Westworld: “The Riddle of the Sphinx”

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This season seems to have a different feel than the previous season for a few reasons. One of them being that there’s no clear bad guys or good guys in this season. Do you side with the murderous robots or the humans that have been abusing them until this point? This idea is not foreign to Game of Thrones fans. The exception is that in Game of Thrones, nobody has the ability to come back to life (there is a notable exception to this rule, but I won’t mention it for those that are not caught up yet during its absence from the television screen). Westworld is doing a great job of filling the void that Game of Thrones has left for some viewers. This episode is a great example of how it doesn’t just do that but maintains its own identity.

“The Riddle of the Sphinx,” is a standout episode. Where normally each plot in an episode seems to serve towards the main story arc and having viewed previous episodes is a prerequisite to understanding what is going on, this episode leaned on the main story less. I’m not saying that this episode didn’t contribute to the story being told this season or that it’s a bad thing if it didn’t. Instead, it focused all its stories on a similar theme.

Oedipus’s answer to the riddle of the Sphinx was “a human being” in Greek mythology. The question was based off a human’s mortality. Death comes for us all. James Delos tries to cheat death, William encounters a man that claims that Death will not take him, Bernard grapples at the edge of death,  a tribe taunts humans with the threat of death. Each character learns that death cannot be under the command of any mortal.

James-Delos-WestworldJames Delos was the first attempt at implanting a human’s consciousness into a Host. Years had passed and we even see William over the multiple interviews, but very little progress in the new technology is made. When aged William walked into the room, the “Who the fuck are you?” line was the perfect reaction. The closest relatives of James Delos have passed and his efforts to be immortal become more and more trivial. As one of the tribal hosts stated, “You only live as long as the last person who remembers you”.

The tribe leading the guests and Delos staff to an unknown destination may have been one of the weaker stories in a very strong episode. It still tied into the theme of mortality. The guest and Delos staff knew that death could be right around the corner and they watched as hosts were killed while they were left alive. It’s like saying “Those people are not like me. It won’t come for me”. The humans were being led by people who spoke a language that they didn’t understand. Does anyone truly understand death? One character claimed she did. Just as it looked as though a grim fate was inevitable, the tribe left without warning (and quickly in a way that only happens on TV and movies). It was just not their time… this time.

Bernard-and-Drone-Host-WestworldBeing a robot built with the possibility of dying repeatedly makes it seem like a host is inherently immortal. Bernard’s plight placed a lot of doubt in that idea. If he goes without fluids for too long, he could perish.

William is no stranger to death. His wife took her own life, which he blames himself for. Ford’s game was the opportunity he’s been waiting years for. This season, guests can die too. The threat of death makes him feel alive. He’s turned James Delos’s denial of death into his acceptance that nobody is immune. He teaches this lesson to a host that foolishly thinks he’s immortal. Last season’s villain has become this season’s anti-hero.

This has got to be my favorite episode of Westworld. It shows that not only can television be entertaining but thought-provoking. Also, in the age of binge-watching and shows built to have a continuity between the episodes, a single episode can serve a single narrative. Season Two is shaping up to not just be a robots versus humans showdown in the Wild West, but much deeper than that. Who knows what is in store next?

What did you think of this episode? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Also, check out this teaser for Episode Five of Westworld, which is out this Sunday:


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