Season 4, Episode 5, “Zhuangzi”

Ed Harris in Westworld

Ed Harris a western world
photo: John Johnson/HBO

My notes at the end of this latest episode of western world read like this: “The Truman Show + The Matrix?”

can you embarrass me western world has always blazed a trail by trying to be a 21st-century meditation on consciousness, free will, and technology (not to mention memory and alienation) that felt new, even when it was remade by Michael Crichtons 1973 film of the same name began. But especially during that scene between Teddy (James Marsden) and Christina (Evan Rachel Wood) – you know the one! – I couldn’t help but think back to those two Y2K projects. After all, this 1998 Jim Carrey vehicle was based on the premise that Truman’s world was make-believe, a constructed narrative that protected him even as he watched more and more stitching unravel while key aspects of the Wachowski siblings were iconic Film depended on people’s ability to see beyond the reality that was constructed for them and learn ways to adapt it to their habits. Sound familiar?

Sure, our Christina is much more than Truman-meets-Neo, but describing her as such would outline exactly how her arc feels as the show’s fourth season rocks the world that Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson , who has a ball this season) has built and the place Wood’s character takes in it. In fact, the episode might have shown us the beginning of its narrative loop again (Christina wakes up in her bed, just like Dolores did in the first season), but overall it all felt like a conscious awakening this time. “Every day she wakes up, she sees it more,” Christina says of a character she creates that may or may not be herself, “that something is wrong with the world.” And yes, that was all before we hit a damn last line that got me hooked.

But before we delve into this revelation, let’s go back and try to make sense of this new normal. As we learned in the last episode, we’re now squarely in a future where Charlotte has finally managed to turn all of humanity into her own toy – with a few outliers here and there. And these runaways, realizing they are trapped in a story written by someone else, wreak havoc on what Charlotte had always envisioned as the temporary environment before their kind would transcend the physical realm. (If I’m honest, this was the part that brought me down because I can always count on it western world to avoid talking to its viewers and getting bogged down with some of the details surrounding its very sprawling world edifice. Was this where Bernard was? On a transcendent level that lies beyond the flesh-and-bone reality of the people we encounter in any given episode? Or is it somewhere else, and if Charlotte is striving for it so badly, why is she still roaming the streets in this IRL environment? To make people… pay? To entertain herself as the god she knows herself to be?)

It’s one of those human runaways that initiates one of the episode’s subplots, in which William (Ed Harris) chases a woman who has seen the Light – or rather, the “Tower” – and realized how fake the world around her is is around. And while she’s eventually “rescued” (was that supposed to be?) by the rebels Bernard and Stubbs are now working with, she doesn’t make it before she manages to “infect” William with the nagging question, which is long dominates western world‘s philosophy from the very first episode: “Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?”

Much like I posed in the very first review of this seasonit’s clear western world has long been fascinated by storytelling. And that’s exactly where Christina’s story takes us, with Teddy finally formulating this very thought: “This world is a lie. It’s a story. A well told lie, but a lie nonetheless.” And she’s the storyteller, of course. She was the one who crafted the narratives for so many people around her – and like Maeve before her, she has now found a way to harness that power in a way that allows them (and us) to see behind the scenes of this playful reality.

So where do we go from here? Perhaps we’re gearing up for another battle of wills (and for the spirit of humanity) between Christina and Charlotte — with Maeve, Caleb, Bernard, Stubbs, and William one way or another another who has allied himself with both or neither for various purposes of his own. We know Maeve is a weapon…but could it be used to destroy the world Charlotte created? Will Christina find a way to use her storytelling skills for good, whatever that means? She was told that it was she who built “this” and she who did “this” to her…So is she the trapped one or the trapped one?

stray orobservations

  • “There is beauty in this world. An order. So we’re happy to believe that,” William tells us at both the beginning and end of this episode. And all I kept thinking was that Charlotte clearly believes they are one and the same :THere is order in beauty and order in beauty. But people like William – and even Christina/Dolores – think differently. or find at least some comfort in the cracks, in the gaps. This is what led Dolores to her first breakthrough from her story. AAnd it might well be what got William to try and see what he can learn from the OG William.
  • I can’t be the only one who, when the episode started with Ed Harris and Angela Sarafyan walking into a bloody crime scene, half expected we’d get one CSI: West World kind of Consequence. No? Just me? OK.
  • We left western world a theme park full of repeating narratives to a world conceived as a game. The distinction might feel minor, but I’m wondering if it will matter (pun intended) in the upcoming episodes.
  • I’m not saying you can’t have a good (let alone a great) episode of western world without Thandiwe Newton. but Young Does the show end up missing a lot of stuff if you let Maeve sit out a particular episode? You’re missing out on their sly humor and sizzling action –star behavior. (Also, this episode may have revealed some of the cracks of even a solid western world Episode that pops up whenever the series overwhelms itself and tries to be too many things at once – a sci-fi spectacle, a dystopian narrative, a philosophical parable, a character study…The list goes on. Sometimes it can weave these many threads into an intriguing whole, and other times it can really leave something to be desired.)
  • Seeing Charlotte orchestrate a dancing flash mob in the street by Tessa Thompson, purely for her own benefit (“There should be dancing!”). and then have three women make a chair for her? iconic behavior. Also see: the delightfully passive-aggressive meeting Charlotte has with her “college friend” Christina. Just the right amount of tacit hostility masked as concern the entire interaction a joy to see.
  • I’ll say it’s nice to have James Marsden’s teddy but now i am curious if we will get an explanation why or how he is back? And whose side is he on? Any theories?

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