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Westworld - Zhuangzi - Review: God is Bored

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This season, Westworld is determined to prove that it is must-watch-TV again. After last episode gave away the timeline twist among a few other things, Zhuangzi delivers a few less bombshells as it focuses on more intimate character moments and mini-reveals. Dare I say this is one of my all-time favorite episodes of the show -- including its stellar first season -- for the way it tackles suspense, thrills, dystopia, Gods, and much more.

"Show, Don't Tell" has always been a controversial technique in media, let alone television, but it can be quite effective when executed well (see: every episode of Gilmore Girls, ever). Knowing that Christina is living in a dystopian reality where she controls the narrative of everyone and everything around her meant that having her find out was going to be tricky business. However, the writers effectively give Christina a lot more to do than simply react to the news that she is living in a fake world. She clashes with her horrible boss, brilliantly narrates his next move, and orders him to retreat, not before revealing a door to her that pulls the curtains down on the city she has been living in. Evan Rachel Wood delivers a bone-chilling performance as a character who, at times, feels like a mirror for the audience, desperately trying to piece clues together and question everything. The realization that not only is she "controlling" almost everyone, but that she also helped make this all happen (my guess is that she is part-Dolores of Halores) is equal parts horrifying and satisfying to watch.

That would have been enough to keep me going until next week, at least as far as Christina's storyline goes, but this episode, being the gift that keeps on giving, presents us with Christina going face-to-face against Hale in a tense, chills-inducing scene. As Christina starts to suspect more people in her life playing a game of "God or NPC?", Hale doesn't hold back, pestering her "friend" into talking about Teddy. It takes Evan Rachel Wood a single glance to reveal that Christina uses her newly discovered abilities to create a distraction at the restaurant, and therefore allowing herself to escape from what was an incredibly difficult and uncomfortable conversation. The beauty of that scene is how quiet it appears to be on the surface; just two friends talking and smiling at each other at a restaurant, catching up on old times. To be able to create something so intense and pulse-pounding from a short sequence like that is a testament to Wood and Tessa Thompson's dazzling performances.

Speaking of performances, Thompson seems to be having so much fun in Zhuangzi. She gets to stage a dancing flash mob in the middle of the streets and create a human chair as a throne for herself. These are things I never thought I needed in an episode of Westworld, but boy did I not know what I was missing. Thompson steals every scene with her ruthlessness, alongside Ed Harris who finally gets to show off a lot more than he has shown over the past few episodes. The Man in Black, or at least the host version, delivers multiple gripping monologues, whether he is talking to the human version of himself at the end, who continues to make him question his own sense of reality, or torturing a couple in the episode's opening moments, purposely keeping them trapped and unable to leave the dinner table. Harris has quite literally never been this fantastic, and I'm so glad this show is giving him some riveting material to work with again.

Plot-wise, it is satisfying to learn a little more about this dystopian world that Hale has helped create. It is then we discover that she is trying to fix an issue with some "outliers", those who go against their looped code and eventually kill themslves after being able to see the tower instead of "transcending". It's a clever way to tie in Luke Hemsworth's Stubbs and the rebels who are here to infiltrate the city and evacuate one of the outliers. Despite his storyline being a bit less exciting than everything else going on this week, it's still an important development and exciting to see things starting to come together this season. While pieces of the puzzle are finally starting to make sense slowly but surely, it's refreshing to see this show take on a much more simplistic approach to storytelling as opposed to going the convoluted route (I'm looking at you, season three). It will be mighty interesting to watch Bernard and Maeve help take down Hale over the course of the next couple of episodes, but I am now more intrigued than ever to see how William fits into all of this, considering that the Host version of him is still trying to figure out his reality. If this episode is any indication, then things are about to get a lot more interesting.

In its depiction of Gods who are bored, Gods who don't know they are Gods, and Gods who are seeking answers, Zhuangzi presents a lot of thought-provoking ideas in a way that moves the plot forward while giving its stars some of their best material to date. It positions this episode as one of my favorite Westworld creations in recent memory, propelling this season forward even more than last week's explosive chapter. Let's hope the final stretch of episodes continue to deliver such high quality television to make this season just as memorable as season one.

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