Review – Westworld: The Riddle of the Sphinx

WW ep4 William

Is this now? If you’re looking forward, you’re looking in the wrong direction. The official synopsis for Westworld’s latest episode, The Riddle of the Sphinx, promises plenty more mind-boggling twists and turns which we’ve become accustomed to trying to piece together the multiple timelines, memories and events of the series. When we last left off last week in Virtù e Fotuna, we were introduced to Grace -who becomes far more important to the storyline in this episode – we found out there are other park aside from Westworld and we saw Delos forces clash with Dolores/Wyatt’s rebel army. There will be spoilers from here on out so for all intents and purposes; be warned. So with that said and without any further ado, let’s get into it.

Following on from the cliff-hanger discovery and subsequent attack on Maeve’s group at the end of Virtù e Fortuna, it would appear the show runners want to keep the suspense from the encounter high for another week as we’ll see no action from her entourage – or in fact Dolores’ posse either – leaving the limelight squarely at the feet of some of the show’s less explored characters: James Delos gets just such treatment in this episode. We see a lot from Logan’s father this week, opening to a well selected backing track of The Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire” which is as symbolic of his character as it is of the events of the episode. Despite running through his opening scene a number of different times throughout the episode – more on why that is later – Peter Mullan does a fantastic job of creating little nuances as his mind begins to change with each repeat of the scene, bouncing off of Jimmi Simpson’s stoney-faced William to great effect. After dropping some subtle hints throughout the opening, it becomes pretty easy to guess what’s on the paper William hands to his father-in-law; we all knew that it would be a transcript of the very conversation the two were having, indicating that this iteration of Delos is, in fact, a host.

We also see a massively darker side to William in these scenes – similar to the one we saw reject any affection for Dolores’ in episode 2 – with the new Delos CEO taking some sort of pleasure out of seeing his once-friend suffer: between the wry expression and the smugness in his tone of voice, its clear that the once innocent, morally sound young man is growing colder with each passing visit and his sense of decorum is fast being eroded. This graduation is shown in a literal sense as the episode progresses epitomised by Ed Harris’ callousness as the older William who will eventually become the Man in Black. We learn through Harris’ hardened William that the majority of the Delos family are dead; Logan’s overdosed, his wife died of a seizure and Juliet, once William’s wife, has committed suicide – something which the hardened CEO takes great pleasure in announcing to his father-in-law. Delos is then unceremoniously left to mentally deteriorate in his pseudo-cell as his successor saunters off after telling him that the world is better off without him.

Cutting back to the park, we see Bernard left tied up by the zombie-like Clementine at the mouth of a cave. After struggling free, he finds that Elsie – a park employee he had previously attacked in one of his “outbursts” – chained to a wall. After Bernard goes into a seizure, Elsie figures out that his cortical fluid (the stuff in the hosts’ brains/ processors) is dangerously low and that they need to find a new supply if the malfunctioning android is to survive – something which could potentially explain the see of dead bodies at the end of episode 1. As the hapless pair descend into a hidden outpost it becomes clear that Bernard is essentially the audience’s surrogate this series; his confusion and bemusement, as well as his own struggle to understand which timeline he’s in at any given time, is so similar to what we as viewers experience of an episode that it seems he’s intentionally been made into a plot device to guide us through the unravelling mysteries of the series. Before we leave the pair, we see them come across the almost unrecognisable Jim Delos who is stood amidst several corpses, covered in blood, in the wake of his escape from his cell and the deranged rampage that ensued.

Elsewhere, and back with older William now, we come across the rag-tag survivors of Dolores/ Wyatt’s betrayal led by confederate Major Craddock who’s embraced his inner tyrant and is found terrorising a small town of South Americans. All in all, the major, played by Jonathan Tucker, has become something of a religious zealot and an all round nasty piece of work, claiming he has become the right hand of death after being revived by Dolores and her crew. The Major for all his chilling bravado and sadistic games acts only really as a device to help show how cold William has become, prompting the latter’s realisation that he’s never been a good person, nor have any of the people who he’s chosen to surround himself with. It seems fitting then that William’s small shot at redemption comes at the expense of the confederate deserters and their particularly vicious leader once his purpose had been fulfilled. As William is hailed as a hero of the frontier town, he has another ominous run in with Ford this time in the form of Lawrence’s daughter. This really does beg the question as to whether Ford had succeeded where William and his team had failed: has the old professor managed to immortalise himself in host form or, if not, what other methods could he have possibly employed to still hold control over William’s game?

Aside from the William storyline, we see Grace – the patron of colonial world who washes ashore at the feet of ghost-nation warriors at the end of the last episode – coming face to face with Stubbs, a Delos security official, who is also a captive of the tribal, native-American hosts. The only real thing of note here is Grace’s revelation that she doesn’t “intend to get out of Westworld alive” – a phrase which suggests she potentially knows something we don’t about William’s game or Dolores’ weapon. As the two are being prepared for sacrifice/ execution at the hands of their captors, Grace manages to escape and within a flash, Stubbs finds himself completely alone on the arid plains the prisoners were being held on – no ghost-nation, no other prisoners.

Finally as we approach the end of the episode, in typical Westworld fashion, we get one big twist to keep us guessing and to maintain the suspense between weeks. As William and his new entourage ride across the sun soaked fields of their frontier setting, they come across a woman – Grace to be specific. From Harris’ facial expressions after recognising the woman standing before him, it becomes pretty easy to guess that she means a great deal to him and out of the dramatic silence Katja Herbers’ voice – who plays Grace – reveals that he is her dad. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the way the scene was staged made its dramatic impact strong enough to deliver the knock-out punch to close the episode on.

All in all, the episode provides a nice bit of breathing room against Dolores’ repetitive warpath storyline whilst still having enough plot-based oomph to stand up on its own. The potentially massive revelation that the human mind can be transferred into a host’s body could prove to be an important concept in the grand-scheme of the season’s story, while the death of Delos and his family tied up a few loose ends in regards to who’s still knocking about. With Bernard’s constant need for cortical fluid – or just adequate repairs – it seems he’ll either have to take a darker turn to satiate this need or will be living on borrowed time. Elsewhere, it seems William is beginning to become more gray than he is black with his heroism mid-way through the episode contrasting heavily with the spiteful glee he shows when emotionally destroying his father-in-law; you get the feeling that perhaps this moral indifference may play part in his relationship with Grace/ Emily going forward.

 

Westworld continues Mondays at 9:00pm on Sky Atlantic.

 

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