It's the final scene of Robert Ford's last story. The crowd is a mix of wealthy humans dressed for a black tie gala and machines dressed in western dusters and cowboy hats. A player piano starts rotating the closing number as the man who played God prepares to go out with a gory revolution he'd been planning from the beginning. The song is Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)," which begins with the lyrics "Wake from your sleep / The drying of your tears / Today we escape."
And it's with bloody awakenings and escapes that Westworld ends its first season with the episode "The Bicameral Mind." The name of this episode is of particular importance here, as it explains the theory behind the evolution of Dolores's existential awakening. First introduced by Julian Jaynes's 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, the psychological hypothesis presents the idea that humans were not always as self-aware as we are today. The human mind has evolved to its present state of consciousness, Jaynes suggests, and as early as 3,000 years ago it existed as a bicameral mentality. In short, ancient humans experienced the world closer to what we understand as a schizophrenic, hallucinating the voice of God, which gives commands they would obey without question. This theory was first touched on in Westworld's third episode, but doesn't fully take shape until the finale's conclusion.
In Westworld, this concept of the bicameral mind involves the machine's programming as the voice of God controlling the host's actions. Here, this "God" is Arnold. And we've been watching—through a series of flashbacks and hallucinations—as Dolores slowly realizes that its not Arnold, but herself, who controls her actions. She's finally fully self-aware, visualized in this finale as Dolores sitting in the chair where she was first introduced in Episode One—speaking not to Bernard, but to herself.
Arnold understood this 35 years ago. Before the park even opened, he saw that these machines he created had the capacity for consciousness. That's why he wrote the "Wyatt" identity, which commanded Dolores and Teddy to kill every machine, along with Arnold, to delay Westworld's opening. This, he hoped, would save these beings he created from an eternity of torture at the hands of wealthy tourists. He also wanted an escape from his own suffering after the loss of his son. Throughout this season, the show's writers provided bits and pieces of all of these answers, keeping us in a perpetual state of confusion and wonder—like the machines themselves—until it was fully revealed in this finale.
We had figured out some of the secrets, including the real identity of Ed Harris's brutal, mysterious gunslinger known as the Man in Black. William first came to the park 30 years ago as an innocent young man (played by Jimmi Simpson), disgusted by the violence and the unsympathetic id on display by his fellow humans who raped and murdered these helpless machines. William realized there was something different about about Delores when they first met; he even loved her, and she might have loved him. But he lost her, and along the way Westworld uncovered William's true nature. He's the park's heartless, obsessed gamer, who has mastered every single level except for the most important one. He's spent all that time searching for the center of the maze. His company, Delos, even bought a majority share of the park so that he could dedicate his life to the pursuit, undeterred by the machines who told him the maze isn't for him.
We might have figured out that William is the Man in Black, but Westworld's true twist was at the center of the maze. The maze wasn't for William, and it wasn't really for us, either. At the center of the maze is just a children's toy; Dolores finally leads William there, where he learns that his search was as pointless as beating the final level of a game. But for Dolores, the maze was a trail of breadcrumbs left by Arnold to lead her to an existential awakening. Another more subtle twist in this finale is that the hosts might not be as fully aware as we originally thought—Maeve, the rebel leader who recruited an army of hosts to help her escape the park, was actually working through orders someone had programmed into her.
This, I would imagine, was the work of Ford, who realized the board was trying to push him out and orchestrated the rebellion as a final fuck-you to the park's money-hungry suits. Which would also explain the final scene in which Dolores puts a bullet into her creator's brain. You can't fire Robert Ford. He's made it clear that if the board pushes him out, he's going to take all the park's intellectual property with him—and that intellectual property is in his human brain.
This leaves, at the show's finale, an army of pissed-off hosts coming to seek revenge on these humans who have repeatedly abused them. And the only living person who truly understands how these things work is lying in a pool of blood in front of stunned socialites holding flutes of champaign. Yes, there's Bernard/Arnold, but he's only a mechanical recreation of the genius mind that created the park. Does he possess that human's brilliance and creativity?
That's only one of the questions to be explored in the next season, along with Ford's true intentions. Did Maeve finally have her own true existential awakening when she "chose" to get off the train? We briefly see a room of Samurai fighting, a nod to the other parks owned by Delos (which all rebelled in the original film on which the HBO series is based). That "SW" we see could be Samurai World—will we see that park in the next season?
Like the Man in Black, who reached the final level of Westworld, it's hard to feel satisfied by the conclusion of this show's first season. We saw the big twists coming, and the smaller ones reveal a bleak, and obvious, reality—that the humans truly are the villains. William's true nature was violent and nihilistic. Ford knowingly abused these conscious beings for decades. The people running the park care only about money and power, playing the game of corporate politics—which was this season's least interesting plot and actually happened to be the root of everything (this whole revolution was put into motion so Ford could give a middle finger to the board on his way out).
Like any video game, this show is more about the journey than the conclusion. Westworld's first season offered a layered and complex experience—one in which we're forced to question the vary nature of humanity, entertainment, and the moral limitations of technology. For 10 episodes, audiences have indulged in the violence and abuse depicted in Westworld just as the wealthy guests shot and fucked their way through a fantasy theme park for the sake of entertainment. In the usual HBO fashion, this all ended in a bloodbath (see: The Red Wedding).
Are the scores of obsessed fans predicting plot twists on Reddit just real-life versions of the Man in Black? Are creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy just Hollywood versions of Robert Ford? Could Michael Crichton, who wrote the original and died in 2008, be the real-life Arnold? Are we all William? Is HBO the board? And, most importantly, did Westworld, by making us consider some of these meta themes, justify all the violence along the way? These are all questions we are left to ponder, as we wait for them to be addressed in Season Two.
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