I have to admit there are times when I have an episode of west world† after that look at my notes and realize I may have lost the plot a bit. Or did the show? Sometimes it’s hard to say. Which isn’t to say that episode three of the show’s fourth season is confusing (though I think it is to some degree). It’s just that after two seemingly simple and relatively linear episodes, we literally went back to OG western world. As in, issues of temporality and narrative recursion have resurfaced and clouded the tidy narrative we followed.
But let’s not get lost in abstractions (no matter how hard the show tries to force us). Instead, let’s focus on the bits and pieces that we could follow. Or that I could follow. There were plenty, I assure you. After slowly catching up with Christina (Evan Rachel Wood), Maeve (Thandiwe Newton), Caleb (Aaron Paul), William (Ed Harris) and Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), and even giving us a glimpse of Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) and (maybe even) Teddy (James Marsden), we now get to see what has happened to Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) in the seven years since we last saw our unlikely duo.
As has been the case this season, we seem to be repeating narrative and thematic elements from the earliest episodes – going back to basics, as I’ve said it ironically, because there’s never anything basic about it. western world. And so, the images of Bernard waking dreamily through pivotal scenes from past seasons, following a white horse (a nice twist on the Alice in Wonderland metaphor that led Dolores in season one) feel familiar with that eerie way the show likes to be deployed. He ends up in the “Tower” clearly referenced in Christina’s timeline: There Bernard realizes that he is not in our world, but somewhere…else? Yes, this is where he lost me a bit. Stubbs later calls it “robot heaven” and so I’ll just stick with that. It is a plane where he can see all possible outcomes in all timelines (west world goes completely multiverse!). Humble and honorable as ever, he chooses to try and help build a better place (“You love them,” Zach McClaron’s Akecheta tells him, almost mournfully at what the most Matrix moment in the entire series), even if going back means Bernard will meet his likely demise.
And so he brings himself back online into the “real world” where Stubbs has been patiently waiting. Yes, for years. Not only is he back, he’s clearly come back with a lot of information. Like, everything. Again, like a Morpheus-meets-Neo character, he now knows what’s coming, in both ways big and small. It just makes him a little more insufferable than usual (we all know Bernard has always been a bit of a know-it-all), especially since he often uses this newfound sense of every choice ever made for humor, usually at Stubbs’ expense. Except, before I could settle in Bernard-in-Matrix-slash-Minority Report mode, the show continues pushing him and Stubbs in Mad Max instead tying their storyline to a rogue organization in the hopes… well, we’ll learn soon enough. But they are clearly (again) connected to the maze that ran much of the season one storyline.
It’s almost enough to make us echo Maeve as she navigates William’s latest park: “They’ve made a few changes, but it stays the same.” And while “it’s the same old story” (that’s Maeve again) feels like a tired complaint, I’m actually quite excited to see the show return to itself in this way, spiraling instead of out, as it has for the past few seasons. had done. Therefore, I was happy to revisit “Westworld” in the trappings of the Prohibition era. Plus, the fact that Maeve was taking notes about the new madam running the town’s saloon made the whole visit to this new park a riot.
Another plus: we experience it through Caleb’s eyes. And in true Maeve fashion, he gets stuck in a loop (read: trap) involving his daughter. (We’re repeating plotlines, remember?) Before that, we learn that this new park has an added storyline that relates to the Wyatt riot from season one (god, these rich people need some therapy, don’t they?) and that, yeah It’s here that William and his faceless, muscular hosts create those flies that somehow control real people outside the park.
Of course, we also get an all-too-brief standoff between Maeve and William that reminds us that they are the Magneto/Professor X of this universe (if, of course, in this world Professor X was as demented as his philosophical foil). May they structure the rest of the season accordingly. Although Joy, Nolan & Co. have bigger ambitions than just pitting old friends against each other. And it’s also a meta-ambition: how do you rewatch a story without repeating it?
Only the rest of the season will tell.
- We went through an entire episode without seeing what Christina (Evan Rachel Wood) is up to. I think this is what happens when you have such a sprawling ensemble of characters to get through. And while we didn’t get to see Wood, it was lovely to see so many variations of “Dolores” in this episode – including her version in Temperance and her Wyatt character at the meta level of this new park.
- As every new episode/season/park in west world was designed to let us devastate Maeve while wearing a beautiful dress, it must have been all worth it. Because honestly, watching Newton wield a weapon with such ease while in heels and a glittering flapper dress was just as exciting as anything else in this episode.
- Someone’s probably already on this one, but I’m eager to read an interview with Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan about choosing to fly — who first gave us hints in the show’s pilot that something might be wrong. was wrong with Dolores – in some kind of nanoweapon. It is as simple as so effective. (The . calls Jurassic World franchise: This one is how to turn an insect into a valuable plot point.)
- Between Maeve’s control over all things electronic, William’s seeming invincibility, and Bernard’s ability to “see” the future, it seems we’re only a few episodes away from realizing that Christina/Dolores will be bitten by one of the flies and a super-powered host who in turn recruits the others for one last job, isn’t he?