Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Westworld? Read our spoiler-free review of Episode 1.
Full credit to Westworld: this many people haven’t been talking about a TV character called “Arnold” since that Nickelodeon cartoon about a teenage boy with a football-shaped head. But after the stunningly intricate Episode 3, HBO’s sci-fi epic takes a slight step down for its fourth instalment, which continues to pile on the questions in a way that will test some viewers’ patience. For those who stick with it, though, the mystery at the heart of the show remains full of intriguing promise.
Following Episode 3’s focus on Bernard and Dr. Ford, Episode 4 shifts its gaze to the de facto villain of the piece: the Man in Black (Ed Harris), who continues his quest to track down his precious scalp maze.
“The goal is to find the centre of it,” Bernard tells Dolores, in another of their clandestine conversations. “If you can do that, then maybe you can be free.”
Freedom, of course, is only a concept that can be grasped if you realise that you’re a prisoner – and Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton continue to marvellous work as Dolores and Maeve, whose expressions twitch ever so slightly, as new realisations swim across their faces. They contrast smartly with the reverse realisations that hit White Hat William (Jimmi Simpson) and Black Hat Logan (Ben Barnes), both of whom think of the world as a theme park, but increasingly find themselves caught up in its narratives. For Logan, that’s a chance to exploit the park for more fun. For William, it’s a moral dilemma of whether they’ve shot innocent people. Dolores, meanwhile, has already seen innocent people killed, but eerily quotes back Bernard from Episode 3: “The pain, their loss, is all I have left of them.”
If all these elements feel like retreading familiar ground, the action comes from the Man in Black, who is firmly heading into new territory. Searching for a snake, his next piece in the puzzle of Westworld’s hidden labyrinth, he comes across Armistice, a cowgirl with one heck of a snake tattoo. She’s about to carry out the prison break of outlaw Hector (Rodrigo Santoro, sporting a magnificent hat) – and wouldn’t you know it? She’s a couple of men down, after the Man in Black shot them so he could take their place. It’s a treat just to spend more time with Ed Harris’ gruff wanderer, and he makes the most of it, scowling, smiling and staring with a dangerous intensity.
He, too, refers to the park as “just a game”, and we get our first evidence that he is, indeed, a human, as another guest stops him to thank him. “Your foundation saved my sister’s life,” he says. The Man in Black swiftly shuts him down in a typically hostile fashion, pointing out that he’s on “vacation” in Westworld. With a vacation that’s been going on for nigh 30 years, though, you have to wonder what he’s doing when he’s not in the park and what exactly that foundation is – is it relevant to Ford’s work? To Arnold’s?
The other hint about his identity and connection to Westworld comes from the discovery that he seems to know who Arnold actually was. “You could say he was the original settler in these parts,” he tells Armistice, although he doesn’t go as far as telling her explicitly that Arnold effectively created her.
What he does say is that he’s there to honour Arnold’s legacy. His journey to do that sees him rescue Lawrence from a firing squad, a gambit that ties in with his breaking Hector out from behind bars. The latter is one of the show’s most enjoyable moments, as it involves an exploding cigar – the kind of thing you’d expect a rogue gamer to smuggle in, like an infinite ammo code on N64’s GoldenEye. He’s playing the game, all right. And he’s not afraid to cheat.
His encounter, though, also taps into the themes that made last week so fascinating, as Hector talks of the mysterious figures that have been seen by some of the hosts. Maeve, too, is beginning to sense them, in her nightmarish flashbacks to her time between deaths – hazmat suit-wearing park employees who clean up the corpses and reset their hard drives.
A wonderfully creepy reveal of her drawings of these strange people, stacked up under the floorboards, paves the way for her and Hector’s violent collision, as she gives him the key to her safe, in exchange for answers. It’s in this heated moment that she persuades him to cut her with a knife and find the bullet inside her from her last death.
Newton’s face is a picture, nailing the sense of that itch lingering below the surface, the niggling suspicion of a bigger picture. The only logical response to such mind-blowing revelations, of course, is to stop caring – after all, she knows now that she can die yet still come back to life.
That detachment turns her and Hector into players more than hosts. But if there’s any sense of them becoming god-like in their perceived immortality, the show quashes it with a display of what a god in Westworld really is like: Dr. Ford. Sharing a dinner with Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babbett Knudsen), he explains to her that he knows the company is not keen on the rapid introduction of his new storyline, which is upsetting the day-to-day operations of the park. He even makes sure they sit at the same table she once sat at when she visited Westworld as a child. And, just to highlight how omniscient and omnipotent he is, he makes the waiter pouring their wine, and all the hosts in the background, stop moving mid-conversation – a freeze-frame that conveys more intimating power than any kinetic action set piece we’ve seen so far (a testament to how well Hannibal and Splice director Vincenzo Natali shoots both).
Anthony Hopkins is sensational here, smiling with sinister authority, as the blood-red wine overflows on their table. He reassures Theresa that they’ve always made it work with the corporate suits in the past – “almost always”, he adds, casually, the four syllables rolled around his mouth like a claret. He even seems to know about Bernard’s liaisons with Dolores.
It’s telling that the standout scene in the episode is two people just sitting at a table having dinner. Indeed, it’s here that Episode 4 gives the show a welcome shot of tension; watching the robots gradually become more aware is all well and good, but it’s also slightly repetitive, as we know that an uprising is, eventually, on the cards. The Man in Black’s hunt for Arnold, which leads him to Wyatt (the man who started to hear “god’s voice” in Ford’s new storyline), meanwhile, threatens to kick-start a mythology that Westworld could soon get lost in.
But it’s delicately balancing those threads with Ford’s plan that keeps HBO’s show gripping. Before, the suspense came from the boundary of real and fake, but here, it’s the deficit between the known and the unknown. And while it’s a risky game to test an audience’s patience by withholding information for too long, the fact that Ford does seem to know what’s going on teases a climax that will actually give us answers.
The most exciting question of all: What if we’ve got it all wrong? With the Man in Black apparently helping people in the outside world, and Ford ploughing ahead, no matter who gets in his way, what if Ford is the villain, and the Man in Black is actually our hero?
Westworld Season 1 is available to watch on-demand through Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to a range of Sky channels, from Sky 1 (Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash) and FOX UK (The Walking Dead) to Sky Living (Divorce) and Sky Atlantic (Westworld, The Young Pope). A 7-day free trial is available for new subscribers.
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