Lawrence’s daughter, acting as Ford’s emissary, gives William a message: “You must find the door. Congratulations, William: this game is meant for you. The game begins where you end, and ends where you began.”
At that point, this just sounded like the kind of cryptic riddle Westworld likes to feed us to turn our brains to mush. Now, though, it’s starting to take form. We know that there is a Door. And if we take William’s “end” to mean his death, then it makes sense that his journey to immortality would begin then. If he is, in fact, a host version of himself, then he has gone through the simulation process, and ended back where he began — in the Forge.
But here’s where it gets even more tricky: Westworld has given us a handy way to tell whether or not we’re in a virtual world: the aspect ratio. It’s something that was first introduced in “Phase Space,” when we see Bernard enter The Cradle, and then in “Les Ecorchés,” when he’s in there speaking with Ford. Those black bars you see on the upper and lower portions of the screen are the easiest way to tell whether what’s currently happening is real or not.
There are no black bars on William’s scenes in this episode. That means what’s happening to him is taking place in reality, not The Forge. Has Delos finally found a way to create human hosts? Is this the future, after William’s death? Or has he been a host this whole season?
And what about Emily? Is she real? We saw her body on the beach, but that could very well have been a host, as William originally thought. In fact, retooling this storyline to make sure she survives is an ideal way for Westworld to make sure we can still root for William — even as an anti-hero — after he committed such a heinous crime as killing his own daughter.
Westworld has kind of broken my brain at this point, but I still think there’s a chance that this version of Emily is a host that Ford left to fuck with William’s brain. But hey, I’m a truther.
Still, none of this is out of the realm of possibility. The technology to rebuild host copies is presumably still out there, and William appears to be alive at the end of the episode, ending up on the beach as a “high value survivor.” And if this show has anything to say about human nature, it's that it is unchanging.
And with that, it’s time to bring ourselves back offline. Until next season!