“I think that scene will fuck with people.”
This post contains frank discussion of the entire second season of Westworld including the finale titled “The Passenger.” If you’re not caught up, now is the time to leave.
Just when you thought Westworld was done dropping twists about Dolores’s identity, yet another Host hiding in plain site, and Easter Eggs tucked away in the opening credits, there was one more major major reveal waiting after the credits rolled. Did you miss it? Well we’ll wait while you go cue it up. You’re going to want to pay attention. This latest revelation sends implication shockwaves through the whole series and, thankfully, both co-executive producer and episode director Fred Toye as well as series regular Shannon Woodwardwho plays Elsie illuminated the latest twists in lengthy interviews with Vanity Fair’scompanion podcast Still Watching: Westworld.
But if you’re more of a visual learner, let’s let Toye help break it down along with some helpful footage from the season.
Where Are We? When Are We? After the credits roll and Ed Harris’scharacter The Man in Black a.k.a. William stumbles out of that elevator he finds himself in a very familiar location. Yes, he’s still in “my fucking park” as he so evocatively puts it. In fact, as Toye confirmed on the podcast, William is in the once-flooded Forge only this time it’s been completely drained of water. “We return to the facility that we’ve seen and it’s destroyed now,” Toye explains. “It’s covered with sand and it looks like a lot of time has passed and all of that. That’s all part of establishing that timeline.” So we know where we are, and now Westworld would like you to think about when we are.
Toye, Lisa Joy, and Jonah Nolan have all cited Stanley Kubrick as a major influence on the show so it makes sense that this visual language would reflect Kubrick’s vision for the end of his uncompleted film A.I. where our robotic hero passes thousands of years on the bottom of the ocean. In fact, a dust-ravaged view of the future should be a familiar clue to any fan of sci-fi/fantasy storytelling.
And before you go doubting Emily’s lines to William that the “system is long gone” and that this is not some kind of simulation, let Toye make it absolutely clear: “It’s in reality. It’s real.” That’s why there’s no telltale letterboxing on the screen which has been our visual cue for the simulated worlds of the CR4-DL, The Forge, and The Valley Beyond all season. This is reality. William is in the Forge and he’s in the future. But how far in the future?
We’re looking at a Host/Hybrid version of William and at least a Host version of Emily. Please note that while there are stylistic similarities between the round room where Jim Delos took his many fidelity tests and the one we see William in here, they are not identical. For example, the hourglass in Jim’s room had white sand, the hourglass in William’s has, you guessed it, black sand. We’ll eventually get to whyWilliam is there and, evidently, on a loop, but the way William mumbles “again and again” when Emily says “here we are again” would imply he’s been at this a very long time.
Why Is Emily There? “Emily” is there for the same reason “Logan” was there in The Forge. The Man in Black’s future is tied thematically and literally to his daughter the same way Jim Delos in The Forge was fixated on his son. Both of these terrible fathers made choices that led to their children dying. As the Forge version of Logan explains, Delos can’t stop looping back to this one moment with his son.
This week we learn that the haunting lines Delos recited to Elsie in the hell-esque version of his testing chamber in Episode 4 were the very last words his son ever said to him.
These lines work, evocatively, out of context, but in context it’s a reference to the story Logan tells of his father tossing him into a pool in order to teach him to swim: “Remember when you taught me how to hold my breath underwater. Threw me in and wouldn’t let me back out until I touched the bottom.” Delos further deepens the metaphor when he told Bernard in Episode 4: “They said there were two fathers, one above, one below. There was only ever the devil and when you looked up from the bottom it was just his reflection laughing back down at you.” Delos knows he’s the devil in this story and as the Forge version of Logan says, no mater how many millions of pathways he built for Jim, this bad dad always came looping back to one poolside confrontation. His own private hell.
Toye confirms that just as that Logan moment is the lynchpin for Delos, so is Emily’s death in Episode 9, and the fallout from it, the defining moment the “pivotal choice” for the Man in Black. In the future, William has put his human consciousness into a Host body and is running a repeating test on himself in order to figure out if there’s some version of his journey through the park that doesn’t end with him massacring Emily. Screw “The Maze” and “The Door,” Williams has created his own game—a hell where the only way to escape is to beat the internal wiring that drove him to kill his daughter.
I’m Sorry, What? Okay, let me rewind. Toye calls this future exercise that ends with “Emily” and the dusty Forge a “test” where William is “doomed to repeat” the events we saw play out in the park over the course of the last two seasons. William has used his own technology to create a hell of his own making. A little loop.
Yes, William’s made himself immortal in contradiction with the conclusion he had reached earlier in the season when ending the Delos Project.
So why change his mind? Well, clearly, Emily’s death rattled William to his core. In the immediate aftermath, we heard him questioning his ability to make his own choices: “What is a person but a collection of choices? Where any of those choices truly ever mine to begin with?”
But the Forge version of Logan (as well as Ghost Ford and Dolores and Teddy etc.) said very clearly that humans don’t have free will. Because they cannot honestly interrogate their core drives, humans are slaves to their programming more than the Hosts are. This prompts the Forge version of Logan to conclude that William is “irredeemable” when giving Bernard the tour and William—in the grand tradition of Lost’s John “Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do” Locke—has decided to prove the System wrong.
But he can’t. No matter what path he sets out on, William always winds up in the same place killing his daughter, confronting Dolores, and blowing his hand off. “The best [humans] can do,” Forge Logan says, “is live according to their code.”
Toye explains: “The moment where [Emily] asks him, ‘What did you expect to find here?’ I just always felt like that moment was the moment we’ve been waiting for for 22 hours of storytelling. To hear [William] tell you what his intent was. It’s so beautifully executed by [Ed Harris]. He plays this duality of shame, acceptance, and confusion about how he got here. He had assumed that he was going to become a virtual simulation and I think that it threw him for a loop to understand that there’s more to it than that. And I think that scene will fuck with people.”
Okay Wait, Sigh, Was William A Host This Whole Time? No. Emphatically not. No. Sure, this is some quasi wish fulfillment for William, though, to be sure. He hasn’t felt like he belonged in the real world since his first visit to the park and both Juliet and Emily warned him that he was disappearing more and more into the fantasy of it all. Now he gets his wish: he’s in the park forever. But actually, in this hellish loop, it would seem that William wants to prove something else. That he isn’tjust the black-hatted “stained” villain of the park. That there’s more to him. That he can choose to be better. Except he can’t.
But to get back to the original question, listen, we definitely watched human William kill his human daughter Emily in Episode 9. As Shannon Woodward (who has read all the scripts including, presumably, stage directions) said on the podcast, William didn’t find a Host port in his arm when he went digging for it. The crazed man we saw in Episode 9 was exactly that, a man, driven to the brink by Ford’s game. Though the show does now have a loophole, if it wants one, to retcon almost everything we’ve seen up to this point with the Man in Black. Hold on to your hats and glasses for this one.
In Season 1, we were watching two different timelines centered on Dolores without knowing it. She was re-tracing a loop through the park and would occasionally glitch back in time in ways we couldn’t precisely track until we had the whole picture. Here’s Dolores both wandering by herself and then, decades in the past, wandering with young William and Logan.
So in theory, if Westworld wants to be extra tricky (and when doesn’t it?), a lot of the scenes we’ve seen with Ed Harris in the park could be part of mirrored looping track he’s taking in the future. For example, William’s Season 2 trip to Las Mudas which involved a choice to play the hero inspired by guilty thoughts of his wife and daughter could be part of a future looping track.
I hope that’s not the case because Westworld is already hard enough to sort out. I’d prefer to think of everything we’ve seen in the show up until the ending of the finale as the “baseline” park experience that helped create the Host/Hybrid version of William.
For the purpose of Episode 10, at least, Toye helpfully named the final moments for us: “Timeline Three.”
Okay So What Are We Watching In This Episode? All Future? Some Past? When Are We? What Was With That Elevator F*ckery? In the finale, we watch the Man in Black get up and stagger towards the Forge, get in an elevator and, we thought, head towards a confrontation with Bernard. When the doors opened, though, there was no one there. What’s up with that? Well just before the elevator, according to Toye, is where the timeline split. “I think that it’s up to interpretation as to when you think the storytelling switches from the reality in Timeline Two to the reality in Timeline Three. I always took it—and maybe Jonah [Nolan] would say something different—but I always took it as that moment when he wakes up after his hand being blown off [that’s] when the storytelling switches timelines. I am positive that Jonah and Lisa have a very specific idea about that one.”
In fact, we know that the Man in Black ends up nursing his injured hand in a medical tent on the beach at the end of Timeline Two so it’s possible he never got up off the ground at all after the gun backfired on him until some of the Delos crew picked him up.
And while the final moment did deliver a shock in terms of time and ramifications, it was at least seeded back through the season in a way that, hopefully, by the end of it, you were anticipating what the final words of the season would be.
The scene was, by design, as straightforward as such a twist can be. Toye says that, originally, they had planned to plant that scene earlier in the episode. The scene wound up as a post-credits stinger “due to the fact that there are such exhausting, mental exercises that you had to go through to get to it. If you cut to it right away, after Bernard leaves, or even if you try to put it before, it’s too much. Jonah’s intention was to just make it simple.” If this is Westworld’s version of simple then we’re already bracing for Season 3.