Westworld Season 4 Needs to Take Advantage of Its New Faces
Editor’s Note: The following contains Westworld Season 4 spoilers.The pre-title sequence of Season 4, Episode 6 “Fidelity” is the most electrifying that Westworld has been in quite some time. In a flashback, Caleb’s (Aaron Paul) daughter Frankie (Celeste Clark) recruits a young man named Jay (Alec Wang) on a park bench. Jay is one of the few “outliers” that managed to avoid Charlotte Hale’s (Tessa Thompson) mind control scheme. Frankie helps Jay escape from the sinister drone hosts, who can detect those that are diverting from Hale’s control.
It’s only a brief moment, but this scene establishes a key bit of information about Jay’s backstory that makes him a more relatable character. Frankie recounts bits of Jay’s childhood to him, including fond memories of his brother. Frankie suggests that Jay could be her “new brother,” but he grows irritated by the suggestion. He lost his brother (another outlier) during the early stages of Hale’s takeover. When Jay asks Frankie’s mother, Uwade (Nozipho Mclean), about his brother’s fate, she reveals that he is lost for good.
Jay is a scared, frightened child who mourns for his brother; Frankie desperately wants to reunite with her father. Although they’ve been working together for the majority of the season, “Fidelity” offers the first insights into why these characters share a connection. These sorts of pivotal flashbacks represent the exact type of world building that Westworld does best.
Over the course of four seasons, we’ve seen countless iterations of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), Maeve (Thandiwe Newton), William/The Man in Black (Ed Harris), Charlotte Hale, and Bernard/Arnold (Jeffrey Wright). Although the cast never fails to deliver excellent performances, it’s growing harder to invest in these characters when they’re constantly brought back in different iterations. You’d have to be taking extensive notes to recall how many versions of Dolores are out there.
Unfortunately, the show is so shrouded in secrecy in order to mask its plot twists that the emotional flashbacks are saved for later within the seasonal arcs. When the older Jay (Daniel Wu) and Frankie (Aurora Perrineau) first appeared earlier in the season, they appeared to be just another group of flat, stone-faced drifters on a mission of unknown intent. Frankie’s story grew more emotional rather quickly, as her connection to Caleb was revealed. This is perhaps the fundamental issue with the construction of Westworld’s seasonal arcs; characters have to be established as important to the plot before there is a reason to care about them.
Yet, this is why the first season was so engaging in the first place, and why it still represents Westworld at its best. Dolores was exploring her consciousness at the same time that the viewer was, and the revelation that Bernard was really a version of Ford’s (Sir Anthony Hopkins) partner Arnold came as a shock to both the character and the audience. These characters were engaging because they felt new, yet Westworld often falls back upon the same principal actors to drive its story forward.
This is among the reasons that Caleb was such an exciting addition to the ensemble when he was first introduced in the third season. Caleb wasn’t shrouded in mystery; he was simply an average, working class man who was taken advantage of by the corporate dominance of Delos. While flashbacks eventually fleshed out his connection to Serac’s (Vincent Cassel) program, Caleb’s everyday life felt like its own standalone story. Now, there are multiple versions of Caleb out there, as his consciousness has been shifted to a host body.
It’s no coincidence that the best episode of Westworld ever, season two’s “Kiksuya,” is not told from the perspective of the series’ leads. The origin story of the Ghost Nation tribe is a window into just how dehumanizing the park really is to its hosts. Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) was originally established as a villain, but it became clear that he was not trying to capture Maeve’s daughter. He was trying to save her. Not only does this make the world feel more lived-in, but it sheds a spotlight on a different perspective.
Similarly, the opening of “Fidelity” revealed why Jay has been so intense up until this point. It offered insight on what life is like for the “outliers,” which retroactively makes Hale more menacing. As a result, Jay’s death is more emotional. He is killed and replaced by a host, doomed to suffer the same fate that his brother did. The episode’s most powerful moment comes when Frankie reveals that she was aware of the replacement; she knew her friend well, and can tell the difference between him and a host.
Westworld has a terrific ensemble, but it also has a vast and ever-expanding universe. It doesn’t need every facet of the story to be filtered through the perspective of the same core group of characters. Jay isn’t just an “outlier” in the Westworld canon. He’s an example of what the show is doing right.