After the Westworld finale, I still don't understand what's happening in Westworld

Commentary: The maze isn't meant for me and that's OK.

Sarah McDermott Senior Sub-Editor
Sarah is CNET's senior copy editor in London. She's often found reading, playing piano or arguing about commas.
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Sarah McDermott
6 min read
John P. Johnson/HBO

I'm a bad Westworld fan. There, I said it.

Westworld is one of those shows that rewards close engagement. It torments and tantalizes fans with clues buried in trailers and promotional websites, dizzying us with stories told across multiple timelines and pulling the rug out from under our feet with plot twists. I love it. I watch it every week. But I love it casually.

Read more: In HBO's Westworld Awakening VR game you play a host stalked by a serial killer

You know how people on the internet sometimes talk about watching the show with a distant cousin who hasn't followed the plot and has no idea what's going on? Well, Westworld fans, consider me your idiot cousin.

Comic-Con: I got to visit Westworld and I'm still reeling

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I don't keep up with the fan theories on the internet. I don't even attempt to decipher the riddles that co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have carefully hidden in every episode. I'd completely forgotten that we spent a lot of time last season worrying about someone called Wyatt. I've never set foot in the notoriously paranoid r/westworld subreddit.

In short, I haven't done my homework.

My colleagues are out there doing the hard work. They've been recapping every episode and even digging into the original film's forgotten sequel in search of clues. Meanwhile I've been hiding behind my hands and whispering encouragement to my favorite robots , as though they might be able to hear me through the screen. Please be careful, precious killer robots. Remember to dress sensibly and try not to get shot.

(Spoilers ahead for the finale of Westworld season two. If you're not yet done, check out this video about episode nine and come back after you've watched the finale and are emotionally prepared for this.)

Are the robots OK?

Who even knows? It's Westworld and at this point the show's got me so mixed up that I still don't know who we can expect to see in the future.

Don't get me wrong. We saw plenty of blood shed. Even after the trail of deaths that we've seen in season two, it was brutal. We've already said goodbye to some excellent robots in recent weeks, but it was nothing compared to what we witnessed this episode.

Clementine rides through the crowd of hosts like death on her pale horse and all hell breaks loose, turning hosts against each other in a violent free-for-all. Most distressingly, we lose the indomitable Maeve -- my favorite host, and one who's dodged death so many times she's begun to seem immortal. To see her go so soon after being reunited with her adorable squad of robots and humans is particularly heartbreaking.

But then, has anyone ever died in Westworld and stayed dead?

John P. Johnson/HBO

Maybe it's the denial talking. Characters I loved were dropping like flies, and their deaths were unsatisfying. Yes, Maeve got a nice moment with her daughter, but she barely seemed to care that Clementine's been re-engineered into an angel of robo-death. Meanwhile Hector and the rest of her crew went down with barely any acknowledgement. Do we get a touching final moment for snake-face lady and her ShogunWorld twin? Nope. Elsie? Boom. Gone. Westworld has always been cruel, but are we really going to let go of so many characters in one fell swoop? Have Nolan and Joy really burned the world down as promised?

Is this how Avengers fans felt as they stumbled out of Infinity War? I just watched all those beloved characters die! But in the back of my mind, I was already trying to calculate which of them might find a way back to our screens. After all, Dolores died and was resurrected in the course of a single episode. Ford ended the last series with a bullet through his head but he just spent a string of episodes camping out in Bernard's brain. Will we ever see the last of anyone?

I really do think we've seen the last of Lee Sizemore. He's a character whose name I only learned a week or so ago, having managed perfectly well just calling him "the awful writer guy" since episode one. Sizemore has had perhaps the most complicated character journey of all: He began the series as an arrogant jerk I couldn't stand and morphed into a hapless jerk I wound up liking despite myself. Even his final heroic moments in this episode were characteristically obnoxious, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Meanwhile, it looks like Bernard and Dolores have survived to form an uneasy alliance. But their circumstances are just as mysterious as ever. Does Bernard have a physical body anymore? Are they chilling in some sort of virtual space or is this the real world? What are you doing, Westworld?


Sure, Lee (right) might be gone, but have we seen the last of ShogunWorld?

John P. Johnson/HBO

Do we really know anything?

As Joy and Nolan promised, the finale answered some of the questions that have had us scratching our heads for the past few weeks. We've had a peep inside the Forge and wandered around in James Delos' simulated mind. And we learned that the library really does contain the data of everyone who's ever visited the theme park. (Because the hats were scanning people's brains all along, remember? Surely the silliest revelation of the entire series.)

We also learned more about the long-sought Valley Beyond. It seems to be a virtual Eden for hosts who leave their bodies. The ones who make the jump seem happy enough in their new pastoral idyll -- and certainly seem happier than everyone who gets hacked to pieces in the Ultimate Robot Deathmatch going on a few feet away.

But of course it's not good enough for Dolores. She's done with gilded cages and is prepared to wipe out the lot of them along with the humans' stored data. Later she has a change of heart and zaps the valley off somewhere else instead, taking the hosts who crossed over along with it. Does that mean we're never going to see Akecheta or Maeve's daughter again? Or are they being held in storage, ready to come out and run rampant in the real world someday?

Sorry, I'm back to denial, aren't I? Let's move on.

That one irredeemable guest

And then there's a question that seems to be answered, but the answer only prompts further questions.

In the post-credit sequence we see Emily conducting a fidelity test on the Man in Black. The show has been taunting William with the question of his humanity for a while now. But is this the same guy we've been watching all this time? And is he being interrogated by a simulation of his daughter or is Emily still alive after all?

And more importantly, should we care so much about the is-he-or-isn't-he game?

John P. Johnson/HBO

As I say, I'm a bad Westworld fan, so maybe I'm wrong here. But humans and hosts really aren't so different, no matter what Dolores says. We empathize with the hosts because they're just like us. They feel pain and fear and anger and love, and they're sentient enough to know that they've been screwed around by the humans who've been running the show. They've also had a taste of mortality this season -- their data can be erased, after all.

So does it really change things so much if the Man in Black turns out to have been a host all along? Yes, the hosts can be manipulated by outside forces -- just ask Bernard. But what we saw of James Delos in the Forge has raised its own questions about humans' free will. And as someone once said, if you can't tell, does it matter?

Listen, I have to be honest with you. I can only spend so much time thinking about the plot of Westworld before my mind starts twisting itself in knots. These 10 episodes have been mind-bending fun. But now that they're done, I'm really looking forward to some time off. The maze isn't meant for me, and that's OK.

Westworld is all about dismantling the 'mystery box': Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy spoke on how the HBO hit is different from Lost.

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