There is a lot to unpack in the second episode of the fourth season of Westworld — including Christina (Evan Rachel Wood) feeling the world shift under her and seeming to experience events out of time, as she learns the man who was stalking her actually died years before — but one of the biggest pieces of the story is undoubtedly the introduction of a new theme park.
This one is set during the 1920s and introduced when Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) and Caleb (Aaron Paul) are chasing down answers about what the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is doing with the powerful people he is going after. After meeting up with him at the home of the senator they heard he was after, they learn he is killing those people or using flies to infect their minds to be under his control — either way, the end result is that the original, real person is incapacitated and he can replace them with host versions. And as they continue on to chase down more answers, they end up on a train to this new park experience.
"The park has always drawn its guests with the promise of sin and decadence and a boundary-pushing environment, and in the Wild West, of course, there were no rules — everybody was making rules on their own as they chased their manifest destiny. Similarly, the Roaring '20s were a pretty crazy time: There was a lot of sin, there was a lot of decadence, sexuality, a lot of experimentation, and it felt like the kind of environment that would be really beguiling for guests in its hedonism and also really telling about who the guests are when presented with such a cornucopia of options for behavior," co-creator, showrunner, and director Lisa Joy tells Metacritic about choosing the theme for the new park.
The park is a design of Charlotte Hale's (Tessa Thompson), who the episode proved is in more control than ever before. She is the one the Man in Black is carrying out these replacement tasks for — even including Clementine (Angela Sarafyan).
"I was thinking, 'This is an interesting idea that she had freedom and now that freedom is taken away,' and what part of the actual Clementine comes through within this very specific kind of programming?'" Sarafyan says of playing the new version of her character in Season 4. "This programming is going to go against the things that she was actually fighting for before. So, it was an interesting thing for me as an actor to approach and to go, 'Where's the space to play? And where is it to reveal this duality that exists within her? And what happens when this change occurs?' You can make the change, but there are after effects; it doesn't just become the one thing [and] we stay that way."
Charlotte is also the one who is keeping the real version of the Man in Black on ice, so to speak.
"There's always been a real struggle for power between them, and then this season when we find her she has host MIB there to do her bidding, that's a reversal also of how we met her at the beginning of last season, which was that she was that to Dolores," Thompson says. "There's this interesting thing too [about] even though he's meant to be in service to her and I was meant to be in service of my master, hosts are always striving towards their own independence, in a way, and that, I think is really interesting. She possesses a tremendous amount of power, she still is not ALL powerful."
Thompson adds that while this new version of Charlotte has a very specific mission that will come into fuller view in the forthcoming episodes, not every piece of that plan is "squared away and buttoned up," which means she will still struggle "in a really big way and sometimes in a very fun, petulant way."
"You get to really see her struggle with her own power and with wielding it, and also, this idea that sometimes the top is lonely," she says.
While the 1920s park is a big part of Charlotte's end goal, writer and executive producer Alison Schapker says, she has a different reason for wanting this one to exist from the original idea of letting regular people live out their greatest fantasies, and because of that, "it wasn't designed to be the best park that ever could be."
"We ourselves missed being inside a park. We feel like that's signature to the show, to go on a journey that includes it. We were trying to have as much fun with that as possible," Schapker says. "The idea was that there were knockoffs of our main cast and everything's the same but also a little different and maybe a little bit worse. It was a lot of fun to map out."
Although there will likely be mixed emotions for Maeve returning to a park setting, even if it is a different one from where she "worked" for so many years, as well as for Caleb, who is still shaken by his experiences with the Rehoboam, not to mention those coming after his family more recently, Paul was personally very excited to step into that part of the story.
"Just being such a massive fan of the show already before I before I signed on, of course I just wanted to go to a park. I thought we were in a park all of last season: I thought we were we had never left the park; I thought we were in future world. To be able to truly take the train into a park and have a decision of black hat or white hat, it was a dream come true," he says.
Westworld Season 4 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and