Westworld’s “The Riddle of the Sphinx” is the strongest episode so far this season. Though it lacks both Maeve and Dolores, the focus on the mysterious machinations of the Delos corporation, the expanded capabilities of the host technology, and the increasingly murky timelines provides fascinating fodder for new questions and wild speculation. This is Westworld, after all, and that’s half the fun. Grab your tinfoil cowboy hats, ‘cause it’s time to get weird!
The episode opens with a nice homage to Lost, executive producer J.J. Abram’s previous trip down the psychological rabbit hole. Much like Desmond in the hatch, we find James Delos living in isolation, playing old records, exercising, filling his hours with the mundane elements of an expectant existence. Previous episodes have confirmed that he is ill and viewers are led to believe that he is under observation in a medical facility, the trembling in his hands attributable to his unnamed disease. A visit from William reveals that there’s something more going on, explored with expert circular storytelling. As their interaction recurs throughout the episode, the variations provide new context… and a growing sense of foreboding.
By the second iteration, we suspect the truth: that Delos’ human mind has been transferred into a synthetic host body, that the familiar technology provides not just parks and playthings, but a path to immortality. He is not a dying man, but a failing experiment, an unnatural combination of human and host who nonetheless draws our sympathy, particularly when we see him “terminated” in flame.
By the time we come to the final iteration, we’re watching with horror, knowing that Delos has been unsuccessfully resurrected 148 times. But the now aged William doesn’t stop there. Motivated perhaps by his own disaffection with the park, the project, and his own failings, William cruelly confronts Delos with the terrible truth of his near-immortality. Everyone he loves is dead — his son overdosed, his daughter committed suicide. No one wants to see him return. He entirely at William’s mercy, having lost everything to the man sitting across from him, and even he no longer cares. Upon leaving, William doesn’t even spare him the mercy of terminating him once again, leaving him to “live” with all the horror of his rapidly degrading mind.
These visits, along with Bernard and Elsie’s arrival at the same lab, raise new questions about this season’s multiple timelines. William has been copying Delos’ mind into new bodies over the course of thirty years, but on his last visit he comments that in “another year or two, they might crack it.” How much time has passed since their final conversation? Has the technology been stabilized in the current timeline of the host revolt? Could William have been lying or mistaken about the timeline of its progress? The question, really, is are there other human/host hybrids out there, stable enough to be passing for human — perhaps some that we have already met?
Elsie comments that the “code” of a human mind that they find at the lab is distinct from that of the hosts. Bernard has seen this code before in Abernathy, but we know that he’s a host and that Charlotte gave him a jury-rigged personality to get him on the train. While his is not a human mind, it seems that he has one hidden inside him, perhaps bleeding over and causing degradation similar to that of Delos. Bernard himself is suffering similar effects. True, he did shoot himself in the head and Elsie saw no such code when repairing him, but it would be an excellent twist if Bernard did turn out to somehow be Arnold, not just in form but in mind. Could Ford have made a control core copy of his partner’s mind, perhaps even transplanting it into Bernard’s body at a later time, in one of the periods that he can’t remember? In speaking to Delos, William explains that “it’s more like your mind rejects reality, rejects itself.” That certainly sounds applicable to Bernard’s untethered spiral.
And what about the control core that Bernard was sent to retrieve? It was important enough that he killed the technicians on duty and even the drone hosts to protect it. Ford seems the obvious candidate. He was ostensibly the one controlling Bernard and knew of his own impending death, so it seems likely he would have made a backup of his mind. We have seen him speak through hosts and address William directly, assuming that he pre-recorded these messages as part of his new game, but now it seems he could be entirely transplanted into a new body, or perhaps be a conscious entity within the network itself. This idea of Ford as the “ghost in the machine” has a nice symmetry to it, almost preferable to seeing him show up in a new body. Having the control core that Bernard retrieved be his also seems a bit too obvious. But if it wasn’t Ford’s, whose was it? Could it be Arnold? A perfected version of Delos? Or someone else entirely?
We do get confirmation from Bernard that the “code” of a human mind found at the lab matches the code and encryption that he found inside Abernathy. Is Charlotte attempting to smuggle out a human mind? Rather than riding shotgun, perhaps this mind is bleeding over into Abernathy himself, causing him to become untethered from reality just as Delos was. Proof that it can be done would be undoubtedly valuable, as would the details of the process itself. Or perhaps what Bernard saw inside Abernathy is multiple minds, some part of the catalog that Delos is keeping on its guests.
So there are two “mind macguffins” in play — the one that Bernard retrieved on a physical control core, and the one that Charlotte attempted to smuggle out via Abernathy. Proof that the human mind can be transplanted into a host body would be undoubtedly valuable, as would the details of the process itself. Perhaps Abernathy is carrying some combination of the two, or perhaps what Bernard saw inside him is multiple minds, some part of the catalog that Delos is keeping on its guests.
If we assume that the Delos Corporation has perfected the ability to download human minds into host bodies, the fact that they’re cataloging information on their guests has even more sinister applications. The parks draw the most wealthy and powerful guests, many of whom have lost their lives in the current turmoil. In order to save face, Delos could theoretically create copies of these guests and send them back out into the world as human-host hybrids. Even more horrifying, perhaps this was the intention all along, to replace the wealthy and powerful with copies under the corporation’s control. I’m probably reaching on this one, but we have yet to see a reason for them to be logging their guests DNA and experiences. Given this data, how much of a leap is it to catalog their minds?
[And if we might delve further into the land of crackpot theories, if anyone turns out to be a secret functional hybrid, my money is on Charlotte. She’s certainly driven in her espionage and has serious clout with the board for someone so young. For a while, I thought she might be Delos himself, out for revenge in a form no one would expect. This episode put that angle to rest, but it also opened up a world of possibilities. Maybe she’s Logan, having faked the overdose that William mentions in passing. Maybe she’s William’s wife, or Ford, or anyone. I want to believe that she’s a functional hybrid, though admittedly, the simpler solution would be that she’s a Delos bastard, Logan’s or even that of Delos himself, who William makes sure to identify as a philanderer. Yes, I’m reaching, but I can’t shake this fascination.]
Oh, did I forget to mention William’s current storyline? Other than a few good lines (“good for her” in reference to Dolores), he’s still an irredeemable bastard no matter how many villages he saves. The revelation of his daughter was somewhat spoiled by the “previously on Westworld” montage, though the addition of her to his party should prove interesting. We know that she’s antagonistic toward him, but, unlike the hosts or his experiments with Delos, he can’t just dispose of her. (We hope.) It will be interesting to see how William interacts with a real person, someone who he might even care about, after so many years of getting his way. Ford did say that the stakes have been raised and having her around promises to do just that. Perhaps Delos himself hinted at it — “if you’re going to cheat the devil, you own him an offering.”
With Grace at his side, William finally has something to lose.