Saddle up! But beware potential spoilers in this review, which will discuss elements of the episode.
Westworld has often seemed to be of a similar stripe to Black Mirror, and rarely more so with this episode, written by Gina Atwater and show co-creator Jonathan Nolan, and directed by fellow creator Lisa Joy. Though we jump around in time and locale, the focus is on The Man In Black, both in his grizzled Ed Harris incarnation and the younger William, played by Jimmi Simpson (who creeps closer to Harris with every passing instalment). Initially seeming frustrating with its apparent lack of forward progress (and complete absence of either Maeve or Dolores), we instead stay largely with the MIB, as even the Bernard storyline ties in.
It’s a smart move to focus on one of the bigger mysteries the show has generated so far – just what is Delos up to with the park guests’ memories and DNA? Many thought achieving immortality through artificial life, and indeed this episode confirms that via the glitchy James Delos. Peter Mullan is once again excellent as Delos, here presented post-mortem as a twitching, glitching copy of himself held in a secret lab. We’d pay money to see Mullan have a swear-off with Ian McShane. The central core is William paying to help Delos live on after he dies, but instead of the promised blissful, hearty afterlife, the lab he’s unknowingly trapped in is more reminiscent of a hell, especially when each “build” of Delos is terminated when it’s shown to be unstable. The repetition works wonders for building both suspense and laying in little details that offer clues to what’s really going on.
Out in the park, the MIB is still playing Ford’s game, and he rocks up at Las Mudas, which you might recall from Season One is Lawrence’s home. It’s been taken over by Major Craddock and his surviving Confederados, with the Major angry at Dolores (or Wyatt’s) betrayal and still on the hunt for “Glory”. Even before the MIB reaches the town, there’s a gruesome sight of Chinese hosts using (we assume) guests as railroad ties. In Las Mudas, there’s a chance to see the MIB outwit yet another enemy, and finish Major Craddock off in explosive style (for now, at least – he is a host, so he could somehow return if his mind is in the system). It’s what he deserved after his behaviour in this episode. It’s a fantastic sequence, shot beautifully, and allows Harris to show even more layers of his character.
Bernard, meanwhile, is still drifting between memories, unable to recognise where in the timeline he is. At least, that’s Elsie’s idea (yay, Elsie’s back! Stubbs is also seen again here, but we don’t really care about him all that much. Sorry, Stubbs). Shannon Woodward once again injects just the right amount of sarcasm and wide-eyed horror in Elsie Hughes. She’s still annoyed at Bernard, but logically figures he might be able to help her survive the madness that has ensued. Admittedly, the show needed Bernard to info-dump a lot of catch-up about the story, which was a little awkward, but it was just good to have her back. And they discovered the lab where Delos’ host bodies were being tested for stability! It all tied together so neatly. There was also the chance to see Bernard’s true motives – as he created another human-host compatible control unit, then ordered the facility’s drone hosts to murder the human techs, finishing one off himself. Bad, Bernard. Bad! Jeffrey Wright’s slightly demonic countenance as he assured Elsie she’d be safe with him was perfect.
Finally, there was the revelation that the woman we met last week, named Grace in official show documents, is in fact Emily, William’s daughter. No wonder she was so adept at surviving in the various parks. We’re fascinated to see where their story goes from here.
Initially feeling like it might be a wheel-spinning disappointment when compared to some of Westworld‘s best episodes, Riddle Of The Sphinx instead slowly and surely reveals itself to be one of the series’ best so far. While we have been enjoying both Maeve and Dolores’ storylines, we didn’t miss them this week, as concentrating on the MIB filled in more narrative gaps and proved to be utterly compelling as a story. Kudos all round.
1. So “Grace” is Emily, Williams daughter. What is her big aim inside the game? And though it appears she greets him cordially, does she harbour negative feelings for him because of her mother’s suicide?
2. The MIB has said he wants to destroy his “biggest mistake”. Is this lab that mistake? It’s a definite possibility.
3. Who is the other human/host control unit for? We’d guess Ford, maybe? Or even for the MIB himself? A prize? We doubt he’d see it that way.
4. Why does William/the MIB need to look back as he plays the game? Is Ford setting him up to confront something from his past?
5. What do the Ghost Nation warriors think is coming? Is there some other character – human, host or otherwise – about to enter the story?
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Westworld airs on HBO in the US on Sunday nights and Mondays on Sky Atlantic in the UK