Westworld Starts Season 4 with a surprisingly coherent episode
The show’s refreshing return feels like a ramp-up to bloodier stuff
Westworld is a programme about telling stories. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the show’s creators, have made it apparent during its first three seasons that they are interested by the way tales dominate our world: In the show’s cosmology, concepts like free will and agency are inextricably linked to the tales we tell ourselves and the characters we allow ourselves to be. If such fundamental concepts have grown muddied over the course of the HBO program’s three-season run, it’s because the HBO show has always been a little more ambitious in terms of the complicated storytelling it wants its viewers to follow. (If you ask me to guide you through season three, you’ll find myself stumbling even as I appreciated portions of it.)
- Which is to say, it was refreshing to watch this first episode of season four and be in almost familiar territory. Sure, I wouldn’t have pegged Westworld to flash-forward seven years since “the riots” that closed out its most recent season finale—or even imagine that it would open with a bilingual set-piece where William (yes, Ed Harris, back again as the man formerly known as the Man in Black) brings a cartel to its knees with the help of…I want to say fly-hosts?
- That is to say, watching the opening episode of season four and being in practically familiar ground felt pleasant. Sure, I wouldn’t have predicted that Westworld would flash forward seven years since “the riots” that ended the previous season finale—or that it would open with a bilingual set-piece in which William (yes, Ed Harris, back as the man formerly known as the Man in Black) brings a cartel to its knees with the help of…fly-hosts?
- But once that prologue was over, I was back in the kind of Westworld world I prefer: following Evan Rachel Wood as she tried to figure out what her character (this time: Christina—unclear it’s where Dolores is now) wanted from her life as she pondered the pleasures and perils of writing and living in certain stories. She also believes she is being monitored. (Trust the programme to maintain its meta-ness; we’re not just in the field of storytelling, but also in the area of broadcasting.) After all, every staged narrative need an audience.)
- The return to season one, when we followed Dolores’ waking moments and saw her ongoing narrative loops, was welcome. And a reminder that Christina’s world may be just as contrived as Dolores’ little Western village.
- To put it gently, one thing that struck me about this episode was its coherence. Westworld has probably spoiled us by convincing us that each of its stories is a Rubik’s cube of a puzzle, constantly forcing us to discern (or become lost) in numerous competing histories. Not in this instance. Although William, Christina, Caleb, and Maeve are separated, we appear to be in the same chronological order (give or take Christina? Okay, maybe we’ll need some red-yarn-wall conspiracy artwork to help us figure it all out).
- However, for a reintroduction to these characters, the subdued, almost studied manner in which we were reacquainted with them all was surprisingly refreshing: sure, we don’t know who Christina is (though let’s hope we get more of her roommate, played by Academy Award-winner Ariana DeBose), but watching Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) go feral in the snow-capped mountains as she’s hunted by William’s men Perhaps the quiet before the storm.
- There’s also that annoying man who keeps bothering Christina, certain that the novels she’s creating have real-world consequences—or consequences in whatever universe she and he are in. As in previous seasons, it appears that who tells whose tales and who controls our own narratives (“I want to make a new story,” Christina tells herself) will remain the underlying philosophical concept beneath which the violent thrills we’ve come to anticipate from Westworld will dwell. We got a taste of it, but I’m sure there will be more.
- The line that echoed for me throughout the episode and strikes me as possibly hinting at what’s to come is one Christina utters when trying to explain her work (oh god, I’m just realising it’s because I so often find myself doing the same when I tell someone I’m a writer and then feel the need to buoy why I do this and why it matters!): “What if I’m not the one who’s broken, what if it’s the world
- We’ve already seen what happens when Dolores attempts to mend a shattered world. Christina could be yearning to follow in her footsteps. Is that what William is looking for?
Let’s Get Back to The Big Surprise: We were all expecting it (James Marsden’s involvement having previously been revealed), but it doesn’t make it any less fascinating. Not only because I am eager to see the actor’s stunning face throughout the season, but also because the Dolores/Teddy interaction was the throbbing core of season one—yet another callback I can support.
The Utilization of New York City’s High Line: As a background for a perplexing dystopian metropolitan setting that’s designed to feel both green and antiseptic, catering to a populace that appears to drug themselves to keep going and has no time for self-questioning moments that might risk their livelihood? It’s almost too perfect.
Is Westworld’s production design some of the most enviable in cable television?
- I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for its brutal-meets-minimalist style: in which its protagonists travel through desolate apartments and bedrooms, so those opening moments were pure catnip for me. It’s beyond me how Nathan Crowley (season one) and Howard Cummings (seasons two and three) didn’t win Emmys for their work on the programme. Let’s hope Jonathan Carlos, who is taking over this time, has greater luck next year!
- Thandiwe Newton can make any line sing, but hearing her say “Oh, for fuck’s sake” and then “Hello, sweetheart” and instantly making both seem legendary is a genuine tribute to the (Emmy-winning!) job she’s been doing as Maeve for four seasons and counting.
- In Terms of Maeve, we didn’t focus on what she was doing while attempting to access her old memories in her hut in the middle of nowhere. What exactly is she looking for? What may she be looking for? And what inspired the impulse to do so, putting her in such danger of being discovered?
- The Maze Triumphantly Returns! Thankfully, it’s currently in some fire escape dirt rather than, you know, some guy’s scalp (though there was some scalping; Westworld wouldn’t be complete without some of that).
“Welcome to America.” “Everything is on the market.” ( I may have grimaced at this sentence since, while the sentiment is correct, I believe it has grown increasingly overused, no?