The Westworld Boss Rush continues as I try to get caught up with recaps before Sunday’s new episode. There are big revelations in this one, so let’s explore “The Riddle of the Sphinx”.
We open in a somewhat futuristic apartment. “Play with Fire” is on the record player because this show loves some Rolling Stones. The pan around the room reminds me of Desmond’s introduction in the second season premiere of LOST. There’s a guy on an exercise bike and eventually we see that it’s James Delos, who wraps up his workout with a cigarette. In a montage, we see him start to struggle and shake, finally spilling the cream for his coffee. Then he’s notified of a visitor and it’s none other than Young William. William brings him some Scotch and it seems that James doesn’t have much control over his comings and goings. William says the observation period is almost over and they just have to do a baseline interview.
James becomes increasingly wound up and hostile during the interview and finally William hands him a folded piece of paper. Contextually, it seems like it must be a transcript of the conversation they just had, which means this isn’t the first time.
Old William, aka the Cheat Code Cowboy leads Lawrence through the park. They come across a railway that’s under construction and see that the workers have run out of boards and are now just killing people and using their bodies for the slats. They realize this isn’t their best bet and head toward William’s home town.
Clementine drags Bernard out to a cave and leaves him there. He ventures inside and finds Elsie! Yay! She’s miffed that he strangled her and left her in a cave, but he convinces her that he was under Ford’s control and he can help. Bernard tries to catch her up on everything that’s gone wrong and then he starts to tremble and glitch. This is how Elsie finds out he’s a Host and she has a lot to catch up on. She puts him in safe mode.
Bernard has some disjointed flashbacks of Drone Hosts and those control units, plus a bunch of falling eyeballs. When he wakes up, Elsie tells him he needs cortical fluid and leaves, but he follows her and explains that nobody is going to come for them, though he knows of an access point to the facility nearby. Actually, he watches himself access it in the past. His memories are a mess right now. He manages to find the hidden door, mostly by watching his memories in the third person.
It’s a part of the facility she’s never seen before, but she’s impressed to see a control unit printer. Bernard’s memories go haywire, only returning to the present when Elsie shoots a Drone Host until it goes down. She gets him some cortical fluid to get him back to normal as he admits he doesn’t know if he had anything to do with this particular project.
Back in the park, Ghost Nation brings Grace to their other captives, including Stubbs. It seems like they’ve met before.
CCC and Lawrence reach their destination only to find it mostly empty. Well, until the Confederados, including Major Craddock, surround them. They bring the men to a church, where Lawrence’s daughter runs up to embrace him. Craddock asks all assembled if anybody can speak for the town to make a deal. One man stands up and Craddock shoots him. He doesn’t want to make a deal, he wants to know where the weapons are. Lawrence mentions that Cheat Code has a daughter, and CCC seems surprised that he knows this. I can’t imagine him sharing personal information, so I think this is part of Ford’s game, whatever that may be. Oh, also Lawrence knows the weapons are in an unmarked grave. He plans to go after them once the Confederados are good and drunk, but Cheat Code offers this information up to them immediately. But he says that’s not important – he figures the game is to get to the Valley Beyond, a place the Confederados know as “Glory”. He offers to lead Craddock and his men to their destination, but only CCC believes this is important, so it’s not an offer anybody is too excited about. Craddock is basically agreeing just to get to those weapons.
Hey, it’s James’ apartment again. It’s a different song and things are just slightly different but the basic steps are there. Except for how he’s dancing. That’s straight up weird. This time, he still has visible tremors but manages to not spill the cream. Young William comes in again, this time with different booze, but the conversation plays out very similarly. Much of the dialogue matches up exactly. This time it ends with William telling him that they’ve had the same conversation before, and he hands him a folded piece of paper and now it’s clear that, yes, it is exactly the conversation they just had. James realizes that “I didn’t recover” and finds out it’s been seven years. He asks where he is, and William won’t tell him. Yeah, James is a host now, but we can see something is different. He’s a Host with the full memories and experiences of James Delos. Bernard doesn’t have Arnold’s memories and never even believed himself to be Arnold. This is a new James Delos who picks up where the old one left off. And I’m realizing now that there might be an entire human being downloaded into Peter Abernathy, which is why they need to get him out of the park and why he’s glitching so badly.
James thinks this means it’s been a success and he’s ready for the world now. William tells James that his wife died of a stroke, and the tremors start to get worse. He still thinks he’s leaving and William has to explain that they have to keep him just a bit longer. James protests but then starts to glitch. William promises to come back tomorrow and then we see that the whole apartment is an observation chamber. William tells the tech that he still has the same problems as the last one and directs her to terminate. Fire fills the chamber and burns everything up.
Craddock is excited about his new weapons and especially about the nitroglycerine. I feel like the two places where I’ve seen that used in popular culture are this show and very old cartoons. Like, Sylvester the Cat should be helping transport it while Tweety tries to trip him. (And yes, I twice typed that as “Tweety twies to twip him”) He notices a barman with a shaky hand and so he forces him to walk with a shot glass of nitro balanced on the back of his palm. He succeeds, but Craddock shoots him anyway.
Ghost Nation leads their prisoners, including Grace and Stubbs to somebody they call “The first of us” so he can decide their fate. Grace knows their language by the way. Is there anything she can’t do? Anyway, the elder is known as Akacheta, and he’s played by Hanzee from Season Two of Fargo. Grace gets out of her bonds and escapes but Stubbs doesn’t. Hanzee tells him “You will live as long as the last person who remembers you” and they fake cutting his throat, but spare him. This seems to be some kind of test. Almost as if somebody is playing…. a game?
Bernard wakes up, seemingly repaired. Elsie still doesn’t trust him but figures she’ll need him. She’s poked around and found a processor with something completely different than the usual Host programming. Bernard realizes it matches with Peter Abernathy’s programming and it looks like I was right a few paragraphs back. They’re not trying to get a Host out of the park, they’re trying to get James Delos out of the park. Bernard slowly remembers a time when Ford sent him to this facility in the past. His memories are patchy and they’re not connected to a time – he can’t put his memories in order. And like that, he’s in a memory.
He’s printing a processor in his memory but talking to Elsie in the present and he says the techs in this facility (all of whom are laying around dead right now), were building something, but it wasn’t a Host. Same hardware but a different code. Elsie finds a door, convinced that the secret is behind it. Bernard tries to remember. In the present, Elsie shoots the lock off.
Elsewhere, Craddock tortures townspeople with nitroglycerine. He tries to make a captive Lawrence drink it, and CCC is just irritated that they’re wasting time. Craddock could not possibly care less, so he forces Lawrence’s wife to carry a full glass of nitro out to him while he muses about death. Cheat Code flashes back to finding his wife’s body in the bathtub and then tells Craddock that death’s decisions are final and it’s always true. He then cuts Craddock’s throat with a bottle and kills all his men. He drags the wounded Craddock out into the rain, takes the nitro, and forced it down Craddock’s throat. He cuts Lawrence free so he can finish the guy off and with one bullet, Craddock explodes just like in a cartoon.
Another day, another version of James Delos. This time, his assistant on the viewscreen is a different person and William is played by Ed Harris. The conversation plays out as it did before, this time with James getting in some digs on William for looking so old. James starts to glitch again – William explains that his mind is only ever stable for a little bit before it falls apart. And it’s not his mind rejecting the Host body, his mind is rejecting itself. It’s the 149th time they’ve tried and this version of James has made it 35 days before degrading. William figures they can crack it eventually but it’s not worth the effort. Nobody really wants James back at this point. “The world is better off without you, Jim. Possibly without me.” James calls for Logan, and William tells him he OD’d years ago. His family is dead and nobody misses him. James starts to spasm badly and when William leaves, he tears the room apart. The tech is surprised – he was stable until William showed up. This time, William says to leave him alive so they can observe his degradation.
And then when Bernard and Elsie open the door, they find themselves right there. There’s an observation chamber in the middle of the room full of trashed furniture. Bernard sees a photograph and while it looks clear to us, through his eyes, it’s a blur. Inside is James with most of his face torn off. He advances on Elsie and gabs her gun. He knocks her down and Bernard overpowers him. James has this creepy thing to say:
“They said there are 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 down at you.”
Now, “two fathers” feels like it could refer to Ford and Arnold, but since James isn’t a true host and his programming is meant to approximate his own mind, I think he’s literally talking about God and the devil. But we’re free to slot Ford and Arnold in as we see fit.
Elsie initiates the incineration procedure and puts James Delos out of his misery. Bernard explains who that was and what they tried to do. Elsie has had enough of this and decides to head out to contact the mainland. Bernard remembers again – Ford had him print a control unit for another human. That’s why this facility looks familiar. Bernard promises he’s in control and he won’t hurt her again. All she wants is the truth and she agrees to let him join her. And then Bernard has a flashback.
He prints the hybrid control unit and whispers something to the Drone Hosts. They immediately kill the human techs and then snap their own necks. A lot of the images from previous scattered memories appear here and finally have a context. One tech survives and tries to crawl away, but Bernard kicks him to death. He does not mention this memory to Elsie.
Cheat Code Cowboy packs up to head for the Valley Beyond. Lawrence’s daughter pulls him aside to tell him that she knows what he did and one good deed doesn’t change that – she’s speaking for Ford. She says he doesn’t understand the game – if you’re looking forward, you’re looking in the wrong direction. Then she reverts back to being a child and gives her father a hug before he heads out. They’re traveling with quite a posse now. And then they spot a lone rider, heading in their direction. It’s Grace, who says “Hi, Dad”.
Which means her name is actually Emily, since that’s the name of CCC’s daughter. So the “Grace” listing on IMDB was just to throw us off and it’s also why nobody actually spoke her name.
Man, that was a heck of an episode. Co-showrunner Lisa Joy directed this one, and I can’t believe it’s the first thing she’s directed. It’s really beautiful.
I still have one more recap before I’m caught up, but I have a couple of things to speculate. Who’s on the second hybrid drive and, presumably, embedded in Peter Abernathy’s programming? I feel like Ford is the easy answer, but I don’t think that’s right. He didn’t seem like somebody interested in immortality, and I sort of feel like the way he’s programmed his thoughts into Hosts across the park would be just as meaningful to him. And I don’t see that the Delos Corporation would be that interested in bringing back Ford. He was a pain in the ass. I think it’s Arnold. He’s just as useful as Ford in terms of creation, and probably easier to work with. Also, I can see Ford trying to bring back his friend – I mean, he sort of did that by creating Bernard in his image. So it may not even be that Delos wants Arnold in particular – they want that hybrid drive and don’t much care who’s on it.
I also think Ford’s game is a way to get William to destroy the park. Ford’s motivations have never been super clear to me, but I’m not sure he thinks enough of William to design a posthumous game just so he can learn an important lesson about himself. It strikes me also that we don’t know much about Ford’s relationship with William. There’s backstory there, but we haven’t seen it.
Finally, why does Delos’ mind keep rejecting itself? This may be sappy and if they go this route I’m sure they’ll make it sound less dumb, but on some level, he knows he doesn’t have a soul. As long as you have programming, you’re bound by that programming. Look at Dolores. Last season we saw what looked like true sentience from her but she’s a completely different character now because her personality was overlaid with Wyatt’s. Free or not, flipping a switch can change her. Maeve feels like maybe she’s overcome her programming, but Lee’s already noted that she’s still saying dialogue he wrote for her. If there is a difference between biological life and artificial life, the mind knows it and doesn’t want to accept the downgrade.
This was easier when I could compare things to video game logic, but man, this is an impressive season so far. Come back this weekend for one more recap before the new episode!