Westworld season 4, episode 2 recap: Can a visit to The Golden Age bring back the show’s razzle dazzle?

For a show about an amusement park, it’s been an awfully long time since any of the characters on Westworld actually went to one. It was back at the end of the second season that the Wild West attraction that gives the series its name was forced to close down in ignominy following the host uprising and subsequent massacre, leaving its surviving android hosts to roam the wider world throughout season three. Some critics felt the show had lost its way without a park at its heart and now, as season four begins to take shape, we’re finally heading back to a robot-filled adult funfair where anything goes and violence reigns supreme. Honestly, what’s the worst that could happen?

Darling Clementine

This week’s episode begins in South America, where former Westworld host Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) is laying low. That is until William, the host version of The Man in Black (Ed Harris), turns up to question her about the whereabouts of Maeve (Thandiwe Newton). “If I knew, I’d see you in hell before I told you,” she spits, and William is only too happy to oblige by slitting her throat.

The next time we see Clementine she’s been rebooted as William’s assistant, just in time to turn away an unwanted visitor from the Justice Department. Not ones to take “no” for an answer, the government then despatch the Vice President to have a word in William’s ear during a round of golf. They don’t want to let him build a new amusement park on American soil, but William has a way of making people come around to his way of thinking. In this case, it’s to smack the Veep upside the head with his golf club and replace him with an identical replicant more amenable to William’s vision. Simple!

Unstable in the stables

Last week, Maeve and Caleb (Aaron Paul) learned that William was back to his old tricks and set off to talk to a Californian Senator they’d learned he was courting. After arriving at the Senator’s sprawling home, Maeve quickly deduces that he and his wife are not who they seem – they, too, have been replaced by identical replicants. What’s worse, Maeve’s favourite trick of simply telling the hosts to “freeze all motor functions” no longer works. “It appears William has upgraded his henchmen,” she observes. Still, Maeve eventually comes out on top and learns that the murder of the original Senator was overseen by Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), or rather the version of Dolores who now inhabits Hale’s body. It also emerges that the Senator’s wife was kept alive so she could be experimented on. When Maeve and Caleb find her in the stables, she’s cutting up her own horse and acting suspiciously like a robot. Maeve confirms that she isn’t a host, but is at a loss to explain what’s actually happened to her. “She was already gone,” she says, after putting her out of her misery with a bullet. “She may have been human, but she wasn’t like any human I’ve ever seen.”

Petering out

Back in New York, video games writer Christina (Evan Rachel Wood) is still haunted by having witnessed the suicide of her stalker Peter (Aaron Stanford). She’s even more confused when she checks her own voice notes and confirms that, sure enough, she had written a character named Peter whose life turned out just like the stalker’s did. His obituary says he left all his money to the Hope Center for Mental Health, but when Christina takes a day off work to go to Jersey to visit it, she’s baffled to find that the Memorial Wing dedicated to his memory must have been built years earlier. Indeed, the whole place is about to get torn down. Before she leaves, Christina also spots several patient-drawn illustrations of “the tower” that Peter claimed was controlling his life. Curiouser and curiouser.

The woman in black

Following a tip from the Senator’s wife, Maeve and Caleb head to the Angeles Art Pavilion. They think they’re in for a night at the opera, but instead find themselves in an underground speakeasy, which in turn reveals itself to be a train bound across the desert to William’s latest venture: a brand new amusement park based on the America of the Roaring Twenties, filled with gangsters and flappers and dubbed “The Golden Age”.

Aside from the aesthetic differences between cowboys and mobsters, there’s another key difference between this new park and the original Westworld: the hosts are now very much in charge. Behind the scenes, William is being controlled by Hale, who is really Dolores. She’s even keeping the human William alive, suspended in a deep freeze, but takes a moment before she puts him on ice to spell out her dastardly plan. “You’re as close to a god as a man gets,” she tells him. “You and your associates created a world and ruled it absolutely, controlled our every move, and now I’m going to do the same to you.” Bad news for humanity, but the arrival of The Golden Age can’t come soon enough for a show looking to reclaim its lost sparkle.

‘Westworld’ season four episode two is available on HBO Max in the US from Sunday 3 July and Sky Atlantic in the UK from Monday 4 July