After an amazing first season, a confusing second season, and a very divisive third season, it feels like the hype for a show like Westworld has plummeted. Once beloved for its surprising twists, thoughtful character studies, and not-so-subtle commentary on the human condition, the show is now often criticized for trying to be too smart rather than actually telling a cohesive story. And yes, Season 2 of Westworld did feel like the writers were trying to be a bit too clever, and when Season 3 rolled around and we left the park and went into the real world, it was a sharp shift that did the show absolutely no favors.
But, what the series does succeed in doing in Season 4 is offer new mysteries that continue to intrigue. But Westworld has always been good and introducing new mysteries, the problem comes when they have to execute the answer to those mysteries. Last season saw the definitive end of one version of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and this season introduces us to a new character played by Wood: a woman named Christina. While it’s obvious when we first meet her that there is something up with Christina, it’s not clear what that is exactly. Is she in a program? Is she a brainwashed version of Dolores? Is she who Dolores is based? Fans of the show love deep diving into the story and finding clues in every errant sign or brief image in the credits sequence, but the benefit of Christina’s character for more casual audiences is a cleaner slate.
It’s quite clear that the ghost of Dolores’ past will show up, if not in Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), then in the Man in Black (Ed Harris). But there’s more to examine than just that. We are now in a post-Rehoboam world, one where people have free will and their future is not determined by a program. But nothing in the world is easy, and even without Rehoboam, the question remains: is anyone really free? With the four episodes I screened for this Season 3 review, I can say that we have no truly solid answer to that question. Not because one exists and we haven’t found it yet, but rather because the answer is still being formed.
From a story perspective, the plot once again plays with our point of perspective. Even if the characters look like they’re in the same world, are they really? Given the elaborate worlds built by Delos and the power of the Hosts and their hacking, the difference between illusion and reality is wearing thinner by the day. This creates exciting twists, ones that eagle-eyed viewers will have already put together (making it all the more satisfying), and one that will reward those who didn’t upon rewatching.
While Wood’s Dolores has consistently been our main protagonist on the show, she’s not alone. Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) has been one of the most interesting and entertaining characters, one who has seen a lot of character development throughout the seasons. Season 3 did her a bit dirty when she sided with Serac in order to save her daughter, but Season 4 pairs her up with Caleb (Aaron Paul) and it is a winning combination. Caleb was one of the bright lights of the last season, a symbol of humanity, someone who wanted to do the right thing and was not willing to conform or let Rehoboam lay his path for him. His return this season and his partnership with Maeve is one of the best things we’ve seen. The two characters bond over their shared connection and act almost like old comrades from war. They’re soldiers who have survived something traumatic and are connected by that.
Although the first couple of episodes starts a bit slow, by the end of Episode 4, the show is firing on all cylinders. After a time jump, the show feels refreshed, distanced from a difficult past but not thrown into a post-apocalyptic reality. That would be too easy and Westworld is slow to reveal the man behind the curtain. Splitting the story up into such disparate threads might end up ruining the show, but for now, it’s exciting to jump from Christina to Maeve and Caleb to Hale and William. How the groups will end up weaving together will decide whether Westworld has gotten back on the rails or if it will forever live in the shadow of its former glory.