‘Westworld’ returns online for season 4

“Let me ask you this”, a Westworld the character asks for another one of the climactic events of the last season. “HAS your has life changed since they destroyed those machines?

If you have to ask the question, the answer is obvious: not much, neither for the character in question nor for the show he leads. Over three seasons, Westworld has repeatedly set up a series of seismic reversals. First of all, the “hosts” of its namesake theme park have grown in sensibilities; then they turned against their flesh-and-blood guests; finally, they escaped completely, bringing the robotic revolution to the real world and raising the stakes accordingly. Last season even ended by killing off a major character, a commitment its creators insisted they stick to. Every time, Westworld teases a journey into uncharted territory.

But, in his fourth opus (premiering this Sunday), Westworld feels sadly familiar. A woman played by Evan Rachel Wood lives a routine life that isn’t quite what it seems. The protagonists pontificate ad nauseam on “this world”. The swarms of flies serve, once again, as an ominous symbol. And, in the most symbolic throwback of all, Westworld heads back to the park, where guest exploits are accompanied by vintage covers from pop artists like Lana Del Rey and Billie Eilish. After having made the grand gesture of evolving beyond its initial framework, Westworld ends up going back to where it started.

As the quote at the top suggests, one could say Westworld intentionally repeats in service of a larger point. The show has never explored the ethics or philosophy of artificial intelligence as deeply as its premise would allow, but it has often invoked the idea that hosts and humans find themselves stuck in a loop, trapped in a status quo by forces beyond their control. (The hosts, of course, are programmed by the humans to follow the park’s scripted scenarios; the humans, as revealed last season, were under the thumb of Rehoboam, a supercomputer secretly manipulating world affairs until its destruction.) Constant reversion, in a certain light, only emphasizes the theme, although there is a fine line between highlighting a problem and being part of it.

Here again, Westworldhas been gone long enough for viewers to appreciate the reminders of his former self. In the show’s world, we learn that seven years have passed since the events of the previous finale (a post-credits scene where a host wakes up covered in dust suggested a time jump was in the works). In the real-world timeline, it’s been just over two years, an absence extended by the pandemic – but not much longer than the 20-month hiatus between seasons 2 and 3 (a byproduct of sky-high production values of the show and the labyrinthine plot). Even without social distancing, it takes time to build a maze.

Westworld had already passed the peak of its cultural relevance before its extended hiatus. The ratings for the last episode of last season were down nearly 20% from the previous season, which in turn were down from season 1. And, the anticipation for season 4 does not seem particularly high; the show’s recent Google Trends chart, an imperfect but useful metric, is essentially a flat line. Same WestworldThe creators of, married couple Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, have been busy with other activities. Joy made her directorial debut last year, to mixed reviews; she and Nolan have also signed a nine-figure deal with Amazon, where they are producing an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel The ringroad—with Chloë Grace Moretz—and another series of hit games To fall, with Walton Goggins and Yellow Jackets’ Ella Purnell. There’s more than just Westworld on their plates. And if Nolan and Joy have already started moving on, some fans will surely follow suit.

Mystery boxes require effort to open. It’s all their fun: offering an extracurricular activity to fill the time between episodes. The longest Westworld continued, the less it relies on withholding information instead of simple storytelling. Old puzzles, like the Man in Black (Ed Harris) or Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), are now just clones of Wood’s original Dolores Abernathy, turning once obscure motivations into a simple desire to kill humans. and create more hosts. The show still has convolution in its DNA, making subplots asynchronous for no obvious reason other than force of habit. (The revelation that the character of Jimmi Simpson was actually a younger version of Harris dates back to Season 1, so Westworld keep running back the punches.) And in 2022, that leads to a very important question: is enough Westworldis the public always ready to get involved?

After all, the show no longer has a monopoly on big, expansive genre stories – once a niche that HBO launched with brand ambition. Since the launch of game of thrones in 2011 and Westworld in 2016, the field exploded to include series like stranger things and the TV satellites of star wars and the MCU, which deliver a show on a similar scale. At its start, Westworld could at least lay claim to intellectual aspirations like exploring the nature of consciousness. Yet as the show has strayed away from its more cerebral side and is now largely confined to faux-deep dialogue – one talk this season comes dangerously close to recycling “time is a flat circle” – it has ceded that territory. to newcomers. On Apple TV+, breakout drama Breakup cleverly combines intellect with intrigue. By obscuring the ultimate goals of his all-powerful corporation, Breakup conveys the power that employers hold over employees in the dark. With its own secrets, Westworld never achieved such a synthesis of form and function.

Faced with increasing competition, Westworld has little to offer but more of the same with a few slight changes. It is now Caleb (Aaron Paul), not Maeve (Thandiwe Newton), who is driven solely by a desire to protect his young daughter. A version of Dolores, now known as Christina, lives in New York City, a far cry from a Wild West simulacrum (her roommate is played by Ariana DeBose, quite a surprising sequel for a recent Oscar winner). But she is still a sweet and generous young woman whose life is turned upside down by a violent encounter. In the four episodes screened for critics, we don’t yet learn Christina’s true nature. Still, it’s hard to arouse much curiosity when his latest storyline looks so much like the last.

By the time Caleb and Maeve return to the park’s latest attraction, which simulates the Jazz Age, they’re only making explicit what’s already implied. (Crowds flocking to a corporate playground less than a decade after a deadly massacre is a clever satire, though Michael Crichton created quite a other franchise on the same observation after having made the original Westworld in 1973.) The battle lines have partly shifted; instead of humans versus hosts, the conflict now pits the genocidal Dolores-as-Charlotte against more empathetic adversaries like Jeffrey Wright’s Maeve and Bernard. But, the battlefield itself is almost identical. Once in the park, Maeve watches with amusement as another host reprise her role as the wise lady – same script, different actor.

As always, there are aspects of Westworld the show could do more if it chose. But, Bernard and Maeve never got to debate their points of difference with Charlotte and their henchmen – a conversation that would actually flesh out their differing views on humanity, forgiveness and class solidarity. Instead they just fight, leaving an absence that lays bare Westworldfundamental contradiction. The show gained a reputation for being too elaborate for its own good; basically, however, Westworld is stubbornly simple. Four seasons later, he’s stopped trying to say anything new.

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