Thursday, May 30, 2024

Westworld Asks and Answers All Your Questions

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This week’s episode of Westworld was easily my favorite of the season so far, as well as Lisa Joy’s incredibly strong directorial debut. The episode entitled “Riddle of the Sphinx” makes use of its title as it tackles the ultimate question. In the classic Oedipus tale, the Sphinx puts forth the riddle, “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” Oedipus answers correctly, “Man,” defeating the Sphinx and avoiding death. This is essentially the same riddle Westworld is posing. What makes a man? Can it be replicated? Can it be created?

Lisa Joy onset

The Delos Experiment

The episode opens with a breathtaking 360 one-shot pan around a starkly white, circular room, as we start to piece together items that might indicate who the occupant is. We see a flurry of looping imagery, including the shot itself,  and not limited to a record player and an exercise bike. We see a goldfish in a bowl. In hindsight, this shot tells us literally everything, but on first watch—until a few minutes in when the identity of the man is revealed—the viewer is still just taking it all in.

It’s eventually revealed that this room belongs to James Delos…well, kind of. The first hint that everything is not what it seems is when he starts pouring himself a drink and his shaking hands spill the liquid outside the cup. It’s reminiscent of a common host glitch we’ve seen before, and immediately had my mind jump. He’s a host. Young William then arrived and the two begin to talk, Delos believing he’s there for treatment and should be able to leave soon. William tells him he has to wait a little longer, there’s a conversation test as well — to test his responses. Delos doesn’t understand the use of such a test starts to grow agitated, glitching out. William hands him a folded paper and Delos looks at it confused.

We see this scene repeat again for another test of the next model. William talks to the tech this time, who tells him they’ve made progress but they’re just not there yet. He has this model terminated and they start all over. In their last meeting, it’s Ed Harris’ Bill that meets with the new Delos model. Things are supposed to be going better but Delos starts glitching again. Bill hands him the paper once more and it’s revealed to have their whole conversation on it, word for word. Delos can’t handle it and starts breaking down. Bill leaves, defeated, and tells the tech not to terminate him, that his decay could be worth observing over the next few days.

I loved this sequence, which shocked me considering the post-park trip William and Delos don’t particularly interest me. They essentially shot what could have worked on its own as a short film. It’s brilliant. With the introduction that they’re trying to “bring forth Lazarus” as Ford suggested the future leaning towards in season one, and combine host with human, the showrunners push forward the concept of what truly makes us human and further blurring the lines between hosts and humans. The idea is that they use the DNA to make a host body replica of the human and somehow craft their consciousness to insert into the host. I’m not entirely sure how this works for the immortality concept, because your old mind is not just waking up in this new body, it’s a replicated mind. Presumably it would just be for the people you’re leaving behind? I’m not sure but I’m excited the show is getting farther in its exploration of the grey and questionable areas of AI.

The worst part of this is we learn that Logan overdosed a long time ago. Guess that means no more dreaming of who will play old Logan on the show. But yeah, William and Delos might want to take a look at all the devastation their business has earned them.

The Return of Elsie

Clementine drags Bernard all the way to the mouth of a cave and leaves him with a shotgun. He stumbles around, clearly still not doing well, and walks into the cave. There he finds Elsie, her foot chained up to the rock, a bucket, and protein bar wrappers scattered around. She shrinks away from him as soon as she sees him, reminding him that he attacked her and put her here the last time he saw her. Bernard tells her that it was only under Ford’s instructions, that she knew too much.

He starts fritzing out and she takes the gun from him, walking away. He hurries to follow her, holding out the tablet as he shakes, begging her to help him. She hesitates but when he falls to the floor she relents. She rushes over and it’s revealed that her mentor and friend is a host. Her reaction is pretty chilled out for someone having this shocking truth dropped on them, but maybe after her current situation and working with hosts all day, it would take a lot to shock her. He updates her on everything that’s happened since. She tells him he need cortical fluid but there’s nowhere nearby.

That’s when Bernard remembers that he’s been there before—or rather goes into a memory of having been there before. There’s a lab there. In what I imagine what Disney World’s secrecy policy on hiding the work behind the scenes, he flips up a rock to open pull the lever opening the door to the elevator.

Once inside, they find corpses everywhere. Dead scientists and dead drone hosts. Except for one. Elsie has never seen anything like it before and thrusts her gun at it before Bernard can warn her not to threaten it. The drone host runs at her and she shoots it down. Bernard walks through the space, lost between his memories and now. He tells Elsie he’s been here before but starts convulsing again. Elsie, now equipped with the tools, injects some cortical fluid into him and revives him.

As they walk around, they see host building facilities and code they don’t recognize. Bernard says he’s seen it before; in Abernathy’s head. They also see red versions of the mind eggs we saw in episode 1, and Bernard recalls being sent here by Ford. They see a locked door that Elsie insists on breaking through. Inside, they discover James Delos’s testing area and observation quarters. It’s a mess and the techie is dead. Elsie slowly approaches the circular chamber when Delos, gone mad, attacks her. Bernard rescues her, knocking Delos out. Once safe and far away, Elsie terminates him.

Bernard tells her that was James Delos, who died so many years ago. She says it’s impossible, but he now knows what they were doing in the facility: they were trying to impart human consciousness into host bodies. Bernard gets lost in memory and remembers the last time he was here. He takes a mind egg on Ford’s orders but can’t recall who it was for. It’s revealed that it was Bernard who ordered the drone hosts to kill the scientists and then snap their own necks in a brutally eerie scene. For all of Ford’s talk of letting them be free, he has made Bernard do so many fucked up things on his behalf. Bernard kills the last scientist.

Now the big question is…who is actually a host? Who is the mind egg that Bernard stole? My guesses (as is I’m sure most of reddit) reach toward something to do with the quest the Man in Black is on. The door. Will this mind egg be on the other side of it? If this is the case, and it seems to be because this is quite a Man in Black personally centric season, the person has to mean something to him, has to illicit a change. Perhaps Juliet? A direct effect of his actions. Or as I’ve heard thrown around and also think could be plausible, a young version of himself? Or, which wouldn’t really work but my selfish desire for him to come back is taking charge, LOGANNN (just kidding).

Possibly Racist Woman Learns Native Language

We see the woman who escaped from Raj World last week back and captured by Ghost Nation. She’s set down beside Stubbs who assures her to just wait for back up to arrive. She tells him she has no intention of sticking around and starts translating what the Ghost Nation tribe are saying. Stubbs remarks that people don’t usually pay attention to their narratives, let alone learns the language. She says she hates people. I think this is meant to be an endearing moment, but I’m not going to forget the fact that this is a woman who found pleasure in minority subservient and oppressive Raj World where she could hunt tigers for a hobby. Doesn’t really scream moral compass to me, but maybe they’ll explain more later.

Stubbs tells her they aren’t killing the humans, just rounding them up. Ghost Nation take their captives to a shore where they present them to the First One. The woman grabs a flaming staff and escapes, while Stubbs looks on helpless. The First One nears him, telling him he’s only alive so long as the last person who remembers you is. Then they disappear and the humans are free to go. I’m excited to see what they do with Ghost Nation because I know Lisa Joy has talked a lot about them subverting the racist park narrative they were assigned this season, but I can’t say we particularly have seen that yet.

The Man in Black Finds A Conscience? 

The man in Black is still on his journey with Lawrence when they pass by a railroad track being built by Chinese laborers. However, instead of normal ties, they are using people. A mix of hosts and guests, the hosts that forced them to work the railroad and the hosts that participated in the oppressive narrative.

Noticing the new direction of the tracks, the Man in Black declares they must make their way through Lawrence’s town to get where they are going. Once they get there they are greeted by the Confederados Teddy let escape last episode (come on Teddy, don’t let men who fought for slavery just run rampant). They have taken over the town to find their weapons that were stored there somewhere. Lawrence says he knows where they are, that they should use it as a bargaining chip later, but the Man in Black stands up, telling Craddock exactly where they are. This is just insurance; his real bargaining chip is that they don’t know where it is that they are looking for, but he does. He promises to lead them there.

Craddock agrees after torturing some townspeople. He has a drink with the Man in Black and monologues about being death. He calls over Lawrence’s crying wife, as a beat up Lawrence sits tied up outside in the rain, and tells her to carry a shot glass full of Nitro to her husband. She shakes, and it recalls a scene of the Man in Black similarly torturing her in Season One. The Man in Black gets up, frustrated, and declares himself death. He shoots Craddock and then takes out the remaining Confederados. Taking the glass from Lawrence wife’s hands, he shoves it down a crawling Craddock’s throat and gives Lawrence the shotgun to shoot. Lawrence tells Bill that his family is thankful for what he’s done and his cousins want to come help them on their mission.

As the Man in Black rides out across the field at sunset with his men, a rider comes upon them and it’s none other than the Raj World woman, who is revealed to be Emily, his daughter.

I think a lot of people suspected that after last episode, and I’ll be interested to see how her inclusion in the group shakes things up. This episode was incredibly interesting for the Man in Black because it’s almost as if the danger of death has caused him to question his treatment of the hosts. Perhaps brought him closer to them now that everything is more real. I doubt we’re going down a full on redemptive arc for him, but some complexity akin to what I first felt for William would be good.

Overall definitely my favorite episode of the season so far and an astounding directorial debut by Lisa Joy! And next week…Shogun World!

Images courtesy of HBO

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