This hair situation? Pleasure!
Photo: John Johnson/HBO
At the end of this week’s episode of west world, the show unveils the hot new theme park for the season: Prohibitionland! Ed Harris doesn’t actually call it that, but he might as well do it if he tells everyone in the middle of a Disney Investor Day-esque conference that the sinister Delos company is welcoming people into “the golden age” and we cut Thandiwe Newton and Aaron Paul getting off a train in costumes stolen from a regional production of Boys and dolls and entering what appears to be a Roaring ’20s alleyway. The music swells with brass swing fanfare as the show reaches the end credits, a moment that reads like grandeur. I laughed out loud. Oh noI thought looking, this is crazy fun†
west worldespecially in the last season, is not a show I would ever associate with the word pleasure† After two years of unraveling the mysteries of consciousness, mainly in the context of the AI-filled western theme park, the show expanded into the real world in its third season using only the thinnest broth of ideas to sustain itself. . Set primarily in a bleak, futuristic Los Angeles, the season introduced a bleak, futuristic version of Aaron Paul called Caleb, and dealt with bleak, futuristic ideas like “What if robots made a corporate takeover?” I watched the show as it aired when the pandemic hit, and even spoke to Ed Harris about it (he said it “wasn’t the most joyous season for me,” which is the same), and yet, when the fourth season premiered this year, I realized I had very little of it in my memory. I watched the finale, read a recap of the finale, and still could barely explain what Rehoboam was, especially since I kept thinking about Delaware instead. A giant AI orb that controlled humanity through data or something? Good thing it’s gone, I’m pretty sure. [Editor’s note: Caleb does make Rehoboam delete itself in the finale.]
The good news about this season of west world it remembers about as much of the previous season as you or me. Things start with all the characters stranded in separate storylines, which are probably separate timelines because that’s how these things go. Maeve (Newton) is dragged out of retirement and attacked by men sent by William (Harris, now a host, seemingly still not having a joyous time), and drags Caleb back on a mission to stop William. Meanwhile, William himself is involved in a land purchase plan that will see him acquire the Hoover Dam, which… data inside of it. Finally, and most delightfully, Evan Rachel Wood has taken up residence in New York City as a woman named Christina, who has a roommate named Oscar winner Ariana DeBose. Christina works as a character designer at a video game company, where she focuses on writing storylines for NPCs. She’s doing pretty well except that she has rom-com type issues in her love life and sometimes she gets mysterious phone calls from a guy who yells about “the tower” accusing her of ruining his life.
There is especially a lightness to the scenes with Christina that make this season a lot more fun to watch. The dialogue between her and her best friend, Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, is so stilted it feels like you’re watching an AI try to write a rom-com, which I think is having the intended effect. Most of her scenes also take place in and around Chelsea, Hudson Yards, and the High Line, which collectively feel like an AI trying to design a human city. When James Marsden appears in the first episode as a potential romantic partner for Christina, the score plays an orchestral version of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games.” Folks, she writes video games!
Now, admittedly, the previous season of west world started off with its own intriguing scatterplot of characters and failed to resolve itself into a cohesive whole. But this season there is at least a lighter touch to the story and a clearer purpose for the characters. Maeve and Caleb have a clear mission (prevent people from coming after us), and Christina must solve two mysteries herself (what is the tower and what should a girl do to get a guy in the big city?). By the time Maeve and Caleb walked into the jazz age park in episode two, I was so into the ride that I decided to go ahead and immediately check out the next two screeners that HBO sent to the press. I won’t spoil any further developments other than to say that the show mysteriously continues to be fun, and that a player-piano cover is coming that made me laugh out loud. The robots have learned to have fun. The implications are terrifying, but for now it makes for good TV.