Review of Season 4 of "Westworld": A Show That Gets Lost in Its Own Maze

Non-player characters, or NPCs for short, are electronic background figures in video games who exist to serve the player. Evan Rachel Wood's character explains the concept of the NPC in the new season of "Westworld." After experiencing life as a sentient "host" in a theme park (under the name Dolores), Wood's character eventually breaks free and reinvents herself as Christina, settling down in a big city in the United States and working as a story designer for a video game company.

At least, there will be stories in the footnotes In the premiere, she tells a total stranger over dinner that her job is "not as high-profile as programming the lead," but that it's "just as important." Her date asks, "Don't most gamers view NPCs as cannon fodder? Useless hiccups to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Christina insists, "I'm not doing it for the players; I'm doing it for myself." ”

The show's creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, have always seen in Wood a reflection of their own values and priorities. In the first season, her realization serves as a catalyst for the plot, and in the second season, her depth of character provides the most compelling answer to the show's central question of whether or not there can be humanity within artificial intelligence. Her job is now providing hints as to the show's future This new season of erratic drama doesn't just treat most of the characters like extras. The excessive secrecy and constant diversion leave the audience guessing. By watching Nolan and Joy do it (spin a story whose purpose seems increasingly remote) for themselves, we become cannon fodder in our own way as viewers of the show.

The series is undergoing a revival, with sweeping international themes and lighthearted time travel plot twists returning. Given Nolan and Joy's desire to reveal information in a specific order, spoilers are at a premium. Suffice it to say that Christina Wood struggles to figure out what motivates her and from what experiences she draws inspiration for her work as a video game writer. Ed Harris's Man in Black has begun an influence campaign—complete with a body count—aimed at some of the world's most powerful people, as part of a larger-scale war for the fate of all life on Earth.

This comes after the third season of "Westworld" opted for a simpler narrative, ditching many of the show's central elements and seemingly veering away from the show's central questions. The questions of free will and what it means to be human are once again present, but this time they are obscured by a dense fog. To put it another way, until about the middle of an eight-episode season, viewers will have a hard time understanding what's at stake or even what's happening, and by then, they may have already had enough.

This outcome was unnecessary. In spite of teasing audience confusion with jumbled timelines and delayed reveals and posing questions that might be bigger than it could credibly answer, "Westworld's" early going was thrilling. (There was a reason why the first season was based on the idea of a maze. But it appears that the time has come to pay up: with no resolution to the mystery of what sentience actually is and the show's end drawing closer (whenever that may be), the only option left is to further confuse and obfuscate the issue. However, thanks to the outstanding performances of the entire cast, we can still see glimpses of what made "Westworld" so unforgettable. Wood trembles with anxiety just below the surface of calm assurance, a feeling that she's forgotten something crucial. In other parts of the show, we get to see Jeffrey Wright and Thandiwe Newton take center stage, with Aurora Perrineau and Aaron Paul, respectively, lending a hand as they each try to save the world beyond Westworld's gates from an undefined danger. And Tessa Thompson, whose smooth corporate malice has developed over the course of the show, is endlessly compelling, even if her scenes, like so much of "Westworld" these days, seem to draw their power from a willingness to be cryptic.

From scene to scene, "Westworld" maintains its ability to captivate and draws upon a basic intuition for what will make a memorable visual. Its recognition of despair and its flirtation with Americana tropes (brought to life in Harris' villain, an inverted John Wayne figure) hold up well. (Occasionally, the story's equilibrium is disrupted, as in a scene in which a powerful political wife is driven to insanity, which, despite its seemingly arbitrary placement in the narrative, managed to hold my attention. the apparent endangerment of a child while their parent watches helplessly felt like too much for a show with so many unfocused narrative threads to handle. )

However, "Westworld" cannot be evaluated based on how willing it is to interact with its subject matter; perhaps this will become clear only after the story has been told in its entirety. That's a commendable approach to making art, but it would be difficult for a series with a weekly release schedule. As an example of the show's larger ambitions, its second season told a half-told story that hinted at chronicling the rise and fall of a new kind of life. The third season of "Westworld" avoided that, giving the impression that the project was fundamentally unstable and eager to pivot away from its established canon simply for the sake of doing so.

Because of this, the drama's latest turn feels less like the forward motion of a world and more like a spin. In 2021, Lisa Joy's film "Reminiscence" was a straightforward noir with a futuristic makeover; what if "Westworld" is similarly not about anything other than performing a genre exercise, and keeping itself going? That might be appropriate for a show in which multiple characters viciously fight for their own survival while also searching for their own personal meaning in life. However, we won't know for sure until the series concludes; all indications thus far suggest that narrative trickery and gotcha moments are just as important if not more so than delivering information and ideas through art.

The first four episodes of the fourth season of "Westworld" stand well enough on their own, with some entertaining moments and some that feel like filler. For someone who has watched every episode since the pilot, "often fun" is as good as it gets. It's hard to believe that the two writers behind "Westworld" can find their way out of the maze they've created by trying to probe the human condition.

On Sunday, June 26 at 9 p.m., HBO will air the season four premiere of "Westworld." m ET/PT  

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