Westworld unloads an ambitious season 4 finale

·7 min read
Tessa Thompson in Westworld
Tessa Thompson in Westworld

We end where it all began. All season long I’ve been positing that Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and the writers’ room at Westworld were both rebooting and rehashing the thematic and storytelling threads of season one. Visually, we saw this every time “Christina” (Evan Rachel Wood) woke up, an echo of the way we first learned of the loops Dolores was subjected to in the original Westworld park. And it was clear that what Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) was building was a Westworld park in the inverse, where the hosts were in control and the humans were stuck in loops they couldn’t break out of.

Questions of free will and consciousness (who are we? what are we here for?) were constantly being flipped with, ultimately, it all coming down to a showdown between Hale and “William” (Ed Harris). Well, the host that Hale had created with William’s consciousness. As has been the case throughout much of Westworld, the key driving force of its philosophy has always been whether, if left to themselves, hosts and humans alike would dispense with violence. Whether they’d create a utopian world in harmony (with each other and themselves) or whether bloodshed and cruelty were truly so encoded in everyone’s DNA and programming that such a vision was futile.

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The final moments of the show’s ambitious season-four finale doesn’t so much answer those questions as help posit it again. Humanity on earth has its days numbered and sentient life there will soon be a thing of the past. But there is another world, the Sublime, a world inhabited solely by the hosts who first fled the Westworld parks all those years ago. Can it truly imagine a future where none of humanity’s worst instincts jeopardize its utopian vision? That, it seems, is the question for what (should HBO green-light it) would be a fifth season that finds Dolores resetting the Sublime into a very familiar environment. For one last game. One last dangerous game.

But that’s for another recap.

Although maybe that’s the point. Westworld has long been a story that intentionally keeps looping in on itself. A place where everyone dies and no one dies. Where past and present are continually being rewritten and rewired. Where season-long arcs get easily repurposed, oftentimes with just different trappings. (How lovely was it to see Dolores back in her blue dress?) And yes, here we are at the end of season four and we find ourselves yet again, for instance, watching Dolores waking herself up from what feels like a dream but is actually a manufactured nightmare she was both character in and narrator of.

She’s been here before. We’ve been here before. And that’s before she even echoed the line that has, for the better part of the show, driven her: “There’s beauty in this world.”

Is such beauty what Christina/Dolores was salvaging? Is that what she was safeguarding and trying to muster as she served as Hale’s storyteller program in the real world Thompson’s character had come to create? It’d explain why she’d conjure up not only Teddy (James Marsden, beauty incarnate) but Maya (Ariana DeBose, ditto) and why she’d be able to see through humanity’s worst instincts to maybe make the leap that she could, in turn, do Bernard, Hale, and even William one better.

Here’s where it seems we’re just, yet again, watching another Westworld trope play itself out. The ontological question A.I. consciousnesses brings up is whether they are their own thing (something sui generis) or merely replicas of those who created them. At every turn, no matter who was trying to model these many worlds we’ve visited over the last four seasons, Westworld keeps stressing that, perhaps, not even hosts can escape the hubris of the gods. They may wish to create a perfect world (like, say, Hale’s human playground or, conversely, William’s bloodthirsty game) but all they succeed in doing is creating a world—and a population—after their own image.

Hale says so as much this episode: “He’s made everyone as insane as himself.”

Angela Sarafyan in Westworld
Angela Sarafyan in Westworld

Only Bernard, it seems, could both envision and guarantee another outcome. It’s why he played the odds and hoped Hale could not only let go of her power-hungry narcissism but let herself admit that Dolores—the real Dolores, or at the very least, the Dolores that exists in the orb she later inputted into the “Sublime”—could dream up a more transcendent world than she ever could.

I know this entire recap is sounding more like a preview of things to come—but Westworld has always been just as forward-looking as it has been backward-gazing. It’s why we end in “Westworld” again, starting yet another game. Because this is the loop that the show and characters alike are stuck in. Whether this fourth season has enriched such conversations or whether it’s forced us to go on a wild goose chase that brought us to where we all knew we were headed is, perhaps, hard to discern.

Was it thrilling? Yes. Was it engaging? For the most part. Is this latest iteration of its well-worn story starting to show diminishing returns? Also yes. But perhaps there is still beauty to be found in this (West)world. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Stray observations

  • By my count, if we do get a fifth season (and I think that’s a big if, I think?), I think we’re left with only…Dolores? Oh, and maybe Teddy? And sure, the young woman finding herself and learning about her world has always been at the center of Westworld, but I will mourn the loss of some of the most exciting characters this show created (read: Maeve). Time will tell, though.

  • “Make me stronger. Leave my scars. I want to remember my past. Keep my face.” I will so miss Charlotte’s supervillainess dialogue. And can we talk about her Æon Flux/Matrix-like final outfit? God, I love the costume design on this show.

  • Clementine! I’d bemoaned the fact that Angela Sarafyan hadn’t been given much to do this entire season and, as if hearing my plea (or, more to the point, realizing the regal cruelty she brings to her host needed to be better exploited), we got one hell of a fight scene between her, Caleb, and Frankie. She actually had my favorite exchange in the entire episode: “We don’t have to fight,” Caleb pleads with her. “Consider it a personal preference.” Also, it bears singling out that, especially when the show whittles itself down to its most elemental (a.k.a. two people fighting for their lives), the fights it stages are often very very satisfying. Westworld knows how to wring out every ounce of tension whether it’s Clementine fending off Caleb, or William playing cat and mouse with Hale...or, heck, even in the opening scene of the show where we witnessed the sheer chaotic violence William had unleashed (“You know the rules: Winner takes all!”).

  • Speaking of Caleb, I’ve made no secret that his storyline—especially once divorced from Maeve’s (RIP!)—was the one I found the least engaging throughout this season. In a show about the currency of agency, he always felt like an unwitting pawn. And so, yes, I did roll my eyes when he and Frankie began singing “Que Será Será,” which, as far as Westworld ditties go, felt a bit too on the nose. Especially as it gives the episode its title. How trite for us to end on “whatever will be, will be,” no?