There is something about long-form storytelling that makes it highly addictive and ever so reliable. Also, the thing with the long-form narrative is that one or two good characters aren’t enough. For this, it requires a lot more than that. We are talking about an entire gamut of interesting characters, fully capable of being developed further and further, as and when required, episode after episode, season after season. And can there be a better example than “Westworld” to effectively demonstrate the enormous potential of long-form storytelling, especially with its vast panoply of characters and endlessly mind-bending scenarios? The HBO series created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, based on the 1973 film of the same name, written and directed by Michael Crichton, finally returns with its fourth season after a hiatus of over two years. Like always, the bingeing option isn’t available. A new episode is released every week. So far, three out of the eight episodes have been released. The eighth and final episode is slated for release on 14th August.
While most of the ensemble cast from the third season returns, the story picks up seven years after the Quantum AI computer system Rehoboam was deleted by Caleb. William, who was supposedly killed off in the last season, is back in all his maniacal glory. When the owner of the Hoover Dam, which now houses a large server farm that contains data that William wants from eight years ago, refuses to sell off the land, William orchestrates a devastating chaos that turns things in his favour. Meanwhile, a woman named Christina works as a writer in New York City, creating stories for the non-player characters in video games. She is repeatedly called by a man named Peter, who claims she is controlling his life. What’s interesting is that Christina is also played by Ewan Rachel Wood. Clearly, there is something common between Christina and Dolores, as evident from the casting choice. Also, Maeve, now living in a remote area, is tracked down by hosts that she discovers were sent by William. She drives to California to stop another host from killing Caleb and his new family. So, Caleb and Maeve join hands to fight this together.
When a show like ‘Westworld’ is at its best, there is nothing that can touch it. When one looks back at the first season of the HBO series, it brings back so many fond memories. Moments such as when a humble creation threatens to destroy its master creator while quoting Shakespeare, “I shall have such revenge on you… The things I will do, what they are, yet I know not. But they will be the terrors of the earth. You don’t know where you are, do you? You’re in a prison of your own sins.” Or when the same master creator compares himself to musical maestros, “Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin never died; they simply became music.” Or when he equates everything that humankind has achieved to the primal urge to attract a mate, “I read a theory once that the human intellect was like peacock feathers, just an extravagant display intended to attract a mate. All of art, literature, a bit of Mozart, William Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and the Empire State Building, just an elaborate mating ritual. Maybe it doesn’t matter that we have accomplished so much for the basest of reasons. But, of course, the peacock can barely fly. It lives in the dirt, pecking insects out of the muck and consoling itself with its great beauty.”
Unfortunately, the brilliance of the first season has yet to be matched. After the hiccups of the second season, Westworld hit a major roadblock after an abysmal third season. It was as if the series was trying to create a fresh identity for itself. Given the cerebral nature of the show, it’s not very heartening when it appears to borrow elements from a cyberpunk series like Altered Carbon. Yet again, the season totally rested on the shoulders of Evan Rachel Wood. Her Dolores seemed totally committed to taking the fight against the human race to the next level. But in the moments before Dolores went off-screen, the show offered little excitement. Also, since it was really the first time all the action was set outside of the Westworld theme park, questions did arise if it should still be called Westworld.
A major positive from last season was Aaron Paul’s entry. It was pretty evident that the show would eventually try to reclaim its title. Perhaps that’s why, after the misadventures of the third season, the show quickly returned to Delos’ new park, themed after the Roaring Twenties. It’s as if the reset button has been pushed. There is no denying that a show like Westworld does have its moments, even when it is struggling to rediscover its old magic. But ultimately, there are also disappointments galore. To quote the master creator,”…never place your trust in us. We’re only human. Inevitably, we’ll only disappoint you.”