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Lennie James

Westworld The Riddle of the Sphinx review

Welcome to our weekly recaps of HBO’s Westworld. This Westworld review takes a look at the fourth episode of season 2, “The Riddle of the Sphinx”. Be warned: spoilers follow.

delos face

Deja Vu All Over Again

Good lord, what a dense episode this is. Westworld episode 2.04, “The Riddle of the Sphinx”, is so jam-packed it’s practically jelly. They couldn’t even fit all this stuff into an hour, so the episode runs for an exhausting 70 minutes. Is it worth it? For the most part, yes,

Tonight’s Westworld opens in a place we’ve never seen before: a really well-decorated, modernist apartment. Here, we catch up with James Delos (Peter Mullan), Westworld’s gruff, grumbly original investor.

Delos is first seen pedaling on an exercise bike while listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire” on vinyl. He then proceeds to go about his day: showering, shaving, snacking, masturbating (the 4 ings). It all seems very mundane, and the only sign that there’s something amiss here is when Delos’ attempts to pour some cream into a cup of coffee, and has trouble due to a curious shaking in his hand.

And then who should enter but William (Jimmi Simpson), the future Man in Black. From the conversation between the two, it becomes clear that Delos isn’t just chilling in some fancy hotel somewhere. He’s actually being observed by someone just out of sight. He also asks William when he can leave the room, indicating he’s actually being kept there like some sort of prisoner. Delos goes on to comment on the fact that he’s dying of a disease, and in a ironic twist, the bioengineering company he owns stopped doing research on said disease years ago.

William says Delos can leave the room once an “observation period” has ended – they just need to establish some sort of baseline. Essentially, they need to have a conversation, then have the same exact conversation again to see if anything changed. Delos scoffs at this whole idea…until William hands him a piece of paper.

Later in the episode, in true Groundhog Day fashion, the same basic situation plays out, this time kicking-off with Roxy Music’s “Do The Strand” playing instead of the Rolling Stones. Yet beyond this, almost everything is the same: Delos goes about his day until William shows up.

Only this time, Delos (and the audience along with him) learns a shocking twist: Delos is, in fact, dead. His consciousness has been uploaded into a robot host. “I’m not in California, am I?” he asks William.

“If you can’t tell, does it matter?” William replies.

This time, we get to see what was on the piece of paper William handed Delos previously: a script, which features nearly every word of the conversation they’ve had up until this point.

James gets over the shock of discovering he’s been raised from the dead in a robot body pretty darn quickly, then says that he wants to go out into the real world. But he can’t. William proceeds to dump some depressing news on him: Delos has been dead for about seven years, and in that span of time, his wife died of a stroke. James then asks about his daughter, Juliet –  the woman William married. He also asks about his granddaughter, aka William and Juliet’s daughter. William says she’s good, and adds that she’s “Whip smart; capable.” It’s one of several references to William’s daughter throughout the episode, which more or less telegraphs a big twist that pops up at the very end of the episode. But we’ll get to that later.

Delos’ good attitude begins to falter as he begins to suffer from glitches. He’s unable to remember words and phrases (he says “fresh aid” instead of “fresh air”), for instance. William tells Delos he’ll check back in on him later. Yet when he leaves the room, he converses with a technician who has been secretly watching the whole scene on the other side of a two-way mirror, and tells the tech to “terminate.” The tech does so by shutting the Delos-bot down, and incinerating the entire room. Which leads to one big question: do they do this every time William talks with a James Delos robot? It must get very expensive setting fire to the same room over and over again.

We get to experience this scenario one last time: Delos is in the fancy (restored) room, he goes about his day, and then in comes William. But it’s clear many years have passed, because the William who enters this time is the Man in Black, played by Ed Harris. Delos doesn’t even recognize him at first. Yet once he catches on, and realizes he’s had his consciousness uploaded into a robot, he asks: “How long has it been?”

“Longer than we thought,” says the Man in Black. It’s clear that even after all this time, Delos still isn’t quite right – he’s still glitching; still forgetting words. The Man in Black calls it a “cognitive plateau”, saying that Delos’ mind keeps breaking down because it’s as if the mind can’t accept its new reality. And just how long has this been going on? According to the Man In Black, this is the 149th time they’ve tried to bring Delos back from the dead.

And boy oh boy, is the Man in Black getting sick of this shit. Rather than stick with the program, the Man in Black inexplicably tanks the entire thing. He tells Delos that he thinks this whole endeavor has been a mistake, adding: “People weren’t meant to live forever.”

Delos is understandably distraught, and grows even more so when the Man in Black reveals that Juliet, his wife and Delos’ daughter, is dead, having committed suicide. Also dead? Delos’ other child, Logan, who has succumbed to a drug overdose. There’s no one left for James Delos.

“In truth, everyone prefers the memory of you to the man himself,” says the Man in Black before strolling out of the room. And rather than have a tech torch the room and destroy the Delos-bot, he decides to leave Delos as-is, wallowing in misery as he glitches out.

westworld man in black episode 4

Not Looking To Get Out

Remember Grace (Katja Herbers)? The mysterious woman we met last week, chilling in The Raj? When we last saw her, she had washed up on the shores of Westworld, where she was promptly greeted (and captured) by members of the Ghost Nation.

Now, captive Grace is taken to a camp with other captives. And who else should happen to be there? Why, it’s Westworld’s Head of Security Ashley Stubbs, played by Luke Hemsworth, the Zeppo of the Hemsworth brothers.

Stubbs tries to reassure (and maybe flirt with?) Grace by telling her that any moment now, the cavalry will come rushing in to save everyone and get them all out of here. But Grace, who is full of surprises, says she’s actually not looking to get out.

As night falls, the captives are transported to some other location. Grace asks where they’re being taken, and a female member of Ghost Nation tells her they’re being taken to “the first of us” who will decide the fate of the captives.

The “first of us” turns out to be a Ghost Nation leader played Zahn McClarnon, whom we previously saw as as a member of the mysterious Argos Initiative in episode 2.02. The human captives are very nervous, because it looks as if they’re all about to face their doom.

Not willing to wait and find out what happens, Grace breaks free and runs off into the night. Stubbs has a knife pressed to his throat and thinks he’s a goner. But the Ghost Nation leader cryptically whispers into his ear: “You live only as long as the last person who remembers you.”

With this message, the Ghost Nation members vanish into thin air, leaving their human captives unharmed and seemingly free.

westworld the riddle of the sphinx

Is This Now?

When we last saw Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), he was knocked unconscious by Clementine (Angela Sarafyan). Now, Clementine has taken Arnold to a mysterious secret cave. Within the cave is an old familiar face: Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), who, like several other season 1 characters we thought were dead, is actually alive and well. Or, as well as one can be when they’re chained up in a secret cave.

Bernard regains consciousness and frees Elsie, but Elsie is understandably not happy to see Bernard, since he was the one who choked her out last season. Bernard defends himself by saying he was forced to do that by Ford. “Ford wrote a game, and now everyone is in it,” Bernard says, and then proceeds to have a big old robot breakdown.

Elsie is shocked to discover Bernard is a host (at last, someone in the show finally realizes that Bernard is a damn robot!), and despite their bad history, she decides to help the ailing Bernard out. She checks his stats and learns that Bernard has “extensive cortical damage”, and that he needs cortical fluid to survive.

As luck (or fate?) would have it, there’s a secret lab hidden in the wall of the secret cave, and Elsie is able to find fluid in there to get Bernard back on track. Cortical fluid isn’t the only thing in the secret lab, though: there are also a whole bunch of dead scientists in there, along with some dead drone hosts.

And that’s when things begin to get wonky. Bernard keeps having flashbacks to some other time when he was in this very lab, back when the scientists (and drone hosts) were still alive.

“Is this now?” he asks Elsie. He can’t keep track of time anymore, which makes sense, according Elsie. While digging around in Bernard’s robot brain, she discovered that Bernard’s memories are “drifting around”, and Bernard therefore has no idea which order his memories are coming in.

The two try to get into the computer system in the lab to figure out what the hell was going on, but they don’t have much luck – it’s encrypted, and it’s the same sort of encryption that was in Peter Abernathy’s head. While Bernard can’t remember all the details, he does remember he’s been in this lab before, and recently. He also says that the dead people in the lab were building something, but it wasn’t more hosts. It was “something else.”

Bernard and Elsie get a first-hand look at what that “something else” might be when they discover yet another secret room within the secret lab that’s inside the secret cave. This room leads to the observation apartment where we first met the James Delos robot – and the robot is still very much alive, although in the process of peeling off his face. Delos attacks Bernard and Elsie, but Bernard is able to overpower him long enough for the two to escape, and for Elsie to incinerate him once and for all.

Afterward, Elsie says: “Tell me that was a host and not a human!”, which is kind of a weird thing to say after she set fire to the guy. No matter. Bernard says: “I think it was both.” Elsie begins to get it: Westworld is apparently all a front to find a way to keep rich jerks like James Delos alive forever.

And that’s not all: Bernard says he thinks he knows why Ford sent him here in the past – to create another “control unit” for another human. This is represented by a mysterious red ball being created by Westworld 3D printers. That ball is some other real person’s consciousness – waiting to be inserted into a new host. If it hasn’t been inserted already… 

Elsie agrees to help Bernard get to the bottom of all this under the condition that he promise never to hurt her again. Bernard promises, but that promise might be empty, because we then see a big, brutal flashback in which Bernard orders the drone hosts to murder all the scientists in the secret lab. The drone hosts then kill themselves by breaking their own necks. In the flashback, one scientist survives the massacre, and crawls towards Bernard, begging for his life. Bernard promptly stomps the man’s head in, killing him. Ouch.

westworld craddock

Hi Dad

While the William we see in the scenes with James Delos is his usual asshole-ish self, the William, aka Man in Black, we see in the main narrative of this episode gets a big, heroic moment. There’s a lot happening in this over-long episode, but “The Riddle of the Sphinx” is ultimately all about the Man n Black.

After briefly coming upon a truly horrific sight of hosts building railroad tracks out of the corpses of dead humans (or are they more hosts?), The Man in Black and Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) end up back in Lawrence’s hometown. There, they’re promptly captured by the Confederados, lead by Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker).

Craddock and his men have captured the town, but the Man In Black doesn’t have time for their crap. He decides to make a deal with Craddock – he tells Craddock where a cache of weapons (including nitroglycerin) is hidden. In exchange, he offers to take Craddock and his men to the mysterious, unknown place they’re all being drawn to. Craddock takes him up on this deal…sort of.

After he has the weapons dug up, Craddock proceeds to terrorize the town. Lawrence and his wife and daughter are still being held captive, along with the rest of the town. A storm has kicked up. And all the Man in Black wants to do is get a move on. But Craddock would rather act like a creep and give long-winded speeches about how he can cheat death.

During all of this, he decides to engage in some wanton cruelty. He fills a shot glass with nitro and orders Lawrence’s wife to carry it across a rainy street to the captive Lawrence. One false step, one slip, and the nitro will explode and kill her.

The Man in Black watches this, jaw clenched, and has a vision of his dead wife Juliet after she killed herself. He’s apparently had all he can stand, and he can’t stand anymore. He proceeds to stab Craddock in the neck and then gun down all of Craddock’s men in a truly stunning shoot-out sequence.

In one final act of badassery, he rescues Lawrence’s wife by taking the shot glass full of nitro away, then forces Craddock to drink it. Then he hands Lawrence a rifle. Lawrence takes aim at Craddock and fires – and Craddock explodes. It’s fantastic.

The next day, the rain is gone and the sun is shining. Everyone in town thinks the Man in Black is a hero. Everyone except Lawrence’s daughter…who turns out to not actually be Lawrence’s daughter for a few minutes. Instead, she’s possessed by Ford’s uploaded consciousness, who talks through the little girl to tell the Man in Black: “They may not remember, but I know who you are; one good deed doesn’t change that.” She then adds: “You don’t understand the real game; if you’re looking forward, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”

After this, the Man in Black,, Lawrence and a few other men ride out of town into the sunrise. On their journey, they run into Grace, who is now on horseback and locked and loaded. She takes one look at the Man in Black and says: “Hi dad.”

westworld episode 2.04

Stray Observations and Questions

  • So how many of you guessed that “Grace” was really Emily, the Man in Black’s daughter? If you didn’t figure it out in the last episode, it was likely easier to pick up on this week. There are several scenes before the big final reveal in which the Man in Black talks about his daughter, all in the name of setting the character up. At one point, Lawrence asks: “Do you think your daughter would like to watch you gunned down?” “Probably,” says the Man in Black.
  • “I’m not here with you, am I?” Bernard asks at one point. This, coupled with Elsie’s comment that Bernard’s memories are all out of whack, seems to hint that there’s some sort of twist involving a time jump in our future.
  • When the Man in Black comes across the grisly train track construction, he comments that Ford’s game has “multiple contenders.” Just keep that knowledge tucked away somewhere in the back of your noggin.
  • The Man in Black is quick to shoot down the “good deed” comment, stating that he only saved Lawrence’s wife because he’s playing Ford’s game. But I love the idea that the character is evolving, and becoming more than just a one-note bad guy.
  • What is the origin of the “control unit” Bernard mentioned? Which real-life-person’s consciousness did Ford ask Bernard to go craft? The most obvious answer is probably Ford himself – he had himself shot to death by Dolores because he knew he was going to live on forever. But maybe that’s too obvious. The other question: has the control unit been uploaded to a host body already?
  • Anybody else get some serious Lost/”Desmond in the hatch” vibes from the opening scene of James Delos in his fancy room?
  • No Maeve or Dolores this week, and I’m oddly okay with that. In fact, I think this is the best episode of the season so far.
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