Lisa Joy on Hopes for Season 5 and Crafting This Penultimate Chapter
- Warning: Spoilers ahead for the season four finale of HBO’s “Westworld.”
- Insider spoke with “Westworld” co-creator Lisa Joy about the extinction event in Sunday’s episode.
- Joy says it was written as a penultimate season, and “Lord willing” HBO will renew it for season 5.
The season four finale of HBO’s sci-fi series “Westworld” brought about the extinction of “sentient life” on Earth within the show’s fictional future for both humans and hosts.
But in the closing minutes, Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood) made the choice to begin “one last game” within the digital universe called the Sublime. In the final shot, we see Dolores recreating the Westworld theme park and hear the familiar tune of “Sweetwater” as the wild-west setting materializes around her.
“I’m really hoping that we get a fifth season because you ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of timeline branching,” “Westworld” co-creator Lisa Joy told Insider during a Zoom call on Monday afternoon.
During our conversation, Joy got philosophical about extinction events, the human experience, and how she hopes “Westworld” will get its planned conclusion with a fifth season.
How long have you known that sentient life on Earth was going to come to an end in “Westworld”? Was it baked in from the start, or was that something you discovered along the way with writing?
It’s something that we knew was going to happen in the penultimate season — Lord willing it’s the penultimate season — but look, humans haven’t been around for that long. So we like to think we are the end-all, be-all in the final chapter writ on earth. But we got nothing on the dinosaurs in terms of span of time we’ve been kicking it. There’s no reason to think that we are immune to extinction events, whether either caused by ourselves or external forces. Especially given we develop these incredible technologies, which have the ability to save and sustain us, but also have the ability to destroy us.
So honestly, in dealing with a series that spans so much time and is about humanity as a whole, it seemed really anthropomorphic to not consider the possibility of a sort of extinction event. Which I think statistically is probable. I’m not saying in the short term, but it’s probable.
Yeah, no completely. That’s always been one of my favorite things about “Westworld” — how closely zoomed in we were in the pilot and then as the season went on we got more of the bigger picture. And now we have fully branched out the timeline of humanity.
Yes, yes — and I’m really hoping we get a fifth season because you ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of timeline branching.
I was going to ask if this finale was crafted at all with the idea that, like…
That it would be the end?
I saw some people already talk about this on Reddit — that if you watch that finale and then go press play on the pilot, it almost feels like you’re watching a loop happen. But it’s not quite complete.
If we don’t get a fifth season, that’s exactly what I’m going to say [laughing]. No, we always planned for the penultimate season as a jumping off story to come full circle back to Westworld, but told from a very different point of view and a very different nature of the game and morality test.
I noticed a lot of similarities between Dolores/Christina’s final monologue here and the Ford final monologue in season one, where he thinks he’s set up a choice for the hosts.
How it would be different from Dolores/Christina’s point of view, given everything she’s learned now?
Season four subverted season one in that now all of a sudden the park is the world and the humans are the hosts and everything was completely inverted. It’s very odd that in the history of human civilization, you’ve seen very few women in charge and crafting the entirety of the civilization. It’s rare. It’s not impossible, but it’s rare. And it’s certainly not the prevalent trend, right?
So we’re questioning everything in show. Even Hale was questioning the need for a bipedal fleshy, anthropomorphic body. We’ve been handed so many assumptions — cultural and sociological and political — since humans started existing. And now we have a being who, though not human, has lived as a human and thought she was human, and has gone through so many regimes and absorbed so much.
When you’re considered disposable and non-sentient and unimportant — a side character or an NPC, in gamer speak — you don’t have a lot of power but you get to witness a lot. When people are speaking to or acting in front of the dominant people in control, they are guarded and show only a side of themselves and pander a little bit.
But if you’re at the bottom of that hierarchy, you see everything.
(Continued): You see the ugliest things about people, and you see the most beautiful things, like when nobody needs to help you but they do, or when nobody needs to respect you but they do. You see the full spectrum of humanity in a way that people who have never known what it’s like to be a victim or at the bottom of this social hierarchy can. They don’t get that.
Dolores brings all of that insight, all of that history, all of that witnessing, into the lens with which she views society and this final game. And I think it will be a game very different to a game designed by say someone like Ford. As brilliant as he was, he was working within a paradigm that we all know well.
And Ford’s perspective had a big emphasis on suffering being vital, as opposed to the idea that having a joyful experience might just as seriously transform the way that you think or feel about the world around you.
I think that’s really true. He believed that suffering bred consciousness to an extent. And I don’t necessarily disagree. I do think that life is a mix of suffering and joy and all sorts of different experiences. No one is immune to those things. I do think that if you let it, suffering can ultimately teach you. Although I would never wish it upon anyone. But I also think that you can learn as much from joy and love.
Something that I’ve always admired about Dolores is that she does choose to see the beauty in this world. Sometimes I think about existence and it’s like, “How odd that this bundle of cells exist right now. That it came together, amidst all this stardust and weirdness and became me.” That’s very random. That I get to feel or apprehend anything at all is a miracle — it’s truly scientifically a miracle. And so we are given this crazy gift of experience itself.
The fact that she looks to experience and tries to see the beauty in all of it and tries to see the meaning in it, I think is admirable.
I’ve had moments like that — one of the times it was triggered was seeing a video of the aurora borealis. And I was like, “What are the odds that there are creatures on this planet conscious enough to see that and recognize it as something astoundingly beautiful?”
Exactly. There’s a quote, I can’t remember by who, but it was like “We are the universe delighting in itself.”
I think that’s a little bit true. Like what are we here for? I don’t know, but we are here surely in part to bear witness to all the things that are here around us because there is no other witness. And that in itself I think is meaningful.
Now in the fourth season we’ve seen a lot of the suffering and destruction. But one of the things that was striking to me about the sixth episode was the journey Caleb went through in order to try and get a message to his daughter. He needed her to still feel hope and encouragement and optimism, because that is what it will ultimately take for humans to survive — even if it’s just for another few decades. I’m assuming in my head-canon that Frankie and partner are going to die eventually, but they at least have more time together.
Yeah, and meaningful time. This season in Caleb and Hale’s story, you saw an act of grace on both their parts. I think that grace comes from having lived their truth and also leaving the space happily — to surrender the world to other people so they can live their truths. And to try to pass on some kind of legacy of goodwill, if nothing else.
I do think that immortality is probably overrated. Change comes from the people who inherit the earth. Even if you can’t witness those changes occurring, the fact that you were a part in that chain and gave rise to something that you hope will be better … I think that’s a beautiful part of human and host nature when it comes to Hale.
Something else from the sixth episode that carries over well to the image we’re left with in the finale was how the distinction between humans and hosts is basically eradicated. There were humans and hosts interacting and seeing empathy and sympathy and action and care in each other. And so now, in theory, the distinction will be totally gone in the Sublime because they’re all now Dolores’s uploaded memory. Correct me if I’m wrong, though!
I mean certainly that seems like it’s the way that it’s going. I think that’s a pretty astute observation about it. It’s been weird writing the show because you’re trying to write from a host point of view and a human’s point of view. So on one hand you just act like yourself and do the things that you might do as a human on the page. And then on the other hand, you have to step back and look at humans from a distant, unnatural eye and see the weird things about them.
This season Hale thought that there was a defect in the hosts who were choosing to die after encountering the outliers. And for me, I don’t know that it was a defect. It was something she ultimately chose, too. I think there is beauty in the boundaries that we inherit — it makes the time that we have more meaningful.
There are gifts that humanity can give hosts, and there are gifts that hosts can probably give humanity if they would only listen. Like how Hale questioned the very design of the human body that she and other hosts have inherited. As humans we feel very attached to our bodies. We have insecurities about them, we can be vain, we can be troubled, we can be in pain. But we’re really stuck on our bodies and in our bodies. And the fact that she can divorce her internal life a little bit from the external appearance, I think there’s something to be learned from that, too.
I think I have time for one last question, and of course I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the season two post credits scene. Can you talk to me anymore about where we are in relation to that?
[Laughing] So we’d always had in mind for this to be the penultimate season and to have the final season be a return to Westworld and Dolores’s story. And we did leave Easter eggs throughout the seasons, like the one that you’re talking about. We hope if we get a fifth season then we’ll be able to tie those up.
This interview has been edited for clarity.