HBO's prestige sci-fi drama, Westworld, is back for a fourth season. Here's how it stands up to the show's complicated history, and what it means for its future as the robot uprising continues to unfold.

westworld season 4 review -- close to sublime

HBO’s sci-fi epic Westworld is back for a fourth season and long gone are the days of quaint prairie-living robots and puzzle box mysteries. Over the last three seasons, the show has blown the doors off its own concept, figuratively and literally, unleashing the impossibly realistic “hosts” into the world outside of the unending loop of theme park stories, only to dig into deeper and more troubling mysteries about society at large. In Season 3, we got an up close and personal look at all the ways artificial technology has impacted humanity and hosts alike. Now, in Season 4, the show is attempting to push its boundaries even further.

Put lightly, Westworld Season 4 is just as dense and complicated as the seasons before it. The reality of the vast techno-conspiratorial empire that was Delos (responsible for the host-run theme parks) and Incite (responsible for the massive super AI secretly using people’s data to engineer their lives in the real world) has come to light, leaving the world a more dangerous place for everyone–though, in the intervening time, most people seem to have done their best to get on with their lives and push past any reservations they may have about the tech they use on a day to day basis. Caleb (Aaron Paul) has settled down with a family, Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) has hidden away off grid for a while, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is going by a new name after having apparently lost her memories and been shoved into a quaint civilian life where she scripts NPCs for a video game of some kind.

Meanwhile, Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) who is probably actually Dolores (remember that whole situation from Season 3?) is making moves to bring about a robot revolution and she’s using William (Ed Harris) hosts and clones to do it. Without going into spoilers, Charlotte (Charlores?) is still very much on the warpath to free host-kind and punish humanity, and she’s discovered a way to potentially give humans a taste of their own autonomy-stripping methods.

Also in the mix are Bernard (Jeffery Wright) who has spent some time with his consciousness uploaded to the robot heaven, Sublime, and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), the robot killer who learned he was a robot himself.

These three groups of characters intersect with one another to form what is essentially a three-pronged plot for the season. There’s Charlotte’s scheme against the humans happening in tandem with Bernard’s secret mission from the Sublime happening alongside Dolores’s strange new life and a mystery she is carefully beginning to uncover. It’s not all that difficult to see where and how these three plots are going to intersect with each other, which actually works in the show’s favor–with so many other complicated card tricks happening (virtually every character mentioned–and some left out for fear of spoilers–has multiple incarnations, clones, or the ability to body-hop into new identities) having some low hanging fruit helps keep things from feeling too bogged down or cumbersome. It may have taken Westworld four seasons to learn this lesson, but it finally appears to have sunk in.

This season does have its fair share of stumbling blocks, however. While the plotlines themselves are all, at surface level, interesting and engaging, there are moments where their respective commentaries and winks to current events get a little too on-the-nose. At one point, a character makes an off-the-cuff reference to a “superspreader event” and, at another, Ed Harris makes a snide remark about being called “neurodivergent” that both feel like they could have come from a 2022 Twitter thread, not a discussion in a far flung sci-fi future. Early on, Evan Rachel Wood gives a stilted explanation of her job “scripting NPCs” and it comes off as maybe the most awkward, clunky way to describe video game development possible. These bizarre moments feel too direct, too tongue-in-cheek, and too clumsy in the context of the rest of the show–and they happen with some regularity.

Thankfully, outside of these oddball bits of exposition and fumbled scenes, the production quality of the show has remained consistent. The visual effects are top tier, the production design remains interesting and thorough, and the performances given by the entire ensemble are as strong as they’ve ever been. There is a lot of potential here, assuming the back half of the season can follow through on the ideas the first four episodes laid down. Here’s hoping.

Westworld Season 4 premieres June 26 on HBO.

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