June 24, 2022

Revisit the Violent Delights of “Westworld” with a Mind-Bending Return to Form (Review)

At this point, it’s inevitable that the basic functions of humanity will be replaced by the technology we’ve created. Thus, “Adapt or Die” is the decree that the fourth season of HBO’s trippy Westworld has for us. Building on previous seasons’ themes of consciousness and control, the long-awaited entry into the series’ sprawling and oft-confusing canon takes the best elements of its predecessors and unites them in a satisfying amalgamation that advances the story, while also bringing it back to its roots.

Image courtesy of HBO

Seven years after the events of Season Three, when former Westworld “Host” Maeve Millay (Thandiwe Newton) and human Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul) stopped an AI from “preventively” ending mass amounts of human lives, we’re thrown headfirst into the new lives of our main characters. Many of them are in drastically different roles than before, including cast member Evan Rachel Wood, whose traditionally-villainous character Dolores seemingly died permanently at the end of Season Three. Now, she plays Christina, a digital story designer who can’t help but wonder if there’s more to life than fabricating the tales of others. It’s not entirely clear why she looks exactly like an android Host from the now-defunct Westworld, but it makes enough sense for now.

Season Four, outfitted with a gorgeous brand-new title sequence, provides a clear recap on the events of Season Three while sticking to a standalone arc. It’s not often that a series with as many main characters is able to elucidate the character relationships and the plot machinations while still maintaining the mystery, but Westworld continues to defy the odds.

Image courtesy of HBO

As with each previous season, there is a fresh conspiracy that we learn more about with each passing episode. Once again, Maeve and Caleb are right in the middle of the drama, with Newton and Paul continuing to give cinema-grade performances. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) are on a mission of their own, while the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is crafting a plot of his own. Tessa Thompson, Angela Sarafyan and James Marsden are also among the returning cast, proving that there’s definitely no shortage of storylines or resurrections. I desperately hope that this is a series where at least a single character is able to stay dead, but the jury’s still out on that one. Even the return of Marsden’s character, Teddy, is only hazily defined in the first half of Season Four.

Initially, the production design of Westworld Season Four felt restrained. I feared that this was a side effect of its status as an entirely COVID production, which hurt the recently-released Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries. Luckily, a certain set piece introduced in episode two blew that notion out of the water, and makes for one of the most interesting series settings in years. In traditional Westworld fashion, however, these violent delights may have violent ends.

Image courtesy of HBO

For better or for worse, Westworld holds true to its primary objective: questioning the fate of sentient life on planet Earth, while continuing to introduce new ideas into a progressively convoluted story. It plays the long game, with the intricate creativity lacking from Season Three back in full force; however, that just means we’ll have to wait a little longer for the true nature of what we’re seeing to make itself clear. The mind games were what I loved about the first two seasons, and I’m glad to see that those are making a twisty comeback.

Westworld Season Four commits to its mystery, but with more coherence and clarity than previous seasons. Just as the technicians behind the central interactive theme parks continue to learn from their mistakes, the creatives behind the HBO series only keep improving on the premise that first grabbed audiences six years ago. As with each passing season, I keep wondering where Westworld is going, and if it has an end goal in mind. The fourth season seems the most confident in its trajectory, and as with any great year of television, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Image courtesy of HBO

The fourth season of Westworld premieres June 26 on HBO and HBO Max. Four episodes were screened for this review.

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