To say that Westworld finally gave (well, confirmed) answers to a few of its biggest mysteries seems almost like a lie. It isn’t, though—we finally learned (at least part of) why Delos funded the park—but the show immediately piled on so many more mysteries it almost doesn’t feel like an answer. But let’s take a good look at the surprising revelations we got—because there were plenty.
A record playing in a solitary apartment containing a suspicious lack of natural light. A man goes about his routine. Breakfast. An exercise bike. This… is the opening of Lost season two.
Oh, and it was also the opening of last night’s Westworld, which I’ll assume isn’t a coincidence in that a large part of this episode—if not the season—is about the loops people find themselves in, and how, or even if, people can break out of them—and that goes for hosts and guests alike. Caught in this particular loop is James Delos (Peter Mullan), who’s undergoing some kind of testing, including when young son-in-law William (i.e. played by Jimmi Simpson) stops by to administer an interview for “fidelity.” The obvious implication, which turns out to be right on the money, is that Delos wants to use Dr. Ford and Westworld’s AI technology to allow him to put his actual mind in a host body—one that won’t break down on him after he contracts the illness whose cure research he defunded years ago.
I bet many of you were already suspecting that William’s calibration interview with Delos wasn’t his first—there’s already a knowing smugness about him, but even more telling is how Delos spills his cream and doesn’t seem to react—but either way the episode periodically repeats the interview, revealing that although the human died long ago, the experiments to create a new James have continued. Unfortunately, these human/host hybrids always reach a “cognitive plateau,” where eventually their minds just stop functioning, and each Delos attempt has the same inevitable issue. At which point William has the latest James destroyed and tells the techs to work on the next version.
By the time the aged William (i.e. played by Ed Harris, a.k.a. the Man in Black) visits the latest James, it’s the 149th attempt. Delos takes the fact he “died” long ago in stride, but is devastated when William coldly catches him up on his family, namely that his son Logan OD’ed decades ago and his daughter, William’s wife, committed suicide. Despite his traitorous mental functions, Delos is still devastated and infuriated, only for William to leave and break the loop—but instead of incinerating the attempt and starting over, William demands they let him live and watch him continue to deteriorate. For science.
“Using host technology to allow humans to live forever, and by humans we mean of course rich CEOs” is about the most banal evil reason Delos the corporation could have for funding the park, to the point where it doesn’t even feel sinister, really, just obvious. Honestly, even the reveal earlier this season that the company has been recording all the horrible, horrible things people do in the park for presumed blackmail in the real world, is more salacious, if petty. Still, I have hopes that Delos’ collection of guests’ DNA adds another, delightfully ominous tier to their secret agenda.
But back to the present… by which I mean the present after the party, but before Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) wakes up on the beach. Last we saw him he was escaping from Dolores’ revolution with help from Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), who knocked him out and dragged him away. I’m still baffled by Clementine, who we saw last season getting the host equivalent of a full lobotomy; now she’s wandering around, dead-eyed and utterly terrifying (Cheryl was 100 percent correct about this last week), and doing someone’s bidding. When she drags Bernard to a cave entrance, he assumes Ford has brought him there.
Inside, we get a very pleasant surprise: It’s Elsie (Shannon Woodward)! Turns out Bernard didn’t murder her under Ford’s orders, but instead brought her here and chained her up with some granola bars. Elsie is understandably not excited to see her captor, but Bernard quickly explains the situation: “I’m a host, Ford made me do it, Ford’s dead, the hosts are rebelling and killing people, and also I have a hole in my brainpan can you please put some more Host Brain Water in it before I die.” I love the pairing of Elsie and Bernard, but Elsie gets over the fact that Bernard, under Ford’s control or not, knocked her out and chained her in a cave, very quickly. I mean, I have a ton of questions: Did Ford just order Bernard to lock her up, not kill her? Was Bernard somehow able to unconsciously override his programming and capture Elsie instead of kill her? Who wants them to find the secret lab inside the cave, and why?
Bernard uses his increasingly sketchy memories to figure out the secret entrance and discovers a Delos lab—the lab, actually, where the 149th version of James Delos has been trapped and is clearly going insane. After mainlining some portentous quotes—
They said there were two fathers. One above, one below. They lied. There was only ever the devil. And when you look up from the bottom, it was just his reflection, laughing back down at you.
—Elsie puts the faux-founder out of everyone’s misery after a brief horror-show, but the mysteries pile up. Bernard keeps remembering an earlier version of himself that entered the lab, where he grabbed one of the round, ice cream cone-looking doohickeys being made there, and then ordered the drones to kill all the lab techs, and then break their own necks. Flashback-Bernard is as dead-eyed as Clementine, and when he encounters a sole surviving tech crawling towards him for help, he crushes the poor guy’s face all by himself.
Current-Bernard is aghast but doesn’t tell Elsie, mainly so she won’t murder him. But what did he grab? Given that it was housed in the lab working on James Delos, I’m going to assume it’s a human/host-hybrid brain prototype—something that the Delos Corporation would very much like to get its hands on. But is this different from what Abernathy has in his head that Hale and Delos Corp. are so determined to get? But also, why did Bernard murder all those people to get it?
Meanwhile, William the elder and Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) travel to Lawrence’s hometown, which didn’t work out so well last time for William’s traveling companion. Then, William murdered Lawrence’s wife for information on the maze; this time isn’t really any better, as it’s full of the asshole Confederales Teddy let go last episode, led by the recently resurrected Craddock (Jonathan Tucker). They have control of the town and are being as spitefully cruel as any of the guests ever were, and they capture William and Lawrence, too.
There’s some stuff about secret weapons buried in an unmarked grave and William selling out everyone in order to get his army so he can solve Robert’s final game. But something happens to break the elder William out of his loop being the bad guy. While he was perfectly fine murdering Lawrence’s wife (and child, if need be) last season, when the Confederales start beating Lawrence and Craddock forces Lawrence’s wife to serve her husband a shot of nitroglycerin, the Man in Black suddenly starts remembering finding his wife, dead in their bathtub and suddenly he saves the Lawrence family by shooting down all the Confederales and feeding Craddock that nitro instead.
Let’s unpack this for a second. Why does William have this change of heart? But when Ford changed the game, it did more than raise the stakes for the Man in Black—or rather, it raised more than the stakes. I doubt that William is too worried about Lawrence and his family dying, other than as a means to his own ends—after all, Craddock proved someone somewhere can “resurrect” the hosts—but I suspect that making the game “real,” making it deadly, giving its players one “life” to play with—has forced William to suddenly start contemplating how he wants to play that life. He’s been fine murdering and raping and god knows what else because he knew it didn’t matter. Now his life, like everything else that happens in Westworld, matters—just like he felt it did on his very first trip, when he was a good guy.
So William kills all the Confederales, rescues Lawrence and his family, and earns yet another cryptic remark from Ford, courtesy of Lawrence’s daughter again:
And you still don’t understand the real game we’re playing here. If you’re looking forward you’re looking in the wrong direction.
It’s not bad timing for William to suddenly find a conscience. Because as he and Lawrence head west, they encounter a lone rider—it’s Clare (Katja Herbers), the woman who fled The Raj last episode, who just escaped from the Ghost Nation herself. She’s the Man in Black’s daughter, who blames him for her mother’s death, and it’s like she knew exactly where to find him. Huh.
I thought “The Riddle of the Sphinx” was one of the better episodes of the season so far, but man, right now the show is a lot. I mean, it’s something to give us the reveal that Delos was using Westworld tech to figure out how to let rich people live forever, but I still had 800 more questions after the episode ended even after confirming that one big one.
Before season two began, I rewatched all of Westworld season one. What struck me is that as much as I’d loved watching the show and pouring over it for clues and secrets the first time—trying to solve the puzzle—I much more enjoyed it the second time, when I could admire its craftsmanship, the story it was telling, instead of spending all my mental energy trying to figure out the puzzle.
I don’t think Westworld will ever answer all its mysteries; in fact, I don’t think it should, and honestly, I don’t even think it could if it wanted to. But right now, as much as I’m enjoying the show, I’m already looking forward to the season being over so I can watch it again, knowing the answers, so I can see the story really unfold.
That seems like it should be problematic, but as long as Westworld can still deliver satisfying payoffs to the major mysteries it poses—and gives us answers quickly to the smaller mysteries that crop up, e.g. the identity of Clare—it doesn’t make the show any less enjoyable. Besides, if nothing else, next week appears to be a trip to Shōgun World, and I’m excited as hell. Whatever issues I may have with Westworld season two, Maeve wielding a katana is going to fix at least 90 percent of them.
- The railroad track being made with people as slats is about the creepiest, most terrifying thing I feel like the show has ever given us.
- Elsie suspects Bernard’s brain juice holder damage looks like he shot himself in the head. Hmm.
- Looks like Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) got by the Ghost Nation after the party massacre, which makes sense. Now the question is how did he escape from there to meet up with the Delos forces?
- William’s daughter speaks Lakota, which I think we can take to mean she’s spent a looooooooot of time at the park, albeit with an agenda far, far different than her father’s.
- So Bernard’s jaunt to the cave: It appears he’s been there several times, right? The first is when he goes and has all the lab techs killed and steals the thingie, the second is when he goes with Elsie, and the third is when he goes and only thinks Elsie is with him? Is he retracing past memories like Dolores did in season one, or is he doing some flash-forwards thanks to the cognitive impairment of his broken brain?
- Lawrence remembering that William once told him he had a daughter—from his previous life working with him in season one—was oddly moving.
- William to his father-in-law about the problem with his brain: “Your mind rejects reality… it rejects itself.” I empathize.