When Westworld the TV series set foot outside of Westworld the park for season three, it was a necessary step, albeit an extremely unsteady one. It’s not surprising, given the show had to transition from its distinct setting and questions about the sentience and rights of Hosts compared to its human guests and creators into a more traditional sci-fi setting, as well as a rather traditional question about the viability of free will. The good news is Westworld’s fourth season feels like it’s on firmer ground — even if we can’t yet see the stakes.
Those of you who love Westworld for its mind-bending philosophical questions, challenging narrative structure, and “mystery box” rewards might find the season four premiere a slow burn. With one big exception — ok, maybe two — the storylines shown in the episode feel uncharacteristically straightforward, helped by keeping the focus solely on William (Ed Harris), Maeve (Thandiwe Newton), and Caleb (Aaron Paul), and then… Christina (Eva Rachel Wood), aka The Lady Who Looks Just Like Dolores But Is a Single Girl in the City Who Has Big Dreams and Longs for Happiness. But more on her in a second.
It’s much easier to recap the adventures of the other three first. Seven years have passed since Dolores released Incite’s files predicting the future to their subjects and Caleb told Rehoboam, the computer that did the predicting, to delete itself. As a result of the ensuing riots, it appears that the world has destroyed most of or all its robots, but otherwise returned to normal.
Of course, “normal” has never been a term that could be used to describe William, aka the Man in Black, who the Host version of Charlotte Hale (who has Dolores’ corrupted mind inside; I still contend this is relatively straightforward for Westworld) has enlisted in her plan to eventually Kill All Humans. The episode begins as William arrives at the Hoover Dam, which is powering an utterly massive array of computer servers holding data — data William claims was stolen from him eight years ago. Now he offers its owners, a nondescript criminal cartel of some kind, an offer they can’t refuse: to sell their company outright today or give it to him for free tomorrow.
It’s a very good, William-level threat, even if he’s currently following Hale’s orders. The cartel of course refuses, but when one of the members gets home, he’s greeted and then swarmed by a truly upsetting number of flies. When he wakes up the next morning, the man stabs the other cartel members to death, passes control of the company to a grimly smug William, and cuts his own throat. The question, of course, is what is this data? Is it the Sublime, aka Host Heaven? Is it all the data on the guests that Westworld creators Delos had gathered? Something else? What do William and Hale want it for? And what the hell is up with those flies?
Likewise, why do William and Hale want Maeve and Caleb dead? Because when Maeve accidentally blows out a power grid while exploring her power — you know, the one she used to rewrite other Hosts’ programming on the fly and hear Rehoboam as it talked to last season’s big bad Serac — William sends a troop of Host goons to take her out. It’s not even a close fight, which is fun, but Caleb has a tougher time given that he has a new wife and adorable child to protect. Luckily, Maeve arrives at the nick of time to kill the remaining goons and the two realise they need to hit the road to stop William/Hale now. Again, why does Hale want Maeve and Caleb dead? And, based on a flashback of the dynamic duo blowing up Rehoboam and Caleb looking fatally wounded, what were they up to following the events of season three?
These questions seem like they could have relatively simple answers, although I doubt Westworld has either the desire or restraint to keep them simple for long. But season four’s real mystery belongs to Christina, a writer for a video game company who wants to write simple romances with a happy ending but keeps getting told to write super-depressing murder stories that sell well. She leads a lonely life in the city, buoyed only by her more social friend/roommate, who convinces her to go on a blind date that turns out absurdly awful. It’s all extremely cliché — pointedly so, I suspect — with the exception of a stalker (played by 12 Monkeys’ Aaron Stanford) named Peter, who accuses her of ruining his life and says she needs to stop what she’s doing because “all these people do what you want them to. And most enigmatically, “The doctors think I’m crazy, but I know you’re real, just like the Tower is real.”
When the stalker, Peter, accosts her one night, Christina is saved by a mysterious stranger who disappears with her assailant before she can see his face. The next day, Christina gets one last call from Peter, directing her to look up — just in time to see him jump off a roof to his death. That night, Christina says more wistful crap on her balcony and heads forlornly back inside her apartment… only for Teddy (James Marsden) to wander from behind a building, beaming (a bit unsettlingly) at where she was.
Christina’s story is so extremely trite that I suspect it’s some sort of simulation, much like the Warworld simulated park Maeve was trapped in at the beginning of season three. It would explain the presence of Teddy, who committed suicide at the end of season two after discovering Dolores had reprogrammed him to help murder all the humans in the park. And the parallel between Christina’s game story and the premise of Dolores’ back story is so obvious it may be a red herring.
But as far as mysteries go, this is where Westworld season four firmly plants its “WTF” flag. What is Christina’s deal? What’s her relationship, if any, to Dolores? How is Teddy back, and also, is this really Teddy or some Christina-adjacent faux equivalent? Who drew the Maze on Christina’s fire escape? But most of all, what the hell is Peter talking about? Is he just some random disturbed person who’s a fan of Christina’s game design (almost certainly not), or does Christina actually have some kind of control over people (almost certainly yes)? And what in the hell is the Tower?
While this season’s premiere felt weirdly low-stakes compared to season three’s, the (seeming) simplicity feels like part of a course correction that I appreciate. Season three was so full of twists and turns that the multitude of revelations rarely had the time to have much impact; I appreciate beginning season four with firmer ground to stand on before Westworld ramps up into its usual madness and mayhem. Because no matter how much Christina might wish for one, there’s very little chance this has a happy ending.
- Really, let’s just call these “Assorted Questions.” Where the hell are Bernard and Stubbs, and what have they been up to for the last seven years? I assume we’ll get an answer to this to some degree in next week’s episode.
- It’s nice to see Aaron Stanford, who was the lead of Syfy’s excellent 12 Monkeys TV show, another science fiction series. Here’s a question that I may be the only one wondering: did they hire him to be a one-episode guest star, or will he have a larger role to play in season four?
- Caleb’s a Host now, right? He died during that mission and Maeve brought him back as a Host to live with his new family?
- To be fair to Christina’s boss, Christina’s first story — about a teenaged girl who has an infirm father — does not sound exciting, even if it was the basis for Dolores’ story in Westworld. Assuming the Tower belongs to the story where everybody killed themselves, could it be a reference to the very tall, vertical fissure that the Hosts jumped through in the season two finale to enter the Sublime, leaving their bodies behind?
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