Westworld: Season Four: A Decent First Half Gives Way to a Disastrous Second (4K/Blu-ray)
As we've seen with the first three seasons of HBO's "Westworld," it's been a strange and wild ride that kicked off with a mildly-satisfying bang for its debut season, but quickly found itself in murkier waters as the writers developed a bit of a problem in terms of figuring out a compelling direction for the show to take. In fact, the second season, which was a bizarre exercise in structure over substance, felt like they put very little effort into the narrative at all. Season three had been a slight improvement, but still fell into the same pitfalls of being convoluted, messy, and often sluggish. Now we head into a fourth season in which they once again try to reinvent the show in order to bring it out of those pits, but will they actually succeed this time, or is the show simply stuck in an unbreakable loop like the hosts way back in that debut season?
As before, we once again follow multiple storylines. First, we have a woman named Christina (Evan Rachel Wood), who bares a strong resemblance to Dolores, writing stories for NPCs (non-playable characters) in video games. She's constantly receiving strange phone calls from a man who claims she ruined his life, which culminates in him committing suicide. Later, her roommate sets her up on a blind date with Teddy (James Marsden), who begins to reveal the reality of her situation.
Meanwhile, Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) now lives alone in an isolated cabin. However, when she attempts to check in on Caleb (Aaron Paul), she is tracked down by hosts that she discovers were sent by William (Ed Harris), who now works for Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), aka "Rogue Delores." Charlotte is systematically attempting to replace government officials with hosts, while also trying to infect the human race with a parasite that makes them controllable by sound. Maeve and Caleb eventually team up in order to combat the threat.
Finally, we have Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), who, after spending some time in the Sublime, discovers only one possible future that doesn't lead to total destruction. In order to try and see it through, he teams up with Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) to seek out a group of rebels who are searching for a weapon hidden in the desert that will help them in their fight against Charlotte.
As you can see, there is a lot going on here in just these first few episodes, which do a fine job of setting up all of the characters, where they are now and what they're up to, as well as what their part in the overall mission will be (for those that actually have a part, that is). The first four episodes (out of eight) are exciting, compelling, get you engaged in the characters' plight, and are surprisingly a lot more straight-forward than we've seen in seasons past. As mentioned, it's always felt like the writers felt the need to make the show a lot more convoluted than it ever needed to be, so it was a welcome change to see them shift to storylines that were a little more linear (I say "a little more" because they do still mess with time a little, but it still remains a little more plain than usual).
This first half does indeed provide a good start for what appeared to be the show's first decent season since the beginning, that is, before the unveiling of the latter four episodes, which almost feel as though they came from a completely different writing team. In these final four episodes, pacing gets thrown to the wind, plot development is kept to a bare minimum, and storylines seem to just flicker and die off, some having left little or no impact on the main plot whatsoever. To expand on that last part, Bernard's part in this tale amounts to little more than setting a couple of things in motion in order to reach that one specific future, while Christina's storyline could've been excised completely without any effect on the plot in the least (she really only seemed to be here as a possible gateway to a fifth season).
Some of this may have been forgivable if they had at least managed to deliver a solid conclusion, but unfortunately they end up dropping the ball there as well, instead giving us a very bland and lazy finale that provides very little in the way of satisfaction after having sat through a few rather uneventful and particularly dull episodes. It really is a shame that they allowed it to collapse like this, especially after such an intriguing setup. It seemed to have all of the ingredients necessary to deliver a stunning finale, one that would finally bring it out of the doldrums of bland storytelling that had plagued the last two seasons. All they had to do was stay the course, but I suppose writer's block struck once again, ultimately killing the season's momentum.
Whatever the reason for it, season four ends up being an even bigger disappointment than the previous one all because there was quite a bit of hope in the first half, at least in terms of them having finally found an engaging tale to tell in this world. At the very least, given the events of the last couple of episodes, it does feel like this was meant to be the final season, though, as mentioned, they do leave a small window open (though as to how they would proceed from there is anyone's guess). At this point, it would definitely appear to be for the best if they stopped here. The most success they had was way back in the park in the first season, and it's become quite clear that trying to expand beyond that has been beyond their abilities. It may continue to have a great cast and production value, but as long as the writing continues to suffer, so will the show.
The fourth season of "Westworld" comes to 4K/Blu-ray in dazzling 2160p UHD/1080p HD transfers of excellent quality. As always, the image looks beautifully crisp and sharp, highlighting the show's incredible designs and locations. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos-TrueHD/5.1 DTS-HD MA audio tracks are remarkable, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and soundtrack in outstanding quality. Overall, the show continues to look and sound fantastic, with no complaints to be had.
Creating Westworld's Reality: A series of eight featurettes that go behind the scenes of each episode.
Westworld on the Road (17 Minutes): A look at various outdoor locations used for filming the show.
Westworld's Temperance: A Set Tour (6 Minutes): The show's set decorator and production designer take you on a tour of one of this season's major sets.
Westworld: An Exploration of Humanity (15 Minutes): A featurette that explores this season's narrative.
Season four of "Westworld" starts off with a pretty good first half that sets up several intriguing storylines, but unfortunately an abrupt shift brings the second half crashing down, decimating the show's pacing and plot development, and making it clear that there were some characters that they just didn't know what to do with. It's a shame because it was well on its way to being the first decent season since its debut, but ultimately the writers just lost control, giving this struggling program yet another disappointing season.
Now available on 4K/Blu-ray.
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