“Death’s decisions are final.”
Elsie’s back! Sure she comes with the revelation that my theory — I had hoped it was Elsie controlling the Ghost Nation warriors — was nonsense, but the important thing is that she’s back where she belongs and as foul-mouthed as ever. The other big storyline this week involves old William, and we learn a couple new things about the man that in turn answer two big questions we’ve had from last week and prior.
Even better? This episode marks the directorial debut of the show’s co-creator Lisa Joy.
Let’s take a look at season two, episode four of Westworld: “The Riddle of the Sphinx”
The episode opens with James Delos (Peter Mullan) in a contained apartment unit, apparently on the road to recovery, when Young William (Jimmi Simpson) enters. The company’s founder is raring to get the hell back into the world, but something is amiss. He’s shaky, glitchy, and — surprise! — a man relocated into a host. We see more of the scene throughout the episode, or more precisely, the scene plays out more than once, and it quickly becomes clear that one strand of the company’s research and development department involved a blending of human and host. The idea is clearly twofold. First, it would mean a form of immortality as the wealthy could upload their “minds” into a host body and go on living indefinitely. Second, Delos could use captured guest DNA to essentially clone real people for their own purposes — imagine the possibilities if you could kill off a CEO or politician and replace her with a clone that’s under your command.
That’s the plan, obviously, but as the episode’s final scene’s show us, it’s one that Delos could never quite get right. Old William (Ed Harris) enters and we discover they’ve been doing this for thirty-something years with only minor successes along the way. Even after decades of trial and error the meshing of the human and non-human fails. Curiously, the other way around seems to be working better. A human can’t survive for long in a host shell, but as we’ve learned the hosts are capable of attaining consciousness — a trait previously reserved for humanity. It doesn’t bode well for mankind.
“I’m beginning to think that this whole enterprise was a mistake,” says old William at the end. “The world is better off without you Jim. Possibly without me.” This is taking place before his most recent trip to the park, the one that finds him on a quest for the game Ford said was crafted just for him. Is he planning on dying in the park?
The Return of a Sweet and Salty Elsie
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) appears to have been dragged by Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) a healthy distance, and the destination is a cave. He awakes and, gun in hand, enters the cave only to find the person who wants to see him least. It’s Elsie (Shannon Woodward)! Last time we saw her she was being choked out by Bernard at Ford’s (Anthony Hopkins) direction, and she’s understandably bitter about it. She’s shocked to discover that Bernard’s a host, but once she gets past the surprise she provides a temporary fix to his deteriorating mental state with a tune up and a lube job.
This is essentially the companion storyline to the R&D one, and it’s thrilling as we shift between them with increasing urgency. Elsie fixes Bernard up in the secret facility, and his memories flash in and out revealing his role in what transpired there. The “control units” being printed up here look a bit like the ones we saw pulled from a host earlier this season, but while that one was white these are blood red. Is the distinction that these are units imbued with actual human consciousness.
“For the first time I get to decide who I want to be,” says Bernard. It sounds like a plea for compassion and a promise of support, but his last flashback suggests his violent tendencies might be a bit too ingrained. We see him order the automatons to slaughter the tech staff in this remote facility and then end their own “lives” before he himself kills the last human and retrieves one of the control units.
The question is whose unit is it? Which human? The easy answer is Ford both because he’s the highest profile human who’s died and because it would make sense for him to make Bernard secure it. Does that fit the character though? Ford’s demise seemed to be his own decision, so I’m not sure he’d even want to return. It seems more likely that it’s Arnold’s.
Whoever it is, it draws me back to my earlier thought regarding when Bernard is found on the lake’s edge and folded back into the rescue party. He’s acting odder than usual there — the most recent timeline — and I suspect it’s because “someone” is hiding inside him. I previously suspected it was Dolores, but how difficult would it be to replace his own CPU unit with this red one meaning someone is pretending to be Bernard in an effort to escape the park intact?
Man in Black’s Redemption In Name Only
The Man in Black — aka old William — continues his ride deeper into Ford’s game with Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) by his side, and the fates send them back to Lawrence’s hometown where his wife and daughter await. Also awaiting the duo are a cache of guns and a still angry Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker) who quickly captures the pair. Things look dire for Lawrence, his family, and the other host townspeople, but then something happens.
A hero arises in the form of old William.
It’s a rousing sequence, and Joy directs the hell out of both its staging and explosive outcome, but it may leave some viewers uncertain in their feelings. Last season old William’s journey was revealed to be one from good guy to cruel and heartless villain — a poorly justified journey in my book — so shifting him back again just seems too easy? I don’t know, I’m torn. Lawrence’s daughter, who spoke to old William in Ford’s words before, does so again here acknowledging this redemption arc is empty. “One good deed doesn’t change that,” she says in regard to his past deeds, to which he points out that this action is simply him playing the hell out of the game.
His decision to interfere and save Lawrence’s family comes courtesy of a beautiful montage of a rainy present and a waterlogged past in the form of old William’s wife’s suicide in the tub. We’re reminded again that not only is his wife dead, presumably because of him, but that his daughter holds nothing but hate for him. This is a timely reminder both that the world outside holds little for him but also that an unknown woman has entered the park.
The Tiger Lady and Her Father
Grace (Katja Herbers) escaped the Raj — a park set in British-controlled colonial India — and a hungry tiger in last week’s episode only to be captured by the Ghost Nation. She has a brief run-in with Ashley (Luke Hemsworth) while in their custody, but she escapes them too. Ashley mentions waiting for the first responders, and since we know he eventually connects with them it’s clear this takes place closer to the initial uprising than the later arrival of Delos security forces.
The next time we see her she’s decked out in Western gear and riding a horse in from the sunset. Old William sees her approaching, and for a second or two, the possibility exists that it could be Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). That reunion will be an exciting one when it comes, but instead, we’re treated to a reunion of an entirely different sort. “Hi dad,” says Grace aka Emily.
The question now becomes why is she so interested in remaining in the park? She could be here to assist her dad, but knowing their relationship it seems more likely she’s either here to off him or destroy the park itself — the place that in a way took her father away from the family for so many years. Either way, we’re expecting some sparks.
But, and, what…?
- What’s the logic of destroying the entire “apartment” each time they terminate Subject JD? Why not just trash him and re-use the set? Was I a Delos shareholder I’d be none too pleased with the waste of money required to rebuild the damn thing 149 times. Vinyl ain’t cheap!
- Will someone really explode if they drink nitroglycerin before being shot? Can we get a Mythbusters episode on this?
- I wondered last week why we haven’t seen an old Logan yet — turns out the fool overdosed in an effort to escape reality.
- “If you’re looking forward you’re looking in the wrong direction.” Is this for old William, or is it for us?
- The episode’s title refers to an ancient Greek legend regarding the guardian’s riddle at the entrance to the city of Thebes. “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” The answer is man who moves from a baby on all fours, to a walking child/adult, to an elderly person with a cane. It’s the inevitable course of aging, and it’s exactly what Delos is trying to control.
Keep up with our Westworld coverage.