Westworld Season 4 Episode 3 Review: Annees Folles

It's a new golden age, but things are never what they seem on Westworld. It's stories within stories, layers within layers, and the audience is merely along for the ride.

Jeffrey Wright as Bernard in Westworld Season 4 Episode 3.
Photo: John Johnson/HBO

This Westworld review contains spoilers.

Westworld Season 4 Episode 3

Westworld is a very clever show. At times, it might be too clever for its own good, but although it can sometimes be difficult to follow the narrative, you always feel the writers have given every moment and twist serious thought. Nowhere is that more apparent than “Annees Folles.” In two very crucial ways, the episode marks a return to familiar environments: Bernard emerges from the Sublime with a new mission, and Maeve finds herself essentially back where it all began in the first season, albeit with slightly different window dressing.

I tend to really like when two plots mirror one another structurally, and Bernard’s emergence into the real world and Maeve’s return to a Delos theme park really scratch that itch for me. It’s fun to watch the two of them as parallels, both armed with the knowledge of what exactly the other person is going to do before they do it. With Maeve, it’s simply accessing her memories of Sweetwater; with Bernard, it’s something different entirely, a kind of final synthesis of the work carried out by Rehoboam and Incite without all the kidnapping and mind control. Bernard was given a gift by Dolores, and in return, he’s going to take up her mission and save humanity, even potentially at the cost of his own life.

There’s something of a connection between the pairings of Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) and Caleb (Aaron Paul), and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), too. Both have a serious professional working with someone quick with a joke but no less competent at what they do. Caleb might be the experienced fighter when compared to Maeve, but she’s no slouch herself with her Host body’s governor off. Stubbs is a security professional who tends to lean towards wry remarks, and while Bernard isn’t the offensive weapon Maeve, he’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of the events of the future gained by watching millions of different timelines during his time in the Sublime, and is slowly ticking them off as various trigger points express themselves in reality.

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Forewarned is forearmed, and Bernard is definitely that. Jeffrey Wright is just so casual in his delivery, so self-assured. Bernard doesn’t break a sweat, crack a smile, or even blink; he just pays attention to every little shift in detail and marks off a collection of possible realities in his head as he narrows down and reacts accordingly to what happens around him. There’s just a cool competence to Wright’s performance that is balanced nicely by Luke Hemsworth’s generally affable, slightly goofy Stubbs.

The duo worked very well for me last season, and their easy rapport hasn’t gone away during the prolonged break between seasons; that’s still a very fun pair, more so than the brooding Caleb and Maeve team up. Thandiwe Newton gives Maeve’s tongue extra sharpness, and it’s fun to watch her guide Caleb through Sweetwater’s traps with a look of disdain, but we’ve seen a newbie thrust into Westworld before, and Delos cheaping out on story design and character motivations (a deliberate choice in Kevin Lau and Suzanne Wrubel’s script) takes away some of that wide-eyed introductory magic. We’ve seen it before, even if Caleb hasn’t, and like Maeve, we’re a little over it.

Thankfully, that’s all just a setup for the real storyline crafted by the mad writing staff of Delos. Their really interesting new game has nothing to do with flappers and gangsters, but in harvesting the sort of real human misery Christina is paid to create in her job as a game writer. Nobody really wants romance and happy endings; they want human carnage and abject misery. Nothing taps that quite like recreating the massacre of hundreds of guests, workers, and otherwise innocent people when Dolores (Sierra Swartz) and her friends stormed the Mesa facility.

In the hands of director Hanelle M. Culpepper, the recreation of Sweetwater seen through jaded eyes works. Maeve lived this introduction thousands of times; it never changed, even if she did, so her sole mission is to avoid any of those interactions to keep Caleb from getting distracted by a fake scenario. The drift through the cityscape is appropriately busy and feels immense; it’s no wonder Caleb can’t stop gawking at everything going on around him — this feels fuller and richer than Sweetwater did on its best, busiest moments. The park visitor, obsessed with easter eggs, is a fun inversion of the Man in Black. He was willing to torture every host in the park to get to the secrets hidden by Ford; she merely seems to wander around openly talking about it until she somehow finds it. No doubt, it was set up by a Host posing as a guest, but for a brief moment, the panic is real for Maeve and Caleb.

That wonder from the surface, and the relief from Red Alert, turns to shock when Caleb and Maeve descend to the Red Alert level, and then further back into the actual inner-workings of the park. Rather than humans working with Hosts to refine their behavior, it’s Hosts experimenting on humans, thanks in no small part to some of those creepy flies from the first episode with an ample serving of uncanny valley body horror. As it turns out, flies and Hosts are the key to Halores’ whole plan, and Caleb was an easy enough mark to sucker into the fly room using his only child as bait. If that sounds familiar, see Maeve’s primary reason for doing anything for two seasons and counting, and it’d be enough to draw any parent into a trap.

It’s a gut punch to watch Caleb, the only human character left on the show, struggle to avoid implantation and ultimately fail because the human head just has too many access ports. Not much anyone can do about that without access to glue and a willingness to look odd. With Caleb seeming compromised and Maeve facing off with an upgraded Host, things are looking pretty bleak for our heroes, even if Caleb’s family is still safely on the lam. The cliffhanger a solid place to end the episode.

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4 out of 5