It happened out of nowhere. A moment so fast and fleeting, missing it would’ve been understandable. But in that moment something happened that I never thought would happen again: I was fully engrossed in a new season of Westworld.
For the past, what feels like years, I’ve been watching Westworld almost out of obligation. Like many of you, I loved the first season, enjoyed the deepening of the mysteries in season two, and then was left cold and confused by season three. So I went into the current fourth season not particularly excited, but complacent simply because I’ve been watching the show for so long. But at a certain point in the past few weeks I realized I was no longer watching out of obligation. I was watching out of enjoyment. This show had become awesome again and I almost couldn’t believe it.
That wasn’t the feeling as season four started though. At the start of the current season, everything seemed different. It was almost as if the show had completely rebooted. Did that have to do with something that happened in season three? Season three ended so long ago, and was so dense, weird, and confusing that even reading up on what happened as a refresher didn’t help. But now we had characters we recognized as different people. Characters who were once dead and gone, back and alive. Westworld is well-known for bringing characters back—the idea of robot resurrection is built into its DNA—but this just felt different. There were some new characters too, but not that many, and over the first few episodes the mysteries being posed felt almost like the first season. Intriguing, but also engaging.
In season four there’s no more maze. No more park. (Well, there was a park for a bit, but it’s a new park and wasn’t immediately clear how it fit into this season, or when that story was taking place.) But at a certain point in episode five, everything became clear: Westworld season four felt different because it was different. In fact, it was the opposite of everything that came before. [I’m going to ruin the overall big mystery to make a point here so, spoiler alert.]
While the show was originally about humans going to a park to interact with artificially intelligent machines, the artificially intelligent machines have now taken over the human world and made it their park. Humans are the playthings, not the machines. The machines are the boss. And while the first few seasons were about machines trying to figure out their place among humans, now the show is about humans trying to liberate themselves from the machines. And it’s awesome.
Characters are back because the machines just keep bringing them back to mess with them. Time has passed because that was necessary to get to this point in the story. Characters are different so that they don’t remember what they’ve done in the past. At that certain point, everything just made sense and was incredibly cool and exciting to watch again.
So if you, like many others, fell off Westworld in the past year or two, you’ll be happy to know it’s safe to come back. The fourth season is almost over, which means you’ll have plenty of time to catch up once it does. But everything you originally liked about the show, but felt went away, has come back in new and exciting ways. Sunday nights are no longer an obligation, they’re an obsession.
Westworld streams Sundays on HBO Max.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.