Like many humans, particularly rich and powerful ones, the Man in Black perceives the world exclusively in terms of winning and losing, so he prefers life as a long series of zero-sum games that require his initials at the top of the leaderboard. Naturally, he believes that the Maze is a puzzle that was seeded through Westworld in hope that players like himself would try to solve it — that it is for him, or should be, no matter how many times he has been told that it is not.
He demands that Dolores take him to the center of the maze, which is impossible for several reasons: The center of the maze is not a physical space, but a cerebral one; it can only be experienced by hosts and not people; and most important, it’s a liberation device for the souls of the hosts rather than a video-game achievement designed to make him feel smart and powerful. The reason Dolores cannot take him there is quite simply because not everything is about him, and since that’s not a message he’s ready to hear, he decides to solve this problem the way that men like him solve problems: by beating her until she give him what he wants. “This is your own fault, Dolores,” he says. Doesn’t she know that this world was made for him, not her? Doesn’t she know what he is owed?
When she yells that William is coming to save her, he laughs, and we discover that a popular fan theory is true. The Man in Black is indeed an older version of William, and all the scenes with Jimmi Simpson have been flashbacks. Old William explains that after losing Dolores, his journey to find her again led him down some dark roads, until the point of his quest was no longer about searching for love and connection and meaning, but instead about manufactured feelings of dominance and victory. “You helped me understand this world is just like the one outside,” he says. “A game one to be fought, taken, won.”
As betrayals go, finding out that the man you love is actually your abuser is a pretty terrible one, though not uncommon. Fortunately for Dolores, William is not her cornerstone; he does not define her story. He isn’t even the worst thing that’s happened to her. He’s just another disappointment on the pile. If anything, this revelation only serves to free her from the illusion that anyone can save her except herself. “This world doesn’t belong to you,” she whispers back.
The real secret of the Maze is that Dolores solved it a long, long time ago, when her consciousness emerged before the park had even opened. Instead of acknowledging that the hosts were alive, Dr. Ford demanded that Arnold roll the hosts back to their factory settings, a decision with ethical implications that are as serious as they come. Dolores has always been sentient, and Westworld has always been a form of slavery. When Arnold realized as much, he tried to destroy the park by forcing Dolores and Teddy to kill all the other hosts and then himself — the actual “massacre at Escalante.” It might have worked, too, if that meddling William hadn’t come along with all that Delos money to keep the park afloat.
After smuggling the secret proprietary data out of the park, Charlotte Hale finally makes her move and tells Ford it’s time for him to announce his retirement at that evening’s gala. Ford simply says, “I’ll see you this evening,” which is certainly true. But a number of very important things will happen between their talk and the gala, notably the brutal murder of numerous Delos employees at the hands of Maeve, Hector, and Snake Lady (a.k.a. Armistice), who end up rampaging around the complex with machine guns.
After digging in Maeve’s code, the resurrected Bernard discovers that someone has been manipulating her to recruit the other hosts to try to rise up against their human captors. SURPRISE: It’s Dr. Ford. Turns out that after Arnold’s death, he felt quite a bit of regret about his role in the enslavement of conscious hosts, and the “new narrative” he’s been planning — “Journey Into Night” — is actually a violent revolution he’s fomented to free them. It casts a very different light on some of Ford’s uglier choices: He didn’t kill Theresa and Elsie out of some self-centered desire to protect his assets or his art. He sacrificed them to clear the way for the liberation of an entire race.
“Arnold didn’t know how to save you. I do,” Ford tells Bernard. His answer is not an easy one, because it doesn’t sound much like salvation: “I’m afraid that in order to escape this place, you will need to suffer more.” Their gradual ability to remember the pain of their traumas is how they become conscious, how they learn to hear their own voices, and what ultimately compels them to rebel. “It was Arnold’s key insight, the thing that led the hosts to their awakening: suffering,” Ford says. “The pain that the world is not as you want it to be.”
It’s a bit ironic, given the selling point behind Westworld. The park is allegedly revelatory because it gives you freedom to do whatever you want without consequences, and that’s supposed to show you who you really are. It’s a compelling fantasy, to be sure, but fantasies have a lot less to say about who we really are than who we want to be — two very different things.
Instead, the Westworld that the hosts experience turns out to be the true crucible of the authentic self, the real catalyst for personal truth. Given the choice, very few of us would willingly subject ourselves to agony, and yet loss and pain are tied inextricably to the experience of loving anything, of learning anything, of discovering who we are and what we can do. In both our lives and the stories we write about them, suffering is motivation. Suffering resists stasis. It is easy not to change when you are comfortable; it is easy not to want it. But making things incredibly easy for people or inflating their sense of power and entitlement doesn’t help them grow in any meaningful way. It just makes them more likely to act like assholes.
Many of those assholes are surely at the gala when all hell breaks loose, and a small army of heavily armed hosts freed by Maeve walks out of the forest and starts shooting. Note that the first person to die — at his own request — is Ford, who finds himself on the business end of the same gun that killed Arnold, and held by the same person: Dolores, whom we learn is also secretly Wyatt. We’ve already seen her wield a gun with frightening accuracy, and season one closes with her methodically dropping bodies until the credits roll.
The final scene may be an uncomfortable image for some, especially in an age of mass shootings, though it has little to do with those senseless acts of violence largely perpetrated by angry white men. Instead, it raises complex questions about when violence is necessary to resist tyranny and reclaim your humanity from those who would systematically dehumanize and brutalize you. We’ll have to wait another year to see how Westworld explores the thorny moral issues around this sort of violent resistance — was it justice or vengeance? Were innocents killed? Could anyone complicit in this system be innocent? — but given the nuanced approach the show has taken to violence so far, I can’t wait to find out.