SPOILERS for Westworld Season 4, Episode 5 ‘Zhuangzi’
Following one of the most well-executed twists the series has seen to date, Westworld has dished out an episode that is deeply compelling and highly philosophical from beginning to end. Jam-packed with dialogue-heavy scenes, Zhuangzi gave me exactly what I wanted from it – a deeper look into Hale’s new world order. It doesn’t paint a complete picture of the world, but it gives us a very strong idea of how everything functions and the roles everyone plays, especially Host William. Oddly enough, the scope of this episode feels considerably small in comparison to the season so far. Set entirely within the confines of Hale’s playground, it’s a far cry from the multi-location structure of the episodes that have passed – to where it feels like at any point in Christina’s arc you could see Charlotte Hale walking around, and vice-versa. Despite only dealing with a small handful of characters, there’s a lot of thrilling content to unpack – so let’s get into it.
Don’t kill the merchandise
The episode opens to some narration from Host William (Ed Harris), something I’d love to hear at the beginning of any and every episode. It may not make much sense right now – but there’s some grand ideas presented in some of his early quotes. He’s at dinner with a couple (of humans), entirely amused and enamoured by the concept of these humans thinking they have a life when they really don’t. He explains to them (and us) quite blatantly that these parasitic humans don’t realise they’re under control and they just accept everything that comes to them as reality. To them, nothing is scripted – it’s all perceived as genuine… just like the hosts back in the early days of Westworld. They’re running on tracks, and Charlotte Hale is the conductor.
Host William is swept away by Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), who informs him that “winning the game wasn’t enough” for someone. They arrive at a hotel crime scene where there’s a collection of dead bodies leading directly to a mysterious host called Hope. At two years old and scheduled to “transcend” in just a week, she was hunting an outlier. She killed the outlier, but then went on a killing spree – dispatching humans left right and centre. The meaning behind her actions makes more sense later in the episode.
Host William explains that there’s a duty of care when it comes to the humans. In this new world, it’s frowned upon to kill them since they can’t be replaced. There may be no rules, but he expects the host experiencing this place to respect it, along with the humans within. At this point, we’ve already learnt a very fascinating collection of information pertaining to the relationship between hosts and humans – and there’s much more to go.
God is bored…
In one of the most surprising, yet brilliantly entertaining scenes of the episode, we find Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) roaming the streets like a god, entertaining herself with her own creation and pushing their bodies to their limit. When Host William shows up, there’s an inkling that there’s some tension between the two after 30 long years of enacting Hale’s plan for a perfect world. Hale explains that this “shithole” was initially designed as a place for hosts to indulge themselves with the humans in the short term before “casting away their toys” and transcending into something greater. Unfortunately for Hale, the hosts haven’t had enough of this place – something Host William isn’t surprised about since they’re all made in the image of humans.
Whatever Hale’s vision of the future is, it seemingly involves hosts essentially surrendering their bodies to move on to a digital world similar in vein to the Sublime. In making hosts free to do as they please, many have decided to stay among the humans and live within Hale’s cities than “transcend”. After passing the dead body of Hope, they move to the top of The Tower which is basically a room eerily similar to the MESA hub from the original Westworld.
Here, we learn about the big problem that is threatening the stability of Hale’s perfect world. She shows us that they recently used the system to track down an outlier, someone who began to disobey the controlling sounds – the homeless man from earlier in the season. Basically, when an outlier is identified, hosts hunt them like sport. This one was tracked down by Hope, but before she killed him, she had an interaction with him which seemingly infected her with the idea of questioning her reality. This is what sent her on a killing spree, before she eventually killed herself. Apparently there have been 38 incidents where a host has killed themselves after contact with an outlier. Hale has no idea why this is happening – how human ideals are infecting the minds of hosts.
In a moment of insanity, she begins blaming Host William for the outliers, questioning his programming, all while scratching at her skin – much like she did when she was coming to terms with her identity as a version of Dolores in the life of Charlotte Hale. She identifies another outlier (the same one Jay and Stubbs are going to save), but rather than opening it up to random hosts, she instructs Host William to go after her. He says he’ll shoot on site before heading out.
It’s full circle for William 2.0
Jay (Daniel Wu), Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and the crew arrive in the city by boat to get their outlier. All the while, Jay gives us even more insight – saying that Hale keeps the hosts on tight loops to keep them busy so they don’t question their reality. Jay mentioning that their the last free humans, combined with Host William talking about how they’ve conquered humans “to an almost biblical degree”, indicated Hale really has dominated the whole world.
Anyway, while tracking through the city, their crew is spotted by Host William, who sends instructions to the hosts to surround and attack them. This allows him to get to the outlier first, although he doesn’t shoot her on sight. She begins talking to him about how the world doesn’t make sense, seemingly getting into his head a little. There’s a moment of doubt in his eyes before he goes to kill her – but she’s saved by Jay who shoots down William and escapes the city. Ed Harris has been shot more times than I can count in this season – he’s playing a glorified punching bag at this point.
All of this leads to one of the most exciting scenes of the season in which we hear the same narration from Host William in the beginning of the episode. It’s revealed, or at least alluded to, that he’s been saying all this to the real William, who is still being kept in Hale’s preservation chamber. Host William has come full circle, questioning who he is in this world much like human William did back in season two. I love the moment in which he clarifies that this world is Hale’s, not his – it basically cements the fact that he’s been following her orders just as much as the humans have been for the last 30 years. The final line of the scene sees real William telling Host William that maybe he should be questioning the nature of his own reality, with a sly grin on his face. Could this be pointing to an unlikely team-up of the real and host versions of William?
Christina is on stalker alert
The other half of this episode’s events follow Christina (Evan Rachel Wood) as she shows more and more hints of becoming aware of the world around her. After waking up all refreshed following her date with Teddy, she heads to work and begins to write a new narrative – the same one she started briefly writing early in the season, Dolores’. Before she can get too much of it out, she’s confronted once again by her very invasive boss, Emmett (Michael Malarkey). He tells her to explain the story to him and we get one of the best scenes of the episode. Evan Rachel Wood is phenomenal in this scene, channeling both Christina and Dolores almost simultaneously. Just the small mannerisms in her voice and subtle movements are enough.
Right as Emmett starts to get really suspicious, Teddy (James Marsden) calls and tells her to make an excuse to leave – all but confirming this is the real Teddy, somehow. She goes and meets him at a nearby pier where he tries to wake her up from the illusion she’s trapped in – attempting to awaken her consciousness and get her to realise that it’s all a facade with a great quote – “This world is a lie. It’s a story. A well told one but a lie all the same.” In an enlightening moment, he gets Christina to imagine rewriting the stories of some humans lounging about the city. When they suddenly start adhering to what she wrote for them in her head, she realises that in this world she’s a god!
Upon heading to lunch with her old college roommate, it’s revealed that Hale has written herself into Christina’s life as said roommate. Hale seems a little suspicious about Christina, questioning why she’s different, whether she’s met someone and what their name is. As the pressure builds, we get a fantastic moment where it seems Christina uses her story rewrite abilities to force a distraction in the background that allows her to make an easy excuse for an exit.
Bring yourself back online, Christina
After the meeting with Hale, Christina goes back to work and searches for her in the system, realising instantly that Hale isn’t one of the “characters” of the world. It’s interesting to note that Christina doesn’t know she’s a host at this point (at least I believe that’s the case). Then in a crazy moment, she searches for Dolores Abernathy!! No character is found, but any information on her is restricted. I bet you can guess what happens next – that damn Emmett appears once again. Talking in his office, he’s very suspicious of her actions and actually getting a little aggressive, revealing Hale is also getting more suspicious. In a moment of desperation, she realises she can actually control the humans in the park and rewrite their narratives on the fly – much like Maeve can with the hosts. After making Emmett leave the room without question, she’s able to see a door that most certainly wan’t there before.
Entering the mysterious room, she finds a behind-the-scenes area with a holographic map near identical to the one in The Tower. She begins peering into the city and seeing all the people she’s written narratives for just roaming around. The markers on the map multiply and it looks like Christina has written the narratives of everyone in the city – she’s the storyteller. Perhaps that’s entirely what Hale has been using her for, meaning this is Christina’s world as much as it is Hale’s. One final scene has Christina fully awake to the world around her – able to see The Tower now. She begins to wonder who did this to her and built this world, before Teddy answers with “You did” – a two word phrase that could hold so much meaning.
As I mentioned earlier, this episode is packed with tonnes of revealing info about how Hale has chosen to run her new world, with plenty of surprises and a number of narrative holes yet to be filled. On top of that, we also got to see the awakening of two of our main characters. Christina is aware that the world around her is a lie, and that she’s had a hand in writing everyone’s narratives, while Host William is beginning to question his true purpose in life and whether it actually aligns with Hale’s vision for the world. Every single line of dialogue was carefully written to seamlessly enlighten us on this world without feeling like bland exposition. There’s next to no action, yet I found myself unable to look away. If you get distracted for even a second you could miss so damn much.
A couple of minor details I loved is the use of the human chair. Not only is it a hilarious concept, it shows exactly how Hale just uses them as objects and it completely desensitised to damaging them. Within this sequence, I also loved how when humans are frozen, they still move slightly – like if you try to stand still, you’ll never get to 100% – while the hosts are able to stop completely. It’s a minor difference but the attention to detail speaks volumes. Speaking of minor moments, small little story reveals, like the fact that Hale doesn’t really live in or frequent the city much at all, are cool to figure out without necessarily being explicitly stated.
Let’s talk about the idea of transcending. Hale’s plan seemingly involves the hosts rummaging around and having their fun with the humans before volunteering themselves to entering a ‘robot heaven’ of sorts. We see one host having his pearl taken out and placed in some machine – presumedly transferring his consciousness to a digital world. The exact details are unclear, but there don’t seem to be as many takers of this golden opportunity as Hale would like. My guess is this digital world, or whatever it is, could have to do with the Hoover Dam server room Host William secured back in episode one. Time will tell.
I’m excited to see more of Host William breaking away from Hale’s ultimate goal for him and the rest of the world. He may not end up doing so, but it definitely seems to be leading in that direction. Ed Harris continues to be the MVP of the series. Ever since season one he’s had the task of bringing to life one of the most intriguing characters in all TV – someone who has changed and evolved in ways I’d have never guessed. Any scene with him in it is just brilliant.
So much can be gleaned from the final line of the episode – “You did” – in response to Christina wondering who’s created this world and put her in this position. Firstly, Teddy could just be referring to the fact that Christina wrote the narratives of everyone in here – unlikely. He could also be talking about the fact that the original Dolores is the reason the evil mastermind that is Hale exists. He could be referring to the fact that Hale is technically a version of Dolores that has become more insane than ever. Or better yet, there might be more reveals to come about that line… time will tell.
Lastly, I’m keen to get stuck back into Bernard’s journey now that Frankie and Maeve are on board, and I’m curious to see how this host version of Caleb factors into Hale’s plans. I also want to know if Hale has other reasons for keeping Christina around beyond just writing narratives. I also need to know how Teddy is back, and who released him from the Sublime. I’m sure some of these will be answered in the remaining three episodes, which I’m getting increasingly excited for with each passing episode. One final note – Christina can control all the humans and Maeve can control all the hosts… could their combined powers come into play against Hale?