“Westworld” (season 4): a saving return to origins

“Westworld” (season 4): a saving return to origins

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We had to wait more than two years to discover the new season of Westworld. A fire that ravaged almost all of the Paramount Ranch, near Los Angeles, and an epidemic of Covid-19 will not have been right for the futuristic series of HBO. Released as an aperitif from House of the Dragon (the long-awaited spin-off of Game Of Thrones), has this extremely ambitious creation by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy been able to recover from a season 3 that is far from in line with the initial intentions of its authors?

Attention ! It is better to have seen season 4 of Westworld before reading this post.

How fascinating it is to observe how the most conquering, sophisticated and complex series can, after having put the knee on the ground, find the strength to recover by returning to their fundamentals. Mr Robot had demonstrated this after a second season with all too apparent strings and now conscious twists. The Handmaid’s Tale will for its part have the opportunity to recover this fall after a fourth exercise having fundamentally diverted it from the matrix concept of Margaret Atwood. Somehow, House of the Dragon may also provide an answer to the disappointment caused by the hasty and compressed conclusion of Game Of Thrones. We can never repeat enough how much television series have the power to involve us in long-term relationships, with their share of unexpected twists and turns. To conceive of series as “long films” is to renounce the loyalty that the most endearing of them can arouse.

The fourth season of Westworld, whose broadcast has just ended on HBO, could well be a textbook case of serial recovery following a bad patch that could seem prohibitive. It is certainly still located in a futuristic New York where hosts frolic having fled Westworld and the other parks where they served as cannon fodder for wealthy human clients – and the death of these hosts being only ever temporary, we finds Dolores and Maeve as well as Bernard, Ashley, Clementine, Teddy, Charlotte and William. But this new season only needs a few brief flashbacks to expedite the seven years of conflict that followed the activation of Rehoboam, an artificial intelligence system developed by Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel, sidelined). Apart from a few narrative connections, seasons 2 and 4 could also be watched one after the other without confusion: that is to say how much “The New World” (non-prophetic title attributed to season 3) appears today as a muddled, bellicose digression (despite the predominance of women in the direction) and uninspired, but in no way fatal to the overall coherence of the series.

Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) and William (Ed Harris)

As soon as it begins, “The Choice” (title of season 4) reminds us of how Westworld is both a series that can be watched and listened to – activities which in this case can very well be carried out separately without displeasure. The stoppage of Game Of Thrones in 2019 and the two years between seasons 3 and 4 of Westworld obviously allowed Ramin Djawadi, official composer of these two monster series, to catch his breath and explore new soundtracks. The score he composed for the last season of Westworld is remarkable in that it hums with new hypnotic injunctions (the “heavy” sounds emitted by the tower in order to control a human population that has become a “host” in turn), while intertwining founding themes and “westworldized” covers, such as the “Pyramid Song” by Radiohead which beautifully accompanies the last moments of season 4.

This musical accompaniment is like a series that never ceases to loop, replicate, rehash. The opening sequence employs the same shot scale to show a cartel boss exiting and entering his home. The credits that follow take up well-known shots – a Vitruvian Man taking shape before our eyes, piano keys that activate by themselves – to which he adds striking new images, such as this fly and this tilted tower who will play a preponderant role in the adventures to come. This principle of recovery extends to the entire season, which multiplies the winks reminiscent of the first episodes of the series: Dolores lying on her bed, prisoner of a routine and monotonous existence; the same Dolores asserting herself as a “storyteller” of the dystopian New York of 2060, like Lee Sizemore, “head of narrative” of Westworld in season 1; Maeve holding her daughter’s hand in a sunny wheat field; William seeing a white horse and a black horse in a paddock; Charlotte strolling among her “puppets” in the open air, such as the creators of Westworld, Robert Ford and Arnold Weber, at the start of the series; the symbol of the labyrinth (“The Maze”, title of season 1) drawn in white chalk; the (re)awakening of “singularities” (outliers), echoing the “daydreams” of Westworld’s first-generation hosts. All these iconic images instantly reactivate a voluptuous, sensual past pleasure, unaltered despite the weight of the years. The launch of Westworld Although it dates back almost six years, its most emblematic plans remain anchored in our minds like master paintings.

Even immersion in a new park (the “Golden Age”, which immerses its visitors in the prohibition era of the 1920s) serves to resume paths already taken, to replay scenarios already implemented. From the visit to the “Behavioral Training” level of the underground base of the park (with its huge bay windows and its hosts who tirelessly repeat the same gestures) to the choice of visitors’ attire (black hat or white hat?), the passage by a saloon featuring “Temperance” Maeve, Clementine and Hector on the cover, way The Public Enemyfrom Season 2’s “Westworld massacre,” the series feels dizzyingly performing a “cover” of itself – as if Boardwalk Empire had openly replicated situations, characters and dialogues of Deadwood. Its correlation with the mechanics of seriality gives the circular structure of the series (and the repeated impression of déjà vu that emanates from his contemplation) a form of plenitude from which the previous season had been faultily detached. It is precisely because it repeats itself that the series can continue to move forward.

Maeve Millay (Thandiwe Newton) and Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul)

This does not prevent him from formulating particularly stimulating new ideas: the unexpected transition from an opera scene to a speeding train towards the new park; the use of “substitute” characters like Uwade and Frankie Nichols (for Maeve and her daughter), or William (for himself); Caleb who relies (literally) on previous versions of himself to escape the jail where Charlotte holds him; the transformation of humans into hosts, whose leaders cannot help but take themselves in turn for “gods of Olympus” (which allows both to hold up a mirror and to draw a parallel with the first two seasons); the division of the season into two periods (2060/2083) and, in a certain way, two protagonists, since the highlight of Maeve is followed by that of Dolores, whose multiple trappings and identities end up converging towards her first incarnation of farmer’s wife choosing to see the “beauty” of the world rather than its chaos.

As such, Daniel D’Addario is completely mistaken in interpretation when he writes that “the return of Dolores to Westworld at the end of the season […] resembled less a declaration of intent than an attempt, at the end of a bacchanalia of murders, to reconnect with the luster of the early days”. How can we accuse the authors of Westworld (remake of a film by Michael Crichton released in 1973) of opportunism, even though rehashing is the basis of their writing? Their approach is rather reminiscent of series-palimpsests such as Twin Peaks, Lost or, on the French side, Little Quinquin and its sequel, Coincoin and the inhumans – Bruno Dumont explaining to Cinema notebooks, in September 2018, that “the two seasons are a bit vampirized. In fact season 2 will eat into season 1. […] The two seasons look at each other. There is less the desire to evolve than to echo everything” (p. 13). All the more enticing is the prospect of a fifth and final season of Westworld which in turn would “eat” into the first, echo it for the umpteenth time, before definitively exiting the loop. This would be an opportunity to prove that the big series are also those that know how to recover from their failures and, despite the distance from the media sirens, go all the way.

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