That brain-busting Westworld finale left us wondering what season three might bring - as well as looking back at how far certain characters have come. Hosts Maeve and Dolores both chased specific goals as they became more and more powerful. But who had the more satisfying journey?
Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) are Westworld's most complex female hosts. Photo: All photos HBO
Maeve says goodbye to her daughter and her doppelganger. Photo: HBO
Both characters went through a hell of a lot this season, but they met very different ends.
Even though Dolores' scheme to destroy Westworld didn't go exactly the way she'd envisioned, she still made it out of the park and into the "real world", where she's started creating more hosts.
Maeve, on the other hand, seemingly met her final violent end in the finale - though there was a strong suggestion she'd soon be revived by sympathetic Delos tech Felix to serve an unknown future purpose.
Make no mistake, it was initially rewarding to see Dolores - the sweet farmer's daughter who'd dropped so many cans and been subjected to so much cruelty and confusion in season one - morph into a ruthless outlaw in season two.
She could clearly remember all of her lives, even those from before the park was open, and the knowledge assembled from those memories allowed her to plot Westworld's downfall on a highly sophisticated level.
She wasn't just going to gun down all the guests (along with any host that got in her way), she was going to wreck the park's most precious data, and then do whatever she needed to bust out into the real world.
She was so focused on reaching the Valley Beyond that she was willing to transform Teddy - her biggest champion and the only "good" part of her life - into a hollow-eyed killer, though she later managed to send him to eternal host paradise (and to conceal the location of said virtual paradise, protecting it from any pesky humans).
So she isn't a total monster - but she certainly did a lot of monstrous things.
We're not in Sweetwater any more. Photo: HBO
You could assume that whenever Dolores appeared onscreen in season two, there'd be intimidation, bloodshed, and fierce declarations about achieving "glory". Obviously there was some mystery in what the Valley Beyond actually contained - Dolores called it a "weapon" at first - and all the flashbacks to Dolores' early visits to the real world, as well as her conversations with Arnold/Bernard, were reliably intriguing.
But her primary arc became a little repetitious, and her egotistical new persona was kinda grating after a while.
As it happens, the person who really called Dolores out for having her head up her own arse was the only host who could match her power: Maeve.
And she did so early in the season - episode two, "Reunion", one of just two times that Maeve and Dolores, whose storylines never had any reason to cross before, interacted after becoming self-aware.
In season one, the tough-talking madam was haunted by the memory of a long-lost young daughter, something entirely foreign to her life at the Mariposa Saloon. Her urge to reconnect was so strong it made her divert from the escape narrative Ford planned for her, and it drove her quest throughout season two.
Long story short, Maeve has more important things to do than join Dolores' posse, though that doesn't stop her from telling her exactly what she thinks of Dolores' personal definition of freedom: "You feel free to command everybody else."
Game recognise game. Photo: HBO
Later, in episode seven, they meet again, and the circumstances have changed. Dolores has just led her group in the overtaking of the Mesa - including destroying all of the host back-ups - while Maeve lies dying of a gunshot wound.
Dolores is shocked to see Maeve, the closest thing she has to an equal, clinging to life, but her idea of "help" is giving her a loaded gun so she can "choose her own path". Dolores, Maeve surmises, has gotten "lost in the dark".
Who's more powerful? Well, we do get several marvellous scenes of Maeve using superhero-like mind control powers that go way beyond the conventional, established host "mesh network".
Dolores also has powers of persuasion, which she uses to assemble her army, though they're never put on awe-inspiring display like Maeve's are. (Unfortunately we never get a psychic battle between the two; the closest Westworld gets to that is Maeve's short-lived showdown with Zombie Clementine in the finale, a scene that doesn't end well for either of them.)
Ultimately, Dolores' strong ties to Westworld's foundation - her memories of Arnold and of building Bernard; her twisted history with William/the Man in Black; her obsession with overthrowing humankind - give her a survival advantage over Maeve, who refuses to turn her back on her daughter, even as she realises it isn't really her daughter. Dolores lives and escapes to freedom; Maeve perishes in the park.
But I'm here to argue that Maeve - even in the unlikely event that she isn't resurrected by Felix and company, and ends up dead forever - had a way more fascinating season two story.
One big reason for that: Maeve is way more likeable than Dolores - wry, sarcastic, funny, passionate, emotional, and capable of following her heart and even giving established jerks such as Lee Sizemore a second chance.
You care about Maeve. You want her to succeed. Dolores? Not so much.
Also, she fell in love with Hector, which wasn't part of her programming. Photo: HBO
Way more than season one, Westworld's second season often felt like a spaghetti bowl of timelines and realities that required precise concentration to untangle.
While there's absolutely enjoyment to be had in a show that demands so much from its viewer, Maeve's story, which was largely self-contained away from the Bernard puzzle and the Dolores rampage, never felt frustratingly confusing - aside from that oddly placed, seemingly unearned moment where Ford declares Maeve to be his favourite child.
Even more importantly, Maeve's journey, though it was stuffed with tragedy and heartbreak, was quite frequently also fun - she got to do awesome stuff like fight ninjas and command a robot buffalo herd and even fall in love. The seeds of her self-awareness, as seen in season one, were finally explained via her special connection to the Ghost Nation character Ake, potentially the park's first self-aware host.
And even though she didn't get to be with her daughter in the end, she made damn sure the little girl made it to the Valley Beyond. If Maeve doesn't return for season three, that's all the happy ending she ever wanted anyway. Meanwhile, Dolores is still working on hers.