Life & Culture

Westworld season four TV review: A robot saga springs to life and it’s a late miracle

Season four of HBO series has pulled a narrative magic trick and is up and running stronger than ever


Resurrection may not be a particularly Jewish tenet, but we can certainly appreciate a miracle like the best of them, and a resurrection is exactly what’s happened with season four of HBO’s Westworld shown here on Sky Atlantic.

As a lifelong television addict I’ve never seen this phenomenon occur before. There’ve been plenty of shows that start out great, then fail to capitalise on their strong first seasons and crash and burn. But somehow in this instance, just at the point of giving up, just as my faith trickled out, it pulled a narrative magic trick and is up and running stronger than ever.

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to mention timelines, especially if you recognise a surname amongst the husband and wife creator/writers, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. Brother of Christopher Nolan, and involved in both Memento and Interstellar, you’ll know that tricksy mind-bending jumping about is a bit of a signature device. But that’s far from the only enchantment they’ve got hidden up their sleeve.

Based on the 1973 film of the same name, the story starts in a wild west theme park in 2050. Those who can afford it direct their basest desires, sometimes for physical or sexual violence, sometimes to be a saviour, at the park’s ‘Hosts.’

Essentially robots, damaged or killed hosts are healed and their memories wiped, before being returned to their roles in various narratives created for the visitors.

Inevitably the hosts achieve consciousness and start to rebel — you’d think someone in the future might have seen The Matrix or Terminator — but it grips your attention exploring the whys and whos and whens, as questions of self-knowledge, self-awareness, and self-governance swirl about.

Season two took the rebellion and story to different era theme parks, and season three into the real world, and all along the narrative and themes got more bogged down and opaque. An excellent cast including Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, and Thandiwe Newton did their best to keep things flowing, but only occasionally glimpsing a way out of the fog. It seemed destined to run aground.

Full to the brim with ideas, it’s not surprising that Jewish connections abound; slavery and emancipation, free will and fate, even the idea of rebelling robots can find their way back to the mythology of the golem.

A computer that enslaves humanity is called Rehoboam, after the last monarch of the United Kingdom of Israel. The protagonist Dolores, although that role has since split, is portrayed by Jewish actress Evan Rachel Wood.

I can’t see anything of us bought to the role, in fact fittingly as a robot she plays it almost Nordic, but then again I can’t even imagine a Jewish robot. (Maybe the closest would be the angsty but resourceful WALL-E?)

Anyway, there’s no such distraction now as the story has solidified into a straight-up goodies versus baddies, with the fate of humanity at stake. A fifth season has been commissioned to bring us home, and at the present trajectory it looks like it’s going to be an excellent landing.

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