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Note: The following contains spoilers for Sunday’s “Westworld” Season 4, Episode 4, titled “Generation Loss.” Do not read until you’ve watched the episode.
In classic “Westworld” fashion, Season 4’s fourth episode of the HBO series ended with a significant twist that recontextualized much of what viewers have been watching all season long. That’s right, once again we’ve been watching events play out across two different timelines, and TheWrap spoke with co-showrunner and co-creator Lisa Joy to break it all down.
To recap, Season 4 found Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) waking up after a significant period of time in the Sublime with the foresight of how to save the world. We’ve watched over the last couple of episodes as he and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) have been connecting with what appear to be human rebel fighters, and in Episode 4, Bernard helps these fighters uncover a weapon he says will help win the war.
At the same time (or so we thought), Caleb (Aaron Paul) and Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) had to fight their way out of Westworld’s newest park with Hale (Tessa Thompson) as their hostage. In the end, however, Maeve blew up a pile of dirt (and herself) to bury the Man in Black (Ed Harris) while Caleb and Hale watched on. And when Caleb’s rescue finally arrived, it turned out not to be his rescue at all — they were Hale’s people.
It’s at this point in Episode 4 (titled “Generation Loss”) that the major twist was revealed. Caleb died in these events, and he’s actually undergoing tests by Hale. Tests for what? “Fidelity,” she says, and we learn it’s been 23 years since Caleb died in Westworld.
Moreover, Bernard and Stubbs’ actions? They’ve also been taking place 23 years in the future all this time, and that weapon he uncovered was Maeve’s body buried beneath Westworld.
TheWrap spoke with Joy about the dual timelines twist, how those flies actually work, what’s really going on in New York City and Bernard’s new “superpowers.” We also discussed that big scene between James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood (is that really Teddy?) and Joy teased what’s to come in the back half of the season.
How early on in the process did you hit upon dual timelines for this season? Did the exact timing of that reveal shift at all?
I think that even before we assembled the room, we had the idea of dual timelines and this being a sort of midseason twist. But then when the writers got together and [executive producer] Alison [Schapker] and the rest of the team was there, we kind of ironed out the details. We didn’t know if it would be exactly Episode 4 or if it would be Episode 5, but we knew that we wanted to play with time that way and take away a human being’s sense of agency in the same way in which we used to take away the robot’s sense of agency.
It feels like an inversion, almost, of the twists from previous seasons. Now Hale is the one pulling the strings. How conscious was all of that, evoking in a dark way how the humans were treating these hosts as they were experimenting on them?
Yeah, I mean nothing beats empathy quite like literalism when you’re literally put in the shoes of the other person. And that’s what’s happened here. You know, the park went from a place where humans went for their enjoyment and the hosts were captive and unaware of their situation, and now we’ve just turned New York City into a park and the humans are now suffering what the hosts used to suffer from.
In the park, Hale calls this the super-spreader event of the century, and later explains that these flies were more successful on children than they were in adults. And we even see Christina and her roommate discussing her roommate’s interaction with flies as a child, which kind of indicates she’s part of this generation that’s now controlled. How do the flies work, exactly?
We based the flies on an actual type of parasite that is spread from grass to flies and then ultimately to humans, or in some cases cows, but this is actually based on nature, and we just adapted it for the robots to use. As we’ve unfortunately seen, these epidemics can sometimes spread like wildfire and when you look at something as innocuous seeming as a fly or a mosquito and much of the world today, you realize how quickly we could disrupt human nature with the wrong virus.
Has this kind of been Hale’s dastardly plan all along? We hear her talk about Caleb as her test case then we jump forward to the future and see that she’s won in the end.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, she starts by testing it out in the park, but it’s also the ultimate place to start a plague from, because people from all over the world would go to Westworld, and then they bring that disease home with them. So it’s a very efficient way to kick off her nefarious plan. The fact that it takes, you know, a generation or so to kick into full effect to kind of critical mass is actually still incredibly fast if you think about a biological or political takeover.
I remember early in the season when we’re in New York City, and we still don’t really know exactly what’s happening, there’s some kind of innocuous dialogue you hear from a couple of characters walking by to the effect of like, “Oh, you’ve never been here before?” And now it all makes sense. Are we to assume Hale has now taken over all of New York City or is it more global than that?
Well, I think the two people you see are, as it turns out in this version, hosts visiting humans, and I think you’ll soon see the full depth of Hale’s control.
This episode also features a really emotionally charged scene between Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden. We know Evan is playing a character named Christina, but Marsden’s character drops a number of hints that kind of indicate he not only remembers Dolores and Teddy’s history, but he may actually be a version of Teddy. What can you say about those characters right now? Am I reading too much into this?
It definitely seems as though Teddy recognizes Dolores, in a way, in this girl Christina, but Christina, to me, seems genuinely somewhat flummoxed. And you know, the fun of it is the ambiguity, right? And it’s the idea that Christina is a human just going on a date. When you have connection with people, they sometimes feel familiar to you, and that’s what she might be experiencing. So it’s just one of those interesting moments where we got to do like total naturalism, like you would feel on a date, but at the same time, having a completely sci-fi level to it as well, when you start to kind of broaden out about what’s actually going on.
The filmmaking of it is really spectacular as well. Not only in the shot construction, where Teddy picks up the lipstick, but also the subtlety of the score coming in evoking Season 1. It really plays with your emotions.
I think we wanted to really harken back to Season 1 for some of the fans and some of these kind of poetic visual reverberations. It was great fun. I think part of it, too, is I have a nostalgia for these characters too, and I also think love inherently can feel kind of nostalgic, because basically it does feel like you’ve known the person for a long time, even though you don’t actually have a shared history together.
I also just wanted to give a shout out to Paul Cameron for directing this episode and [composer] Ramin Djawadi. Working with Ramin this season has been extraordinary, not only because of some of the contemporary music that we’re playing with that he’s making in his own inimitable style, but just watching the episodes come back in post and take life and shape, you realize especially with things like romance or loss, having the songs that seemed to follow the characters throughout their lives, having these musical cues that play like a motif, for me really evokes so much emotion and you realize how much of entertainment and TV’s most incredible moments — as a writer I should not say this, I should say it’s dialogue, but it’s the look on somebody’s face, the cinematography of the moment as it’s captured, and the music that works with it to just wrench these feelings out of us.
Exactly, especially when you’re telling a story that takes place over so many years like “Westworld.” I did want to ask, though, there’s a moment in the episode where The Man in Black tells Maeve, “There is no us anymore. Just you.” Are we to understand the hosts as we previously knew them don’t exist anymore, and Maeve is something of a unicorn?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, she’s this kind of rebel who never really fit under anybody’s control, you know, not the humans and not other hosts. She never wanted to be controlled and she has an independent will. She’s not in her own world now. She’s woken up and the Man in Black works for Hale. For him, that is the new world order, but not for Maeve.
Tell me a little bit about how you guys hit upon the story for Bernard this season. He plays a major role in this dual timeline twist, and he’s now a little bit like Neo at the end of “The Matrix” – he can see all variables. He’s almost like a superhero. But he’s also forging ahead with the understanding that if his calculations are correct, he won’t make it out alive. Or so he’s been told.
Working with Jeffrey is such a delight because he can do anything, and I love watching him kick ass and use his physical skills — the scene by the car was so fun for me. But at the same time, Bernard’s superpower has always been a little bit intellectual, right? Like he’s the one who has thought in simulations and has talked about how even when you’re programming a host, you’re thinking about different simulations and iterations and how it might behave, how it might change behavior. So the idea that his superpower is really actually grounded in these anticipatory moves, it’s not about strength necessarily and it’s not about speed. It’s about knowing what’s going to happen in the moment beforehand. So to me, it was just a really fun scientifically based way to explore a new source of strength for Bernard.
At the end of the episode, he’s with Caleb’s daughter and he’s uncovered Maeve. Is the weapon he’s looking for inside Maeve, or is it Maeve herself?
I think you’ll have to see. Bernard calls her the weapon, so I think you’ll figure out what that means.
Maeve and Caleb’s relationship gets fleshed out in a really emotionally devastating way in this episode. I was wondering if you could talk about building their relationship and backstory into something that’s almost kind of a love story in a way.
Yeah, I think it is a kind of love story, not necessarily a romantic love, but there are some forms of camaraderie and intimacy that I think are even more powerful than romantic love. These two have literally gone through wars together. They’ve fought together and endangered their lives for each other and for a similar cause, and so they’re really bonded. And when you have that kind of love, I think Maeve is faced with a choice at one point whether she’ll try to continue growing with him, or whether she’s going to let him go and experience all the things that she could never experience. She has an eternity to exist in this world, and he has one life and she’s had many already. She’s had children, she’s known different worlds. And he’s really known most of his life as fighting and being controlled. So I think her setting him free and leaving him was a really noble act of self-sacrifice.
And now, of course, there’s setup for a potential reunion but it is not exactly the same Caleb. It’s 23 years in the future and the 278th version of Caleb. Has Hale perfected what the humans were trying to perfect in terms of replicating an existing human’s consciousness inside a host body?
Well she’s certainly extending that study. I think that you do start to see some of the hosts are degrading, that she has multiple copies. So I think we’ll come to see how successful her experiments have been.
At the end of the episode, I really couldn’t stop thinking about something I’ve been obsessed with since I first saw it, which is the post-credits scene at the end of Season 2. William enters this dilapidated version of The Forge and comes face to face with his dead daughter, which at the time was incredibly confusing but is now starting to make sense, especially now that we know Westworld is out here in this desert and has been reached by these rebels. Are we moving closer to that point in time? Is that a bit of an endgame play?
I don’t want to speak too much about the future. But I think when we break or craft the story arcs and the seasonal arcs of “Westworld,” we’re always very cognizant of the strings and where they lead and where we should plant them and maybe explain them later. So we definitely had an idea for where that would go.
What can you tease about the back half of the season?
Oh gosh, I’m always so bad at these questions. I mean, now that we know that Hale has won and the humans in fact have been subjugated by this new A.I. power structure, I think we have to see how the fight for free will — this time waged by humans against robots — plays out. And it’s pretty fun. You see all of our actors doing what they do best, kicking ass and exploring their lives and the realities around them.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
“Westworld” airs Sundays at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET on HBO and streams on HBO Max.