I’m not a technical expert, but has anyone ever considered unplugging Westworld for 30 seconds then plug it back in?
I’m asking because for a show where no one can ever really die – or, if they die, they can be brought back as robots – and, after the third season, anyone can apparently change their identities to a jiffy, HBO’s Westworld is extremely bad at resetting.
Excellent cast, super visual effects and, as always, pregnant with the inevitable disappointment.
At the start of its fourth season, Westworld settled into what is now a comfortable routine: take a few episodes to establish the new normal, even if that amount of exposure is either completely unnecessary or woefully insufficient. Find an interesting rhythm for a few episodes in mid-season. Unravel in a convoluted chaos, in which it either becomes clear that nothing really makes enough sense to remember, or it becomes even clearer that there is no way for meaningful stakes to develop in a show in which no one (other than maybe Anthony Hopkins) is ever gone for good and anyone can become someone else with a burst of techno gibberish. Mousse. Renew. Repeat.
And here’s the funny thing: maybe you disagree with every part of that last paragraph. Maybe you like the slow-burning world-building of the series. Maybe you remember every detail that happened in the last season very well because you rewatched every episode two or three times, accumulating evidence and cracking codes. Maybe you think it’s a provocative meditation on free will or robotic ethics or fungible identity in an NFT world.
Then this review is not for you. I can’t tell you how good or bad the first four new ones are. Westworld the episodes are if you like the show. I can only register on behalf of viewers who, like me, are terribly intrigued by some aspects and perpetually exasperated by many others. So I don’t even know if it’s frustrating or weirdly reassuring to see that the fourth season of Westworld is as usual. It’s two episodes of comically elongated reset of pieces on this futuristic chessboard, followed by two episodes in which some of the ideas are provocative or at least amusing.
Will it all come together in a sensible and emotionally satisfying narrative way? Fool me three times, shame on me. Fool me four times, shame on Westworld.
So when creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy left things… oh, whatever. You either remember it or you don’t, and if you care, there are snippets of flashbacks and talkative refreshes. But at the same time, it really doesn’t matter. Why be perplexed by an old company when the new one offers new things that leave you perplexed?
Seven years have passed since what happened at the end of the third season, which aired in May 2020. Aaron Paul’s Caleb is living with a wife (or girlfriend, I guess that didn’t matter). doesn’t matter much) and things are back to normal, so much so that one of his colleagues is unable to understand what the revolution was for seven years earlier, which is pretty much how I felt watching it unfold.
Maeve (Thandiwe Newton), whoever Maeve is these days, is in peaceful retreat in a secluded cabin until that peace is violently shattered. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), whoever Bernard is these days, is in whatever dusty place we saw him after last season’s credits. Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), or whoever Charlotte is these days (Dolores, if I remember correctly, but that’s probably not the case), is plotting nefariously. William (Ed Harris), who is William these days, who is all-out plotting Man in Black, makes people offers he hopes they’ll refuse so he can kill them.
Oh, and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is no longer Dolores, because who is who were they? The person who looked like Dolores is now Christina, and she’s a writer for a virtual reality video game, sharing a cramped apartment with Maya (Ariana DeBose), who just wants Christina to get laid.
Because so many parts of the show’s cast can go from good to bad, depending on their lineup, and because so many parts of the show’s cast are in their hundredth or thousandth permutation of what counts as “alive.” there are very few opportunities for new faces to appear. Along with Aurora Perrineau and Daniel Wu — as the human resistance figures who give the season its “plot” — DeBose is the main new figure, and it’s almost amazing how wasted she is through these first four. episodes.
Am I convinced that DeBose’s character harbors secrets that will eventually give him at least a modicum of payoff? Sure. Do I still think it should be illegal to take a performer as versatile and instantly galvanic as Ariana DeBose and give her four solid episodes of nothing more than “A worried roommate who wants her friend fucked ?” Yes. Illegal.
If all Maya does is try to get Christina to fuck, instead of taking her to boring wine bars to do it, why not go to a karaoke bar or a line dancing bar for the same purpose ? Or have both characters go to MusicalTheaterWorld, whose hosts are just characters from classic musicals, which was basically the plot of Schmidadon! In any event. Ariana DeBose doesn’t need to sing or dance to be charismatic, but she’s way too good for that.
Of course, not taking full advantage of big players and sometimes good ideas is what Westworld do the best. I’m still mad at the season three episode where Paul’s character took a party drug that introduced him to the world through the filter of different movie genres, but the show got so little amused with this seemingly juicy premise that the characters had to explain what each new genre was.
Westworld boasts first-class special effects and a robust aesthetic and too many good conceits to count, and yet it’s a demonstrably poorly directed show, wallowing in jaw-dropping visuals and anticlimactic action set-pieces.
This is why it is very difficult for me to invest myself even when Westworld do cool things. As the third and fourth episodes unfold, there’s a lot of cool stuff as two characters visit a reopened theme park modeled after classic gangster movies. The park gives Westworld an opportunity to comment on the vacuum of reboot culture.
If I didn’t know better I’d think the show was engaging in a meta commentary on how putting a nice new skin on something that didn’t work well before and hoping no one noticed is a recipe for repeat the same disasters, maybe even apologizing for earlier narrative missteps. It’s no more than a critique of how nostalgia makes us fetishize even the ugliest aspects of the past, even dealing with something like the massacre of Westworld as a reproducible version of The Good Ol’ Days.
Speaking of The Good Ol’ Days, what’ll keep me watching are the same things that kept me faithful Westworld for so long. Newton is a badass treasure as Maeve, though I’m not sure when the writers decided to make this character so flippant and fun-loving. Wood continues to do subtle and intricate work, though I didn’t suspect where the show was going with “Christina,” I’d think it was a boring character introduction. Wright does pensive sternness and Paul does battered torment better than anyone. Add the perpetually striking and perpetually underused Thompson, the perpetually gruff and grizzled Harris and a bunch of fun callbacks and I’ll probably keep watching Westworld until its next season-opening reset.
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