This is a non-spoiler review for Westworld’s Season 4 premiere, “The Auguries,” which premieres Sunday, June 26 on HBO.
Westworld, which is now a few gas stations away from its former buzzed-about glory, is back for a fourth season, unspooling a premiere designed to catch us up on four major characters and where they’ve now all landed seven years after the Season 3 premiere ended in global riots and chaos. This season opener — titled “The Auguries” — is good-but-dry set up for the larger story to come, but as usual Westworld’s holding its cards close to the vest. There’s suitable action and intrigue — and of course questions that won’t get answered until later — but “The Auguries” also lags in places, stumbling under the weight of a few retired gunslinger cliches.
At the top here, let’s address the Dolores in the room; namely, how in the heck is star Evan Rachel Wood is back when Dolores, at least Dolores Prime, in her original host body, was toast at the end of the previous season. As “Christina” now, Wood’s character is the latest puzzle box to theorize about. She lives a simple, somewhat secluded life as a writer for a game company who specializes in NPCs and side missions. So is she human? Probabbbly….not.
The world Christina lives in, at this point in Season 4, doesn’t thread into the other adventures this episode covers — that of William, Caleb, and Maeve — and on top of that it also doesn’t feel like a full existence. You could compare it to the first two episodes of Marvel’s Moon Knight where it was clear that Oscar Isaac’s character wasn’t experiencing a whole life experience, just leftovers and residuals. Whoever, or whatever, this incarnation is, her life is almost just as flat as her life was as a host in the Westworld park. In some regards, even less so.
Christina’s day-to-day is peppered with elements from Dolores’ past — some being fun Easter eggs and some just being a more obvious crossing of streams with Dolores’ life — as well as rom-com tropes, like a blind date and a roommate (Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose) whose only goal seems to be to motivate Christina to get out there meet her dream man. Not to try and get ahead of the story too much, but all signs so far point to this being some sort of simulation, or even The Sublime itself, especially given that Christina’s clockwork routine finds itself being invaded by a “unknown caller” (12 Monkeys’ Aaron Stanford) who’s desperate to find Christina and get answers about something called “The Tower.”
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Christina’s episodic arc wraps up with a blast of the past, which has already been made public (though I won’t spoil it here, just in case), and while it’s nice to see this particular character again it’s not exactly the jolt of adrenalin or inspiration this saga needs to kick off the season, as Westworld’s a show some feel lost the plot a few years ago — or, in the very least, was growing in scale and building toward something huge. Instead, the show has now shrunk back down to more grounded, human (not all cases) stories and dialed back the apocalyptic elements.
The second big seasonal mystery now, after Christina/Dolores’ new digs, involves Ed Harris’ William, who only exists in diabolical host form. Presumably still working with Charlotte/Dolores, William is after something — perhaps the Sublime Key that Serac (Vincent Cassel) wanted in Season 3 — though nothing about his endgame is clear yet. He’s got unlimited wealth on his side and multitudes of host mercenaries to do his murderous bidding (as well as some “flies” that are able to…well, you’ll see). He’s got his sights set on the reclusive Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) and the “family man” Caleb (Aaron Paul) and it’s these new attempts on their lives that spur the duo back into action.
It’s here that Season 4 falters the most, at least here at the outset. In the (future) world now, as we find it seven years later, humans revolted after discovering their lives were being molded and limited by the mighty A.I., Rehoboam, and thusly…robots are forbidden. The Rehoboam element of Season 3 presented a fascinating escalation of Jonathan Nolan’s society-shaping algorithm ideas from CBS’ Person of Interest and Season 3 seemed to point toward a war for Season 4.
That story’s been short-sheeted, sadly relegated to off-screen action (and a quick flashback), and in its place is a much blander reset. On top of this, Caleb’s story goes through some soapy steps to get him back in the game: a daughter he wants to protect (so much that he has to leave, right?) and a saint of a wife who’s had to live with Caleb growing increasingly restless with an inert family life. Season 3 took us to a grand high and perched us on the precipice of revolution and now the momentum’s shifted almost too much in the opposite direction.
Of course, there are still seven episodes to go after this and Westworld is never without tricks up its sleeve. At times, “The Auguries” is filled with bullet whizzing, knife (and katana) slashing, axe chopping mayhem and yet it still feels like one of the quietest starts for a season of the show in a while. There’s no doubt, though, that it’s going to go big again and that Dolores/Christina, once more, holds the ultimate key to an epic finish.