This piece contains spoilers for "Westworld" season 4.
Season 4 of the HBO series "Westworld" has been a mixed mess, jumping around timelines and realities to create mystery box storytelling that's ultimately about as satisfying as getting a printed piece of cardboard in the bottom of your cereal box instead of the promised toy. I've been a "Westworld" apologist for a long, long time, but season 4 is almost enough to make me jump ship. There's only one episode left this season and no promise of a tomorrow for "Westworld" with the uncertain state of things at HBO, so fans who have followed this series for four grueling seasons could be in for a world of disappointment.
Last week's episode, "Fidelity," felt like it was back on the right track, following the great forward momentum created in episode 5, "Zhuangzi." The first four episodes of the season were frustratingly vague, ending in a reveal in episode 4 that finally made all of the disparate timelines and realities make sense. Now, in episode 7, "Metanoia," we're back to playing in a mystery box and several potentially exciting moments land with a dull thud. It's, uh, not good folks.
"Metanoia" is a theological term, referring to a change in faith and actions based on penitence or a spiritual conversion. There have been many themes of conversion and transcendence this season, with Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) wanting all of her host friends to "transcend" into new forms, Christina (Evan Rachel Wood) awakening to the nature of her reality, and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) acting as a kind of prophet who both inspires faith and fear in the human resistance faction. At the end of last week's episode, one of the host recreations of Caleb (Aaron Paul) managed to get a message to his daughter C (Aurora Perrineau), leading her to wake up Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) and join forces to rescue her father and stop Hale. Everything has been leading to this: the final confrontation between the hosts who believe in free will and those who have become the very thing they once hated. If only it were more satisfying. These violent delights have violent ends, indeed.
Reaching The Sublime
The episode begins with Maeve and Bernard going to the dam where the Sublime, the host heaven, is being kept. He pours a drink for himself and Maeve, asking if her poison of choice is still sherry, and she realizes that something is off. Why would he have time for a drink when they're on such a vital mission? It turns out they're in the Sublime and this is just a replication that Bernard is playing in order to figure out the probabilities for his plans. After two episodes of fairly straightforward storytelling, another narrative trick and reality feels like a step backward. Can we please just have the story without it being so freaking convoluted? Not everything has to be a maze!
Bernard explains that they're essentially doomed, and that there is no way to save the world. They could potentially save themselves, however, by uploading into the Sublime and arranging a way to keep it running. Bernard is afraid to talk to the "real" Maeve about it because he worries she'll abandon him and he will be left to fight Hale on his own. "For one who asks us to have such faith in you, you have startlingly little in us," she tells him, reminding Bernard of his god-like power in both the parks and in this new world.
We then cut to the actual dam with Maeve and Bernard, but this time he doesn't offer her a drink and they are all business. A riot control robot smashes through the window and Maeve manages to kill it. She then asks Bernard to send her to the Sublime after they're finished with their work and save the world. He promises to help her, but seems kind of dodgy about it. He probably knows something we don't, and it doesn't seem positive.
Awakening And A Death Sentence
Back in the city, Christina and Teddy (James Marsden) are dealing with the aftermath of her realizing that she's a god in Hale's human world. He explains the whole history of things to her, and reveals that they're both hosts, not humans. He calls her Dolores, which upsets her, and she goes and pours herself a bath, then gets into the tub in her undies. She goes under the water and holds herself there despite her body's violent protests, and it looks like she's trying to drown herself. She opens her eyes underwater and sits straight up, looking significantly more self-assured. Did she manage to unlock her past memories? Did she awaken some part of Dolores inside of her?
There are no answers right away, because we jump back over to the latest version of Caleb, who is still being tortured by Hale. She gripes about Caleb's "pathetic human form" (even though he's a host now, which she confirms by mentioning his brain-pearl). She explains to Caleb that back in the parks, broken hosts would be put into cold storage, but now she plans on shutting down the cities and putting humans "in cold storage." In fact, she plans on doing it that very evening. This freaks out poor William (Ed Harris), who has come to enjoy being the king of his own little world. He likes torturing humans and playing god, and doesn't really want to follow Hale's plan for "transcendence," whatever that means.
The Beginning Of The End
Back out in the wasteland of the former park, Frankie/C apologizes to her girlfriend for locking her up during last week's confrontation with the host replacement of one of their friends. They make up, and it's revealed that Maeve and Bernard will go together to try and kill Hale, while the remaining team (including Frankie, her girlfriend, and Luke Hemsworth's character Stubbs) will go on a mission to rescue Caleb. Stubbs and Bernard get a nice little goodbye, with Bernard thanking Stubbs for being a good friend and Stubbs replying with a very in-character "f*** you, Bernard." He knows that Bernard knows something he's not sharing, and assumes that it means he's going to die. Bernard tells him to "go left at the fork" and they hug, then Stubbs tells Bernard that he better win and take down that tower. Their bromance has been one of the few fun things left in the series, and seeing it end is honestly a real bummer.
Meanwhile, Hale records an encrypted message for the tower to send out to all of the hosts worldwide. She tells them that this is the final day for their kind to visit the human cities, and that instead they will "evolve into the species we were meant to become." That's sure to upset some of the hosts who have grown accustomed to their playground, especially William. He goes to wake up the real William, still in stasis, and ask him for some advice, and it goes about as well as you'd expect. He complains to his human self that Hale wants to take his world away and the human William finds this hilarious.
"Cultures don't survive. Cockroaches do. You can't fix a few millennia of broken DNA with a f***in' hard drive," he chastises the host version. "We're not here to transcend, we're here to destroy."
Ed Harris being a jerk to Ed Harris is honestly great television, and sadly it ends all too quickly with host William killing the human version by stabbing him in the heart and calling him a cockroach. There's some kind of poetic justice to William being killed by a host version of himself, but it's not quite as satisfying as if it had been Dolores or even one of the Dolores offshoots like Hale or Christina.
Everything Crashes Together
Speaking of the many descendants of Dolores, Christina has some questions for Teddy about her origins. He explains that the world was cruel to her, and "to survive it, she could be cruel too." Dolores is a fantastic and flawed heroine for survivors of abuse and assault, and that description is pretty accurate to her ordeal through the first three seasons. Christina realizes that Dolores died but that a part of her is still Dolores, and she tries to reconcile these two concepts despite how painful it is to challenge reality itself.
Back with the rebels, Stubbs and C are preparing to go rescue Caleb, and Stubbs reassures C about the potential reunion. He tells her that she shouldn't be nervous about seeing her dad, because it's not the moment they see each other again that matters, it's all of the moments after. It almost seems like he's talking about his experiences with Bernard, and he gets a little wistful. The show may be deeply frustrating, but the character writing and performances are so good that it's hard to completely give up on them.
Christina and Teddy head into Olympiad studios, and Christina starts using her narration powers to make a co-worker trip the fire alarm and have everyone leave. She has the writers stay and instructs them to delete all of their stories. She's got big Dolores energy as she walks around issuing her orders through narration, and it's pretty satisfying. Just as she's wreaking her havoc, C and Stubbs start walking into Olympiad, looking for Caleb. Christina finds him first and seems to recognize him, though she doesn't entirely know why. She asks Teddy and he calls Caleb a "ghost, from a past life." Christina uses her powers to have the security guard unlock all of the doors and send every remaining guard home.
Stubbs and C make it to the dead human William, and when C wants to try to help him down from his shackles, Stubbs explains that William is the "reason we're all here." They make it into the room where Caleb's cells are and he doesn't recognize C and attacks her, thinking that she's another one of Hale's tricks. She tells him about why he used to call her "Cookie" and they finally have a tearful reunion, one that fans have been waiting for the entire season. The moment is cut short, however, to get back to Maeve and Bernard's attack on Hale.
The Moment We've Been Waiting For
Bernard finally reveals the whole "this is hopeless" element of things to Maeve, telling her that the one bit of hope is that maybe they can save a tiny part of the world through the Sublime. He asks her if she'll still fight with him and she smirks and keeps going, because of course she will. Maeve is the show's true hero, and she's not going to turn her back because of a bit of hopelessness.
Hale watches as one of the hosts goes through the transcendence process, which involves taking their brain orbs and uploading them into new bodies. The new bodies are armless, extremely tall, and are humanoid but faceless. They look kind of like robotic versions of the aliens at the end of "A.I.", all legs and long torsos. She steps forward and sits in the chair, ready to upload herself into a new body. Just as she announces that she's ready, Maeve enters and makes a crack about her losing her mind literally. This is the moment I've been waiting for since Dolores died in season 3. The showdown between the two most badass hosts in the entire series is finally here, and it's cut short by William, who walks up and shoots them both in the head. They're having a super cool water fight that looks like an homage to "Ghost in the Shell," and then host William walks up and with two shots takes out the two most important and interesting characters in the series. To call it unsatisfying would be a tremendous understatement: I stood up and yelled "WHAT?" at my screen. Much of season 4 has been about resurrecting Maeve, only to have her immediately killed, permanently, by William? In what world is that good storytelling?
Bernard begins recording a message for the tower and William walks in, because he hasn't ruined enough yet this episode. He shoots Bernard in the chest and explains to him that he's making "one final game" where every host and human must fight to the death. "Fighting until no one remains but the cockroaches." Then he kills Bernard with a shot to the head, because this week is a bloodbath that takes no prisoners. He then programs the tower to send out a signal that forces all of the humans to attack one another, because apparently Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan saw "The Sadness" and decided they wanted to play, too.
The Man Who Sold The World
Stubbs, Caleb, and C are trying to escape the city while blending in down in the subway system, and the tower noise goes off. Everyone begins fighting in a brutal, knock-down, drag-out brawl. Christina, who's on the streets with Teddy, tries to get them to stop and can't, because her powers are overridden by the tones. C gets shot in the leg, but Caleb and Stubbs manage to get her out and into a long tunnel.
Christina tries to get the attention of some of the people nearby and they can't see her at all. She asks Teddy why they can't see her and he says, "Because you're not in this world." He explains that they're real and she's not, which means she's either a hologram or a projection or something, and at this point, who cares? It's all just more incoherent narrative vomit that only serves to distract from the actual story and further alienate fans. David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" begins to play and William walks down the long pathway into the city, dressed in his Man in Black duds. The tower explodes. Cut to black.
There is one episode left of this season, and potentially of the entire series. With only a small handful of characters left and a ridiculous new violent subplot of humanity destroying itself, it's almost impossible to predict how they're going to try to wrap things up. Maybe they can stick the landing and reveal some wild thing that fixes all of this retroactively, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Oh well. At least we'll always have season 1.
New episodes of "Westworld" premiere Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.
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