‘Westworld’ Recap ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’: Play With Fire

In the Westworld recap, Bernard digs deeper into what was really going on inside the park as the Man in Black continues his journey into Ford’s game…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

One of the things that defines Westworld so much is the constant tampering with time so that we never quite know when this show is taking place.

This all started in season one when Westworld was running on two different timelines before the big reveal that William — the sweet natured park newbie — eventually became the hardened, bitter and vengeful Man in Black. Well Westworld season two is off to a similar start with the main timeline running two weeks after Dolores killed Robert Ford and the park fell into chaos with the remainder of the show jumping back to fill in the gap over that two week period.

The latest episode titled ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ actually ends up taking us back further once again to show the relationship between William and his father-in-law James Delos while finally revealing something we’ve long suspected was going on behind the scenes at Westworld. The actual meaning behind ‘the riddle of the sphinx’ is the classic joke — “what goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?”

The answer is man — we start by crawling on all fours, walking and then hunched back over as we come closer to death. The correlation between this joke and what’s really been going on inside Westworld tie together by the end of the episode.

Meanwhile, the girl who was in The Raj when last week’s episode started who was chased down by a tiger before being captured by the Ghost Nation tribe had her identity revealed, although if you read last week’s recap it turns out we were right on the money about her!

And then there’s poor Bernard, who keeps blinking back and forth between then and now and it turns out that’s part of the problem with his programming so it’s not just a trick that Westworld is playing with us when it comes to our executive turned host. Instead, Bernard’s journey from the party where Ford was shot to his current status where he’s just recently rejoined Charlotte Hale and the security team that arrived from Delos seems to be a focal point this season.

Bernard has always been a key character in the show but it turns out he might just be the most important one of all, especially with the kind of information he seems to be carrying around even if he doesn’t remember having it!

With that said, let’s recap the latest episode of Westworld titled ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’…

Time Is a Flat Circle

A record playing the Rolling Stones track ‘Play With Fire’ opens the episode as we catch up with James Delos — the founder of the Delos Corporation and the man whose money helped fund Westworld in those early days — as he’s now waking up everyday, dancing around a well stocked apartment and pedaling away on a stationary bike that goes nowhere. That seems like a rather fitting metaphor for what’s actually happening when William arrives to talk to his former boss and father-in-law.

During the course of the conversation, Williams says that this really an interview for a baseline that he’s trying to establish before handing over a piece of paper to Delos that leaves him stunned.

As time passes we begin to realize that William has made this visit dozens of times because the James Delos he’s visiting is actually a copy made into a host with his thoughts and memories. Going back to episode two we see the origins of this project when Delos tells William at his retirement party that he may not have to go away due to his illness as originally expected. It seems this was Delos’ plan to stay alive forever.

Unfortunately, every version of this piece of technology has failed as Delos can only make it for so long before his robot brain sputters out and combusts on itself. In other words, these Delos copies keep reaching their cognitive ceiling and the engineers can’t figure out how to make them go any further.

Over time, William’s visits become more tedious as Delos tries to celebrate when he finds out that his plan to transfer his consciousness into a host’s body has worked only to later discover that this will eventually lead to his downfall as attempt after attempt fails in dramatic fashion. Each time, William scraps that version of Delos, burns it all down to the ground and then begins building it back up again.

As days turns into months and months into years, William finally comes to visit Delos but he’s finally old enough to be the one we know as the Man in Black. William follows through the same conversation with Delos has he had done 148 times before as he passed along the news that the real James Delos died long ago after succumbing to the illness that crippled his body.

William also has to pass along the bad news that Delos’ wife is long since dead, Logan overdosed and died years ago and even his daughter has also expired after she took her own life. Remember last season, William spoke about his wife and daughter and how he ended up as a tremendous businessman but he never quite measured up as a husband or father. That eventually led to William’s wife committing suicide while being estranged from his daughter (more on that later!).

It seems this constant effort to create a host version of his father-in-law has been exhaustive and without success and it’s led William to decide that no man should probably live forever. Even he’s facing his own mortality and realizing that at some point everybody has an expiration date.

With that, Williams bids ado to James Delos for the final time as he watches the host version of his father-in-law spark out and rage not only at the revelation that he’ll never escape that room but he’ll also never have a chance to continue the life he once lived. William does pass along one final instruction before leaving this secret lab on the Westworld grounds — he tells the scientists to keep Delos alive for a little while longer to see what happens just so they can use that for future research.

That conversation gives us a little more insight into when this actually happens versus where the Man in Black first appears during Westworld season one based on another interaction that happens later in the episode.

This also confirms what was really going on behind the walls at Westworld this entire time. They were not only trying to make the hosts more humans, they’ve actually been trying to transform humans into hosts to truly conquer immortality.

The Memory Remains

When we catch up to Bernard this week it’s the aftermath of the previous episode when Clementine captured him after he tried to escape the assault on the fort and then dragged him out into the desert. It gets confusing at times as Bernard keeps flashing back and then forward to the present, but even that is finally explained once he discovers someone who can help him.

After Bernard is dropped off at the opening of a cave with a rifle laid beside him, Clementine leaves and he’s left to figure out why she dropped him off at this specific location. Remember, this is relatively soon after Ford was killed and he escaped the slaughter on the beach with Charlotte Hale.

Bernard finally goes inside the cave where he finds a surprise — it’s Elsie, the programmer who was looking into the information that was being stolen from the park only to have her boss attack her towards the end of the season and she’s been missing ever since. Bernard then had flashbacks of grabbing and choking Elsie, which he presumed led to her death but it turns out that wasn’t the case.

Instead, Bernard actually brought Elsie to this cave, chained her to the floor and left her with a pile of protein bars and a bucket where she could defecate. So upon seeing Bernard for the first time in days, Elsie isn’t all that excited even when he uses the rifle to free her from the chain.

Elsie ends up turning the gun on Bernard, but that’s totally unnecessary because he’s already falling apart from the inside out. It seems the fluid leak that happened after the gunshot to his head is still occurring and the injection he took after teaming up with Hale is already running out. Elsie decides to keep Bernard alive because she may need to use him after finding out that Delos won’t be sending any security forces for at least two weeks because they are desperate to get their hands on whatever technology was being stolen out of the park when all of this unfolded.

Unfortunately, Elsie informs Bernard that where they are at in the park leaves them very little wiggle room because there’s nowhere they can go to get the fluid he needs to stay alive. That’s when Bernard begins flashing back into past memories because he’s been here before and it’s rather apparent that he tied up Elsie in this cave for a very specific reason.

Through various flashes in his history, Bernard figures out where a secret entrance is inside this cave that leads them down into a hidden laboratory. Inside, they find that the place has been ransacked and destroyed with only a single drone host left alive with everybody else — scientists and hosts — dead on the floor.

Elsie ends up killing that final drone host because she has no idea what it is but Bernard is beginning to figure out how this lab ties into the other one he went to with Charlotte Hale at the beginning of the season. Back then, Bernard discovered that the hosts in Westworld weren’t just helping people to live out their most perverse fantasies — they were recording those interactions and then keeping the DNA they collected from those guests.

This second lab has an eerily similar feel to it but first things first, Elsie has to do some diagnostic work on Bernard to save him from sparking out. She injects him with the fluid he needs to survive but also figures out by looking at his programming that Bernard is stuck in some kind of perpetual loop when it comes to his memory functions. In other words, Bernard can’t tell exactly where he’s at or when he’s at because his brain keeps getting scrambled. That explains why Bernard keeps blinking back between past and present because his brain can’t differentiate the two.

Meanwhile, Bernard informs Elsie what’s going on inside this lab just like the other one and how Westworld has been collecting all this information on the hosts. Elsie then figures out that the code that is written in this new program is the same that was being stored on Peter Abernathy’s brain as he was the key to getting this information outside the park. This technology of turning humans into hosts is the very piece of information that Charlotte Hale was so desperate to ensure gets back to her bosses before they would be willing to send in help to rescue the human hostages.

They then hear a pounding behind a door, which leads Elsie to investigate. When she blows the lock off the door, they wander inside and find a room enclosed by glass that has also been destroyed. When they walk in, Elsie finds a dead scientist on the floor and Bernard discovers the other inhabitant — it’s subject No. 149 aka the latest copy of James Delos.

Delos is still alive but obviously sputtering out after Ford pulled off the restraints on all the hosts. He managed to kill the scientist who was keeping an eye on him but ever since he’s been stuck in that same perpetual loop listening to records and pedaling on that exercise bike while seemingly stabbing himself in the face with shards of glass.

Upon seeing him, Bernard and Elsie begin to figure out what was really going on behind the scenes at Westworld with technicians trying to crack the code how to make a host copy of a real human person. It also tells us that William’s last visit to this most recent version of Delos was fairly recently as he commented on this being No. 149 in the line and we later see the No. 149 on the computer readout near the cell where Delos is kept.

Before exiting, Elsie does the humane thing and torches the entire room just like William had done 148 times previously before leaving this last version of Delos alive. As they prepare to leave the secret bunker, Bernard begins flashing back again and he’s haunted by two major revelations.

It seems Bernard is the one who returned to this secret lab and killed everybody inside including ordering the drone hosts to snap their own necks. Bernard also remembers that Ford had him create another human copy before this place was destroyed but he has no memory of who was created or what happened to them.

That means any of our current humans in Westworld could actually be a duplicate after Ford had them replaced. Then again is it possible that Ford created a duplicate of himself so that the human version would die by Dolores’ bullet but then another Ford would still be left to run the park? Ford’s voice has been heard throughout the season as he continues to taunt and stalk William wherever he goes.

Perhaps Ford never actually died but was reborn into one of his own creations — presumably the kind that doesn’t sputter out and malfunction a month into its own existence like Delos did each and every time. Then again, Ford may have created somebody else to throw into the park but for now that remains a mystery.

Like Ghosts

One of the briefest scenes this episode catches us up with the girl we met a week ago who was locked inside the The Raj after the hosts were free to kill the guests. She escaped but only to then get chased by a Bengal tiger, who she eventually killed but only after they both were tossed off a cliff before landing on the beach below. When the girl known only as ‘Grace’ emerged from the surf, she came face to face with her new captors — the tribe known as the Ghost Nation.

When we pick up this week, the Ghost Nation has brought ‘Grace’ back to join the rest of their human hostages including Security Chief Ashley Stubbs. He seems to recognize the woman almost immediately and promises that they’ll get free and he’ll get her out of the park. She responds by saying that leaving the park is the last thing she wants to do.

The Ghost Nation tribe eventually leads their captives to a beach where they meet with the leader named Akecheta (played by Fargo actor Zahn McClarnon) who lines all of them up in a row. While he’s preaching to the captive audience, ‘Grace’ manages to slip free of the ropes binding her hands together as she makes a quick escape into the darkness. The Ghost Nation tribe don’t even bother to give chase.

Instead, Akecheta puts a knife to Stubbs’ throat before whispering some prophetic words into his ear.

“You live only as long as the last person who remembers you”

A moment later, the knife is pulled away from his neck and when Stubbs opens his eyes, the Ghost Nation tribe is gone and all of the humans they captured have been released. Now we know how Stubbs survived and eventually rejoined the security forces that are sent by Delos. What we don’t know is why the Ghost Nation captured these people and then let them go. Akecheta is one of the oldest hosts in the park as we learned when he first played a part in convincing Logan Delos to invest in the park many years ago.

It seems he’ll have a bigger role in the robot uprising as the season moves forward.

Death is Only the Beginning

As for the Man in Black, he’s riding with Lawrence back to his hometown where he hopes to gather some supplies as they continue to move west towards his ultimate goal of beating Ford’s game. William knows that this is the town where Lawrence’s wife and child reside — at least based on his narrative — but when they arrive, the entire place has turned into a ghost town.

They soon find out why when Major Craddock and his men — the ones spared by Teddy last week — reappear after taking over this small town for themselves. Craddock takes William and Lawrence hostage before going into the church where he begins demanding the cache of weapons that he knows the town has stored so that he can lead his men on the charge to find Glory.

The Man in Black finds out where the weapons are stashed from Lawrence and promptly betrays him by telling Major Craddock exactly where he can find them. It seems William is playing the end game here because his negotiation with Craddock isn’t over weapons — instead he suggests that if the major really wants to lead his men to Glory, he’s going to need help. It seems Craddock may talk a good game but he doesn’t actually know where Glory lies because that’s always part of his narrative to lead his army to find this place except in the story created, they never make it there.

The Man in Black then sits with Craddock for a drink and it’s clear that this host is a bit unhinged as he constantly tempts fate by playing with nitroglycerine while waxing intellectual about death. Craddock has tasted death once just recently and Dolores brought him back to life so it seems he believes he’s invincible.

As he continues to testify about his immortality, Craddock makes one wrong move when he decides to assassinate Lawrence by making his wife carry over a glass of nitro where he plans on shooting and then killing both of them.

In this moment, the Man in Black starts to have flashbacks of his own family — when he walked up the stairs one night and found his wife dead in the bathtub after taking her own life. He sees visions of his own family falling apart while watching Lawrence’s daughter screaming for help.

William finally springs into action after reminding Craddock that temping fate will sometimes lead to an encounter with death — and what the good major didn’t know was that death was sitting across the table from him this entire time. William then jams a broken whisky bottle into Craddock’s neck before grabbing his gun to kill the rest of his men. Before leaving the town, William forces Craddock to drink a glass of nitro before then allowing Lawrence to blow his head clean off.

The next morning, Lawrence is ready to follow the Man in Black anywhere after he saved his family. He even has a couple of cousins who are willing to help them on their journey.

Before leaving, Lawrence’s daughter wipes her tears and loses her accent before addressing William as Ford yet again. This is the same host who spoke to the Man in Black a season ago and it seems Ford had her set up to deliver another message.

As Ford, the girl first tells William that one good deed doesn’t erase all the other things he’s done in the past. The Man in Black agrees because he doesn’t see what he did as a good deed anyways. William then tells the host that he’s going to play this game to the bone just like Ford always intended.

Ford then reminds William that if he’s looking forward to play this game, he’s looking in the wrong direction. In other words, it seems Ford has set this game up based on something William did in his past, whatever that might be.

William and his new posse head off west towards the next stage of this game when the group happens upon a lone rider approaching them from the opposite direction. When the sun turns to shadow, the person on the horse is none other than the woman we met last week who just escaped the Ghost Nation.

“Hi, dad”

It turns out this mystery woman is Emily — the Man in Black’s long estranged daughter just as we predicted a week ago. Emily has made this part her home the same way her father has for so many years, but based on her interactions last week she has a much different impression of this place than those held by the rest of her family. Why did Emily stay behind and what does she want to accomplish in the park?

Only time will tell as more will be revealed on that in the coming weeks.

Westworld returns with a brand new episode next Sunday night at 9pm ET on HBO.

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