It really feels like after only four episodes Westworld is starting to pick up the pace a little bit. There’s no question that we’re still getting more questions, but at least now they’re coming with a side order of answers – something that wasn’t really the case in the previous season. Last week’s episode saw us following two of our main characters, Dolores and Maeve, on the separate quests. This week, The Riddle of the Sphinx sticks to this format by following the exploits of two more of the main cast in the form of William and Bernard.
“The Riddle of the Sphinx” opens on a long, long, loooooong tracking shot through a dreadfully hip apartment, that looked like a modernist take on Don Draper’s office. It was like an Ikea and a hipster hooked up and this apartment was their nightmarish offspring. Anyway, the apartment does have some significance later but it’s not really integral to the plot so I’ll continue.
At first, we were going to be following William around at home in his luxury pad, and as “The Riddle of the Sphinx” opened on the spinning record player it instantly brought to mind Desmond from Lost alone in his bunker having a bit of a dance to Petula Clark. It is, in fact, Jim (William’s father-in-law) we see drinking, dancing, exercising and enjoying some… “gentleman’s alone time” in his terrible apartment. It wasn’t until this episode that I realized Jim’s name was actually Jim Delos – great work naming the company, big man.
It seemed like something was off with this scene from the start. I think it was initially designed to look like Jim was sick and essentially quarantined in some sort of facility. It’s only as his conversation develops (and repeats) with William that we learn that we learn the real story. We return to this setup more than once and over time we learn that Jim died some years ago and the chap enjoying a lot of alone time is a copy. This wasn’t just a standard host though, this was a host’s body with a human consciousness popped inside there. It does seem the natural evolution from creating artificial life, to create something to house us long after our bodies have expired.
It seems like the human mind isn’t meant to be preserved beyond the body’s sell-by date though, as we see Jim eventually succumbs to a glitch or a bug that has his mental state rapidly degrade. It’s pretty understandable that Jim’s duplicate isn’t exactly thrilled by the constant failures or the fact that he’s disposed of (along with the whole shitty apartment) by incineration.
This particular strand of “The Riddle of the Sphinx” gets tied up in a really unsettling manner. Well, it certainly made me quite uneasy, anyway. It reminded me of the haunting ending of an episode of The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits or more recently Black Mirror. We return to Jim’s apartment/holding cell and he’s looking pretty cheery, only this time the William that arrives is older, Ed Harris-face William. We also get to learn a little bit about William’s life outside the park – his wife (and Jim’s daughter), Juliet, has committed suicide, his son Logan died of an overdose and William’s daughter doesn’t really enjoy his company anymore. Basically, his life is pretty crappy (despite being incredibly wealthy) so it really does explain his love of the park and the game. We also get to see just how ruthless William has become by the time he has turned into Ed Harris. In the first season he didn’t want to hurt the hosts; in fact, he went as far as to fall in love with Dolores. In “The Riddle of the Sphinx” we see that he’s decided to stop trying to work out the bugs in fake-Jim’s software and rather than actually decommission him he’s just going to leave him rattling around in his dreadful cell-cum-apartment so they can observe his degradation. It really provides some color to William’s backstory and goes some way to explaining his current state.
Ok, so that’s past William dealt with, but it’s not quite time to leave William for this episode as there were a lot of scenes intercut with scenes of present-day MiB and Lawrence hanging out in the park, trying to finish the new game. There’s a scene fairly early on where the two of them ride past some railroad workers, laying some track. Fairly unremarkable, right? Wrong. They seem to laying guests in place of railway sleepers, it’s a really haunting scene that has stuck with me. I never actually realized I had a fear of being turned into a railway sleeper, but I guess I do.
As a treat in “The Riddle of the Sphinx”, MiB takes Lawrence back to his hometown, but things aren’t quite what they seem. The two of them are ambushed by some of the remaining Confederate soldiers who managed to avoid being used as sacrificial pawns by Dolores last week. This seemed really out of character for MiB; he’s been nothing but cautious and capable in pretty much every scene since day one, but somehow a huge group of soldiers manages to sneak up on him without him suspecting a thing. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not but it did take me out of the episode to a degree. It didn’t feel consistent with everything else.
This scene was useful in showing us that perhaps not all is lost for MiB and there might actually be some William left inside of him after all. The Confederates are not making life easy for the people of the town; they’ve blown up a barman, beaten Lawrence pretty badly and now to make matters worse they’re making Lawrence’s wife take him a shot of nitro-glycerine. I’ve never really tried it myself but I can’t imagine it’s the ideal post-beating pick me up? After all of the killing and torture, it seems that this is the thing that pushes MiB over the edge and into action. He is seemingly fine with people being shot in the head but he is not down with carrying shot glasses full of explosives. You can say what you like about MiB/William but he is a man of principles.
I’m still none the wiser as to MiB’s end game or even what the point of the latest (and final) game that Ford has devised even is. From the way that MiB was describing it to the Confederate soldiers, as he tried to cut a deal with them, it sounded a lot like the concept of Silicon Heaven from Red Dwarf. I’m not sure whether that’s intentional or not or whether there is any gold at the end of this particular rainbow.
As a quick aside, outside of the main two storylines (well, three if you count William and MiB as separate) we check in with Ashley (The Worst Hemsworth), who is captured by the Ghost Nation along with the tiger wrestling lady from last week. It seemed an odd thing to throw into a fairly focused episode but we’ll come back to that.
The other half of this week’s coin is Bernard’s storyline, which is getting more confusing as the episodes progress. It’s still hard to gauge where and when the events around Bernard are. I think we’re still catching up with the scenes from the first episode where Bernard wakes up on the beach. Well at least I think that’s what’s happening; we’re following Bernard on an extended flashback to get up to date with where we started. As if that wasn’t complicated enough we learn in “The Riddle of the Sphinx” that Bernard’s gunshot to the head has damaged his brain to the point where he can’t distinguish the order in which events are happening.
“The Riddle of the Sphinx” keeps the answers coming thick and fast as we finally find out what happened to Elsie. You remember she went to check a creepy old storeroom on her own back in season one and that was the last that we ever saw of her. If you had “chained up in a cave by Bernard with protein bars and a bucket to shit in” in the “where’s Elsie” sweepstake then against all the odds you are a winner. I really didn’t see that explanation coming.
Despite being “choked out” by Bernard and then being chained up in a cave by him, Elsie decides to not only team up with Bernard but also to fix his leaking brain fluid issue. All I can say is she is far more forgiving than I would be in that situation. As luck would have it, Bernard locked Elsie up in a cave that contained the entrance to a secret lab and as well as the right equipment to fix Bernard, there is also something else hidden away in the depths of this lab. Would you like to take a guess?
What we find is that contained in the lab is Jim (and his horrible apartment), but Jim (and his apartment) are looking a bit worse for wear. It turns out that the answer to “what happens if we just let this host continue to degrade?” is they become quite unhinged, trash their apartment and cut their own face up with broken glass. Another question answered this week.
One of the most interesting things to come out of “The Riddle of the Sphinx” was that in this secret facility, where they were working on putting a (copy of a) human mind into a host’s body was that there’s another control module being created. Someone else’s personality is being readied for deployment into a host, but who could it be? My initial thought was Ford but I’m not entirely convinced we’ll see Anthony Hopkins again. The only other idea I have is William or his dead wife – hopefully, all will become clear in the near future.
As “The Riddle of the Sphinx” ends we see MiB, Lawrence and some new followers riding out into the sunset, but wait. Who’s that riding towards them? Why, it’s the woman who fell off a cliff with a tiger in last week’s episode. But she’s not just a woman who likes to hunt synthetic tigers in colonial India, she’s also William’s daughter. Like father like daughter, I guess.
I actually really enjoyed “The Riddle of the Sphinx”. At first, I was eager to see what happened to Maeve after her samurai encounter last week. After this episode kicked off, I pretty much forgot Maeve, Hector, and the gang. It’s a really interesting episode and it answers a lot of questions (while of course raising some new ones).