After eight consecutive weeks of following Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) trying to bring down humanity and the rich assholes who inhabit it while Maeve (Thandie Newton), with her samurai, doing her best to stop her for the sake of reuniting with her daughter, the third season of Westworld finally came to an end last night. And albeit a hopeful and bittersweet moment, the story, unfortunately, concludes in an underwhelming and frustrating note. Motivations and purposes are shifting at the last minute. Some of the characters’ arcs remain underdeveloped until the very end. Still, the performances from the cast, along with Ramin Djawadi’s musical arrangement and the show’s mesmerizing set design, at least still make the journey bearable. And for Westworld, a show that has shown a sign of exhaustion for two years now, that is enough.
Dolores and the end of the world
‘Crisis Theory’ opens with a series of flashbacks featuring Dolores and her horrible life inside the park. With her light blue dress and innocent view of the world, this old Dolores tries to process all the ugliness that the guests of Delos are bringing to the park. At first, this flashback is meant to make us understand why in the end Dolores tries to destroy humanity — how the trauma and torture that she experienced before have motivated her to take back the freedom and liberation she so desperately wants and deserves. But it’s revealed later on that there’s a lot more than just revenge in Dolores, and that her view of humanity isn’t as shallow as we’ve been led to believe all season.
The episode, however, has a lot of detours before Dolores’ real purpose is revealed toward the end of the episode. And some of it isn’t that thrilling to follow. Caleb who last week intended to be the face of Dolores’ revolution and destroy Rehoboam once and for all, has to put himself in danger so that he can infiate Incite. But before that, he goes to resurrect Dolores using the pearl he retrieved from her dead body at Sonora. While Dolores is putting on her skin, she gives Caleb (Aaron Paul) a pep talk about how hard it is to have free will. “The people who built both of our worlds shared one assumption, that human beings don’t have free will,” Dolores says to Caleb. “They were wrong. Free will does exist, Caleb. It’s just f***ing hard.”
At this point, all these discussions about the nature of free will have served no function to the whole story any more. It’s all just perfunctory, and a tired formula to make the show seems smart even though it’s not. The problem isn’t that this philosophical exploration is not an interesting topic to talk about. In fact, as other shows like Devs have demonstrated, when it’s done right, this subject proves to be very intriguing. But for three seasons, Westworld has failed to deepen its examination of free will. And instead, it just spins the same conversations using big, ridiculous words to a point that it’s getting formulaic, even somewhat exhausting. Especially in season three that was first intended to be sort of exciting reboot, what Dolores said to Caleb further proves that Westworld is actually reluctant to leave the comfort of its status quo.
The issue doesn’t just stop there. It also extends to how Dolores’ journey concludes. When the season began eight weeks ago, Dolores had a very narrow assumption of humanity based on how she saw the guests inside the park. And throughout seven episodes, even when Dolores learns through Caleb that not all people are bad, her assumption of humanity remains the same: human beings are horrible and they have to be destroyed no matter what the cost. But after she’s kidnapped by Serac (Vincent Cassel), who has gone full villain two episodes ago, we learn that Dolores’ final goal is actually not to destroy humanity. It is, in fact, quite the opposite: saving humanity from itself and an evil man like Serac.
The shift in Dolores’ purpose will no doubt make her a more empathetic character. And Wood’s vulnerable performance throughout the episode, especially in the scene where she admits her real goal to Maeve for the first time, is outstanding. But sadly, it doesn’t seem earned at all. At what point does Dolores’ motivation change? Or has it actually been her goal all along? If that’s the case, then why it doesn’t feel like it? Or why does she keep challenging other characters? If the reason is that she wants the other hosts to demonstrate their own free will, then it’s acceptable. But until the very end, the show has done a poor job at making that justification believable. So as a result, Dolores’ change of heart at the last minute of her life looks very premature instead of compelling.
So, the future is Caleb and Maeve? Or is it Bernard?
Just like how Dolores’ arc prematurely ends this episode, Caleb, Maeve and Bernard’s (Jeffrey Wright) aren’t exactly that exciting either. Last week, we learned that the reason why Dolores wants Caleb to be the face of her revolution is because of her poetic sensibility and his tendency for violence. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Apparently, Caleb and Dolores have met before in Delos, back when the fifth park was used as a training compound for soldiers. Caleb impressed Dolores when he told the other soldiers, who at that time wanted to rape the female hosts, including Dolores, to not be like the rich assholes who abuse the hosts.
So in that regard, it’s Caleb’s capacity of kindness that becomes the reason why Dolores wants him to be her pal, which is quite sweet. Problem is, it looks like this brief backstory between the two of them is shoehorned into the story just to make Dolores’ change of purpose at the end of the episode make sense. If the main reason Dolores picks Caleb is that he’s a good guy, then there’s no point in keeping his character the biggest mystery of the season. It just ends up like a lazy plot device so that everything that happens during this season finale falls into place.
Maeve and Bernard also remain underutilized until the end of the season. Sure, there’s an insane fighting sequence between Maeve and Serac’s men toward the final moment of the episode, complete with Djawadi’s score and cool lighting. But aside from being the biggest obstacle between Dolores and Rehoboam, Maeve’s arc in season three is, unfortunately, not that great either. She’s just there doing a simulation, playing sword, dies, then resurrected to just repeat the same things. It’s such a waste, because even with uninteresting material Newton keeps proving herself to be the best performer of the show. And don’t get me started about Bernard, who keeps popping up everywhere out of the blue each episode without anything to do.
However, with the show revealing that Bernard is actually the one who holds the key to the Sublime that Serac has been trying to find all season, it will be interesting to follow his journey in season four. Perhaps he will be the person who’ll bring back humanity after the apocalypse, and alongside Maeve and Caleb, will be fighting together against Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) who, as we can see from the post-credit scene, will inhabit the villain role next season. It’s all obviously still up in the air, but let’s once again hope that things will get better in season four.
Quite a roller coaster ride
Westworld season three has been quite a roller coaster journey, with so many ups in the first half of the season, and plenty of downs in the second half. And while the set design, cinematography, and performances remain to die for until the end, most parts of the season are undercooked, with an even more frustrating ending. But if there’s one thing that we can learn from Dolores this season, it’s that there’s always kindness and beauty in humanity even though in the end, the choice of how you will demonstrate that kindness is a matter of your own free will.
What do you think of the ending? Do you think Dolores is really gone for good?
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.