But Don’t Play with Me, ‘Cause You’re Playing with Fire: Westworld, ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’

***Spoiler Warning:  Spoilers for Westworld through Season 2, Episode 4 follow. Spoilers*** Last week

Deftly directed by Lisa Joy, “The Riddle of the Sphinx” opened a la an old Lost friend’s introduction (Desmond Hume), with William the Constant to James Delos’ many iterations. Visits to Human — > HostHybrid numbers X through 149 leave a man twitchy, frustrated at the project’s lack of success which, if future twists duly unfold, will reveal those kinks mostly worked out. Baselines established, and repeated conversations aside, our cat-and-mouse-like hunt for the truth pitches viewers into several unreliable narrations, the likes of which only Fords and Nolan/Joys can dream up. Is this now; is anything real; how long have we been here; do we know where we are? (“Carlsbad California, in some office park I’m probably overpaying for.”)

Riding with Lawrence through another timeline, the Man in Black finds things have gone decidedly off the beaten path (“These tracks are supposed to head north, not west”); in passing through unreserved Hostgames, aged William struggles to align what he (thinks he) knows with Ford’s new game (“And you still don’t understand the real game here. If you’re looking forward, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”).

Last seen captured, dragged by Clementine to discover his earlier handiwork, Bernard and Elsie finally reunite — each seemingly unaware of particular events in their shared history. Our heroine’s oddly fortuitous return at the mouth of Ford’s proverbial (“Call forth Lazarus from his …”) cave — “Ford wrote a game and we’re all in it” — is as questionable as black-suited Bernard’s motives. Cortically (fluid) fortified, Bernard plays the victim to his creator’s machinations, while flashes to another time may indicate less coercion; certainly a more controlled Lowe-Host who quietly pockets a perfectly printed person (presumably), whose merging with a Host we’re yet to witness. Elsie, you in danger, girl.

Captured by the Ghost Nation alongside Stubbs, multilingual (Lakota) Grace ((Katja Herbers) ) gets the hell out of Dodge, while Stubbs is faux-killed by one of Hanzee Dent’s Akecheta’s (Zahn McClarnon) warriors, clearing up his previously missing escape scene. As we traipse through James’ long history of mind/body rejection, Elsie and Bernard clear away model #150 149 (H/T Christina) — whose connection with his reality was long ago severed — leaving viewers to wonder if perfection is ever achieved. After an instructional chat with Lawrence’s daughter (Ford, is that you, again?), William in Black rides off into the gorgeous sunset Magnificent Seven-like, with Lawrence and Co. steady by his side to receive their golden-sunlit interloper (“Hi, Dad”). The girl who would be Grace is the Black-hatted gamer’s own grown child (Emily).

Deep Thoughts:

Elsie looks damned good for having been shackled and left minimal food since sometime last season. It can’t be coincidence that she’s right outside the cave housing the entrance to another of those DNA labs, and specifically the one where James Delos (#150?) resided — the one where Evil Bernard, at some point in time, pocketed a … DNA ball (whose?), ordered his drone buddies to kill all the lab technicians, snap their own necks, and who knows what else?

Expanding:  Whose DNA ball did Bernard “print” and pocket at the lab? Though many people are leaning toward Arnold, my thought is that it’s Ford. I can’t help thinking about Ford, especially since Bernard speaks of him so much (“I think Ford wants me to …”) — his creator is in Bernard’s head; why not add his DNA to the mix? And, perhaps that explains why Bernard’s memories are so confused, yet he’s still being “driven” by thoughts of Ford mentally pushing Bernard to remember certain things, or do others. Meanwhile, he tells Elsie, “For the first time, I get to decide who I want to be. Please give me that chance”, but I don’t know that I believe any of the Hosts are acting entirely of their own volition. Is Bernard telling the truth about Ford making him do bad things? Maybe … Oh and “Since Ford died” … ahem, still don’t believe it. At least, I don’t think he’s dead in the traditional sense.

Elsie gave Bernard (and us) a great explanation of what’s happening to him:  “Memories aren’t addressed, just kind of drifting around, so when you’re experiencing one, you have no idea whether it comes before or after the others.” This leads me to wonder if the others who are experiencing flashbacks, or seemingly mixed memories — Maeve, Dolores, Teddy, Peter — are all Humanoid Hosts (based on DNA), and that they’re all loose in the park again lends credence to the idea that there are no (true) humans left in the park. I maintain that it would have been determined fairly early on that the park/resort wasn’t safe for humans; that humans “vacationing” in Westworld ended long ago; and that “research” continued within (whether remotely conducted, or through Ford’s uploaded consciousness/supercomputer brain). The endgame will find the Hosts realizing they’re all Hosts and that in current time (whenever that might be) there are no humans in Westworld.

Of course, Elsie asking for Bernard’s promise that he never hurt her again means he absolutely will try to.

Jeffrey Wright continues to give the underrated performance of the series — nobody gives this man enough credit, especially in scenes where he transforms right before our eyes. When Bernard whispered his unheard command to the Drone Host (he previously appeared almost fearful of) to kill the lab techs, and for the Drone Hosts to kill themselves afterwards (presumably to be held responsible for the carnage), I about fell off the couch. From broken Bernard to stone cold Bernard in a single glitch.

During the last interview William/MiB conducted with James, Delos’ hand didn’t shake. William explains that the mind/body rejection is more like the mind rejects reality, which of course also sounds like what Bernard (Maeve, Dolores, Teddy …) is experiencing.

Speaking of, huge cheers to Peter Mullan for his genius, multifaceted portrayal of Human to Host, replete with excellent glitching, shaking, and DANCING. Because of his wonderful abilities and nuanced performance, our feelings for James Delos ran the gamut from heartbreaking to disgust, and from admiration to sympathy … for the devil.

The book on James Delos’ bed (and later, his coffee table) appears to be Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s The Sirens of Titan, which involves a wealthy space (Mars! Is Westworld on Mars?) explorer, free will, and the manipulation of humans by robots.

Whose hand did we see  — through William/Man in Black’s memory — dangling over the edge of the tub? While we’re meant to believe it’s William discovering his wife, Juliet, I think it could be either William, himself, or perhaps his daughter, Emily/Grace (yeah, I’m not above suspecting anyone is a Host)? That scene felt like a purposeful sneak peek at something we’ll later find out, so I believe it isn’t who we are supposed to think it is.

Elsie only just realized Bernard was a Host with her, “You rotated out. Where did you go when you rotated out?”  One thing we still don’t know though is, are more than one Bernard out and about at one time (other than in Bernard’s memories/mind)?

“You live only as long as the last person who remembers you” is what Akecheta says to Stubbs before his throat is notcut.

Loved the foreshadowing when Grace tells Stubbs “Thanks, but I’m not looking to get out of here” after his offer to have her evacuated, and the scene cuts right to the Man in Black saying, “Home Sweet Home, boys.”

The Hosts burying workers (dead, or alive) under railroad tracks was a rather heavy-handed allusion to the Chinese laborers who gave their lives building the Transcontinental Railroad.

More Clementine, please? I love the glimpses of Zombie Clementine, but I’m so curious about where her *mind* is, especially in comparison with some of the other awakened Hosts. I’d love to see more of her than just dragging around bodies.

The sign outside the sealed chamber holding the James Delos host reads “Facility #12 Holding Chamber”, which may mean there are more chambers with Host/Human hybrids out there somewhere. Shades of Battlestar Galactica‘s numbered Cylons …

William/MiB told James that Logan had died years ago from an overdose. Did he, really? Is Logan somewhere as a Host, now?

This week’s Noah Hawley crossover connection proves out with both Legion and Westworld using songs from Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music, and Fargo‘s Zahn McClarnon (Akecheta).

Here’s a flashback to Season 1 with Craig and Lori (Currie Graham, Lena Georgas), captured with Grace/Emily:


Quit being so pretty, Jimmi.

Music This Hour:

The Rolling Stones, Play with Fire

Roxy Music,  Do the Strand (chosen by Peter Mullan because it’s a song he likes to dance to)

Great Lines:

James to William:  “… Most potent thing these cretans will give me is grapefruit juice.

Besides, if you aim to cheat the devil, you owe him an offering.

I think my sense of humor is fucking intact. My patience on the other hand …

Seems a little far fetched, doesn’t it, William?”

Elsie to Bernard:  “Are you fucking kidding me? Stay the hell away from me.”

Bernard to Elsie:  “It wasn’t me, it was Ford, he forced me.

You know too much.

Ford wrote a game and we’re all in it.” [Touché]

Elsie to Bernard:  “I can detask your systems. I can put you in safe mode. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna break you, not yet, you asshole.”

Bernard to Elsie:  “No one’s coming for any of us. Delos doesn’t want them to.”

Elsie:  “Bernard, did you have something to do with this project?”

Bernard:  “I don’t know, I don’t think so.”

Elsie:  “Is Ford in control of you now?”

Bernard:  “Ford’s dead.”

Elsie:  “Fuck me.

This is gonna hurt.”

Lawrence replying to MiB saying he didn’t seem too happy to be home:  “Truth is, I’m a son of a bitch. Kindest thing I ever did was to keep away.”

Craddock to MiB:  “I was double-crossed by some bitch named Wyatt.”

MiB:  “Good for her.”

James to William:  “I’m not in California anymore?”

William:  “If you can’t tell does it matter?”

James:  “I’m ready to smoke my cigars , sail my boat, fuck my wife … I take it that last part isn’t an option.

…I feel fucking brand new.”

Bernard to Elsie:  “It wasn’t hosts we were making. It was something else.”

MiB to Craddock:  “Death is an old amigo of mine.

You think death favors you, death brought you back, but death’s decisions are final. It’s only the living constant, never wavered.

Death is always true. You haven’t known a true thing in all your life. You think you know death, but you don’t.”

Craddock:  “Is that so.”

MiB:  “You didn’t recognize him sitting across from you this whole time.”

James to MiB:  “So, how long has it been?”

MiB:  “Longer than we thought.

The engineers call it cognitive plateau.

No, Jim, this is the 149th time … you’re on day 35, you’re only now starting to degrade.”

James:  “Steady as a rock.”

MiB:  “Another year or two, they might crack it. Get a version of you that’s viable long term. But the thing is, I’m not so sure anymore. I’m beginning to think that this whole enterprise was a mistake. People aren’t meant to live forever.”

James to Elsie:  “I’m all the way down, now. I can see all the way to the bottom. Would you like to see what I see?”

James to Bernard:  “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 to Bernard:  “Fuck it. I always trusted code more than people anyway.”

Lawrence’s daughter to MiB:  “They might not remember, but I know who you are, William. One good deed doesn’t change that.”

MiB:  “Who said anything about a good deed? You wanted me to play your game, and I’m gonna play it to the bone.”

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over ten years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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