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‘Westworld’ Season 3 Finale Recap: Choosing Beauty

The end of David Fincher’s 1999 provocation “Fight Club” and the end of this week’s Season 3 finale of “Westworld” are essentially the same moment, one mapped onto the other like a Dolores pearl dropped into another host’s body. After a revolution deliberately premised on bringing anarchy to a well-ordered, antiseptic world, a man and a woman can only watch helplessly as the bombs detonate in high rises and chaos engulfs the city.

In both, it’s an oddly romantic image, tied to a feeling of personal liberation and set against explosions that pop like a fireworks display. And both are set to songs about insanity: the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” in “Fight Club” and Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” in “Westworld.”

The Pink Floyd track, from the band’s celebrated album “The Dark Side of the Moon,” references the mental deterioration of its co-founder and former frontman, Syd Barrett, and it’s one of the few times “Westworld” has played a song as-is, without reworking it as an Old West cover or using some other instrument. Lyrics like “There’s someone in my head but it’s not me” don’t need much interpretation on a show where bodies and identities are so frequently mixed and matched, but the song is really about the specific madness of the moment. Because lest we forget, the choice that gets made about the future of humanity — the one by which choices themselves are now free for people to make — is a path to oblivion. That’s why the Serac brothers built their machine.

In an up-and-down season where “Westworld” never quite found itself — and seemed to stop looking — Engerraund Serac’s scheme was the one consistent bit of intrigue because his intentions always complicated his villainy. He did all the terrible, manipulative things that villains are supposed to do, right up to a torture scene with Dolores that recalls the ever-so-slow laser beam in “Goldfinger.” And yet there’s no mustache-twirling malice to any of his decisions, even when he’s taking a life. Serac and his brother saw the apocalypse coming and took the necessary steps to keep it from happening — or at least to keep it from happening as soon as it projected. If that meant eliminating free will and the occasional troublemaker, then so be it.

One of the paradoxes of the season is that Dolores intended to free the human world, not destroy it, but there may be no actual difference between the two. The thin shred of hope is that anomalies like Caleb will lead mankind to the anomalous destiny of survival, but those final shots are not optimistic. “Change is messy, difficult,” Dolores tells Caleb as they sidle through violent street clashes, but she never seems to be looking ahead to where that change might lead. That’s the privilege of being an immortal android: The planet doesn’t have to be inhabitable for her to inhabit it, so it costs her nothing to roll the dice for humanity. Serac may have been a snooty trillionaire, but he knew the stakes.

The opening narration sets up an uncharacteristically sentimental twist for “Westworld,” which has us believing Dolores was “taught a lie” when her programmers taught her to see beauty, only to reveal that her faith in humans was authentic all along. The season’s first episode planted this possibility in the moment when Dolores and Caleb first met and he surprised her by coming to her aid in the park tunnel. But in the finale, we learn that the tunnel wasn’t the first time Dolores had benefited from his courage and decency. Delos once offered part of the park as a military training ground, with hosts as machine-gun fodder, and she was among the innocent women Caleb and his men had “liberated.” The other soldiers wanted to take sexual advantage, but he intervened.

Though the third season often succumbed to mission drift, the show did at least follow through on the likelihood that the cost of freedom would be oblivion. But the payoffs elsewhere were close to nonexistent. Bernard and Stubbs have been ricocheted around the board all season, haplessly working to foil Dolores’s plans while also being folded into them. Stubbs has been nothing but a drag on Bernard, and he spends most of the finale either bleeding out in the car like Tim Roth in “Reservoir Dogs” or packed in a motel bathtub full of ice. Bernard gets to pay a visit to his now-elderly wife, but Jeffrey Wright’s touching performance aside, that side trip feels like wheel spinning for the twist that he has the encryption key everyone covets.

Once he activates the key to “the Sublime” — a.k.a. Glory, a.k.a. Eden, a.k.a. the Valley Beyond — shuts down like an overtaxed circuit, not to be revived until some point in the distant future. And we get even less from the Man in Black, who escapes a shootout with Bernard and Stubbs after Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) makes a surprise appearance as part of a SWAT team with subversive intent. For all the scenes of Ed Harris yelling at his own image or yelling at various simulated incarnations of himself and others or yelling at Bernard and Stubbs or Charlotte, his impact on the third season was basically nil. He heads off to save the world, but in the post-credits scene, he’s thwarted by himself for a final time.

The final pre-credits scenes leave “Westworld” in a state of uncertainty about a Rehoboam-free future and a state of uncertainty about a show that has left so much behind. (The series has already been renewed for a fourth season.) The band that the creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, were in has started playing different tunes. See you on the dark side of the moon.

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