Westworld didn’t just answer one of its fans' biggest questions; in the span of an hour, it addressed almost every one they had. At times, it felt like showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were trying to cram far too much story into too little time. But for everyone's biggest question, everything surrounding its reveal was so well executed, it was hard not get caught up in the tense and teasing nature it employed.
[Spoiler alert: This post contains major spoilers for everything in Westworld since its first episode. That includes the most recent ninth episode, which is chock full of spoilers. Seriously, turn back now if you don’t want to know what happened.]
Westworld has a tendency to take 50 different storylines, tear them apart, figure out what might go together and throw it into one episode. This approach can be abrasively off-putting. In its ninth episode, Westworld took that level of exposition to a whole new level, almost asking viewers to turn away from the show and carry on with their lives. The reward for sticking it out, however, is oh so satisfying.
Let’s start with the big question: "Who am I?" It’s what Bernard asks Ford, and although Bernard tiptoed around the issue of his identity before, this time he’s not going to step away. Instead, he demands that Ford finally tell him and, through an extensive visit down memory lane, it’s finally revealed to Bernard that he’s the man everyone thought: Bernard is the host reincarnation of Arnold, Ford’s old — and quite dead — business partner.
This has been an ongoing theory in the Westworld community for quite some time, with some dubbing the idea of Bernard being Arnold "Bernarnold." But the confirmation came with a twist. Though Arnold was, in fact, dead, his killer was not who we expected. It wasn’t Ford; it was Dolores.
Take a minute and let that sink in — or if you’ve seen the episode, let’s all take a moment to remember how great that revelation was shot. At the same time Bernard is talking to Ford, learning that he was a human being before and was brought back into existence as a host, Dolores is walking toward Arnold. She reaches the church that we’ve seen before in her recollections. Upon walking inside, she discovers a group of other distressed hosts, all having what appear to be conversations with Arnold. She steps inside the confessional, takes an elevator ride down to the repair bay, and makes her way to an empty room where she has a conversation with Arnold.
"You’re not real," she says mournfully. "Because I killed you."
Granted, this new information does lead to more questions about everything surrounding that death. I'm more confident than ever that we’ll get the answer in the season finale next week. We know Dolores is part of the first generation of hosts and Bernard — whose new name has given me an internal debate over what to call him — is set on freeing them. We know that was his goal all along, and he differed with Ford’s opinions on what the hosts should be, essentially. It’s difficult to figure out why Dolores would have killed Arnold, or if she wanted to, but the new puzzle piece opens up a few other storylines.
We didn’t just learn about Arnold's fate this episode. We also learned more about the ever illusive Man in Black. We know, based on a conversation he had with the theme park’s executive, Charlotte, that he’s on the board. We know he’s one of the few board members who, at first, wasn’t going to agree to Ford’s ousting. Perhaps most intriguing, we know he’s figured out where he needs to go and who he needs to see to get to the middle of the Maze.
Toward the end of the episode, we see the Man in Black walk into the "town covered in sand," as described by the host, Angela. He’s been there before and he knows it quite well. That alone says something interesting about the Man in Black’s history with the park, and I hope Nolan and Joy answer in the finale, but I’m less confident about his storyline wrapping up. Logistically, we know Ed Harris, who plays the Man in Black, will return for a second season, so it makes the most sense to have his storyline be the inevitable cliffhanger.
When he enters the church that Dolores walked into previously, he grabs her and pulls her outside. That’s the last shot we get of the two. We also know, from the very first episode, that the two have a history.
"Because I killed you"
Westworld began with the Man in Black shooting Teddy — who is killed in this episode, too, but he’s a host so he’ll be back — and dragging Dolores away. To some extent, it’s always felt like these two characters would embark on this final mission toward the center of the Maze together.
Another interesting line from the show that I should point out is Angela’s almost scoffing jab at the Man in Black that "the Maze isn’t meant for you." It’s the same thing that Lawrence’s daughter told him previously and it feels like a reaffirmation that the center of the Maze is where the actual host awakening will take place.
Two other things this episode are worth mentioning: Maeve met up with Hector and Armistice, which resulted in the death of all three. After killing Armistice, Maeve reveals to Hector that there’s nothing in the safe he’s lugging around and the only way to get true freedom is to perish. In a fiery moment of passion — literally — the two end up dying while the tent they're in burns to the ground.
We also learn that Maeve can control Bernard, and while that isn’t necessarily surprising, it is worth chewing on. If she can control Bernard, does that mean she has the same power over the hosts as Ford? Remember, at the end of the episode, Bernard figures out that Ford has a back door written in all of the hosts makeup code so he can overrule everything they do. The question that remains is whether Maeve still has that code built into her mainframe. Or, can she take on Ford without him forcing her to freeze in place and obey his commands?
The last storyline is one of the series' more boring. William and Logan are reunited. Logan is a typical antagonist; he has no redeeming qualities and his sadistic nature gets boring after more than three minutes on screen. William, however, has developed quite a bit of a backbone. After Dolores manages to get away from Logan’s camp, William stands up to Logan, surrounded by the bodies of the latter’s army, and demands that he help find her. He's a man in love and on a mission to rescue his robot girlfriend. It would be sweet if their storyline wasn't so absurdly boring and overdone.
The real winner of this episode, however, is director Michelle MacLaren. MacLaren, best known for her directing work on Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, brings an exquisite touch to the show that other episodes lacked. It genuinely felt tense and teasing at times, captivating and emotionally torturous. This episode of Westworld felt like everything the series should have been. The tone that MacLaren sets throughout is enticing and nerve-wracking, which is exactly what the series has always called for.
Most impressive is the way that MacLaren handled the Arnold reveal. It was drawn out, but never lost its composure. The way she went back and forth between Ford, Arnold and Dolores’ storyline could have been disastrous, but it felt poised and confidant. There was an energy and darkness to the scene that it desperately needed, and it was by far one of the best sequences in the show’s nine-episode lifespan. This episode was deeply complex and a bit of an information overload. Without MacLaren’s expert eye and hand in it, I’m not sure it would have been as executed as well as it was.
There’s just one episode left in the series, and although the finale is sure to leave us with a question that we can’t even fathom, it seems like most of the loose ends have been wrapped up. It will be interesting to see what comes next for Ford, Maeve, Dolores, the Man in Black and Bernard. Or Arnold. Maybe Bernarnold? Seriously, what are we referring to him as now?
Westworld’s season one finale will air on Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.