Well over a year has passed since the third season finale western world aired, which seemed to be despised by both critics and fans of the show.
Writing and production for Season 4 has been held up by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it turns out a long hiatus can be a good thing. The polarizing drama about cowboys, robots and free will is finally good again. Even the handful of mistakes in the first four episodes that HBO provided to critics, while irritating, don’t detract from that familiar double whammy of amazement and shock.
I started watching western world during the pandemic. After finishing the first three seasons in under a week, I was more invested in the lives of Maeve (Thandiwe Newton), Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), and Caleb (Aaron Paul) than I was in my own.
Season 3 ended with Caleb and Maeve wiping out Rehoboam, the artificial intelligence system developed by the Serac brothers to identify high-risk individuals and prevent them from harming humanity. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) entered Sublime, a virtual reality system commissioned by Dolores to figure out how to rebuild the world after it collapsed.
The first episode of Season 4 jumps straight to the seventh anniversary of this “revolution,” which seems like a wise creative decision. Our central band of characters are no longer bound by the same limitations of their past lives.
Maeve lives off the grid in a comfortable remote cabin in a very cold place; heavy snow crunches under their still confident steps. Dolores, whose entire memory was wiped (no, really this time), is now Christina, a young woman living in New York City and working as a writer for game developer Olympiad Entertainment.
But it turns out that life as a non-host in the normal capitalist grind is no picnic. Christina’s mornings mirror Dolores’ life in Sweetwater. Her now dark brown hair fans around her face, she rises from her sleep, makes her bed, chats with her roommate Maya (Ariana DeBose, fresh from her Westside Story Oscar winner and glowing positively here) and gets to work.
There she is reprimanded because her story pitches for video game characters are rather a little sad: a young woman who lives in the country with her frail father and dreams of a life in the big city. Online appointments are equally disappointing. Despite being wealthy and polite, Christina’s suitors take down her emotional state and tell her to take “tabs” or pills to improve her mood.
The cause of her discomfort is unclear, but Christina knows something is missing. It’s not the best use of Wood’s talent that she has so little to do, at least for those first four episodes. Dolores had far too much energy and fire and spirit to confine herself to this routine existence, but maybe that’s the point.
However, her scenes with DeBose bring much-needed new blood to the series. DeBose’s energy jumps off the screen. Her performance as the outgoing but vulnerable Maya is one of this season’s highlights of western world, and is one of the best of the year on TV so far. Convincingly conveying joy and heartbreaking fear is no easy task, and DeBose manages both with breathtaking ease.
Caleb now works in construction, has a wife, Uwade (Nozipho McLean), whom he loves, and a daughter, Frankie (a strict but spunky Celeste Clark), whom he adores. But he continues to battle PTSD through his and Maeve’s armed confrontation against Rehoboam and his associated thugs.
The panicked memories begin to rub off on Frankie, who has memorized phrases like “securing the perimeter” and learning to shoot tin cans. Uwade challenges Caleb to let go of the past: The rustling in the front yard is probably a stray cat and not an intruder. However, his paranoia is justified. Before long, various henchmen in dark suits are hunting Maeve, who then comes to find Caleb.
I can’t say who they’re meeting or where they’re going without revealing too much and ruining the surprise for you. But it is Well.
However, Bernard is fair game. Covered in dust and dirt from several years in an abandoned hotel room, he emerges from the Sublime to find some sort of Dr. to create a strange routine. He continues speaking in his trademark cryptic style, recounting how he worked out all the possibilities and arrived at the right one – whatever that means. Thankfully, his sunny, rough-and-tumble buddy routine with Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) is back, too. c
Bernard seems to have a different energy this season. Gone are his usual demeanors: wiping his glasses while collecting his thoughts, uncertain panic radiating from his face. Instead, a fierce jaw is present, a superhuman premonition of all that is about to happen.
Wright strikes the delicate balance between a literal know-it-all and an emotionally turbulent programming magician. And it continues to anchor audiences in Season 1, when all the smoke and mirrors were just part of the many layers of illusion. This turbulent sensory experience is now almost gone. Nearly.
If this were a star rating, the editing of the episodes would deduct a star and a half. western world was a breath of fresh air because it surpassed your average cowboy/action narrative with non-linear, tightly structured narrative meditations on AI, destiny, and determinism. There’s one too many cuts to black during moments of suspense in these four episodes. Audiences aren’t stupid, and this isn’t a Michael Bay film. We can handle narrative anxiety without needing punches and stabs to abruptly go black.
This old-fashioned tactic further insults Ramin Djawadi’s exceptional score. After winning two consecutive Emmys for game of Thronesthe composer is one element I think western world I could never do without, from the very first notes of this rousing player-piano orchestral waltz, pulsating with soaring bass notes that pile up in waves. During the average episode, one could turn off the dialogue and get just as much concern and amazement from Djawadi’s work.
This season, Djawadi turns his attention to nature. Desert scenes are provided with synthesizer notes that really feel like the sand is kicking up off the dunes. In busy city scenes, he combines the ambient pounding of feet, traffic and cell phone beeps to create the perfect score for a vanilla corporatized existence tinged only with a hint of uneasiness.
Here’s hoping Djawadi expects another Emmy and that the back half of season four is as good as the first series we saw. western world is really worth seeing again. Who would have predicted that?
https://www.thedailybeast.com/westworld-season-4-review-its-actually-worth-watching-again?source=articles&via=rss ‘Westworld’ Season 4 Review, Really Worth Watching Again