You know that feeling when you watch something and then you have to sit in silence for a moment and take it all in? That’s the first season finale of Westworld in a nutshell.
On first viewing I’m not sure I actually have taken in everything it set out to reveal or say, and I’m sure some of the revelations themselves and the way they are delivered may come as a disappointment to some viewers who will no doubt vent all about it on social media, but there are answers here, some of which everyone will have seen coming, others which come as a surprise.
First of all, let’s get my obvious feelings out-of-the-way; I enjoyed the hell out of the episode and I enjoyed the hell out of this first season. I never thought it was perfect, in fact it wasn’t really until the second half of the season that I started to feel as if the show was truly starting to feel like it was genuinely going somewhere, and by the end of The Bicameral Mind the show is only starting to hit the story beat that we know the show has been building up to if only because of what Michael Crichton’s original movie concerned itself with.
Of course some will cry foul that the season stops just at the moment the “hosts” finally turn on their human masters, but the journey there, especially in the shape of these ninety minutes, is very entertaining, thought-provoking and sums up many of the show’s themes and ideas concretely and brilliantly.
Instead of simply throwing in action beat after action beat, although make no mistake as there is some robot against human action here in the second half of the episode, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s teleplay relies on the power of words, its actors and storytelling to carry home its revelations and plot twists.
That two of the most key moments are delivered via voice over and storytelling is the most powerful and important thing here because, if anything, Westworld is about storytelling. Words like narrative have appeared frequently throughout, from Ford and his “new narrative” to Lee and his imperative to want to “write” the narratives himself and frustrations at not being able to do so, and the episode itself even plays a brilliant trump card when Dolores’ “death” and final words to Teddy followed by his “hopeful” speech afterwards are nothing more but a performance orchestrated by Ford in front of the board members.
The latter itself is brilliant and feels truly clichéd and derivative of many a final scene from a western. Flashback sixty or seventy years and it could easily have been played by someone like Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, complete with beach setting and beautiful full moon over the water.
Every character and actor gets their moment to shine, from Wood, to Marsden to Hopkins, to Harris to Newton, with Rodrigo Santoro and Ingrid Bolso Berdal getting the fair share of physical action with its heavy gun play, full frontal nudity and increasingly bloody special effects reminding one of something that Hollywood would have produced in the 1980s, let alone a Michael Crichton directed film from 1973.
In fact, for all my complaints sometimes about the use of nudity and it feeling as if it’s fulfilling some HBO quota for a requisite number of scenes featuring tits, ass and penis, overall Westworld has felt like a science fiction action movie in a way that the genre used to be before Hollywood became diluted with PG-13 rated family friendly movies from its studios. The ferocious action, the use of incredibly splattery special effects all laced with intelligent and well developed themes instantly puts one in mind of films like Blade Runner, Robocop and The Terminator.
Sometimes the violence does get pushed into the realms of being uncomfortable. The Man in Black’s violence against Dolores is horrifying and seems like the show is taking too much joy in it, but I like to think its setting us up for a massive cheer when Dolores fights back and breaks William’s arm. The way she flings him around like some rag doll is both darkly humourous and very cathartic.
Oh yes, the theory that everyone on the planet seemingly had right from the moment Jimmi Simpson showed up on the show turned out to be true. The moment we learn this is one of the best television moments of the year, and reiterates Westworld’s main theme of storytelling. Rather than just filling the blanks in via flashbacks, Nolan and Joy’s teleplay has the MiB deliver the revelation in the form of a beautifully worded story to go with the flashbacks, as blanks are filled in and answers given. It’s a great moment, and the way the episode cuts back between Old William and Dolores then back to Young William and Logan in the past once again shows the wonder and brilliance of Westworld’s editing, some of which has been the best edited television of 2016.
A backlash is probably inevitable as the season stops right at the moment Evan Rachel Wood goes all Yul Brynner on everyone, and several characters and stories are left up in the air for the show to return to next season; Maeve’s decision to not journey to the outside world, opting instead to find her daughter; Old William being confronted by the host rebellion, a joyfully dark smile on his face; the control centre, along with the entire facility it seems, being shut down; Dolores shooting Ford in the back of the head, as he wishes it seems going by the way he left the gun for her after their conversation where he tells both herself and Bernard that he purposefully put them on their current course so they could be self aware, before turning the gun on the rest of the board as Teddy watches on in horror.
These violence delights genuinely have violent ends, but for now they must be put away until the show comes back. It’s going to be a long wait.