The fourth and final season of Westworld is a return to form for the series that’s suffered quite a bit from its sophomore slump.
It’s a bittersweet charge reviewing Westworld‘s fourth season, which recently hit 4K UHD home video. I get to write about one of the better seasons of one of my favorite TV shows, which was finally able to recapture that uncertainty of the game-like narrative of season one. Sadly, it came too little too late for mainstream audiences who didn’t stick with it. Westworld was recently canceled right before its planned fifth and final season due to the bloodbath that was the Warner-Discovery merger, and then taken off HBO MAX (another reason to always buy physical media). Like that first season, the fourth used multiple concurrent narrative timelines to tell its story that kept you guessing as the pieces slowly moved into place.
When the season begins, we are presented with three narrative threads: one in a far dystopian, Mad Max-esque future with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) on a mission to save both the hosts and humanity. After spending decades in the Sublime running possible scenarios of his actions, Bernard is back and has an almost clairvoyant understanding of what to do on his crusade.
The second thread picks up shortly after the war of the last season, with humanity still finding their footing after the AI that was controlling their destiny, Rehoboam, was shut down. This thread sees Charlotte (Tessa Thompson), the rogue copy of Delores from last season, replacing government officials with host copies for some sinister plan.
Finally, we have Christina (Evan Rachel Wood) in what feels like a third and completely separate narrative thread as a woman who writes stories for non-player characters in online games. She wants to tell more personal stories while her boss prefers the more violent delights.
While all three threads have moments of resonance with one another, along with the bigger themes of control and freedom, it’s how the pieces finally begin to fit together that sets the board for the upcoming final season. I think of all the leads here, Thompson and Aaron Paul as Caleb Nichols, humanity’s champion, really turn in some career-best performances. After the war, Caleb started a family and his relationship with his young firecracker of a daughter is where the humanity of this season lies, since this also resonates with his partner in combat Mave’s (Thandiwe Newton) back story. This theme also connects with Ed Harris’ Man in Black, who is now a host copy of himself and the muscle for Charlotte’s ploy for power. Here, she struggles with attempting to control humanity from the top down while also trying to decipher an epidemic of hosts who are choosing death over ultimate enlightenment and leaving the physical plane behind for a virtual one.
Charlotte’s own loss of her daughter in exchange for her “humanity” last season still affects her and provides the fuel for her crusade for control at any cost. It’s really refreshing to have a series that deals with something other than terrible fathers in the realm of fantasy/science fiction, although William is not the greatest dad after killing his daughter, who he believed was a host. That parental thread is something that really unites all these character’s stories in Westworld in a way that feels a little less toxic than some other properties. It also forces them to ruminate on loss, death, revenge and what lies after this plane of existence in a way that’s not tied to a male perspective.
All these questions propel this season into an endgame that has the hosts realizing how much of an impact their masters had on them and how much they need each other. Charlotte’s realization of this is what drives her character through some intense moments that culminate in a fate I didn’t expect for her character.
I believe I said this last season, but when you watch these HBO series, even in HD on their original broadcast, it’s like watching a standard definition DVD compared to these 4K UHDs released later. I will admit, cable content that claims to be HD is anything but, and here with the 4K upgrade coupled with HDR, you get a whole different viewing experience of the show. Westworld is shot on film and that really shines here, with a rather subtle grain presence in scenes. It’s something that gives the show a more cinematic veneer rather than your typical TV-to-disc presentation. There are also featurettes for each episode that feel very EPK-ish but still have enough personality that they are worth a watch.
Westworld season four has the series ending on a high note, full of possibilities and rekindling the first season’s puzzle-like structure. Wood and Wright do their usual bests, but it’s the supporting cast here that gets their moments to shine and really feels a bit more rounded out than in previous seasons. Thompson is damn amazing, turning in a career-defining performance that culminates in her character making a very unexpected choice for herself. Paul also gives his character from last season a much more fleshed-out take against the always great Newton, who hasn’t faltered once the entire run of the show.
I am really going to miss Westworld, and this rewatch only made me realize how much I enjoyed this show that attempted to look at just what make us human in a story that comes closer to reality with every passing day.