I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of Westworld to date, but I’ve never connected with it in the same way that I did with something like The Terror or The Leftovers. That all changed with ‘Riddle of the Sphinx’, an episode that is not only the best Westworld has come up with to date, but possibly one of the best hours (and a bit) of television we’ll see in 2018. Not bad for an episode completely devoid of the series’ two MVPs, Thandie Newtown and Evan Rachel Wood.
My regular beef with season one was that Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy and company played everything so frustratingly close to their chests throughout season one, that when the reveals came, they came like buses – too late and all bunched up together, minimising their effect. Season two has been paced much more effectively. We’ve been drip-fed nuggets of information but the gap between puzzler and pay-off has been expertly judged. A case in point: we had to wait all of season one to discover that Bernard was a host and William was the Man in Black, even though most viewers figured that out several episodes earlier. Here, we were introduced to Katja Herber’s character in last week’s cold open – immediately prompting suspicions about her real identity – and this week’s episode ends with her riding up to MiB William and greeting him with a wry “Hello Dad”. Herber’s delivery really sells the line and it caps off a stunning episode on a resoundingly satisfying note.
We’ve also been in the dark about Delos’s nefarious activities going on behind the scenes, but we learn a lot more about that, thanks to stellar work from a returning Peter Mullan. The episode opens on Mullan’s Jim Delos, in what looks like the world’s fanciest bedsit, going through a morning routine (exercise, coffee, apple, wank) to the strains of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Play With Fire’ (pretty apt song choice there). He’s visited by William and they have an opaque conversation which ends with William passing him some sheets of paper. Later, William returns and they have the same conversation, this time William revealing that Jim is dead and they’ve used the park’s technology to essentially make him immortal.
Except it’s not quite there yet, Jim glitching out each time William visits him. Towards the end of the episode, William returns again, this time as Ed Harris, and he tells Jim that his family are all dead and he’s realised that we weren’t meant to live forever. Some men are better off dead, he says, including himself in that summation. Jim flies into a rage, smashing the place up, William instructing a technician to leave him to it, rather than shutting him down. It’s a cold move from William but it demonstrates a man whose conscience is starting to wear him down, foreshadowing the compassion we see from him when he saves Laurence’s village from the Confederados Teddy let go last week.
Back in the park, Clementine dumps Bernard outside a cave and leaves him there. Venturing inside, he discovers none other than Elsie (welcome back Elsie!), who he apparently chained up when he was being controlled by Ford. It’s no surprise to see Shannon Woodward back – she confirmed before the season premiere that she’d be returning – but it offers us another great odd couple pairing, as she’s forced to trust Bernard in order to survive.
Poor Bernard is in a jumble, unable to tell his memories and present apart, and he and Elsie inadvertently stumble into Jim Delos’s bedsit. Now, it’s a glowing red hellhole where Jim has deteriorated into a grinning, nightmarish apparition, left in the same loop for years. He attacks them, mumbles some oblique analogy about how there is no God, just the Devil’s reflection laughing back at us, and is finally put out of his misery by Elsie, disappearing into the flames like some cackling demon returned to hell.
What this episode demonstrates most clearly is how great Westworld can be when it goes small, when it stops trying to track too many stories over too many timelines and instead locks itself in a room with two, well-constructed, beautifully realised characters. The way the three plots of ‘Riddle of the Sphinx’ dovetail and collide is some truly impressive writing. Let’s hope this is a sign of what we can look forward to for the remainder of the season.
Questions, questions, questions
- I’ve been wrong before, but does anyone else get the feeling that Laurence might be more than he first appears? After all, William never explicitly says that Logan is dead, just that he OD’d.
- Bernard’s murderous rampage in the secret facility suggests Ford was not cool with Delos using his creation to play God. Yet, he asked Bernard to create one more command module. For who? For Ford?
- Delos have a wealth of information collected on guests, including DNA. Was Jim their one and only attempt at placing human consciousness inside host bodies?
Westworld – ‘Journey Into Night’ – Season 2 Episode 1 Review