Television Westworld

Westworld: The Riddle of the Sphinx, Review

***SPOILER WARNING***

If you have not seen the fourth episode of season 2 The Riddle of the Sphinx and don’t want the show spoiled then please turn away. If spoilers don’t bother you or you have seen the episode then welcome.

In Greek mythology, the sphinx (part human, part lion) guarded the city of Thebes by asking travelers what creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening. When they couldn’t answer, she ate them. The answer of course is a human being.

In this episode Westworld seeks to redefine this answer such that the result would no longer fit with the Sphinx’s criteria. We’ve already learned that Delos is using their various parks as a form of mass surveillance and info gathering. It turns out there are deeper and darker secrets well beneath the park and the experiments on James Delos reveal a whole new type of disturbia.

The episode opens on a spinning record of The Rolling Stones ‘Play with Fire’ (which is an apt song choice considering what follows). It then sees James go through the routine of an ordinary morning in a 70’s style futuristic apartment. Other than a tremor in his hand everything seems quite normal.

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PHOTO SOURCE: Westworld, HBO

Young William shows up and it becomes clear that James is being held under observation and William proceeds to conduct an interview to test his ‘fidelity’. It’s confusing at first but the scene is repeated twice more in the episode with William looking older each time. We learn that James isn’t really James; he’s dead and what we see is an artificial copy programmed with James’s memories. It’s an ongoing trial that hasn’t really borne fruit—as William eventually tells James, the copies never last more than a month before plateauing and developing severe cognitive issues. All this time William has been trying to perfect immortality.

By the time the older William visits James (now the MIB) he reveals that while the researchers initially thought his mind was rejecting the new body, they now think it’s as if his “mind rejects reality… rejects itself.” Each and every time, it leaves them with no other option: scrap the entire thing, including the crippled host himself, and start anew.  William seems to have figured out the ethical implications of such a scheme saying “I’m beginning to think this whole enterprise was a mistake,” and that “People aren’t meant to live forever.” He then leaves and orders the tech to not destroy James like they normally do, that it might be useful to watch him decay.

These scenes are really good because they give us a look at William’s transformation over the years. William is merciful to the early clones, reluctant to put them through any unwanted suffering. But by the time The Man in Black appears, his cruelty is laid bare. He tells the Delos clone that his son Logan died of an overdose; that his daughter, William’s wife, killed herself; and that Delos, Inc. has created and destroyed countless James Delos clones over the decades (149 to be exact). The MIB even tells the latest clone that he thinks they should stop the program to bring him back altogether, and that the world is actually a better place without him.

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PHOTO SOURCE: Westworld, HBO

All of this makes the scenes of present-day William deciding to engage more completely in Ford’s game and play the good guy all the more resonant. In Riddle we see the MIB save Lawrence and his wife from certain death at the hands of Major Craddock. We’ve seen the MIB do some appalling things in Season 1 so it’s kind of hard to see him reform.  Yet his memory while Lawrence’s wife was being tortured seemed to refer to memories of his wife’s death: There were images of running water, ice, and a bathtub with an arm falling out of it. In other words, it wasn’t selfishness that made him intervene, but empathy for what Lawrence’s family was enduring.

The idea that present-day William might not be completely dead inside after all, that there might be some part of him capable of caring about disposable machines, makes him a much more interesting character than just a black hat sadist doomed to an inevitable punishment.

And as is if all that wasn’t enough we get the reveal at the very end of the episode that the female character from The British Raj park is actually William’s daughter!

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PHOTO SOURCE: Westworld, HBO

The other storyline follows Bernard post battle of Fort Forlorn Hope. He’s dragged by Clementine to a cave and left with a shotgun. We find out that Elsie is still alive which is good news as I really liked her character. I also half suspected she was alive since we didn’t actually she her die, she was merely strangled by Bernard. Here we find another secret lab and that a control module as Bernard calls it (basically a human brain) was created for someone; though we don’t know who or even where it is. The lab itself is in ruins and in a flashback we get a disturbing scene where Bernard orders those unsettling drones to murder all the techs and essentially destroy the lab.

Elsie now knows about Bernard’s status as a host and what makes these scenes work is seeing her come to grips with this new reality while Bernard struggles with his own. The twist here is that Elsie doesn’t know about Bernard’s murderous rampage and this after she pleaded with him to tell the truth.

We then get a scene where Elsie uncovers the James Delos lab. It’s a very creepy sequence as everything is dark and the lab (now destroyed) is illuminated by the red emergency lights. We see the last version of James all bloodied as he tries to kill Bernard and Elsie but they manage to escape and initiate a self destruct protocol finally putting James out of his misery.

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PHOTO SOURCE: Westworld, HBO

This was a great episode and easily one of the best of the series so far. I only wish we had more scenes with James as he’s been a delight to watch the few times we’ve seen him. It’s also nice that we didn’t have to wait long for the reveal of William’s daughter. Unlike last season where the show dangled these kind of reveals its refreshing to know that season 2 is operating under different rules.

Diagnostics

  • we see that the Ghost Nation was rounding up humans post rebellion but not killing them. It explains how Stubbs is still alive but it doesn’t explain why
  • In the course of their journey, William and Lawrence come across a group of Chinese rail-workers using people (not sure if the people are hosts or guests) for railway ties.
  • Ford once again makes an ‘appearance’ via Lawrence’s daughter who scolds the MIB for still not ‘getting it’. She delivers the cryptic “if you’re looking forward you’re looking in the wrong direction.”
  • speaking of Ford I seriously hope that control module is for him and that there is a host/hybrid of him somewhere in the park!!!

 

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