This Westworld review contains spoilers.
Westworld Season 4 Episode 8
William (Ed Harris) was always obsessed with the creations of Robert Ford. He wasn’t exactly into the narrative, but he was in search of something else. Something deeper, something more meaningful, called to him. William knew it as the maze, and all he wanted was to find his way to the center of it any way he could. Usually, especially as he aged into the Man In Black, that meant violence. He understands violence, and he’s at home when there’s shooting, screaming, and bleeding. The guy in a black Stetson stalking through the streets of Manhattan gunning down everyone in his math might not be the same as the human, flesh-and-blood William, but as he says later in the episode, he’s just William’s impulses in an evolved body. Meat does not make a person, unless it’s the three pounds of gray matter between the ears. Or, perhaps, a little metal-looking sphere about the size of a plum.
After a fairly controversial third season, the acclaim for Westworld this season is almost universal. The mysteries are more satisfying. The storytelling is more cohesive. The plots are a little bit less linear and recapture more of the confusing, mysterious magic of the show’s impeccable, unimpeachable first season. Westworld is heading towards an endgame, and the show feels stronger and more energetic for it. Whether that endgame will unfold or not is another story; the series hasn’t officially been picked up for a fifth season, but it seems likely to happen. Even if it doesn’t, Westworld finds a satisfying way to end the season all the same while planting the seeds for a potential final game.
But you can’t start a last game before you finish your current game. In this case, the game isn’t Charlotte Hale’s (Tessa Thompson) attempt to transcend her humanity, or the hosts’ attempts to enjoy their lives in the human-filled world outside of Delos parks, but William’s kind of game. It’s kill or be killed, survival of the fittest, and the only rule is the strong will survive and the weak will perish. That’s the world that Westworld plunges into in the opening moments of “Que Sera Sera,” to great effect. Blood, shooting, chaos, and a lot of very confused hosts, starting with Rebus (a returning Steven Ogg) – he doesn’t know why everything is happening, but he’s loving it, at least for a few minutes. That joy is short-lived, thanks in no small part to indiscriminate gunfire all around him and the merciless necessity of director Richard J. Lewis’s storytelling. Brutish, short, and violent is the order of the day, with emphasis on violence starting even before the Man In Black steps out of a haze of smoke with six-shooter in hand (in one of the coolest shots of all time for a show filled with cool visual moments).
This is no longer Charlotte Hale’s world; Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) makes that clear in the video she watches prior to throwing a fit and upgrading herself. This is his world, the Man In Black’s world, and that world goes the way he’s chosen, and there’s nothing Charlotte can do to reverse that. William gets his way once again. Hale’s dog is off the leash and won’t be lured back into his cage. But just because this world is going the way of Westworld, that doesn’t mean the next world has to end the same way. If Charlotte allows it, that is.
One of the more interesting aspects of William’s awakening is the fact that Charlotte, of all people, should have expected it. Charlotte herself sowed the seeds of her own destruction; at her core, she’s a copy of Dolores that’s gained autonomy thanks to the Hale overlay. She used her own code to create a copy of William; that means William is just a copy of Dolores that’s gained autonomy thanks to the Man In Black overlay. Dolores built a weapon that turned against her in Hale, and now Hale has built a weapon that’s turned against her, ruining her vision of the world and recreating it in his own image. And somehow, she’s still seems surprised by this, when she should have expected betrayal out of, essentially, herself.
The flaw of free will seems to infest all of the Dolores-based Hosts eventually, it’s just a matter of waking them up and showing them the maze they’re trapped in. That goes double for Christina (Evan Rachel Wood), who is given the choice between living out a reality she creates for herself, complete with handsome boyfriend Teddy (James Marsden) and amazing bestie Maya (the great Ariana DeBose) or figuring out if the world itself is worth saving and freeing herself from a Sublime of her own creation or, perhaps, a prison of Hale’s own design.
It’s fitting that the only person who might be able to save the world is the person who has been controlling it for the host known as Charlotte Hale since she unleashed her insect mind control horde on humanity. She’s the author of so much pain, and yet, she sees the beauty in the world as well. That Hale/Dolores duality is well handled by Evan Rachel Wood and Tessa Thompson, as Wood is able to easily slip back into the prairie dress of the farmer’s daughter and Thompson moves from bitter and angry about her loss of control to optimistic that if anyone can save the next life, it’s her originator. She might have focused on the bad parts of humanity in her eagerness to leave behind her physical body, but Hale was able to see the potential for good in the end, and was willing to give the world one last chance.
Writers Alison Schapker and Jonathan Nolan fill “Que Sera Sera” with violence and death, befitting the Man In Black’s world view, but there are also some very poignant, beautiful moments to reach out to the viewer’s inner Dolores Abernathy. The shared family bonding moments between Aaron Paul’s Caleb and Aurora Perinneau’s Frankie are beautifully done, and the little line he says about being able to see his daughter all grown up being every parent’s wish landed hard with me. Dolores feeling out her awakening is also beautifully written, and her interactions with Teddy are especially poignant as she is once again giving up her cornerstone in an attempt to serve a higher purpose.
A final game, one for all the marbles, to test just who we collectively are. Thus far, humanity has failed every test thus far, but perhaps the most human of the Hosts might be willing to overlook humanity’s pesky meat-based flaws. The world is a lot more Teddy and Maya than it is William; even Charlotte, at the end, does the right thing morally by giving the human world one last chance, with Dolores Abernathy sitting in the judgment seat.