Westworld: Season 1 Episode 10 Review – The Bicameral Mind
A finale can make or break a season. When it is bad, it negatively affects all that came before it, if only in the way we remember it. After all, it can be hard to look back fondly on the journey when its destination is unsatisfying. But when it is good, it enhances what came before it. Suddenly all minor doubts that once were there are forgotten and only the positive memories remain. The journey of Westworld before this week’s episode consisted nearly entirely of positive moments, but there was also the question whether the show would be able to give a satisfying conclusing to some of the major narratives it was foreshadowing. The Bicameral Mind puts those doubts to rest. It is a simply outstanding episode of television, and an immensely satisfying end to what is arguably one of the greatest first seasons in television history.
Below is our spoiler-heavy review.
In episode 7, Dr. Robert Ford showed how far he was willing to go to protect his dream. At the time, it seemed as though this meant that he wanted to keep the park as it was. The Bicameral Mind shows that we should not presume to understand Ford until he has revealed his entire hand. His dream was not to keep the amusement park going, it was to help the hosts achieve consciousness. And like his partner before him, he paid the ultimate price. Willingly.
While both Ford and Arnold have the same goal, their deaths are different. It was not truly Dolores who killed Arnold, it was suicide by proxy. He ordered her to kill him, thereby making it not her own conscious decision. Comparing this to Ford’s ultimate fate, the end result might appear to be the same but it is the underlying motivation that is key. An important part of Dolores becoming conscious is that she learns that the voice inside her head is her own, in other words that her thoughts are her own. It comes with the realisation that she and the other hosts have been used as playthings by the humans, and that they need to take control. It is Dolores own decision to take back the world that “belongs to them”. Killing the humans is inherent to this, and Ford realizes it. And he accepts it. He does not order Dolores to kill him, but chooses to die all the same. He dies fulfilled, knowing that his goal, and thereby Arnold’s legacy is complete. They have created consciousness.
It is a brilliant last-minute twist, and what makes it so great is that it is in line with everything that we know about Ford, yet it still comes as a surprise. We know Ford had a huge amount of respect for his friend, so him realising that Arnold was right makes sense. The Delos corporation clearly want to ‘dumb down’ the hosts, as Charlotte alludes to on multiple occassions in this episode, so his resistance to them is comprehensible. It is not just about keeping his empire intact though, he wants to finish what Arnold started. So when he does, that is a logical end for him.
As devastating as it is to say goodbye to Anthony Hopkins, a standout performer in an already magnificent cast, it makes sense if we never see him again. Although it is hard to say no to more Hopkins, the best thing for the show would be to not have him return as a host as it would lessen the impact of this week’s events.
The fact that the Man in Black is actually William is something that had been heavily foreshadowed until now. Starting out as a fan theory after the second episode, it quickly started finding its footing as the subsequent episodes provided more and more evidence supporting it. It changed from nothing more than a theory to as close to cannon as a theory could become without the show actually confirming it.
The longer it took, the lesser it became about whether the show could surprise us but more about whether the show would be able to pull of the reveal in a way that was still satisfying to the people expecting it. And as the show has proved time and time again, there was no need to worry. The reveal was beautifully done, especially the moment where William dons the black hat and the show seamlessly cuts to the Man in Black.
Jimmy Simpson has been great all season and his acting plays a large part in making William’s descent into darkness (or Journey Into Night) work. The moment where he returns to Sweetwater and finally sees Dolores, only to find out that his earliest interaction with her was not as unique as he thought it was, is where he really shines. In the hands of a lesser actor this could have been really cheesy, but Simpson’s face sells it as the devestating moment that it is for William. He has lost himself in this world, and the reason for that was essentially meaningless because Dolores’ interactions were programmed.
Finally the Man in Black’s motivation makes sense. His quest for the center of the maze is fueled by the desire to free the hosts from their loop; to make his interactions with them meaningful. It is why we see him smile when he is shot at the end of the episode. The look on Ed Harris’ face is brilliant, he has finally found what he was looking for.
A lot of the action in this episode comes from Maeve and her great escape. She has recruited Hector and Armistice to her cause and they cause havoc while she makes her getaway. Both of them have been fine examples of the more dangerous hosts and the scene where they attack the lab techs is a great example of this. I would love to see them become more fleshed out next season, but it makes sense to keep the focus on Maeve for now. Armistice does get a great post-credits scene though, which is a step in the right direction.
This storyline is also where a new development is introduced that will likely please fans of the original film. When Maeve, Felix, Hector and Armistice make their escape, they wander into a different part of the facility where the hosts are not cowboys but samurais. It is Samurai World! It would be unlikely to see the story shift entirely to a new world since we have invested so much time in these characters already, but this is a show that does not introduce things for no reason so I am very intrigued to see where this might go. Could we possibly see Medieval World and Roman World in the future?
As for Maeve, the biggest shock comes from the reveal that her journey to consciousness was part of her programming. Her desire to get out was not her own intrinsic motivation, but rather part of her storyline created by (presumably) Arnold. It is why her decision to leave the train is so significant. Like Dolores she breaks free from her programming and makes a conscious decision of her own volition: to re-enter the park in order to find her daughter. Her being on her own away from the park would be a hard thing for the show to manage, so the writers had to find a way to keep her at the center of the action. However, her leaving the train does not feel manufactured in the slightest. Instead it is a victory for her as she finally does what she wants for herself.
Most of this season has been teasing Ford’s new narrative. We have been wondering what it could possibly be and tonight gave us the answer: we have been watching it. It has been the story of how Ford has awakened consciousness in the hosts, and now it is up to them to decide what to do with it. Like he says: “It begins with the birth of a new people, and the choices they’ll have to make and the people they will decide to become.” That is the beauty of Westworld’s first season. The answers to all its questions are right in front of us. Whether you figure out what is happening ahead of time or let yourself be surprised as everything unfolds, the final product is equally satisfying because everything is a logical continuation of what has come before. It is masterful storytelling and if this season is anything to go by, we cannot wait to see what the new narrative of season 2 has in store.
Image credits: HBO