[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Westworld's Season 3 finale. Read at your own risk!]
Season 3 of Westworld started with hope as much of what made Season 2 struggle was scuttled for a more user-friendly season. Gone was the way too complicated storytelling that was designed to stay ahead of viewers who used their collective consciousness to sniff out twists before they came. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the series' main protagonist (or antagonist?), was given more dimensions after spending 10 episodes slaughtering humans in a boring fit of revenge. The entire Westworld park and Delos' other attractions were abandoned -- even though there were still plenty of stories to tell within those walls -- in favor of moving to an outside world where artificial intelligence ran society.
But beyond those changes, Season 3 withered away with plenty of its own problems, with Sunday's Season 3 finale mercifully ending a disastrous second half of the season with the only positive thing to come from it being a promising setup for Season 4. This is the cycle of Westworld each season. Hope for the best early on, watch it fall apart in the end, and get your hopes up for the next season, because gosh darnit, I will watch anything about robot revolutions, apparently.
"Crisis Theory" was the end of a saga that saw Westworld flip its script once it got outside of the park: Robots were slaves to humans inside Westworld, but in the real world, it was humans who were slaves to robots! Well, one robot, the super artificial intelligence Rohoboan, which used a whole lot of collected data to plot paths for every human being to create a sense of order at the cost of free will. Humans who didn't fit inside its equation were deemed "outliers" and entombed in a secret facility where some were reprogrammed to rejoin society as drugged-up gophers that carried out the A.I.'s plans to help maintain order (the criminal-for-hire app was part of that convoluted process). There are some fine points in that idea, and ones that warrant some sort of exploration on a highly budgeted premium cable network drama, but it wasn't the story that was problematic. It was the storytelling.
In the finale, Dolores' true plan was revealed after seven episodes of her evading any questions that would tell anyone else, including us, what it was: She actually wanted to save humanity, not destroy it, by, uhhh, kind of destroying it so it could be rebuilt. For some reason, Westworld's writers though it was better to keep that secret than tell us early on, which is in line with how Westworld has always operated -- the less we know, the more we're going to be intrigued, the theory supposedly goes. Not to mention the fact that it left us not knowing how to feel about Dolores, which can be a problem for the main character going into the finale.
Her explanation for her plan to save humans was based around one principle, I guess: that humans, despite raping and murdering their way around Westworld and putting her through the hell that forced her to slaughter them by the hundreds in Season 2, showed her beauty and kindness sometimes, and those were the memories that she chose to remember. (Despite her constantly remembering being tortured throughout the series.) We saw this in Season 1 flashbacks as she and a child played with a ladybug (aww) and old and young William picked up a can for her (double aww).
"So many of my memories were ugly," Dolores told Maeve (Thandie Newton) in some mind-meld dream simulation of Westworld toward the end of the episode, before Dolores' brain was erased and uploaded into Rohoboan, effectively killing her (but this is Westworld, and death ain't what it seems). "But the things I held onto until the end weren't the ugly ones. I remember the moments where I saw what they were really capable of. Moments of kindness, here and there. They created us. And they knew enough of beauty to teach it to us. Maybe they can find it themselves." She continued, "There is ugliness in this world. Disarray. I choose to see the beauty."
So yeah. I wrote out that whole quote because that was the smash-on-the-brakes moment that supposedly sold this new perspective. (To be fair, she's been way more chill this season than last season, and this was how she thought in her Season 1 days of naiveté.) It's consistent with Dolores' constant and frustrating inconsistency; she's nice, then she's not, she wants to save humans while also killing so many humans, she wants to save hosts by also killing so many hosts. Dolores is all about the long term goals, even when it means doing the exact opposite in the short term. Dolores is so inconsistent that even copies of Dolores, like the new-and-less-improved Charlotte Hale, end up wanting to kill her because they can't agree on anything.
The season's other big plan belonged to supervillain Serac (Vincent Cassel), who wanted to get the "key" -- which was supposedly inside Dolores' robo-brain -- to Delos' vast trove of data that mapped the human mind and could help Rohoboan predict human behavior even better. But that went down the toilet when it was revealed by Dolores that she never had the key in her mind in the first place (it was actually in Bernard). Ooh, gotcha! The villain's big plan the entire season was for naught. Nothing like castrating a big bad of his potency by making all his actions, in retrospect, worthless because he never had a chance. At least he was real and not a hologram this time.
Maeve, realizing that she wasn't going to see her daughter and that Serac was a tool, flipped sides and attacked Serac and his goons even after Serac tried to freeze her motor functions with his remote control, which didn't work because Maeve suddenly decided that the remote control didn't work anymore. I'm going to need people to explain that turn of events to me, because I passed out twice pushing my brain to make sense of it. It worked before and now it didn't work. Was that supposed to be her using FREE WILL to ignore it or overpower it? I don't know. There were moments like this peppered throughout the episode, but this was the one that broke me.
With Serac out of the way, Caleb (Aaron Paul) had Rohoboan erase itself to continue the mass chaos that was happening in riots on the streets of Los Angeles as the sheeple in the world woke up to the reality that their whole lives were being pre-determined by an evil A.I. Maeve walked out with Caleb as Los Angeles was burning to the ground, and if you've seen the end of Fight Club then you know what it looked like. "Are you ready, darling? This is the new world," Maeve told him, "and in this world, you can be whoever the f--- you want." Humans have once again achieved free will. And apparently the first thing we want to do is fight cops and burn things. Honestly, that part felt pretty true.
The actual villain of the season became Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) -- who I'll remind you is a copy of Dolores and who I will refer to simply as Charlotte -- who turned against her creator because she thought she had a family, basically. That slight change in their experiences sending them on different paths was, again, an idea worth exploring, but it needed more than half of Episode 6 to pull it off believably, especially when it's destined to become such a huge part of the series. (Better Call Saul spent an entire season, if not multiple seasons, to pull off its incredible character transformation of Kim Wexler, by comparison.) There are many arguments that Westworld Season 3 should have been more than eight episodes, and character flips like Charlotte's are the biggest. Game of Thrones suffered a similar fate in its late seasons. If both stories had more time to breathe and convince us, they'd hit a lot better. Instead, fingers were crossed that viewers would buy it.
In the post-credits scenes, which were the best part of the finale by far, Charlotte was still alive and working in the basement facility of a Delos outpost in Dubai, where she was plotting her own violent robot revolution by creating an army of hosts. Among those robots was a new copy of the Man in Black (Ed Harris), who killed a nosey William after he stormed down there to continue his demented effort to save the world. (William's storyline this season was a real stinker, btw.) It appears that whoever makes it into the next season will have to go up against Charlotte, who seems to be a continuation of Season 2 Dolores.
After spending most of the season zig-zagging around the globe without much purpose except to give Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) some time to be hilarious, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) got a chance to connect with Arnold's wife (great makeup, btw) and remind himself that all these feelings he's having regarding his deceased son are OK, because hosts are also emotional beings. He ended the season in a hotel room jacking into the Sublime and staying there for quite some time before waking up far off in the future in the second part of the post-credits scenes, indicating that something pulls him back to reality, and given the layers of dust or soot all over him, it's not good. Bernard's always been a highlight in Westworld as the philosopher trying to wrestle with what it means to be human, but in Season 3, he was a bit player despite the show telling us otherwise. If his big contribution this season was to be a locker for Dolores to stash the access key in, then that's not much.
Westworld's third season was loaded with good ideas but had no idea how to use them as it got lost with lazy deception or creating puzzles with disappointing answers. (The final pearl that Dolores smuggled out of Westworld? If Bernard is to believed, it was put in a copy of Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), whose one-minute appearance felt like a throw-in, much like the brief returns of Clementine and Hanaryo in the previous episode.) Free will is a theme that sci-fi is currently in love with -- FX on Hulu's Devs also recently tackled free will but did a much better job with it -- and its repeated appearances in TV has worn down its potency, especially when nothing new is brought to the conversation. Sadly, it might be time to exercise some of that free will and give up on Westworld.