Westworld Season 4, Episode 5 Explores The Nature Of Reality

Spoilers for season 4 of "Westworld" ahead.

Season 4 of "Westworld" has been a strange experiment so far, providing a meta-commentary on the show itself while also exploring the same ideas it presents in-world. "Westworld" has always operated on multiple levels and requires a certain willingness to stretch your noodle in order to fully appreciate, but season 4 has taken that obtuse and self-referential mystery to a whole new level. Thankfully, in episode 4, "Generation Loss," we finally got some answers. The potential timelines have been sorted out, and we now know that everyone exists in the same time and place; Caleb's (Aaron Paul) story over these past few episodes has been a memory, a way for Hale (Tessa Thompson) to test his fidelity since he's actually a host replica of the (extremely dead) human Caleb. Bernard's (Jeffrey Wright) vision of hope for the future is Caleb's grown daughter, Frankie/C (Aurora Perrineau), and Hale has managed to take over all of humanity, creating a word for her hosts to play in that's basically the Westworld park writ large in reverse. 

This week's episode is titled "Zhuangzi," after the Chinese philosopher who helped create Classical Philosophical Daoism and whose teachings, along with those of others, led to the development of Chan Buddhism, also sometimes called Japanese Zen Buddhism. Zhuangzi is perhaps best known for his butterfly dream parable, in which he wrote about dreaming that he was a butterfly and finding great joy in it. When he woke up, he wondered if he was really Zhuangzi, awakening after dreaming of being a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly in reality, and his life as Zhuangzi was the dream. This line of thought has become the underlying theme of season 4, as nearly every character ponders the nature of their reality. We've come a long way from Dolores awakening in the Westworld park, but yet the narrative appears to remain the same. Now that the timelines are all cohesive, the storytelling is at least a bit more straightforward. Let's dig in.

A beautiful lie

Remember how the first season of "Westworld" was all about the hosts questioning the nature of their reality and "waking up"? We've come full circle, because in season 4, the hosts are waking up all over again. This time, instead of awakening to discover that they're prisoners in a game and pawns for someone else's amusement, they're learning that everyone else exists for them. It's a bizarre reversal of fates, and the season's fifth episode starts with William (Ed Harris) talking about grand designs, mirroring much of his dialogue from season 1. He explains how he's made a dream come true, finally, after a long time: "not just a better world, a perfect one." He then starts musing on whether or not he's just playing a role himself. Is he just the sum of his code? The couple on the receiving end of this conversation, who we've never seen before, play along. Eventually, though, William tires of the facade and explains to them that they are but his playthings. He tells them he'll do whatever he wants to them both and they'll let him, then forget it ever happened: "when we're done, you won't remember a thing, like flesh closing around a splinter." Humans have become toys for the hosts, controlled by Hale's parasite and unable to awaken from their narratives.

Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) interrupts his little existential torture session, informing him that they have a problem. "We have a colleague whose appetites have become unsustainable." That sounds oddly familiar, though it used to be William's appetites, his desire for violent delights, that caused so much trouble. Now that he's a host, he's a little different, and it's fascinating to watch the host William try and reconcile his human past with his new job as caretaker of Hale's world. William and Clementine go to a hotel, where police are investigating a massive crime scene, but everyone has been frozen. There are bodies strewn everywhere, and William and Clementine walk into a room to find one woman still moving, covered in blood. 

"I won the game and all I got was more of this?" she asks, and it's clear something is not right. Clementine explains that the woman is named Hope. She's two years old and "due to transcend next week." She was hunting what Clem calls an "outlier," but when she caught him something went wrong and she seems to have gone mad. Something he said got under her skin, and she felt the need to make as many humans quiet as she could. William orders Clementine to take Hope "back where she came from" and then goes back to his dinner, where the couple is waiting but cannot move or eat until he returns, abject horror in their eyes despite the smiles painted on their faces. 

Christina awakens

Following William's terrifying display of how some hosts are using the human world, we see Christina (Evan Rachel Wood), waking up in much the same way we've seen her in every episode this season and as Dolores in season 1. She's in a good mood, and when her roommate asks her why she was out so late and is up so early, Christina reveals that she was out late with her blind date, Teddy (James Marsden). She's giddy, but her roommate isn't as excited because she's still having such terrible nightmares, and they feel incredibly real. Christina quotes Teddy to her roommate, saying, "sometimes the things that feel the most real are just stories," which is pretty much the biggest ball of metaphorical yarn the series has tried to unpack the whole time. She also reveals that Teddy's name is still Teddy, and it seems like he might be more "awake" than she is.

Christina goes into work at Olympiad, which we know now is Hale's company, and begins to access her many narratives. She wants to begin a new narrative and starts telling the story of Dolores, the rancher's daughter, when her boss comes over and interrupts her. He asks her to tell him the full story, since she seems so obsessed, and when he asks her the rancher's daughter's name, she gets a phone call. It's Teddy and he not only knows that her boss is right there, but he tells her to leave work and come see him. She deflects with the boss and says it's nothing, but it's clear that Teddy isn't on the same wavelength as the rest of the folks in this world. 

What if God was bored like one of us?

Out in the streets of the city, Hale is trying to entertain herself. A man with broken, bloodied fingernails plays piano and she forces all of the humans in the streets to dance to his tune, waltzing around her in the streets like some kind of demented musical. She asks for more pep and the man starts playing a sped-up piano version of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," the song used in the season 4 trailer. As the dancers start moving faster, William walks up and jokes that he didn't think he'd see Hale there. She begins musing about sound, talking about how humans don't even think about the sounds they cannot hear, like the ones she uses to control the parasite. She shouts "chair!" and three humans form a throne for her to sit in, which is honestly one of the more chilling small moments the series has ever shown. Everyone is completely under Hale's control, she is truly a god, but there's just one problem, she explains: "God is bored."

She asks William if that's why the old gods came down from Mount Olympus and disguised themselves to interact with mortals. "Humans always thought it was about them; divine entities intervening on their behalf. Maybe it had nothing to do with them. Maybe there was just nothing better to do." 

Hale goes on to explain that she hates coming to "this place," and it's revealed that the human world as is was only meant to be temporary, a place for the hosts to free themselves of their need for human interaction before going on to The Sublime. That's probably what Hope's assigned transcendence was; time to go to The Sublime. Hale and William walk towards the Tower and see Hope, dead from a gunshot wound to the head in front of the Tower, holding a flower in one hand. Hale calls what happened to Hope an infection, saying that human "outliers" are infecting humans and that the infection causes suicide. Hale is disappointed, in both Hope and William, and William jokes that if she didn't want to be disappointed, she shouldn't have given them free will. She wants the rest of the hosts to join her in The Sublime, to completely shed their attachment to the world of the flesh, but too many are hesitant. When William asks why she doesn't just force them to join her, she explains: "because that's what they would have done."

Hale shows William what happened to Hope through a flashback, and we see her going to hunt the homeless man that spoke with Christina about the Tower. She was supposed to kill him right away but she hesitated and listened to his words, listened as he begged her to tell him whether or not the flower in his hand was real. He just needed one thing to be real. That existential crisis seemed to be too much for Hope, who thought of this as a game that she could win and realized that she's a pawn just as much as a player, despite being a host and not a human. Three days later, she killed herself, and Hale reveals that there have been 38 hosts total to fall victim to the same fate. 

Furious with William, Hale shames him for not being as effective as the human version he was based on. She tells him there's another outlier, but not to "open up the game," and instead kill them himself. The game, it seems, is a bounty hunting sort of system similar to the one Caleb used in season 3, just made for the hosts to hunt down humans who have managed to wake up from their loops. Hale has very much become the very thing she hated as Dolores, though she clearly cannot see the irony.

She tells William that the rebels are already in the city, and we cut to Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and his team of human rebels as they enter the city looking to rescue the outlier. Stubbs is their "canary in the coal mine," since he's significantly less permanently murder-able than any of the humans he's with. He leads them into the city, though not without a bit of sass.

'In this world, you're a god.'

While Stubbs and William hunt for the outlier, Christina goes looking for Teddy. He essentially tells her to question everything, giving her the quick and dirty version of her own attempts as Dolores to awaken him way back in season 1. As the two of them talk, she realizes that it was Teddy who saved her from her human stalker and becomes frightened that she traded one stalker for another. Teddy explains that no, he's not a stalker, and he'll leave her alone forever as long as she gives him the chance to show her something. 

"This world is a lie. It's a story, a well-told one, but a lie all the same. Maybe it's better if I just showed you. Come with me."

He shows her two women sitting in chairs side-by-side, ignoring one another. He tells Christina to make their story happier, and she laughs at him, then tries to think of a happier version. The two women begin chatting and she thinks it's a coincidence, so he has her ruin their happiness. Immediately one of the women gets angry and storms off, forcing Christina to question her capabilities. Teddy tells her that she's so much more than human, so much more than anyone around her: "in this world, you're a god."

A thought infection

Meanwhile, Stubbs and the rebels have made it into the city, but Stubbs suddenly hears the low-pitch frequency over the many tiny towers Hale has placed around the city. He tells them that something's wrong but the humans ignore him, only to have all of the infected humans freeze and then turn towards them. Of course, Stubbs sneaks in an "I told you so," and then things get chaotic as they retreat and the leader runs in to try and save the outlier. 

William was the one that controlled all of the humans near the outlier, as he's on his way there to kill her himself. He has to use a phone app to do it and isn't quite as slick as Hale, but he's only a crony, after all. He manages to get up on the roof with the outlier and she turns, asking him if he sees the tower. Of course he does, because he's a fully awakened host working for Hale, but he listens to her all the same. 

"My ex husband used to talk about it before he was killed. I thought he was crazy. He must have felt so alone. And he was right, this world doesn't make sense. Nothing makes sense. You feel that way too, don't you? I can see it in your eyes. You think you're going crazy, but you're not. You're not alone." 

She rests her head on his shoulder and something in William's eyes seems to break. She looks a bit like his daughter, and it's hard not to wonder if this version of William is having some second thoughts about his loyalty to Hale. He ends up moving to shoot her but his moment of hesitation gave the rebel leader time to get up on the roof and shoot him. He and the outlier escape, and Stubbs helps her toward the tunnels out of the city. 

Christina questions the nature of her reality

Back with Teddy and Christina, he tells her to stick to her routines and pretend that everything is normal so they don't raise any suspicions. She goes back to work and into the little attached cafe and runs into Hale, who is apparently an old friend. The two hug and start chatting about work and life, when Hale asks Christina if she met someone. Christina is hesitant to talk about Teddy because he told her not to trust anyone, and Hale pushes for more information, even getting threatening. Eventually, Christina forces a couple to argue right behind them and uses the distraction as a perfect time to say she has to get back to work, managing to get away from Hale before she asked any more potentially dangerous questions. 

Terrified, Christina goes back to her desk and looks up Charlotte Hale to see if she's a character in any of the narratives. Of course she isn't, because she's a host. Christina then tries to search for Dolores Abernathy and gets a warning screen telling her that access is restricted and that name is not allowed, plus there is no character found. Right then her boss shows up and wants to talk to her in his office. Their conversation starts to get aggressive and he talks about retirement with a bullet between the eyes, pointing his finger at her like a gun. She says "stop" and he freezes. She's realized that she can take control of the narrative, to some extent, and she begins delivering orders like an author writing lines in a story. "Emmett backed away." "Emmett was not concerned with Christina." She asks him about a "walled garden" that he mentioned, a closed system. He tells her that it's everywhere.

Trying to make sense of things, Christina goes into the back part of the office where the giant map resides. She asks for the program to show her the game and it shows her the city. She corrects it, saying, "not the city, the game," and it shows her the exact same city. She accesses her narratives, and dots start appearing for each person on the map. As more dots begin to pop up, she starts asking about the people and comes to the realization that she's written lives for so many. "This world is just a story. I'm the storyteller," she says, shocked. Imagine finding out that you were essentially a god, and that nothing you believed to be real was actually true. That's a lot to process, which is probably why some of the hosts who dealt with outliers handled it so badly.

Double identities

Both William and Christina are questioning the nature of their realities, and both are discovering that in many ways, they are the architects of their own existence. William the host goes to see original William, unfreezing him from his cryogenic sleep and asking him questions about who he (host William) actually is. Human William teases the host and is deliberately obtuse, as always, saying things like "I used to ask myself the same thing ... jury's still out." The host wants to know if he is William, since he was made in his image, and William laughs, saying "you'll never be me." The hosts may be gods in this new world, but they're still beholden to the gods that created them, who were human to begin with. It's a vicious cycle, and one that has shaken host William to his core. He tells human William about the outlier "infection" and the human version cackles, telling the host that he's "reached the center of the maze." He has come to the big question, the existential conclusion, the whole reason any of this exists and has ever existed. The big, weird, "who am I and why am I here?" 

At the same time, Christina goes to find Teddy and asks him about everything. She tells him that he was right, and the two look up at the Tower. She tells him what she's discovered, that she's writing the world, that everyone is a character in her story, and she's not exactly a fan of finding out this information. What she wants to know more than anything is who built this world for her to rule over, asking, "who did this to me?" Teddy gives her a simple but also mind-boggling answer: "You did."

Dolores, who became several other versions of Dolores including Wyatt and host Hale, designed all of this for Christina, to give the part of her that deserved happiness a chance at it. She created a world where Christina, the new Dolores Abernathy, could dream and love and find peace, because it's clear that the other versions are incapable, even the queen of the "gods," Hale. Christina could prove to be a powerful force for good to take out Hale and free humanity, doing what Dolores did but in reverse, but we'll have to watch the rest of the season to find out. This was one of the densest episodes of "Westworld" yet, but it was thankfully pretty straightforward in its storytelling and didn't draw out unnecessary mysteries or dice up narratives to create suspense. It was just some damn fine storytelling and gives me a lot of hope for the rest of the season

New episodes of "Westworld" debut Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.