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Westworld starts season 4 with a surprisingly coherent episode

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The show's refreshing return feels like a ramp-up to bloodier stuff

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Westworld is a show about storytelling. Throughout its first three seasons, creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have made clear they are fascinated by the way narratives rule our world

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Concepts like free will and agency are, in the show’s cosmology, intimately tied to the stories we tell ourselves and the characters we allow ourselves to be.

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If such simple tenets have become muddled over its three-season run, it is because the HBO show has always been a tad more ambitious about the convoluted storytelling it expects its audience to follow. (Seriously, ask me in earnest to walk you through season three and you’ll find me fumbling even as I enjoyed parts of it.)

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Which is to say, it was refreshing to watch this first episode of season four and be in almost familiar territory. Sure, I wouldn’t have pegged Westworld to flash-forward seven years since “the riots”

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that closed out its most recent season finale—or even imagine that it would open with a bilingual set-piece where William (yes, Ed Harris, back again as the man formerly known as the Man in Black) brings a cartel to its knees with the help of…I want to say fly-hosts?

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But once that prologue was done with, I was back in the kind of Westworld world I most enjoy: namely, following Evan Rachel Wood as she tried to decipher what it is her character (this time:

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Christina—unclear where Dolores is nowadays) wants from her life as she ponders the pleasures and perils of writing and living in certain stories.

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Oh, and she fears she’s being watched. (Trust the show to keep its meta-ness going; not only are we in the realm of storytelling but in the realm of broadcasting. Every performed story requires an audience, after all.)