Westworld destabilizes its timelines once again

Westworld destabilizes its timelines once again

Ed Harris in Westworld season 4

Ed Harris in Westworld season 4
Photo: John Johnson/HBO

I’ve been tempting fate so far during each of these recaps, noting how linear and straightforward this season seems. But we always knew that was going to be a mirage; enough characters were in their own bubbles (spatially and temporally) that it was only a matter of, yes, time, before Westworld went full Westworld and felt the need to mess with everything we thought we knew about its timelines. You should’ve seen my face when Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) told Caleb (Aaron Paul) that he shouldn’t be asking where he was but when he was. I mean, I knew this moment was coming. As in past seasons, things we were led to believe were happening concurrently turned out to be happening years apart. Familiar faces now have to come to terms with who and what they’ve become. (Oh yeah, my face? It was something between a smug “I knew it!” and an exasperated sigh.)

But let’s not get too far ahead. Especially since “Generation Loss” begins with a flashback to the final moments between Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) and Caleb before they were reunited years later during that covert attack we glimpsed in episode one, which ended with Caleb being close to mortally wounded in the abdomen. You know, kind of like the attack Maeve and Caleb just launched on the park that ended with (surprise!) Caleb getting stabbed in the abdomen. Westworld is very much a show about narrative loops, but rarely has it been so nakedly explicit about that structure. Whether they like it or not, these two are reliving their previous team-up and finding they may well not come out on top this time. (And that’s before we add how their stories are clearly driven by a devotion to their daughters; Westworld wants us to see them as complementary characters who mirror each other in decidedly melancholy ways.)

But can they really be stuck in a loop where they triumph just as they did all those years ago? After all, back then, they were up against humans. Now they’re battling hosts—and not just any hosts. William (Ed Harris) and Charlotte continue to prove themselves to be even more dastardly than anyone else we’ve yet to meet; their cruelty is craven and merciless.

“No one knows this game better than I,” Maeve tells herself, but she soon finds that she may well be out of her element even as she manages to foil William, take Charlotte hostage, and get a wounded Caleb to a demolition site where she hopes she can finally finish what she’d begun years ago.

Oh, but not before we get a rather maudlin montage wherein Maeve reminisces about the way coming into close contact with Caleb’s mortality really affected her—it’s what prompted her to leave him be so he could have the freedom the two of them had fought for. Newton can sell me any and all voiceover monologues, but I’ll admit she almost lost me with this more sentimental take on Maeve. But that’s probably because I enjoy her performance more when she’s in full-on take-no-prisoners mode. Like when faced with the inevitability of dying herself, she straps onto William and buries them following an explosion she triggers herself. She’s nothing if not a perfect martyr.

Aurora Perrineau in Westworld season 4

Aurora Perrineau in Westworld season 4
Photo: John Johnson/HBO

This brings us to the twist, an expected but nonetheless shocking twist (actually, if we must talk about the one shot that had me audibly gasp, we’d be here for hours as I describe the pain of watching Maeve being shot by William as she faced the camera in bliss at seeing Caleb fending off Charlotte’s orders). By the time Charlotte makes it known to us—and to Caleb—that he actually did die at that demolition site. He’s now living in that very moment as a way to create a baseline for his narrative and personality (echoes of seasons one and two!)/ You’d be forgiven for being as disoriented as Caleb because then what does this reveal mean for everyone else?

For starters, it means Frankie is now grown up in this timeline. It turns out she’s there with Bernard, looking for a weapon that happens to be Maeve herself. It also means Charlotte did succeed in spreading her “disease” to the park’s willing participants, and she now controls the entire world with a flick of her finger. “Welcome to my world” has never sounded more like an ominous final line to an episode.

Stray observations

  • I’m happy we likely won’t spend an entire episode without Maeve on our screens because, can you imagine? I enjoy the whole ensemble a lot, but you have to admit there is no Westworld without Maeve.
  • Try as Thompson may, a line like “Welcome to the superspreader event of the century” will always be like a glib stab at our timeline. (See also: The moment when William unveiled the latest park in an earlier episode and referred to the pandemic that ravaged the human population in the 21st century). I appreciate the show trying not to will away COVID and its many metaphors, but it still feels too soon.
  • I shouldn’t relegate our Teddy/Dolores reunion to mere stray observation, but their adorable date (including a callback to their looped meet-cute, this time with a lipstick) was a sweet detour from the larger story. It was lovely seeing Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden together again, all while spouting what remains the show’s most cogent philosophical queries about what’s real (hint: the stories we tell ourselves).
  • At this point, we have to wonder not where Christina is but when she is. In fact, had we not learned Maya’s name, I would have been inclined to imagine she’s Caleb’s daughter Frankie.
  • Speaking of Christina and Maya (Ariana DeBose), they’re also clearly stuck in a loop, right? How else to explain the rigid structure of their days? But also: Is Marsden’s new beau a way out of it or an anchor to keep Christina further stuck in whatever simulation of reality she’s found herself in, one that has her haunted by the views of the infamous tower that we glimpsed in the final moments of the episode.
  • Just like the use of New York City’s High Line to pepper Christina’s near-dystopian urban environment, how perfect is it to find The Vessel (those stairs to nowhere in Hudson Yards) play backdrop for the crushing realization that Caleb is now in a world lorded over by brazen hosts who see humans as nothing more than fodder for their own reality? Chef’s kiss.

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