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SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains details from last night’s Season 3 finale of HBO’s Westworld“Crisis Theory.”

There are too many pressing questions about what went on in Westworld‘s Season 3 finale, so we checked in with co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and executive producer Denise Thé.

DEADLINE: So, the Man in Black we saw in the Season 2 finale epilogue — the guy who was being questioned by his daughter Emily — and the guy from the park, and the man we’ve seen in the real world this season, they’re all human?


JONATHAN NOLAN: We like Ed Harris so much we’d figure let’s cast him in four different roles. There’s the Ed that we see at the end of the second-season finale which is very, very far in the future, further than where we’ve gotten elsewhere in the show. We lay out the suggestion to the audience that however this plays out, it does not play out well. Then you have the Ed who we’ve tracked through this season, until he’s not, and is struggling with this idea of agency, struggling with this idea of does he have free will. This is one of the larger questions of our show from the beginning, which Evan answers in last night’s episode with the best version that we can come up with: “Yes, there is free will, but it’s f*cking hard” (laughs).

In the Michael Crichton original film, the fun hero was always the Man in Black played by Yul Brynner, the gunslinger. The gunslinger starts as a robot. A bit of trivia: Yul is wearing his costume from The Magnificent Seven. He’s an icon of the original film. We loved the idea of starting with the human version of it, and then working back one step at a time insidiously back to the film in more ways than one.

DEADLINE: Will Serac or his brother return?

NOLAN: (After the three are radio silent) We’ve all been doing this for so long, we’re perfectly in sync, it’s the total shutdown (Joy, Thé and he laugh).

Westworld season 3 finale


DEADLINE: Will Maeve and Dolores team up? Is Dolores really dead? Or are you never dead on Westworld?

THÉ: That’s a good point. Are you ever really dead in Westworld? We saw Dolores kind of perish in the worst way. We saw her memory get painfully erased. Personally, I think it’s really important that we honor that death. For me she tried to make this beautiful choice to try and free humanity. She was surprised to find that humans were enslaved in many ways like hosts, and she made the ultimate sacrifice, and gave her life. I heard Evan say on set, “I choose beauty,” and it just gave me shivers — it’s such a graceful delivery of that line. And I think it’s really important that we honor that particular arc that she’s completely evolved, that she’s become the child who has grown up to take care of the parent, and I think personally it’s the right time to say goodbye to this version of Dolores.

Westworld season 3 finale


DEADLINE: In the epilogue, Bernard is covered in soot when he wakes up from being zonked out from the ‘key’ headband. Is that soot from the explosions that have been going on in the city?

NOLAN: From the beginning we talked about a show that would reinvent itself every season, that would be fearless moving forward. That has always been the plan; we’ve always stuck to that plan. I was amused to see people refer to this season as a reboot, but this is what we’ve always been doing. The suggestion with Jeffrey (Wright’s character) there is that some sh*t has gone down, and some time has passed.

And we don’t know what the key is yet….

Nolan: We were interested in this idea if you created this sufficiently high enough simulation, then encrypted it, and threw away the key, you would have created an alternate universe. It’s a way of backing into an old science fiction trope, the idea of the alternative universe, which I think people think of, how affectionate they are toward string theory, people think of alternate universe is silly. If you construct one from the ground up, you build a simulation that will be sufficiently detailed that feels life-like. We’re already kind of there. Videogames are almost there. The whole season with Serac and Dolores, they’ve been vying to maintain the key to that alternate universe, and it turns out that Dolores has entrusted it to the one person she trusts the most, which is Bernard. And what he finds, when he accesses that alternate universe; several characters we know and love have vanished into it during the second season, we’ll continue to explore — a question will be asked in the fourth season.

Jonathan, you’re close with Elon Musk, and he has a really interesting take on A.I.  He has a cautious view of A.I. –that word may even be an understatement– but his view is that we should have prepped for this, almost in the way we should have prepped for COVID-19.

Nolan and Musk at SXSW 2018
Suzanne Cordeiro/Shutterstock

Nolan: I hadn’t made that leap yet, after being six weeks locked at home. That is a good metaphor. I’ve been thinking more in a way as a climate change thing. Elon is a longtime friend of Lisa and mine. His thinking and our conversations on A.I. predate the pilot. When we sat down to write the pilot, we were thinking about, among other things, conversations that we had with Elon. He is aware of the state of the art, in terms of what’s happening with it. It’s part of what he does, but it’s part of what the culture is working on right now. It’s the big problem right now. Or it was until we remembered the big problem has always been pandemic disease. You have smart people out there for years warning you about the danger of pandemics, anyone who has read a history book understands that it’s a silent menace that has been stalking humanity from the very beginning, about every hundreds years; a cataclysmic version of it comes along. And then people tend to forget. The technology that we’re using, the front line of defense against COVID is a 550-year old technology going back to the stone ages; it’s soap. So for all the amazing technology and silly b.s., we still have soap. But you have a group of very smart people saying, ‘We should be a little cautious.’ Everyone in the last three months in the world had a lesson in logarithmic progression. What does it mean when something scales? We don’t talk about scales for the last ten years, because some thought it was stupid. Pandemic disease and climate-change get scales: it gets worse, it gets immeasurably worse, it has a runaway component to it. And artificial intelligence has that as well.

An anecdote that I relate to many times when we were doing the first season of the show that spoke to the idea of how smart Crichton was: Here’s a man, he had an M.D., he was brilliant. In the original film, there’s a throwaway line when the robot starts malfunctioning. Two of the scientists look at each other and they’re wondering what’s going wrong. And one scientist says, and it’s a line that informed a lot of what we’re building the show into, that ‘These machines, we don’t know how they work’, and the second thing he says is that ‘it’s transferring between them almost like a virus.’ You might think it’s cheesy that he’s referring to a computer virus, but I looked it up: Crichton wrote the movie in ’72 and the first computer virus was spotted in the wild in’ 73. Not only did he anticipate exactly how this was going to go down, he saw the danger of it. And the danger of A.I. is viral. That’s the problem. It’s not the giant all-conquering A.I. that destroys the world, it’s the little stupid A.I., it’s the bot. They’ve already changed the world.  

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