“Let me ask you this,” a west world character asks for one more of last season’s climactic events. “Has your life has changed since they destroyed those machines?”
If you have to, the answer is obvious: not much, neither for the character in question, nor for the show they’re running. During three seasons, west world has repeatedly set up a series of seismic reversals. First, the “hosts” of the theme park of the same name gained awareness; then they turned against their flesh and blood guests; finally they escaped altogether, bringing the robot revolution to the real world and raising the stakes accordingly. Last season even ended with the killing of an important character, a promise its creators kept. Every time, west world teases a journey into unknown territory.
But in the fourth episode (which premieres this Sunday), west world feels awfully familiar. A woman played by Evan Rachel Wood leads a routine life that is not quite what it seems. Protagonists posit ad nauseam about ‘this world’. Swarms of flies serve, again, as an ominous symbol. And, in the most symbolic backtrack of all, west world heads back to the park, where guests’ exploits are accompanied by vintage-sounding covers from pop artists like Lana Del Rey and Billie Eilish. After making the grand gesture of evolving beyond the original setting, west world eventually ends where it started.
As the quote at the top suggests, you could argue: west world intentionally repeats itself in the service of a greater point. The show has never explored the ethics or philosophy of artificial intelligence as deeply as its premise could, but it has often evoked the idea that both hosts and humans get stuck in a loop — trapped in a status quo by forces outside. their control. (Hosts, of course, are programmed by humans to follow the scripted storylines of the park; humans, as revealed last season, were under the thumb of Rehabeam, a supercomputer that secretly manipulated world affairs until its destruction.) Constant return, in a certain light, only underlines the theme, although there is a fine line between highlighting an issue and being a part of it.
Once again, west worldhas been gone long enough that viewers can appreciate the memories of his older self. In the world of the show, we learn that it’s been seven years since the events of the previous finale (a post-credits scene where a host wakes up covered in dust suggested a time jump was in the works). In the real world timeline, it’s been a little over two years, an absence extended by the pandemic, though not much longer than the 20-month hiatus between seasons 2 and 3 (a byproduct of the show’s skyrocketing production values). and the labyrinthine plot). Even without social distancing, it takes some time to build a maze.
west world had already passed the peak of its cultural relevance before the long hiatus. The ratings for last season’s final episode were nearly 20 percent lower than the previous season, which in turn was a drop from Season 1. And the expectation for Season 4 doesn’t seem particularly high; the show’s recent Google Trends chart, an imperfect but useful statistic, is essentially a flat line. Even west worldThe company’s creators, married couple Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, have been busy with other pursuits. Joy made her directorial debut last year and received mixed reviews; she and Nolan also signed a nine-figure deal with Amazon, where they will produce an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel the peripherals—starring Chloë Grace Moretz—and another of the hit game series precipitation, with Walton Goggins and yellow jackets’ Ella Purnell. There is much more than just west world on their plate. And if Nolan and Joy have moved on at all, some fans are sure to follow.
Mystery boxes take effort to pry open. That’s the cool thing about them: offering an extracurricular activity to fill the time between episodes. How much longer west world has continued, the less reliance is placed on withholding information rather than telling stories directly. Former enigmas, like the Man in Black (Ed Harris) or Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), are now mere clones of Wood’s original Dolores Abernathy, turning once dark motivations into a simple desire to kill people and create more hosts. The show still has convolution in its DNA, making subplots asynchronous for no apparent reason other than habit. (The revelation that Jimmi Simpson’s character was actually a younger version of Harris worked back in season 1, so west world keeps rolling back the hits.) And in 2022, that leads to an all-important question: is enough of it? west world‘s audience still willing to put in the work?
After all, the show no longer has a monopoly on big, expansive genre stories — once a niche that HBO pioneered with trademark ambition. Since the launch of Game of Thrones in 2011 and west world in 2016 the field exploded with series like Weird stuff and the TV satellites of Star Wars and the MCU, which deliver spectacle on a similar scale. At the beginning, west world could at least lay claim to elitist aspirations such as exploring the nature of consciousness. But since the show has withdrawn from its more cerebral side and is now largely confined to faux-deep dialogue — a speech this season comes dangerously close to recycling “time is a flat circle” — it’s ceded that area to newcomers. On Apple TV+, the outbreak drama severance pay artfully combines intellect with intrigue. By obscuring the ultimate goals of his all-powerful enterprise, severance pay represents the power employers have over in-the-dark employees. With its own secrets, west world never achieved such a synthesis of form and function.
In the face of increasing competition, west world has little to offer but more of the same with some minor tweaks. It is now Caleb (Aaron Paul), not Maeve (Thandiwe Newton), who is driven solely by a desire to protect his young daughter. A version of Dolores, now by Christina, lives in New York City, a far cry from an Old West simulacrum (her roommate is played by Ariana DeBose, a rather surprising successor to a recent Oscar winner). But she’s still a sweet, kind-hearted young woman whose life is turned upside down by a violent encounter. In the four episodes screened for critics, we don’t get to know Christina’s true nature yet. Still, it’s hard to arouse much curiosity when her latest scenario feels like the latter.
By the time Caleb and Maeve make their way back to the park’s newest attraction, which simulates the jazz era, they’re only making explicit what’s already been implied. (Menten streaming back to a corporate playground less than a decade after a deadly massacre is a sly bit of satire, though Michael Crichton is a wholly other franchise from the same observation after making the original west world in 1973.) The battle lines have partially shifted; instead of people versus hosts, the conflict now pits the genocidal Dolores-as-Charlotte against more empathetic adversaries like Jeffrey Wright’s Maeve and Bernard. But the battlefield itself is almost identical. Once in the park, Maeve watches with amusement as another presenter reprises her role of wisecracking lady – same script, different actor.
As always there are aspects of west world the show could make more of it if he chose to. But Bernard and Maeve can never really discuss their differences with Charlotte and their henchmen—a conversation that would actually deepen their competing views on humanity, forgiveness, and class solidarity. Instead they just fight and leave an absence bare west worldfundamental contradiction. The show has built up a reputation for being too elaborate for its own good; at the core though west world is stubbornly simple. Four seasons later, it has stopped trying to say anything new.