By Christian DiMartino
Johnathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s HBO Westworld series concluded its fourth season on August 14th, and… hmm. I watched it about a week after the fact and… hmm. Are people still watching this show? I haven’t the slightest clue, but as committed as I am to the HBO brand, and to the Nolan brand (Nolan has co-written movies such as Interstellar and Memento with his brother Christopher), Westworld is park that I don’t believe I’ll be returning to for a fifth season.
If… there’s a fifth season.
The plan, according to Nolan’s wife and co-creator Joy (who made last year’s Nolan-esque slog Reminiscence), is for the show to run for five seasons. But… what is this show really going for at this point? At this point, Westworld kind of feels like one of those pitches from Shark Tank. There’s a lot going for it, and the ideas are there, but it’s not fully selling me on it, and ultimately I think I’m out. Apparently a lot of people jumped ship after the third season. I find myself in a weird place with it.
I wasn’t as into TV back in 2018 as I am now, but at the time I’d heard that the first season of Westworld was a phenomenon. Indeed, it is. The show follows a futuristic amusement park where rich monsters pay millions of dollars to run rampant on robots in a western setting (raping, murdering, robbing, etc.), but there is a shift when the robots begin developing consciences. To this day, I can vouch for that first season, and I’ll say it’s among the finest seasons of television. If you know anything about the Nolan’s, it’s that their best work is dizzying, exhilarating, twisty, mind-bending, and simply sensational. Which is what that first season was. I came across the Michael Crichton film of the same name shortly after, and although that movie is plenty of fun, the first season of Westworld certainly transcends the material. There are two twists, at least, in this season that completely knocked my socks off.
Then… came the second season. Which, I had the first one fresh on my mind, and my anticipation was through the roof. Folks, let me tell you, of that 10 hour season, I… am not even remotely sure what happened. Honestly. I would finish some episodes of that season, without the slightest clue of what had happened before my eyes. I imagine this was what most people thought of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. With that second season, it felt like Jonathan Nolan was just trying to outdo his brother in the complexity department. Well, he succeeded, and despite the first-rate production values and the top-notch performances of its great cast (Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffery Wright, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Ed Harris, and so on), the second season was a confusing slog that felt like a chore to sit through.
Listening to people talk about the fourth season, they mostly reflect upon the third season like it was a dud. Mind you, I haven’t seen it since it aired in 2020, but… for me, it was enjoyable. It was a quasi-reset of the show, with returning characters, new characters, a new setting, some cool ideas, and best of all: I could follow it… er, most of it. It didn’t quite reach the highs of that first season, but it at least seemed to be coherent. Then again, some people really didn’t go for it apparently, so what the hell do I know?
Which… brings me to the fourth season. Despite having a fond enough memory of the third season, a feeling kind of washed over me at about the third episode: do I still care about this show, or am I just watching it out of some sort of obligation? I felt like Wood’s Delores, having a grand awakening. Perhaps it would help to, I don’t know, revisit the prior three seasons. I just… I don’t know. The actors seemed to be giving it their all and everything here looked great. I was particularly invested in whatever was going on with Wood’s character, seeing as her character seemed to die (like “die die”) at the end of season 3. Yet I just wondered if my heart was in it anymore.
Then the fourth episode rolled around, and it became clear where Nolan and Joy were taking us, and suddenly I was back in. Then… by the time we got a few episodes further… my interest vanished again. It must be kind of what a doomed marriage feels like. You try to look for any shred of positivity or good in the situation, but ultimately, if your heart isn’t in it, it isn’t in it. Or at least, that’s kind of what I’ve gathered in movies.
So, what happened? Why is the love gone? Is it the show? Is it the fatigue of television? Or is it me? The answer: probably some combination of all of it. Perhaps I’ve never been able to fully recover from that second season and those feelings carried over to this one, because I won’t lie: even though the fourth season didn’t leave me completely baffled, I didn’t really feel the urge to tune into it immediately. It also doesn’t help that at the start of this year, there were a plethora of shows with many actors that I adore, and I felt the need to watch as many of them as I could. Yet the elephant must be addressed, and at the root of it, just might be the show.
It’s a tough call. Am I an idiot? Am I wrong? Maybe. I just don’t feel invested in Westworld anymore, and it’s so bizarre because I truly do admire the scope of the filmmaking and the ambition of its ideas. As someone who very much has their head up the posterior of the Nolan’s, there is a lot of Nolan DNA in Westworld (whatever is going on with Aaron Paul and his daughter screamed Interstellar; the big weighty ideas and timelines and yada yada) but none of it really sticks. At least for me.
I guess the reason for this tangent is to ask two questions: do Nolan and Joy have any clue how they’re going to land this plane, and what is there really left to care about? To the first point, with most TV shows I’ve come across, you can kind of see that the creators have a goal that they want to achieve, and typically they do. Game of Thrones probably did, until the fumbled it with a legendarily polarizing final season. The Sopranos appeared to. Sometimes though these things just seem to work out organically. The Leftovers, probably my favorite show, was originally to be a miniseries, and Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta ultimately wrote two more seasons that were vastly superior; they didn’t know where they were landing the plane originally, but they ultimately landed it gracefully. I have no idea what Westworld is striving to be at this point. I personally don’t find its storylines intriguing anymore, at least not in a mysterious way. It also didn’t help that this fourth season ended the way that it did.
So… I’m just going to drop spoilers here. But basically every character is dead at the end of this season. On one hand, I kind of admire it, because it’s ballsy to just pluck off most of your cast in a single hour of television. On another hand, my investment in these characters had kind of flickered out before reaching this finale. Truth be told, characters that I’d been watching for four seasons bit the dust, and I didn’t care in the slightest. Not to sound harsh, but really, what are the stakes at this point? The bulk of the characters are robots, and they’re robots who have died and been brought back to life a plethora of times. Are we really supposed to be affected by this? Because I think I’ve checked out.
I can’t say that I’m speaking on behalf of the public, because surely there are still super fans of Westworld out there. I just think I’m done with it, which is a shame because… that first season was a truly remarkable achievement. That and the score is always a banger (even when I wanted to get it over with, I never skipped the opening credits). The love just isn’t there anymore. I’m not really invested in it, and honestly it’s just not as interesting as it seems to think it is. The plan is for a fifth season, but it is yet to be renewed. Truth is, unless they get like Anthony Hopkins or another major name on board (getting recent Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose in this season was a good call, even though she was underused), I don’t think I’ll be returning to Westworld. There is simply too much TV on right now, and folks, I think I’m checking out.