Editor's note: The following contains spoilers for Season 4, Episode 2 of Westworld.At the risk of jinxing it or causing a new timeline where it falls back into its own worst tendencies, it is quite a pleasant surprise to report that the fourth season of Westworld is off to a promising start. After the misstep of the third season, the show’s writers made the smart call to make a time jump seven years into the future and free themselves up to take the story in new directions. It has allowed the show to observe how the passage of time has changed both the world and the characters who inhabit it. Many have tried to move on from the horrors of their pasts, clinging to the hope that they can push into a more peaceful future unencumbered by all that has come before. Of course, life has other plans in store for them.
In the show’s strong second episode, fittingly titled "Well Enough Alone," we were taken on a bit of a stroll down memory lane. This came with an abundance of visual callbacks to the first season where characters first entered the park. It is most intriguing where the narrative and thematic developments that show the past is not so easily forgotten. Specifically, we have continued on the journey with the dynamic duo of Caleb (Aaron Paul) and Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) who both have a whole lot of baggage they’re carrying with them. Each has tried their best to put their past behind them by either isolating in the serenity of the woods or starting a family to build a future with. Yet, despite their most dedicated efforts, both are now fighting with a past that, much like the hosts now taking over the world, won't stay dead for long.
This is because the host who appears to be William AKA "The Man in Black" (Ed Harris) is actually a puppet of the rogue Dolores copy who is pretending to be Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson). Sound confusing? It isn’t really as the show is the most focused it has ever been while still leaving many questions floating in the air. What you need to know for now is that hosts have been slowly replacing key people in power with identical physical copies as part of a patient plan to take over. Part of this scheme involves launching a new Roaring Twenties-themed park, which they are doing under the cover of the all-powerful corporation of Delos. That is what Caleb and Maeve find themselves now hurtling towards after stumbling upon a secret entry. This blast from the past is almost a beat-for-beat recreation of the park entrance in the first season, down to the moment when you choose between a black or white hat.
These moments, bound up in the iconography of the series, are both grim and goofy. Even though it is a front, the fact that people are still willing to go back to a park that is an ethical minefield that led to mass death the last time around paints a bleak picture. It also allows the show to poke fun at itself, giving characters moments to acknowledge the absurdity of it all. In the scene where the choice is offered between a black or white hat, Maeve can’t contain herself as she rolls her eyes with an unrivaled heaping of snark. Caleb then says that he’s “never really been much of a hat guy.” It is a simple joke, a refreshing moment of fun in the show’s fraught world, though it also captures the internal tension of characters grappling with their past. It shows that Caleb is not interested in taking the path that others have gone down, though there is the unshakeable feeling that he may not have much of a choice. Both he and Maeve had thought they were long done with this, though it is clearly not done with them.
That they have been now dragged back into the fight, one they would rather not have to take part in, gives the show deeper emotional stakes as we see that they have something to lose. They have had a chance to live their lives without all of this chaos constantly crashing down on them. Now, they have been thrust right back into the violence that threatens to consume the world once more. Thankfully, this isn’t just a retread of the show itself. As the William pretender says when promoting the park, “We aren’t revisiting the past, we’re recreating it.” The line is overflowing with sinister intentions, setting the stage for only more familiar pain to come. We see how Caleb and Maeve’s past is now being reflected in front of them once more, though they may not get out in one piece this time. No matter who you think you are or where you think you're going, you can’t keep running from the persistent pains of the past forever.
The question now is whether the narrative and the characters will be able to shake off the weight of the past. This has been Caleb’s greatest fear, and he has brought it up multiple times in conversations with Maeve. Their conversations, while often brief, capture the crisis that they’re both going through. While Maeve initially waves away any difficulties she may have in letting go of her own past, reminding us that she is “an infinitely adaptable machine,” we know that she too remains haunted by the loss of her daughter. That she is now going back into the confines of the park means she is going back to a place that is all too similar to the worst part of her life. This is encapsulated in typical Maeve fashion when she says, “I ran away, crossed the shining sea, and when I finally set foot back on solid ground, all I found was the same old shit.” While the show hasn’t been afraid to embrace more silliness this season, this reckoning with the past is its emotional core. When done with a subtle touch that furthers the story, it opens up potential new avenues for the series while ensuring we can never shake the sense of dread that hangs over everything. Eventually, it is all going to come crashing down.