We’re going back! We’re going back!
Yes, I’ll start at the end, but also, how could that not be? The park that clearly won’t die (what is this, a Jurassic?) returns, remodeled and revamped for a whole new wild season.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First things first: I totally enjoyed the first episode from west world‘s fourth season and rightly praised it for shrugging off the most alienating aspects of the series’ storyline and deciding to go back to basics. (Season two and three felt more like puzzles to solve than stories to follow; did you get through it without color-coded timeline diagrams and endless visits to Reddit threads and wikis?)
The episode may have spent time re-introducing old friends, but it’s also done a solid job of laying the groundwork for what promises to be – and here we get to borrow William’s own words – not so much a season one revisit, but a reinvention of it. Which, frankly, sounds pretty good. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about Nolan and Joy’s dystopian gambit since the first few episodes of the show, who managed to drag you into a sci-fi parable about free will under the guise of a human vs. AI combat that takes place in an amusement park where earthly delights came with deadly consequences. And who really needs more than that?
So in this episode, we kick off with a Western-inspired showdown between William (Ed Harris) and Clementine (Angela Sarafyan); the Man in Black is eager to find Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) and he will stop at nothing. Killing is now the name of the game. But it soon becomes clear(er) what he intends to do: he is trying to rekindle the ashes of what was once Delos, yes, but also Westworld, the park. Of course, the US government is adamantly against it. But, as in our own real world, it seems that corporate interests cannot be constrained in any way. Especially when said interests have a legion of hosts and human/host hybrids (is that what we should call these people infested with fly hosts?) who will do their damn orders and stop at nothing to get William and (turn!) planning a reality. Yes, our beloved Tessa Thompson is back. A little worse for wear (she survived a fiery accident last season, remember?) but her Dolores consciousness (affectionately referred to as “Halores” by fans) is just as unforgiving as before.
It is she who leads the game here, having built herself a William to be the front end of her plan as she tries, as Dolores herself once did, to create a world fit for hosts. All she has to do first is declaim those jackals, lest they run amok and hurt those she wants to let roam free in this new world.
What can stand in their way? Well, Maeve and Caleb (Aaron Paul), of course. The judges are still out for me on Caleb, who I believe is still the weakest link in the core ensemble of the season so far. Fortunately, he helped in that department by sharing every scene he finds himself in with the always magnetic and always delightful Maeve. Honestly, can we talk for a second about how Newton’s wry sense of humor gives every scene she’s in an energy so often lacking elsewhere? Scenes often run down the line into self-serious territory (see: that last Hale/William moment). I stopped counting the number of times Maeve’s biting asides openly clucked at me (Exhibit A: Telling Caleb, “You don’t look quite hideous,” while donning a tuxedo; Exhibit B: “It sure was… eye-opening,” when talking about her past visits to Westworld).
Speaking of Maeve and Caleb, as they slowly figure out William (and Charlotte’s) plan, they end up… well, you know where they end up: on the train to Westworld† Although it can’t possibly be Westworld. For we have left the Western genre behind and are faced with ‘the Golden Age’, aka the roaring twenties, aka ‘Welcome To Temperance’, as the sign at this new (and improved?) park tells us. Our wry host and handy human are now guests at William’s revamped amusement park, and it’s clear that, as before, this is just a ruse, a cover for more nefarious things to come.
But that’s for next week. For now, we can enjoy the prospect of having Maeve back in the park where, in a way, it all started. And where, sure enough, it will all end.
- Will each episode show William killing someone in the opening moments? Will we see Maeve impale every chance she gets? Will Christina wake up as a modern-day Dolores? Repetition has always been the name of the game at west world (and at Westworld of course) so I’m very much here for these recurring jokes.
- “I’ve always wondered why they call you the Secret Service. Aren’t you, kinda…obvious?’ Line of the evening? Possibly.
- I want to set the direction in this episode (thanks to Craig William MacNeill), especially because of the tense moment on the golf course (how brilliant that it’s interrupted by William scoring a hole in one perfect three different times?) and the set – piece in the opera-cum-speakeasy-turned-train were two moments when the show’s rhythm slowed down and allowed us to just sit with these characters. In a show that often likes to play with juxtapositions and gets a lot of miles out of clipping back and forth between different spaces and timelines, those two scenes stood out to me because of their free orientation — just made them feel more powerful, really drawing you in before, obviously, punched you in the stomach.
- I think we need to talk a little bit about Christina and her findings about Peter Myers (there… used to be will be some kind of time warp; we all knew that). Did Peter really die years ago? Is Christina stuck in a different kind of looping reality? In an Olympiad game of her own making? In her own mind? Is Ariana DeBose going? Alias/Francie us and turns out to be someone watching our favorite character tabula rasa?
- Let’s pause and praise Peter Flinkenberg’s cinematography in this episode. Not only did the show’s color palette (so much lush greenery!) arguably shake up the normally stern-looking show (with all those milky blacks and harsh lights), but I thoroughly enjoyed the way the Flinkenberg continued to frame Christina in ways that fragmented her visually to us. So many mirrors and windows and revolving glass doors are constantly breaking her image in our eyes, as if reminding us that she is not yet whole, that she may be lost in herself. (But also, west world always looks so perfectly shot that I thought we’d get this shoutout out of the way as I’ll probably continue to praise the show’s visual grammar for the rest of the season).
- Throughout seasons two and three, it seems that Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy and their crew planned to tell the story of west world outwardly, building out increasingly complex worlds and stories emerging from the inside of the park where we had spent much of the show’s first ten episodes. Wisely, they’ve chosen to go in the opposite direction this season, making up stories that dig us further into the park and take us back and in. sometimes last season felt like a very baggy, albeit justifiably ambitious, epic kind of storytelling.