The Westworld Season 3 finale aired on Sunday night, and in classic Westworld fashion, it left us with a lot of questions. HBO has already ordered a fourth season of the show, so fans can rest easy knowing those many, many cliffhangers will be resolved at some point in the future. Moreover, showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy reportedly have a six-season plan for the series, which means we’re only at the halfway point in this overall story.
But the Westworld Season 3 finale, titled “Crisis Theory,” brought the show’s central thematic conflict to its head: does free will exist? This question was posed to the hosts in seasons 1 and 2, as Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) tried to break her friends out of their loops. But as Dolores and Co. set their sights on the real world in Season 3, that thematic question was posed to humans. Indeed, we learned this season that the world was being controlled by a gigantic A.I. algorithm called “Rehoboam”—a system that predicted every possible outcome and set humanity on a course for its best possible future. Or so we were led to believe.
In a new behind-the-scenes video, Joy and Nolan offered some clarity on a few story points, with Joy noting that this season they wanted to take a look at the humans:
“We wanted to turn the gaze this season from how an AI could be similar to humans to how humans are quite similar to AI”
Indeed, Dolores’ new human pal Caleb (Aaron Paul) was stuck in his own loop created by Rehoboam, but as it turns out, Caleb was one of many Rehoboam deemed to be an “outlier”—someone it couldn’t predict. Serac (Vincent Cassel) and Rehoboam set about a plan to remove these outliers from the equation instead of allowing them to move the algorithm off course. Nolan explained:
“Data science can tell us an awful lot about who we are. The problem of course is you really can’t predict all of the different pieces in a puzzle. Let’s say 99% of the human race is readily predictable. That still leaves several million who are harder to predict. We all know people like this. People who just don’t fit. What do we do with those people?”
Joy continued, arguing that Rehoboam takes free will out of the equation:
“Rehoboam has to take these outliers out of the equation. The consequences are devastating. You might have order, but at what cost? Once you strip free will, what good is the time we have? The choices you’re making have no weight because they’ve all been predetermined.”
Hence Dolores’ sacrificial plan to knock humans off their loops. But she’s somewhat thwarted by Halores (Tessa Thompson), who started as a copy of Dolores but whose own trauma informed her outlook on humanity. One that is, uh, even harsher than Dolores’. Nolan and Joy didn’t talk too much about Halores except for Nolan to say that this particular plot point was inspired by Albert Einstein:
“The essential setup for every one of Einstein’s thought experiments about relativity was always rooted in twins. Take two duplicates of the same person, give them different experiences, they come back subtly or not so subtly altered… They started in the same place, they’ve wound up with a very different outlook on the world.”
By the episode’s end, Halores is in control of her own William (Ed Harris) host and hundreds of printers making new hosts. Joy said that William was the perfect vessel through which Halores could enact her plan:
“The man who has toiled under the weight of his dark impulses is free from them, but Hale has plans for him. Who better to control it and puppeteer it through than The Man in Black?”
The Westworld Season 3 finale also had a revelation for Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), as he was sent by Dolores to an address he did not know, which turned out to be that of Arnold’s real-life widow Lauren (Gina Torres) who’s now pushing 70 and suffering from dementia. But the two have a heart to heart about Arnold and Lauren’s dead son Charlie, and Joy said this scene was meant to bring closure to Bernard’s “cornerstone” so he could move on:
“It’s a moment of reckoning and emancipation. She gives him the freedom to move on from the past and she encourages him to be free.”
Dolores, meanwhile, basically sacrifices herself so that she can shut down Rehoboam. As Serac is searching her mind for the key to “the valley beyond” that he believes is in her head, Rehoboam begins erasing her memories. Denise Thé, who co-wrote the episode, said this had a brutal resonance for Dolores as a character:
“We talked a lot about the sadness and the pain of the kind of torture that Dolores would have to endure. When she started to awaken, it was by gaining her memories. To strip her of what brought her own awakening seems like the worst bit of torture that you can do.”
This is very much a goodbye to the Dolores who’s ruled the roost for these past three seasons, with Wood adding that it was very sad to say goodbye “to this version of Dolores.”
But Thé says Dolores’ arc is complete in some ways, as she tells Maeve in her final moments to focus on the beauty of things:
“As a character she’s finally kind of completed her journey because she’s come to a moment to say, ‘Out of all these things I hold on to the good things.’ When maybe she said it in Season 1 or Season 2, we thought it was a naïve thing. But here we see it for the heart it really has.”
As for those post-credits teases, William is certainly being set up as a puppet of Dolores’, and Thé confirms the scene of Bernard waking up in the motel room after entering the “valley beyond” takes place after “a super long time,” so we’ll see how that all plays out in Season 4.
Joy ends the behind-the-scenes video with these thoughts on how Westworld ties thematically into our own humanity:
“We all rationalize our own actions in different ways. Everybody has regrets, they have lamentations, they have pieces of themselves that don’t fit into the world neatly. Life is a series of choices about which parts of your programming you let sing. Which parts of your programming you deny.”
Watch the entire video below. For more on Westworld, check out my full Season 3 finale recap.