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'Westworld' recap: A wild, wild finale

Simon Quarterman and Thandie Newton in a scene

Simon Quarterman and Thandie Newton in a scene from season 2 of "Westworld." Credit: HBO / John P. Johnson

"Westworld," HBO, Second season finale Sunday

WHAT IT WAS ABOUT The second season of "Westworld" ended Sunday with the episode "The Passenger," as Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) finally got out of the park by commandeering the robo-body of park boss Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson). Out there in the real world she makes a new Dolores and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and who knows who else! (She did smuggle out six "pearls," or brain orbs.) Oh, yeah: it ended with the Man in Black (Ed Harris) about to undergo a "fidelity" test by his real (or robo) daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers), suggesting he too is trapped by Ford's (Anthony Hopkins) immortality project.

MY SAY A case could be made that "The Passenger" was either a disaster or triumph -- always the sign of a compelling wrap. In the "disaster" column, you could check off the obvious boxes: Too confusing, too disjointed, too violent, too strange. There's also the suspicion -- maybe valid, possibly not on closer inspection — that "Westworld" capriciously changes logic to fit narrative when convenient. This creates a herky-jerky viewing experience, as you -- as much as Bernard - search your own memory cells for precedent or antecedents that relate to what just happened (and hence to the broader story).

But this is "Westworld's" world and producers can do what they want. We, the viewers, are just the guests. We have choices too. (Like, we don't have to watch.)

The "triumph" argument is ruled by one question. Was "The Passenger" true to the spirit of the series so far? (Was there "fidelity" here, to borrow the final word of the season?)  The answer is yes, ergo "triumph" wins. Season 2 never promised fans a rose garden, nor an answer to the question that opened the season — "What is real?" asked Dolores -- but instead a series of Russian nesting dolls, each an approximation of a real world, or to paraphrase that other famous analogy about reality, each a turtle on another turtle's back, with "turtles all the way down." We were about four or five turtles down by the end of "The Passenger."  

Viewers can't say they weren't warned. Recall the little girl who told the Man in Black (in the early season episode, "The Riddle of the Sphinx") "if you're looking forward, you're looking in the wrong direction." With "Westworld," it's always advisable to look backwards, first -- then up, down and all around. Jumbled, or nesting, timelines are the whole point in part because "what's real" isn't delineated by a beginning, middle and end. "Reality" is neither a fairy tale nor standard-issue TV series either. When Arnold/Bernard first told Dolores of his "dream" back at season's beginning -- which was essentially the framework of the entire season -- and when she demanded to know "what is real?" Arnold/Bernard could come up with nothing better than "that which is irreplaceable."

 She rightfully says the answer "is not entirely honest" because everything, and everyone, in the park is irreplaceable.  His answer applies to the outside world, where the third season will take place, and where Delores -- always growing, always learning, always absorbing -- will soon have to comprehend the insanity that rules our daily lives.

 At least before she destroys our world.

Was the second a good season? Sure. Why not! "The Sphinx" was the best episode -- a flawless gem that could almost be a standalone in "Black Mirror," but which manages to spill most of the secrets of Ford's "immortality" project (Westworld was making digital copies of all the guests, to create robo-facsimiles of someone who wants to live forever) and which sets up a compelling new story for the Man in Black.

But the season -- and the finale -- are also potential problems, for HBO as well as "Westworld." The show now has a "newcomers not welcome" sign posted out front. It's a show bound by estorica and insider knowledge, and is for those few who have the patience (or time) to analyse it on Reddit. It's "Lost" squared, only worse.

Maybe there's hope. By venturing out of the park into the so-called real world, "Westworld" can get closer to what this all means. Is this show really about the legacy of slavery? About the re-making of  history, or coming to terms with it? Is this show really, in the end, about our real world? Reasonable questions. and "Westworld" just might be  grappling with them too next season.

BOTTOM LINE Crazy finale, but "crazy" as in "good."

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