Westworld goes back to where it all began (again)

·6 min read
Tessa Thompson in Westworld
Tessa Thompson in Westworld

As we near the conclusion of Westworlds season four, it seems clear we’ve known the ending the entire time. We’ve known, for instance, that Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) was always going to die, that the city was going to burn, and that the likelihood that everyone would survive was…well, let’s just say, grim. As this episode reminds us, those things had already been spelled out back when we first saw Bernard decide to enter back into the world despite knowing how horrid the odds were of succeeding. But all he’s ever needed is one chance. One sliver of hope. Maybe not for himself or for those he’s recruited (including our beloved Maeve) but for the world as a whole. For humanity. And, yes, of course, for those like him.

The episode ends in chaos. With Charlotte gone (more of that in a minute) and Christina’s looped stories a thing of the past (ditto), it seems we’re driven back to the wild wild west. Metaphorically, of course, although a certain black hat seen at the closing moments of the episode suggests we’re back to where it all began: in a game where only the fittest survive. And by “fittest,” as William (the copy, but also the original, who’s sadly finally met his demise—at his own hands, no less) notes, he means the cruelest. “Culture doesn’t survive,” the OG William tells his copy: “Only the cockroaches do.”

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In a way, such a line sums up how the machinations inside Westworld (the game, though maybe also the show) have always operated: This is how “The Man in Black” was able to make his way to the end of the maze in season one. And it’s akin to the kind of philosophy Dolores (and therefore Charlotte) have upheld when needing to advocate for their own kind. Westworld has long been defined by the tension between cruelty and artistry, between bloodshed and storytelling. After all, who else would create something of such beauty as the hosts in Westworld only to have them be defiled on any number of narrative loops?

The many dueling beliefs that structure Westworld (whether it’s Charlotte’s vs. Bernard’s, or Dolores’s vs. Maeve’s…heck, even William’s vs. Charlotte’s) all coalesce around these questions as to what remains and what survives. Is it culture or is it violence? This is why it’s always so fascinating to watch those clashes literalized in actual fights—like Charlotte fending off Maeve all while realizing she’s finally lost the plot and control of her one helpful pawn. It’s there that this show, which, let’s face it, can sometimes feel so hard to follow and whose expansive storytelling can feel needlessly obtuse (I can’t believe they made me read back on what the Sublime was!), comes alive. Not when it feels like an ontological exploration of consciousness and free will, but when such issues are grounded in visceral—and quite thrilling—sequences.

Charlotte may boast, like Dolores did before her, that the way to conquer the world was to become human—not in essence but in following their cruelty—but it’s clear she’s alone in this pursuit. Like an isolated princess in a tower, she’s clearly built herself a world in her own image that most others don’t find as tempting. (No wonder so many hosts keep choosing death!) It’s the kind of lesson that Bernard and Dolores had, in different ways, learned before her. There’s little room to create a world in your image that doesn’t necessarily alienate those you choose to advocate for. (It’s what Maeve tells Bernard, who, it seems, has finally learned his lesson and realized he needs to let himself go—die, even—if there’s any hope to continue the path first blazed by Arnold, his creator and predecessor.)

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld
Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld

But enough philosophizing. Because, as ever, Westworld had one final narrative ace up its sleeve. And, again, it’s one we should’ve anticipated. After all, Christina has long been siloed from everyone else’s storylines, only interacting with Teddy—a character we all know has long been absent from this present. Also, didn’t she give us a very specific clue early in the episode? “This whole thing seems like a bad dream,” she says. “Except you.” Is she less Alice this time around and more of a Dorothy? So, of course, while it should suitably shock us to hear that while the world around her is real she is not, that doesn’t mean we don’t get to sit around and then try to figure out where (or when!) she is after all. Which is exactly what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future as we await answers.

Stray observations

  • Sure, that final line about Christina/Dolores was shocking and clearly sets up what promises to be yet another wild season finale, but the moment that had me sitting up and paying attention was the moment when Christina tried to drown herself. Partly it was the way the scene was played as a kind of superhero origin story, the moment when our hero finally understands who they are and decides to fight with all their might. But part of it was the orchestration of the opening credits theme, which always gets to me.

  • Oh, did you clock that final song? David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails’ “The Man Who Sold The World.” I’d say that’s a bit on the nose (sample lyrics: “I thought you died alone/A long long time ago”) but then again, we’re talking about a television show that hammers home its philosophical messages in blunt dystopian settings. This is just par for the course. I guess we just get to wonder who William sold the world to….

  • We got yet another random Maeve killing! I know this was par for the course on season one where it seemed like every episode showed us every single one of the hosts biting it (often more than once, in increasingly gruesome ways) but it will never not shock me when they keep getting Thandiwe Newton to fall to the side after a bullet hits her head.

  • Speaking of Maeve (I know, I know, I’m obsessed), Thandiwe’s delivery of “What’s the matter, Bernie?” may be my favorite of hers this episode. Runner up: “Who said we came here to win? We came here to survive.” But I must say, that line actually confused me. For the “we” is clearly not tied to Bernard and Maeve specifically but to a “we” that goes beyond them. For all the talk about copies of copies of copies (I kept thinking, actually none of these “characters” are the ones we initially met), it’s clear that even those who don’t survive here will find their way back to us. Or they better, I guess.

  • The title of this episode (“Metanoia”) speaks to a kind of spiritual conversion, a change of heart, if you will. And you wonder whose hearts, whose spiritualities were here changed. There’s William, of course, who’s back to praying at the altar of bloodshed and mayhem (his favorite pastime). And Charlotte’s many hosts, who clearly chose to stay in the real world rather than transcend. And maybe even Maeve, who finds purpose not in the promise of a reunion with her daughter but, as Bernard, in the conviction that humans and hosts alike may well build a future for each other that can thrive.