There are times, I have to admit, when I finish an episode of Westworld, look at my notes right afterward, and realize I maybe lost the plot a bit. Or has the show? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Which is not to say that episode three of the show’s fourth season is befuddling (though, I guess it is, to some extent). It’s just that after two seemingly straightforward and relatively linear episodes, we’ve quite literally gone back to OG Westworld. As in, issues of temporality and narrative recursion have cropped up again and muddled the tidy story we were following.
But let us not get lost in abstractions (no matter how hard the show may try to force us to). Instead, let us focus on the bits and pieces that we could follow. Or that I could follow. Which were plenty, I assure you. After slowly catching us up with Christina (Evan Rachel Wood), Maeve (Thandiwe Newton), Caleb (Aaron Paul), William (Ed Harris), and Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), and even giving us glimpses of Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) and (maybe even) Teddy (James Marsden), we now get to see what’s happened to Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) in the seven years since we last saw our unlikely duo.
As is the case this season, we seem to be rehashing narrative and thematic strands from its earliest episodes—going back to basics, as I have ironically put it, as there is never anything basic about Westworld. And so, the images of Bernard dreamily waking through pivotal scenes from past seasons, all while following a white horse (a nice twist on the Alice In Wonderland metaphor that guided Dolores in season one) feel familiar in that eerie way the show so enjoys deploying. He ends in the “Tower” that’s obviously been referenced in Christina’s timeline: It’s there that Bernard realizes he is not in our world but somewhere…else? Yes, this is where he sort of lost me. Stubbs later calls it “robot heaven” and so I’m just gonna stick with that. It’s some plane where he’s able to see every and all possible outcomes in any and all timelines (Westworld goes full multiverse!). Humble and honorable as always, he opts to try his hand at helping to build a better place (“You love them,” Zach McClaron’s Akecheta tells him, almost mournfully in what’s the most Matrix moment in the entire series), even if going back means Bernard will meet his likely demise.
And so he brings himself back online in the “real world” where Stubbs has been patiently waiting. Yes, for years. Not only is he back, he’s clearly come back with plenty of information. Like, all of it. Again, like some Morpheus-meets-Neo character, he now knows what’s to come, in ways both big and small. It only makes him slightly more insufferable than usual (we all know Bernard has always been a bit of a know-it-all), especially as he often uses this newfound awareness of every choice ever to be made for humor, mostly at Stubbs’ expense. Except, before I could settle into Bernard-in-Matrix-slash-Minority-Report mode, the show goes ahead and thrusts him and Stubbs into Mad Max territory instead, connecting their storyline to some rogue organization hoping to…well, we’ll learn soon enough. But they’re clearly tied (again) to the maze that guided much of season one’s storyline.
It’s almost enough to get us to echo Maeve as she navigates William’s latest park: “They made a few changes but it remains the same.” And while “it’s the same old story” (that’s Maeve again) feels like a tired complaint, I am actually quite excited with the show looping into itself this way, spiraling in rather than out as it had done for the last few seasons. That’s why I was happy to revisit “Westworld” in the trappings of the prohibition era. Plus, having Maeve give notes on the new madame lording over the town’s saloon just made the entire visit to this new park a riot.
Another plus: We get to experience it through Caleb’s eyes. And in true Maeve fashion, he gets stuck in a loop (read: trap) involving his daughter. (We’re rehashing plot lines, remember?) Before that, we learn that this new park has an added storyline which involves the Wyatt riot from season one (god, these rich people need some therapy, don’t they?) and that, yes, it’s here that William and his faceless, muscled hosts are creating those flies which are somehow controlling actual humans outside of the park.
Of course, we also get an all-too-brief standoff between Maeve and William that reminds us that they are the Magneto/Professor X of this universe (if, of course, in this world Professor X was just as demented as his philosophical foil). May they structure the rest of the season accordingly. Although Joy, Nolan & Co. are setting up loftier ambitions than just pitting ol’ pals against one another. And it’s a meta-ambition as well: How do you revisit a story without repeating it?
Only the rest of the season will tell.
- We went an entire episode without seeing what Christina (Evan Rachel Wood) is up to. I guess this is what happens when you have such a sprawling ensemble of characters to get through. And while we missed seeing Wood, it was lovely to see so many variations of “Dolores” throughout this episode—including her version in Temperance as well as her Wyatt persona in the meta-level of this new park.
- If every new episode/season/park in Westworld is designed to give us Maeve wreaking havoc while wearing a gorgeous gown, it will all have been worth it. Because, honestly, watching Newton wield a weapon with such ease while in heels and a glittery flapper dress was just as thrilling as anything else in this episode.
- Someone is probably on this already but I’m dying to read an interview with Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan about the choice to turn the fly—which had, in the show’s pilot, first given us hints that something was amiss with Dolores—into a nano weapon of sorts. It’s both so simple yet so effective. (Paging the Jurassic World franchise: This is how you turn an insect into a worthwhile plot point.)
- In between Maeve’s control over all things electronic, William’s seeming invincibility, and Bernard’s ability to “see” the future, it seems we’re only a few episodes away from learning that Christina/Dolores will be bit by one of the flies and become some superpowered host who’ll in turn recruit the others for one final job, no?