Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy traced a robot theme park to its natural conclusion: the end of the world.
Warning: Spoilers for all of Westworld: Season 4 follow…
Westworld's fourth season was almost the punchline answer to the question: “Where can you go with a show about a robot-filled Wild West theme park?” In short, Westworld took us to the extinction of humanity, the vicious and feral endgame that Jurassic Park (another Michael Crichton-created theme park story) never dared to go after six movies. Though not without a few lulls and lapses, Season 4 was shocking, ghastly, and established that Artificial Intelligence could be just as vengeful and cruel as its human creators — thus, also unworthy of transcendence.
An argument could be made that Westworld went, perhaps, a little too big with its story, but this series is even more fascinating if you're familiar, or were a fan of, Jonathan Nolan's Person of Interest, which was his first foray into an A.I.-pocalypse (though it was on a much smaller scale and more rooted in post-9/11 surveillance state paranoia). Watching Person of Interest balloon, story-wise, from a procedural with gentle sci-fi underpinnings to a fully serialized saga exploring nightmare scenarios was almost an appetizer, teasing the much grander (and crazier) Westworld. In that regard, from the POI standpoint, you could maybe predict that this show was also going to try take us to a breaking point (while also bringing back composer Ramin Djawadi and more than a few Radiohead songs).
Season 3 of Westworld was more in line with the corridors Person of Interest poked around in: a world secretly governed by an algorithm that kept the entire citizenry in line. But thanks to Caleb and Dolores, that society was uprooted and undone at the end of Season 3. What could possibly await us now? Well, the surviving “Dolores” from that story, Charlotte Hale, simmered in her anger about the child she lost (which wasn't truly hers, and also wasn't established all that well as a reason to end all human life) and decided to hatch a scheme where a nanobot goop virus could turn people into puppets. From there, it was all downhill and after a few decades human beings (aside from some stragglers) were all “hosts” and all cities were theme parks where robots could use them the way they used to be used.
Getting to this took a few chapters, and the first few episodes of Season 4 were slightly clunky, giving us a time jump (the first of two) and the reactivation of Caleb as a freedom fighter. It wouldn't be until the fourth episode, “Generation Loss,” that the full picture formed (and some backstory between Maeve and Caleb was filled in) that the season began to grab hold a lot better. On top of that (and beyond killing/shelving two main characters), it gave Caleb's wife, Uwade (Nozipho McLean) and daughter, Frankie (Celeste Clark/Aurora Perrineau), a larger, more proactive story than just being the family the retired gunslinger leaves behind to embark on one last adventure.
Before “Generation Loss,” we entered a new theme park, The Golden Era, for some roaring '20s fun, but we knew, and the show knew, that's not what it should be anymore. Fortunately, the park was a trap, and an official expediter of humanity's demise. Hale and host William found themselves in the ultimate arch-villain roles. It's a slightly shallow direction to take them in, sure, but the final two episodes of the season flipped their scripts, having teased a possible existential awakening from host William, and had host William just become an abomination version of old human William. Hale got to briefly play hero in the end, before letting herself expire.
Maeve and Bernard had some good moments as well — as Maeve ditched her feelings for Caleb so he could fall in love with his nurse and Bernard got to play out a Doctor Strange-style scenario where he learned, in the Sublime, that the world had to lose in order to win — but it was Caleb, Frankie, and Dolores (who was now a digital storytelling program imagining herself in the world as “Christina”) who got to shine brightest with the most emotionally wrenching, and fulfilling, stories.
The return of James Marsden as Teddy felt nice and gave us, at times, a peaceful reprieve from the armageddon madness.“
Caleb's fidelity loop hellscape was one of the best things this season pulled off, tracking the 247th version of him as he clawed his way past multiple corpses of himself to send a message to Frankie. It's often been difficult for Westworld to sneak in sentiment that works, because of its time tricks and overall (over)ambition, but this trek was mesmerizing and agonizing. Plus, it used an established Westworld story device, the fidelity test, to manifest a race against time scenario, one steeped in hope, love, and family.
Dolores' time as Christina dragged at times, mostly since we could figure out how she connected to the rest of the story a few episodes before the show brought her up to speed, but the return of James Marsden as Teddy felt nice, and gave us, at times, a peaceful reprieve from the armageddon madness of the real world story. The fact that Dolores created Teddy to wake herself up, as the love of her life who could help her see the truth, also made for the best Dolores/Teddy moments on the show so far.
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We understood these two were in love in Season 1, but also they were programmed to be. Season 2 was a roller coaster of Dolores being Wyatt and Teddy being turned into a killer and it was hard to get swept up in a love story there. Here, though, in the longing, lonely world Christiana lived in, Teddy felt like a natural anchor and someone who could help her find her way. Christina's plight took up a lot of time this season (perhaps a bit too much since it ultimately was just a way to bench Dolores), but heading into Season 5 now with Dolores at the helm of everything feels right. She gets to now run the final test for sentient existence, which is such a lofty notion that the writers' room tasked with crafting this finish has its work cut out.