'Westworld' Is Running on Vibes at This Point

HBO's sentient robot series, which has returned for a fourth season, remains confounding as ever.

evan rachel wood in westworld season 4
Evan Rachel Wood | HBO
Evan Rachel Wood | HBO

To prepare to attend the Season 4 premiere of Westworld, hosted at Lincoln Center and featuring a man in a robot costume handing out vodka pomegranate shots in test tubes, I tried to remember what happened in the previous season's finale. It's been a long time since May 2020, and words like "Rehoboam" had been stored so deeply in my memory you would think I was a host waking up from a long slumber. (That's a little Westworld humor for you.)

I recalled that there was a huge AI, programmed by a man named Engerraund Serrac played by Vincent Cassel, which controlled human beings by designating those who were not productive members of society as "outliers." Evan Rachel Wood's escaped host Dolores uses one such outlier—Caleb, played by Aaron Paul—to help incite a rebellion eventually joined by Maeve (Thandiwe Newton). There's also, frankly, a lot of other stuff going on, including Tessa Thompson's Charlotte Hale, a cloned robot of Dolores that has evolved and is building an army of hosts, one of which is an exact replica of Ed Harris' William/The Man in Black, who subsequently murders his human counterpart.

This is all to say that, yes, in its fourth season, which jumps ahead eight years, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy's Westworld remains confounding, but also able to be appreciated on a simple vibes level. You can try to theorize and figure out what the hell is going on, but isn't it better just to sit back, relax, and listen to the orchestral cover of Lana Del Rey's "Video Games," which rips?

ariana debose in westworld season 4
Ariana Debose | HBO

Westworld takes itself very seriously and is also extremely goofy, all of which is still present in the first new episode, which opens with Harris' Man in Black taking over a data mining facility run by a cartel. Harris' character goes about doing this by wielding some sort of modified flies, which can make people do his bidding. Sure! Okay! Meanwhile, in New York, Evan Rachel Wood is now "Christina," who seems to maybe not realize she is a robot—and who's to say she is anyway? She works at a gaming company called Olympiad Entertainment (which seems pretty nefarious if you ask me) programming non-playable characters. It seems like a low-level gig, except she keeps getting calls from a man who is telling her she's controlling his life. She also has a fun new roommate played by Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, whose role is probably bigger than "fun new roommate." Oh, and, James Marsden is back, watching over Christina, formerly his robot lover Dolores. How? No clue.

The third and fourth storylines of this hour involve Caleb, who is now married with a kid, but afraid of being persecuted, and Maeve, who has been living off the grid until she's attacked by William's henchman. She comes to get Caleb and they ride off to enact justice or something. Other characters like Jeffrey Wright's Bernard and Thompson's Charlotte, have yet to be seen, but will presumably figure into the rest of the season somehow.

As overwhelming as the plotting is, Westworld continues to be a very stylish show, trading in its past seasons' cowboy aesthetics for stark futuristic design. Newton is a blast as the fully badass Maeve, who this season might have a motivation beyond getting back to her robot daughter, and Wood gives Christina a captivating, haunted blankness.

At this point, you sort of have to admire Westworld's resistance to crowd pleasing. We're so far beyond the lauded robot cowboy show at this point, I've swerved back around into begrudgingly respecting the Nolans' absurdly complicated narrative. There are hints that this season is going to take on concepts of crypto, but I don't really care. I'm just chilling out to "Video Games" and trying not to think too hard about anything happening on screen.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.