Buzzy and challenging, Westworld returns with an amped up season four.
Westworld is one of those shows that came out of the gate so strong, so buzzy and so compelling that it had the Icarus effect.
Once the literal puzzle at the center of the story was solved, fans fell off, satiated and unwilling to commit to more of its ambitious, involving and cerebral narratives. It didn’t help that it fell into a bit of a hole in the third season.
But if you gave up and aren’t willing to come back, you might just miss some of the best the series has to offer – like Homelandwhich had really hot seasons in the back-half but disenchanted fans couldn’t be wooed and it was their loss.
Westworld returns for its fourth season this week on Binge* and it is in peak form. The production values are extraordinary, as are its performances but that has never been in doubt, the series always delivers on those points.
Easier to do when you have actors as talented as Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandiwe Newton, Tessa Thompson, Ed Harris and Aaron Paul. It’s an absolute smorgasbord of thespian delights. Even at its most opaque, Westworld has always been worth watching just for those performances.
Westworld‘s wider success is hinged more on how it executes the central ideas in its DNA – that of free will, control and power. When the show was in the park, those ideas fueled its compulsive action, but when it expanded into the so-called real world, the series lost some of that drive.
The fourth season is a rebalancing. It returns to some of the elements that established it as a must-watch series, while fully acknowledging the cyclical nature of its narrative, while teasing enough of the non-park world of glass, steel and menace.
After a time jump, Dolores (Wood) is now a woman named Christina, seemingly with no memory of her past self, insurrectionist proclivities or that bloodthirst for vengeance.
All those characteristics now reside in Charlotte (Thompson), who is a version of Dolores – she’s hell bent on dominating humanity for what they did to robots, unleashing a plague which gives her control over people.
Maeve (Newton), after seven years in hiding, is on the run after she’s found by William’s (Harris) henchmen. As is Caleb (Paul), who has moved on to a “normal” life with a wife and child.
And, as was teased at the end of the previous season, Bernard has reawakened after years in the digital world.
They’re the starting points for another deadly reckoning, an intricately woven story which seems cloudy at first but – as is Westworld‘s wont – surprises with its playful reveals. It stirs the same intellectual callisthenics as the first season, a tango with audience expectations.
Westworld, created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, revels in not talking down to its viewers. It puts forward challenging ideas through its demanding narratives but the pay-off is worth it.
And this season, that question of free will which was centered on its robot characters are now turned back to humanity.
It has a chilling resonance in the context of current events (the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Afghanistan falling to the Taliban, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) because it argues that no one can ever take for granted the sometimes-illusory nature of free will. .
Just when you think you’re in charge of your own life or destiny, something – or someone – comes along and snatches it away. But as Maeve says to Caleb, it’s not about the fight, it’s about having something worth fighting for.
And that’s something worth thinking about.
Westworld season four starts streaming on Binge on Monday, June 27
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