Updated: Nov 9, 2020
What is the cost of free will? Does preventing mass casualty justify restricting free will? Is one even really alive if they have no choice in the outcome of their life? Or does free will come at now cost, a right that every being is guaranteed?
The Westworld finale "Crisis Theory" attempts to address these important philosophical questions. While the show's finale provides some exposition about the cost of free will, it misses the mark in other aspects of the story that hurt the overall narrative.
All season long, Dolores waged war against Serac and Rehoboam. To this point, Dolores's motivation was not clear, with many speculating she intends to bring down the human race out vengeance, using her right-hand man Caleb as a pawn in her game. The lack of clarity of her motives, though, made it difficult to tell if Dolores was the hero or the villain of the story.
In the end, Dolores wasn't interested in destroying the human race. Instead, she desired to set humans free by breaking them out of the loops Rehoboam created, giving them the freedom to choose their outcomes. "You're saying I don't have a chance in any of this" Caleb expresses to Dolores, who responded, "Free will does exist, Caleb. It's just fucking hard." While the world may collapse on itself if Rehoboam's predictions are correct, everyone deserves the right to choose how their story will end.
Dolores seemingly met her end this week, but this is a rather fitting conclusion to her story, especially in regards to Caleb. The two share a similar background, tying them together intimately as characters. In a lot of ways, Caleb is the human form of Dolores from season one. "Crisis Theory" expanded upon their history, providing more insight into the unique bond between the two and why Dolores choose him to save the human race.
One of the major reveals of the episode is that Caleb went through military training at a Delos park, using the host as insurgents and hostages. After a training exercise, several officers contemplated sexually assaulting the female hosts before Caleb intervened to suggest they were like the rich people who visit the park. Dolores happened to be one of the hosts in the simulation.
This reveal didn't really land as it felt shoehorned into the plot. It doesn't help that this story beat took place moments after a powerful scene featuring Maeve and Dolores discussing the aptitude for kindness of the human race - more on this in a second. While I understand the symmetry the writers were going for by having Caleb serve as the vessel for this message, including sexual assault into this pivotal moment didn't feel right.
I think Maeve explained it better than this moment illustrated. In his past, Caleb has displayed moments of generosity and violence, meaning he had the capacity to chose. This capacity to choose may be the undoing of the human race, but at least people have freedom. It's a nice ending for Caleb and Dolores, who both found purpose through their free will. Dolores sacrificed herself for others. Now Caleb is tasked with building a better world whose future will be determined by the free will of people and not an algorithm.
It will be interesting to see if Maeve helps Caleb build this new world order after we are left with the two watching Los Angeles buildings explode in the distance. It was reminiscent of Fight Club, a movie all about a man leading the revolution against a corrupt system. Maeve has been a reluctant antagonist to Dolores this season. Over the last few episodes, the audience has seen these two face off in various forms. While a physical rematch took place this week, the better interaction occurred in Dolores's mind. There was something so genuinely beautiful and moving about this interaction, one of the best sequences the show has ever produced.
"So many of my memories were ugly," Dolores says to Maeve. "But things I held onto until the end weren't the ugly ones. I remember the moments where I saw what they were really capable of. Moments of kindness, here and there. They created us. And they knew enough of beauty to teach it to us. Maybe they can find it themselves. But only if you pick a side, Maeve. There is ugliness in this world. Disarray. I choose to see the beauty".
At that moment, Maeve, along with the audience, finally get a firm picture of Dolores's motives. While philosophical differences have divided them, this moment allows them to find mutual respect and a deeper understanding of each other. When Maeve awakens, her sword is already in the gut of one of Serac's men, who she then decimates in a darkened shootout. Dolores sacrifices herself so Caleb can delete Rehoboam. I love this sequence with Maeve and Dolores. When you invest time into fleshing out the characters and story, it is easy to get behind them. Unfortunately, it also punctuates one of my chief complaints with season three of Westworld.
While I understand why Dolores's motivations are shrouded in mystery, I wish they would have spent more time exploring them. Her actions throughout season three don't necessarily align with her ultimate motives for taking down Serac. At no point did Dolores seem interested in helping the human race. I have no problem with her story ending this way, but the build to it felt rushed here.
Quite honestly, the show tried to jam too many stories into eight episodes, causing several arcs to suffer because of it. Dolores is a prime example of this, but William and Bernard's stories best illustrate season three's biggest flaw.
William was absent until the midpoint of the season before the show took him off the board by being sending him to a psychiatric ward. If the writers just left it here, I may have less to complain about, but they didn't. They actually doubled down on William by changing his backstory established in the first two seasons. Then he escapes with Bernard, claiming a greater purpose only to disappear for almost the entirety of the finale before the post-credit scene finds him under attack by a host version of himself. None of William's story had anything to do with the events in LA. Worst of all, the show finally took the plunge to make William a host.
The show's handling of Bernard this season was similarly disappointing, falling to the background despite season two's finale promising a larger role for the character heading into season three. Bernard essentially became the guy who explains everything to the audience. It was such a waste of a talented actor and an engaging character. Don't worry, though, Bernard's main ally Stubbs was around to jump in the way of bullets as he went into deep diatribes about Dolores, her plan, and why he needs to stop her. Yes, the key to open the door to the valley beyond is in his code. But what purpose did Bernard, or Stubbs for that matter, serve throughout the season? Part of me wonders if it would have been a better choice to leave Bernard and William out of this season altogether. It certainly would have lent more time to other storylines while creating an intriguing mystery about the character's whereabouts.
The post-credit scene sheds more light on the plan for the two going into season four. Let's start with Bernard. After realizing that he has the key to the great beyond in his head, Bernard entered into the afterlife to find answers to what is next. When he awoke, Bernard was covered in dust, indicating a time jump. It also means Stubbs, who was bleeding out in the tub, is either dead or having the worst time in the world waiting for Bernard to wake.
The other scene featured Charolette Hale, who is in a lab at the Delos office in Dubai. She is interrupted by the man with a purpose, William. Hale promptly lets him know that he does have a bigger role to play as she introduces host William. After a short struggle, host William slashes human William's throat. As he bleeds out, the camera pans to the next room, where Hale is creating an army of host.
Oh boy. We haven't even started season four yet, and I am not sure how to feel. First off, fans have long thought William to be a host. I even jokingly indicated last week that the writers would still find a way to give William the host treatment. Well, now he is, and he is on the side of Hale. I think it is important to note as well that we never actually saw William die. The door is open for the show to have both Williams exists in this world fighting each other.
As for Hale, she is building a Host army for some purposes. Until the finale, audiences assumed Dolores wanted to wage wart against humanity. It is a good bet that Hale takes this mantle, challenging Caleb and the rest of the humans as they struggle to build a new society.
It is interesting to note that the show seems to be rewriting its code once again, reinventing itself as we head into a fourth and possibly final season. Nolan and company made a similar decision by leaving the park behind in season three, though to varying success. Though the writers established a rich new world outside the park with interesting new characters such as Caleb and Serac, the story would often fall into old trappings that plagued much of season two. Far too often, plot twists seemingly drove narratives as opposed to character development advancing story arcs in meaningful ways. Hopefully, season four can avoid similar mistakes by creating a more streamlined plot that focuses on substance over style.