Courtesy of HBO
May 4, 2020 4:00 PM EDT

Warning: This story contains spoilers for Westworld season 3.

In its third season, Westworld evolved leaps and bounds beyond the show viewers thought they knew, while remaining true to the questions and themes at its core.

There was no shortage of slick action in this installment of the HBO drama. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) the vengeful killing machine seemed to foretell what might come to pass. And when all was said and done, the violent delights of the creators did have violent ends, executed by the robot hosts as Dolores rampaged around annihilating nearly everyone in her way. But her intentions were misunderstood.

“Crisis Theory,” written by Denise Thé & Jonathan Nolan and directed by Jennifer Getzinger, answered long-simmering questions about Dolores’ plan, Serac and the Man in Black. At first, this seemed like a show about how the growing power of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race—and that’s certainly still a part of its DNA. But now we’ve got complex new protagonists, and perhaps a more hopeful outlook. By the season’s end, 
signs were pointing to a revolution led by Caleb (Aaron Paul) and Maeve (Thandie Newton.)

Autonomy has been a theme throughout the show’s run, and this whole episode ties it all together. While rehab and reprogramming are supposed to get everyone back on a predictable track, people and hosts are changing all the time, breaking their loops, altering their courses and ignoring whatever’s been hardwired into them.

The Caleb we see is a man who has embraced the rupture of what he thought about the world. That’s a lot like the barrier that used to separate hosts from their sobering reality and the one the park imagined for them to entertain guests. And now he and Maeve are heroes reinvented with new purpose.

But before we get into that curtain dropper, let’s make sense of everything in the finale that led us here.

The bond between Dolores and Caleb

The finale kicks off right where episode 7 left off. As Serac’s man Sebastian discovers at the Sonora facility in Mexico, Dolores lies lifeless with her core removed. (She activated the EMP in episode 7, and we now see Caleb making off with her pearl as he tears up to California on his motorcycle.) His destination? The Itaidoshin Distillery on Hope Street in Los Angeles, where yet another Dolores in her skeletal birthday suit is ready for another rodeo.

Skeptical of her motives, which she never explains to him entirely, he chains her up and demands some answers. We get one: clarity on how they actually first met. That would be in Delos Park 5, which was closed to the public for army training where soldiers used the hosts for target practice. Caleb had been training with everyone else, but he stood out.

As we later learn, the fact that Caleb stopped his fellow soldiers in the simulated trenches from sexually assaulting the “girls” was not lost on Dolores—because she was one of them. Though he didn’t know then that robots were sentient, saving her kind from trauma is one of the many ways the show differentiates Caleb. Whether it’s passing on “personals” or allowing one hostage to escape with his life, he’s one of the few good guys in a story with a pretty low bar for them, despite his own fears that he is evil. A complex protagonist though he is, if he has the option, he would do no harm, which positions him as a seemingly excellent candidate for the one to build a new world. Recall that Westworld sets Dolores’s destructive path in motion by showing that she will literally hurt and kill a fly. (He’s committed both violent acts and generous ones. He chooses.) Man or machine, every other player in this story has been far more merciless.

Courtesy of HBO

“Free will does exist, Caleb. It’s just f-cking hard,” she says. Once Dolores gains Caleb’s trust, the pair heads to Los Angeles, which is in full-on riot apocalypse chaos. The action was building to this moment after Dolores leaked Incite’s data: their lives were all going according to the plans of the intricate pre-scripted pathway clockwork of the supercomputer, Rehoboam.

Dolores’ confrontation with Maeve and Charlores

Dolores and Maeve tussle, and we hear Dolores deliver a highly meme-able flex that hosts are all derivative and follow her original status as Arnold’s first successful creation. “You’re all copies of me. I was the first of us. The first that worked. The others failed. So they built all of you from me.” When she pins Maeve down, rather than killing her, she chooses to let her go. This act of unexpected kindness may have factored into Maeve’s late-in-the-game decision to side with Dolores as she’s drawing her last breaths. Dolores lets Maeve go, but then Charlotte intervenes to shut Dolores down completely. This allows Maeve to take advantage of Dolores’ stalled state and capture her to get her to Serac (Vincent Cassel) over at Incite.

What was Dolores’ original plan?

The show is still not done putting these hosts through the wringer. Caleb gets so close to uploading Solomon’s strategy into Rehoboam, but Serac’s muscle puts an end to it, taking him to Dolores, who we find hooked up for mind-probing purposes. Serac begins erasing the memories on her hard drive to get to what he’s always been after. He’s hot for the key to virtual robot Eden, a.k.a. the Valley Beyond, a.k.a. The Sublime, and he’s not above nauseating glow-in-the-dark tubes to get it. The robot heaven, where the lucky hosts who made that leap in the season 2 finale exist in their minds, is the show’s golden egg hiding all the biodetails that Serac needs to keep his control over humanity.

Courtesy of HBO

It’s not crystal clear how and when Dolores’ plan came to be. But first, Serac devastates Caleb by showing him what she had in store, and it’s not pretty. Multiple mass casualty events, the collapse of the human population, which brings us to the end of human civilization within the span of just 125 years. Not exactly the bill of goods Dolores was selling him with her mankind’s savior pep talks.

But then Maeve tries to bring the key to the surface and the two have a revelatory chat. Dolores doesn’t have the key, and ultimately chooses to give humankind a chance to rebuild a new world. There’s even an appearance from Maeve and her phantom child skipping stones. Finally, Dolores reaches Maeve, who promptly turns on Serac. And the former saloon owner’s unique communication abilities seem to sharpen in two key ways. One: she hears the supercomputer essentially feeding Serac’s lines in a way that echoes hosts becoming aware of the nature of their realities before Serac can utter them. (He’s just like a bot of some kind too.) Two: she’s able to melt the contraption that Serac was using to exploit her as his own agent.

Courtesy of HBO

Rehoboam erases itself on Caleb’s command with assists from Dolores and Solomon. Seemingly, this snuffs out the ball once and for all, though the riots erupting in the streets tell us that its hold was crumbling thanks to Dolores’ handiwork.

Let’s check in on Bernard and Stubbs

Meanwhile, the buddy comedy continues apace at the gas station. On a war path and hell-bent on eradicating all the hosts to save the world, William (Ed Harris) shoots Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) in the chest. But Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) reclaims his identity and his strength to fight William off. The phony SFPD shows up and Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), presumably the host Dolores in whom deposited her final fifth pearl, returns in style.

He coolly gives Bernard a silver suitcase and a mission of his own: to go see her. That “her,” as it turns out, is not Dolores, but Bernarnold’s former wife figure, Lauren (Gina Torres). Dr. Ford led Bernard to believe he had a wife and a child (Charlie) who the pair lost tragically. Remember those difficult video calls? This meditation on holding onto those we’ve lost so we don’t cut ourselves off is an unexpected touch that reveals more to Bernard about his own emotional capacity. Emboldened, Bernard has a new sense of purpose. And he ascends to the next level of his own game.

He throws Stubbs on ice back in the motel room tub with a tiny bottle of liquor to try to save him, and is somehow able to deliver the news that Dolores is a goner and that he was wrong about her all along. The hosts’ world burned down so that the machines could spring free, so why can’t the same be true of the real world? It’s a parallel the show continues to draw overtly, that the amusement park is a microcosm for our reality, one we struggle to break free of even (presumably) without a robot overlord.

“Something’s changed. I misjudged her. She wasn’t trying to exterminate the human race, she was trying to save it. What’s about to happen was always gonna happen. Serac and his brother were just holding it off,” he says. Because he was entrusted with the key thanks to Dolores who never trusted herself with it, he uses the futuristic headset in the case to journey to The Sublime.

Courtesy of HBO

What’s up with the Man in White?

Scorched Earth central, humanity’s worst representative, William a.k.a. the Man in White is determined to eradicate hosts from the Earth, and he stunts to get all his money back from his business manager, who is shocked, and impressively agile when it comes to realizing his very rude client is not really dead anymore. Talk about service.

What exactly was Dolores trying to accomplish here?

Dolores’ game may not have seemed like a change of plans leading up to season 3’s final moments, but perhaps it’s the upheaval of what her creators wanted for her. She gets what she wants, ultimately, after a change of heart: a legacy as a martyr leaving behind a blueprint for a new world. She also sees the destruction of human society in the current timeline.

“I’ve died many times. But there is only one real end. I will write this one myself,” she says in the opener. This episode delivers on that that line, and then some.

Maeve and Caleb forge ahead to carry out Dolores’ plan

Courtesy of John P. Johnson—HBO

Maeve, of her own free will, has made good on the choice to join Dolores after their prairie discussion when an enlightened Dolores reveals she believes in the world’s beauty enough to save it. It’s the selective worldview she’s always been wired to take, and she’s going to give humans a chance to reboot the world in a better vision. Maeve still holds out hope for reunion with her daughter, a drive that grows less convincing with each season, but that’s for another day, she tells Caleb. Now she’s determined to immortalize Dolores’ plan, though there will be obstacles.

“It doesn’t matter what you did, Caleb, all that matters is what you become,” Dolores had told him. This tracks with Maeve echoing her pickup line from season 1 in the saloon, which she now deploys on Caleb. “This is the new world, and in this world, you can be whoever the f-ck you want.” Here’s to new beginnings.

Post-credits scene with the Man in Black, the Man in White and one very resolute Charlotte

Ever the gentleman, The Man in White ices the receptionist, who has no knowledge of hosts of any kind, to get down to the research lab of Delos Dubai. There, he finds Charlotte, who is living her best self-possessed life. She is giving us a new kind of death stare, wearing her scorched arm with pride as a reminder of what she’s lived through. A host version of William in the Man in Black getup purchased at the evil human souvenir shop emerges to kill the actual William. “Welcome to the end, William,” his twin says. Indeed.

And Charlotte’s wasting no time fast-tracking the robot uprising. A new host battalion is being sculpted, and quickly. The humans won’t rise again without a massive robot fight with a completely new generation of hosts, and it’s one that Charlotte is speeding along with all that data she bagged. Westworld is moving in one direction: forward. What’s her endgame? Something somewhat similar to what Dolores originally wanted, it seems.

Where in the world is old Bernard now?

Back in the real world after studying abroad in The Sublime for an unknown period of time—at least, long enough for him to be covered with dirt.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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