May 13, 2018 at 10:10 PM EDT


TV Show
run date
Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins
Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, J.J. Abrams
Current Status
In Season

Westworld went full Black Mirror for a haunting episode that finally ripped back the curtain on Delos’ secret project while also exploring the darkest depths of the park’s technology.

On the surface, “The Riddle of the Sphinx” seems to jump between four different storylines — James Delos and William, the Man in Black and Lawrence, Grace and the Ghost Nation, Bernard and Elsie. But it doesn’t. The episode is actually only one story — Delos and William/The Man in Black. Everything that happens in the other storylines is servicing William’s journey with Delos’ immortality technology (you’ll see what I mean as we go through it).

For the first time ever, however, there was no Dolores and no Maeve. Like the second season of the similarly sprawling Game of Thrones, Westworld is starting to sideline main characters for a whole episode in order to focus each week’s story. While there have been scenes in other episodes that were better than any scene in this hour (Maeve’s shell-shocked backstage exploration to Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack” in season 1 remains my favorite moment in the show), this is arguably Westworld‘s strongest episode yet. 

So for this recap, I’m doing something different, too. I’m focusing almost entirely what happens in the secret lab.

Scene 1. We’re introduced to an antiseptic tidy modern home without any windows. From the very start of Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire” on the record player, we’re thinking of The Hatch in Lost (which actually isn’t too far off). We see the man of the hour, James Delos, doing all sorts of human activities. He gets a visitor and it’s William, who brings him a drink.

“If you aim to cheat the devil, you owe him an offering,” James says as a toast. He’ll say this three times in the course of this episode, which is positively loaded with allegories about the devil and hell. As we’ll soon find out, the Delos founder is literally trying to cheat the devil here.

William says he wants to establish a “baseline” for “fidelity.” James’ hand is shaking like when Bernard is thirsty for “cortical fluid.” At this point, you have an idea what’s really going on here, right?

Scene 2: James Delos is feeling fantastic. He’s dancing in his cell. Quick, somebody turn this into a gif. William arrives, now looking noticeably older. The scene jumps to the end of their chat from last time and we see what’s on that piece of paper William is holding. It’s the script of their conversation.

James puts it together and so do we: He died from whatever illness was plaguing him at his retirement party. This is seven years after that. William has been sticking James’ mind into one host body after another trying to get the mogul’s consciousness to accept a mechanical existence. You would think James would have wanted an upgrade, body wise.

James says he’s not in California anymore, is he?

And William replies: “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”

This line is, really, everything. It’s the central question of the show. If it sounds familiar that’s because it’s the same question host Angela asked William when he was first introduced to Westworld in season 1, only now with a different twist: If he can’t tell he’s in a host body, does it matter that he’s no longer alive? If guests can’t tell if hosts are artificial, does it matter how they treat them?

James learns his wife is dead, and that stings him a bit. The first of many wounds to come. But he’s reassured that his daughter is fine and his granddaughter is “smart, capable.” This, as we’ll soon learn, is “Grace” — or rather, Emily, her real name — the character who escaped The Raj last week. This week we’re seeing exactly how smart and capable she is as she escapes the Ghost Nation, showing her father’s resourcefulness and knowledge of the park. Emily tells us in an adjacent scene that she doesn’t want to leave the park, so she has some plans of her own here.

James starts to majorly glitch. He’s not ready for primetime. William exits and the outside of the cell is revealed. James has been tucked away in one of Westworld’s underground labs. The tech freezes James’ motor functions and they burn the room. This seems odd. Why torch everything? They’re gonna have to buy that record player, exercise bike, and books 150 times! We figure out why they do this at the end of the episode. (Recap continues on next page)

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