In October 2021, I learned that Westworld season four was filming in New York City when videos from the set started popping up on TikTok. One of the first things I saw from this season was cell-phone footage of a bored-looking Tessa Thompson using three monochromatic extras as a chair while others danced around her. It still did not prepare me for the glee I felt watching that scene in action in the fifth episode.
As The Prom once told us, if one thing is universal, it’s that life’s no dress rehearsal. That seemingly doesn’t apply to Charlotte Hale, who uses a New York City block as her own personal studio. She commands bloody-fingered piano players to speed up the tempo, ice sculptors to do better, and passersby to waltz for her in pursuit of … beauty, I think, or some purpose other than being self-indulgent. It’s actually hard to pay attention to what Hale and William are saying because Thompson and Ed Harris are having so much fun.
That said, when Harris’s voice kicked off the episode, I was reminded that we still don’t know the purpose of William the host. What does he want other than to serve Hale’s vision? Does he have a personality or purpose at all? What more can we possibly learn about William the man, whose psyche has been explored time and time again on Westworld, from this version? Thankfully, as it turns out, host William has these questions too. He doesn’t know what part he’s meant to play either. He thinks what Hale wants him to think (or so he thinks).
At the beginning of the episode, he listens to a human couple argue that society is a meritocracy and that their privilege is not any different from a feudal or caste system. I’m sure it’s the type of obnoxious, rich, white conversation that the human William was once privy to when he was hanging around Logan Delos and his family. (Yes, this is my desperate attempt to summon a Ben Barnes cameo into the back half of season four.) But it’s all fake. These humans aren’t really speaking their minds. They’re acting from a script, and they don’t even know it.
We learn a lot in this episode about what New York and other major cities in Hale’s world have become. They’re essentially parks for hosts. Fly-goop, mind-controlled humans live by scripted loops assigned to them by Olympiad Entertainment. Hosts are encouraged to go there and enjoy human life before they “transcend” and move on. Occasionally, a human breaks out of mind control, is considered an “outlier,” and is hunted for sport by hosts like William and others who happen to be in the city. But other than that, killing humans is discouraged.
This becomes a problem for Hope, a host played by Nicole Pacent who successfully kills an outlier but is infected, according to Hale, by the interaction she had with him before putting a bullet in his brain. The man simply asks her if the flower in his hand is real so that he can die knowing one last real thing. This sends Hope into an existential crisis that begins with her going on a killing spree and ends with her dying by suicide. William and Hale find her with her head in a reflecting pool and her hand holding the man’s flower, like Ophelia.
Inside the tower of terror, William and Hale continue to discuss their world domination. Hale is disappointed with how hosts seem addicted to human life. They’re not pursuing higher purposes, like art and philosophy, and living up to their potential. Such a mom, am I right? They aren’t even taking up her offer to transcend, presumably to the Valley Beyond, after a year or two among the mortals.
Not everything is going according to Hale’s plan. Plus, humans keep breaching and becoming outliers. These outliers keep triggering hosts to die by suicide. William has his own encounter with an outlier. He and the team of rebels, including Jay and Stubbs, race to find a woman waiting to be either extracted or killed on a roof. William gets there first and speaks with her briefly before Jay shoots him and helps the woman to escape the city. William is worried that he too has been infected with whatever human disease that breaks them out of their mind control and makes hosts want to die, so he visits the human William to ask for his advice.
Meanwhile, Christina wakes up from her first date with a mystery man we can officially call Teddy. She goes to work and starts working on the narrative she’s been inching toward since episode one, Dolores Abernathy’s backstory in Westworld. Teddy calls her and tells her to play hooky. They meet on the pier and he urges her to see not only the tower looming over the city and controlling humans but the lie that she lives in and her part in creating it. She can turn someone’s day around just by thinking about it.
Christina leaves Teddy to get lunch with her college roommate Charlotte Hale! Dun dun dun!!!! Hale is all smiles, completely in character as Christina’s BFF, and prying in a way that is only suspicious because we know her character is a chaotic and listless godbot. Hale does not mention Christina when talking to William, so it’s unclear what she knows and whether or not she’s alarmed by Christina’s behavior. Even her boss, in a later scene, seems to indicate that Hale is only suspicious and doesn’t know Christina has been acting up … yet.
Here’s my maybe-wild theory: I think Hale created Christina as an experiment to see if hosts can make great art using her original code. She tasked Maya with helping Christina find love because all artists need inspiration. Christina may serve an additional purpose in Hale’s world as a writer of human narratives, but there has to be a reason she has Dolores’s face and so many similarities to Dolores’s farm-girl loop. It’s as if Hale, who is, after all, a version of Dolores herself, compartmentalized her artistic side and poured it all into Christina. Or, you know, maybe Hale just wanted a friend.
Speaking of friendship, I do find it a little rude that Christina did not look her roommate, Maya, up when she went back to the office and started researching her narratives. Especially since Maya has been having nightmares! Wouldn’t you want to know if the person you’re closest with is one of your characters? But then again, she didn’t look up Teddy either. She did, however, get her annoying (and surprisingly human) boss to leave her alone and tell her the truth.
“Who did this to me,” Christina asks Teddy. “You did,” he says. So much to unpack in just that simple little phrase. First, does that confirm that Christina is Dolores? Earlier in the episode, he said he didn’t know her exactly, but someone a lot like her. Second of all, the “you” that Teddy refers to could be Christina, or is Hale, or the Dolores Abernathy from Westworld that sent him to the Valley Beyond. Dolores has branched off so many times. In a way, the latest episode of Westworld is a one-woman show. Hale, Christina, and — from a certain point of view — William are all variations of Dolores. The one who seems most like she’s in a story is the storyteller. It’s a loop within a loop within a loop that Teddy, or someone, desperately needs to break.
• The title refers to the Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou. Zhuangzi was both his nickname and the title of his book, which is considered one of the foundations of Taoism. The book is a series of anecdotes and parables about death, government, society, and, interestingly, the value of spontaneity. There’s not a lot of spontaneity in Hale’s world. Maybe that’s what she’s missing.
• The mind-control logistics between hosts are a little shaky. Why does William need a little pad to get a group of people to stop dead in their tracks when both Christina and Hale seem to be able to control people by sheer force of will? Is he just old-fashioned? Is this the host version of owning a flip phone?
• Hale saying, “I have ways of making people talk,” and Christina smiling as if to say, “So do I,” before using her powers to make two people get into an argument as a distraction, might be one of my favorite moments on this show to date.
• When Christina’s boss threatens her, he asks, “If a Judas steer runs the wrong way, what happens to it?” This is a reference to the pilot episode of the series. Dolores explains to Teddy that she keeps cattle in line by designating a Judas steer. “The rest will follow wherever you make him go.”
• Who sent Teddy into Christina’s loop? My hope is that it’s someone like Clementine working as a double agent both with William and against him. It’s possible that Christina somehow summoned him from the back of her Dolores code. That sounds romantic, but I’m not sure it’s logistically possible. I fear this is just another trick that Hale designed that Christina, if she really is our hero, has to best — another level of another game.