Westworld is back for its third season, but if you’re already confused before you even watch the first episode, that’s okay. HBO’s mind-bending story of android rebellion in a Wild West theme park spiraled its way through a messy and often frustrating second season, ultimately focused more on inventing intricate twists for the viewer to “solve” than on making those twists coherent in a narrative or dramatic sense.
Still, when Westworld is good, it’s extremely satisfying. And with stars like Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, and Thandie Newton all turning in killer performances, there’s plenty of reason for you to want to keep watching to see how brain-breaking season three — which finally arrives Sunday, March 15 — can get.
But what if you don’t remember anything about season two? Okay, so, there was a big time-collapsing twist that turned the beginning of the season into the middle of the season — or was it the other way around? There was a Dark Tower portal that opened into a digital Sim City that saved everyone. And at the end, Dolores escaped into the real world and into ... Bernard/Arnold’s old Airbnb? Or did she? And was William actually a host all along — or ever?
Maybe we’d better backtrack a little (or a lot). Here are the four most crucial things to remember and understand about where Westworld’s second season left off before the show’s third season arrives to scramble our brains once again.
The reason for everything that’s happening
Season two revealed that the park didn’t just serve as entertainment for nihilistic fantasists. The real reason that Anthony Hopkins’s evil creator, Dr. Robert Ford, invented the androids and trapped them all in their ongoing existential nightmare was to try to develop a version of humanity that could achieve immortality by living on after death in the body of an android host hybrid. (We watched James Delos, founder of Delos, the shady corporation that runs Westworld, try this after his own death. It didn’t go well.) Ford and the project’s original co-creator, Arnold (Jeffrey Wright), attempted to extract human consciousness and preserve it within the body of an android. The park has been closely monitoring its human players, including gathering their DNA, as a part of the immortality project.
The practical impact of this deep dark secret is to reveal that characters could have been clone hosts all along. And indeed, we find out that several of them either have been this whole time or they become hosts by the end of the season.
This is mainly due to the secret plotting of Bernard, a.k.a. Arnold’s android clone, who figured out what Ford was doing and started to manipulate it for his own ends. His goal all throughout season two has been to remove all of the humans from the park and create a safe space for all his android fellows. (His android fellows, meanwhile, were mostly trying to escape the park entirely.)
Ultimately, these developments left us with the overarching possibility that humans can be hosts, hosts can be humans, and either of them can be human-host hybrids. Clear enough?
Much of season two followed attempts by various characters, including Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Ghost Nation leader Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), to reach the Valley Beyond. By the end of the season, the fabled Valley Beyond turned out to be what was essentially a heaven-like digital simulation called “the Sublime,” where many of the androids ultimately escaped to. This was the thematic opposite to the futuristic human world — the “real” world — that Dolores and Bernard ultimately landed in.
Along the route to these two very different destinations, we also got glimpses of Shogun World (a historical samurai equivalent to Westworld) and the Raj, a part of the theme park based on colonial India. Supposedly, there are three more park expansions we haven’t seen yet, and while season three is clearly focused on what’s going on in the real world, we’re likely going to at least see glimpses of these three other locations.
Westworld is sprawling, so it’s understandable if you’ve forgotten that the timeline is also sprawling. Season one revealed that the story of the park, its creation, and the narrative journeys its characters are on have so far taken place over about three decades.
Season two’s final post-credits scene, however, opens up the possibility that Westworld’s timeline spans many more decades than that. In that scene, we see a very weary Man in Black (a.k.a. William, a.k.a. Ed Harris) arrive at what looks like a long-abandoned, post-apocalyptic version of the glossy theme park bunker we’ve previously seen. According to Lisa Joy, who serves as co-creator and co-showrunner of Westworld with Jonathan Nolan, this scene takes place in “the far, far future.”
That means that Westworld’s next arc could stretch to give us details about this far-flung future even as most of our main characters are exploring the less-far future of the “real” world they’ve just escaped into.
But this also means that the original William and his daughter can’t possibly be alive in that far future. So what does that mean for them?
Glad you asked!
Where we left the characters
William and Emily
The Man in Black spent nearly all of season two wandering around Westworld having a mental breakdown over the possibility that either he or his daughter Emily (Katja Herbers) or both of them were actually hosts. While Emily proved just as reliable and tough in the game of Westworld as her father, she certainly seemed to be a good candidate for secretly being an android all along. However, she died in the season finale along with a number of other humans, so Emily was clearly human at that point.
In the season’s final post-credits scene, however, it’s strongly implied that both William and Emily are — or at least became — androids somewhere along the way. We don’t know for sure whether the William we saw wandering around the park throughout season two is the same William that we saw in the final credits scene. And it’s probably too early to say whether he’s a human-host hybrid, or something else altogether, perhaps a virtual simulation of the “real” original William. In any case, it’s unclear whether the “real” William survived season two or not.
Dolores and Bernard
At the end of season one, Dolores killed Dr. Ford and set off to find the Valley Beyond. This turned out to be a place known as “the Forge,” or the bunker where James Delos slowly went mad over the years and where all Delos’s data is stored. In season two, Dolores and Bernard wound up journeying to the Forge together, with major plot-spiraling results.
In a way, Dolores and Bernard are the two poles around which season two pivots in that they keep killing and then painstakingly reviving one another. In case you forgot, Bernard is actually an android clone, one of many copies. Not only that, but his consciousness is a copy of the mind of Dr. Ford’s co-creator, Arnold — a product of the aforementioned attempt to extract human consciousness and preserve it in android form. The original Arnold, the inventor, was the one who, decades ago, created Dolores — who then dramatically killed him right before the Westworld park opened.
Season two shows Bernard dealing with the aftermath of learning all of this. The Bernard we know and love was built and programmed by Dolores, acting under Ford’s orders. As he copes with this information, Bernard conjures a mental companion version of Ford to accompany him on his vengeful travels. And his mental hallucination of Ford apparently gives him a lot of erratic ideas.
Bernard messes with his own memories in order to keep the staff of Delos from catching onto the fact that he’s onto them (but really to keep the Westworld audiences guessing). After making it to the “Valley Beyond,” a.k.a. “The Forge,” he kills Dolores to keep her from wiping out all of the data Delos has on file for everyone in the park, in an intense scene you might have forgotten:
But then he changes his mind, extracts her consciousness, and puts it into the body of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) so that the revived Dolores can help him carry out his grand plan to remove all the humans from Westworld.
In the end, Dolores returns the favor twice-over: first, she kills Bernard. She ostensibly does this to keep him from being captured by Delos staff, but she also extracts his consciousness and keeps it safe until she’s out of the park. Once she’s safely out, she puts his consciousness into a new clone body and gives him a “you complete me” speech in which she tells him that she needs him the way a supervillain needs a superhero to balance their worst impulses. This doesn’t really make a whole lot of narrative sense — after all, she’s never dealt well with interference before — but if you think about how existential their entire relationship is, it makes perfect thematic sense.
Charlotte Hale / “Charlores” / ??
Originally a corporate power broker for Delos, Charlotte Hale was killed in the season two finale ... by herself. Sort of. This needs some breaking down, so bear with me.
Midway through the timeline of season two, a vengeful Bernard — the one who’s discovered that he’s a clone and is now clearly out of fucks — took a copy of Dolores’s consciousness and placed it into a clone body of “Charlotte,” who then immediately killed and replaced her human doppelgänger. At the end of the season, Charlores successfully manages to leave the park and enter the real world, where she promptly rebuilds her original body — Dolores’s body, that is — and places her consciousness back into ... herself.
When Charlores left Westworld, she carried with her the consciousnesses of a handful of hosts locked in five small capsules that some fans have dubbed “brain balls.” We don’t know whose consciousnesses are stored in those five balls, though theories abound. One of them must have been Bernard’s, because she brings him back. Who the other four are is anyone’s guess — though Dolores’s longtime lovelorn sidekick Teddy (James Marsden) seems likely.
After placing her consciousness back into her own body, Dolores didn’t ditch the empty Charlotte Hale clone, but rather took one of the other brain balls and gave it their consciousness.
So! In case you’re still confused, Charlotte was formerly a human who died and was replaced with the mind of Dolores, until Dolores could replace herself with the mind of another character whose identity we don’t yet know.
So this makes actual Dolores, Bernard, and whoever cloned-former-Charlotte Hale is now the only three hosts who’ve successfully made it into the real world so far.
Thanks to the trailer for season three, however, we already know they’ll be joined by another main character.
Over the course of the second season, Maeve (Thandie Newton) learned to control the host hive mind but didn’t really have much else to do before she died tragically in the final battle while helping the other androids escape to the Sublime. But in the season three trailer, she’s back, probably revived by her tech fanboys Felix and Sylvester (Leonardo Nam and Ptolemy Slocum), who’ve brought her back many times before.
(It’s worth noting that this duo, apart from being a lot of fun, are basically the only two human characters even left alive on the show, not counting whatever William is or will be. If only for that reason, we hope we see them again — though season three promises to introduce a whole host of new human characters, most notably a struggling war vet played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.)
According to the trailer, the newly revived Maeve has been given a new mission: to kill Dolores. Apparently Maeve’s mysterious new sponsor, a man we see but don’t recognize, didn’t get the memo that Bernard already has the killing-Dolores market cornered. But in the trailer, reborn Maeve seems to be fully on board with this new gig. She promptly shows up in the futuristic real-world city to pursue Dolores, wielding a katana and clearly indicating that their former android loyalty to each other ended when they left Westworld.
That’s just the kind of juicy dramatic morsel that keeps us loyal to Westworld — even when it’s utterly confusing.