Thursday 18 October 2018

Westworld finale 5* review: '90 minutes of bold, brilliantly made high-concept television'

5 stars

The Man in Black (Ed Harris) as in for a surprise, and so were viewers, in the brilliant season finale of Westworld
The Man in Black (Ed Harris) as in for a surprise, and so were viewers, in the brilliant season finale of Westworld

Pat Stacey

Is this real? Is it a dream? Or is it a nightmare? I think it might be a nightmare. The nightmare of trying to write a review that does justice to the extra-length season two finale of Westworld.

**WARNING: SPOILERS**

This was an extraordinary 90 minutes of bold, brilliantly made high-concept television. It left you feeling dizzy just trying to squeeze your head around it all, yet at the same time, absolutely exhilarated at the skill, ambition and imagination that had gone into making it.

First things first (although with Westworld, it’s frequently impossible to know what came first and what came last because of all those multiple timelines): anyone who feared that co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy had lost the grip on their own creation and were furiously making it up as they went along, were proved wrong.

Viewers were left stunned after watching the penultimate episode of Westworld season two. (Matt Alexander/PA)
Viewers were left stunned after watching the penultimate episode of Westworld season two. (Matt Alexander/PA)

Midway through the run, when viewers found themselves struggling through a thicket of plot twists, flashbacks and flash-forwards, some people were writing Westworld off as the new Lost.

That series strung millions around the world along for six long seasons before departing with a pitiful, anticlimactic squeak of an ending.

You were left feeling like you’d wasted an enormous chunk of your life watching a magician producing one coloured handkerchief after another out of nowhere, simply to prove that he had nothing up his sleeve.

It’s clear the detractors were wrong. Westworld had plenty up its sleeve and dumped so much exposition into this feature-length parting shot that you often had to pause, take a breath, rewind and watch again, just to make sure nothing had escaped your notice (and I’m sure there’ll be several things that escaped mine, which is why I intend to take a second look).

Revolt: Thandie Newton plays Maeve
Revolt: Thandie Newton plays Maeve

Explaining the ins and outs of the plot would require this entire newspaper, so let’s stick to the fundamentals, the big questions. The biggest of all was which hosts would end up alive at the end of the season and which wouldn’t.

Many of them did survive, at least in digital form, as they fled to the virtual “Valley Beyond” that Ford (Anthony Hopkins) had created for them. The matter of why Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) should decide to erase the host’s data, seeing the Valley Beyond as just another kind of prison, then suddenly change her mind, is a mystery for another day. Or maybe it’s just an old-fashioned plot hole.

Anyway, Maeve (Thandie Newton) wasn’t quite so lucky, dying in a hail of bullets after she’d seen her daughter to safety. But as Dolores said, “We were built to survive”, so we can expect that Maeve will be back for the already commissioned third season.

Dolores herself survived and smuggled herself out of the park inside a host likeness of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), which Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) had knocked out for her in Ford’s secret laboratory. With all the hosts’ data in her possession, she’s now set upon wreaking destruction on the humans who created her. The real Charlotte, meanwhile, received a long overdue comeuppance from the barrel of Dolores’s six-shooter.

Robot wars: Evan Rachel Wood leads the machine rebellion as Dolores
Robot wars: Evan Rachel Wood leads the machine rebellion as Dolores

Read more: 'I have the last shot in the series - I keep it in the back of my mind' - meet the Westworld creators ahead of season finale

As for poor, mixed-up Bernard, whose journey of confusion through his malfunctioning core has been the spine of the season, he realised late on that he truly was the master of his own destiny. The Ford who seemed to be living inside his circuitry, making him do his bidding, was in fact nothing more than a construct of his mind.

The finale was a reminder why it’s always good to sit through to the very end. Those that did will have found a tantalising scene which appears to confirm that the MIB is indeed a host, his mind seemingly having been transplanted into an artificial body. What’s not clear — yet — is why his daughter (Katja Herbers), who he unwittingly killed last week, is present, or whether this is happening in the present or the future. Will everything be neatly explained in season three? I hope not. I’m having too much fun.

Westworld, Sky Atlantic.

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