In Season 4, ‘Westworld’ Has Brought Itself Back Online
Will 2022 be the year of sci-fi shows with so-so third seasons bouncing back in Season 4? One more title and it’s a trend!
First we had Stranger Things. Netflix’s massive hit roared back to life with a stellar fourth round that upped the horror vibes and dramatic twists while also fleshing out its characters and their relationships. Now Westworld seems poised to do the same.
Way, way back in 2020, the HBO drama about sentient robots rebelling against their creators and breaking out of a Wild West theme park aired its third season. Having swapped out said park for the “real world,” Westworld pushed viewers into a new, AI-controlled environment that often reeked of generic science fiction. The characters suffered. Determined, complicated Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) became more robotic than ever in her quest to overthrow the system; self-confident, powerful Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) spent most of her time doing a villain’s bidding; mysterious newcomer Caleb (Aaron Paul) was there, and for most of the season, that was all one could say about him. The show still looked fantastic, its vision of the future sleek, shiny, and sharp. The story, on the other hand, felt lacking in its usual brain-bending mystery and intrigue.
Going into Season 4, it wasn’t clear where Westworld was headed. But instead of going the predictable route, with an apocalypse story for Caleb and Maeve versus a world domination plot for Tessa Thompson’s version of Dolores, Westworld chose to swerve. And it’s returned to form as a result.
Improvements abound. First and perhaps most obviously, part of the show’s story has been taken back to the parks, introducing a 1920s-themed world that feels both familiar and fresh. That setting is used to great effect: Caleb and Maeve’s interactions with it and reactions to it have fleshed out their characters. Outside ’20s-World, Christina, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is the show’s solution to Dolores’ death. Her universe serves as something of a riddle, with clues offered piece by piece in ways that encourage fan theories and speculation. Where is she? More importantly, when is she? Elsewhere, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is in the “real world,” but one deeply changed from Season 3.
The characters, too, feel more real. (Yes, on a show about robots, there’s some irony there.) With Christina, Wood plays a completely new character shrouded in secrecy, her mere existence an invitation to speculate. Who is she? Is she connected to Dolores, and if so, how? Her storyline also throws in a joyous return for Teddy (James Marsden). Their interactions are both heartwarming and, as with all things Westworld, laced with a hint of mystery. It’s exciting to ponder where their paths might lead.
Elsewhere, Caleb improves a hundredfold through two brand-new character facets: a family and his relationship with Maeve. In Season 3, it was occasionally hard to tell why Caleb was doing what he was doing other than that for the story to happen, he had to. In Season 4, keeping his daughter safe serves as a far more solid motivation. And while the actual formation of their war-forged friendship happens offscreen, Caleb also has a believable “saving the world” partner in Maeve. Their chemistry clicks where the Dolores-Caleb relationship fell flat, their banter is fun, and the details of their history are both sweet and tragic. Relationships between humans and hosts have never been harmonious on Westworld, so it adds a compelling layer to the story that Caleb and Maeve genuinely understand and care for each other. Plus, they make for a totally badass team.
On the subject of Maeve, she’s no longer under anyone’s thumb, a refreshing return to form for the character. Her memories of her daughter serve an important role in the story, but getting back to her is no longer Maeve’s sole motivation. She continues to have some of the best lines and moments, always ready with a smirk, a quip, or a perfectly timed katana stab. Her relationship with Caleb adds a new element to her character this season, but to say how would be a spoiler.
A chief complaint among fans in Season 3 was that William/The Man in Black (Ed Harris) felt sidelined. While it’s difficult for any show to completely balance screentime—especially with a cast as strong as Westworld’s—Season 4 fixes that problem, giving William a compelling storyline that echoes earlier themes for his character without feeling repetitive. “Zhuangzi,” especially, is something of a William character study. It’s not really a spoiler to say that human William is still alive (the trailer showed it!) too, which should reassure those who were left cold by his post-credits, rather hurried “death.”
Bernard and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) continue to make a great, hilarious duo as Bernard finds himself in the position of being the only one capable of saving humanity—and Stubbs finds himself eternally done with Bernard. (“You came back even weirder than when you left,” Stubbs tells his pal after he emerges from the Sublime.) And Clementine shows up, too, playing an unexpected role that gives Angela Sarafyan a chance to shine. To say much about Thompson’s villainous version of Dolores would be a spoiler, but the actress is clearly having a blast playing her.
It would defeat the purpose of this article to delve into the twists, but in contrast to Season 3, there are some, and they feel like “old” Westworld again. Jaw-dropping moments not only redefine Season 4’s direction, but also might well redefine the show in a potential fifth season. “Generation Loss” stands among Westworld’s best installments as an intense hour with high emotional stakes, featuring excellent performances by Paul and Newton.
In the end, Westworld’s fourth season could do for Season 3 what WandaVision did for Avengers: Age of Ultron. By adding depth and complexity to certain plot points and following through on its ideas, Westworld has retroactively made its third season better—or maybe simply clarified why it was necessary. But the show also seems to have realized what fans disliked about that season, and it took steps to adjust. Thus far, those steps have been effective.
All of this to say that for a show known for its twists, Westworld has pulled off one of its biggest to date. By paying homage to earlier seasons while breaking new ground in Season 4, it has turned itself into must-watch TV again.
Westworld Season 4, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO