Westworld ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ Review

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

Was ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ an early contender for TV episode of the year? I certainly think so. I think there might also be Emmy talks for the two standout performers of the episode; Ed Harris as The Man in Black (or William ‘Bill’) and Peter Mullen as the park’s late founder James Delos. Saying ‘the park’s late founder’ is no real spoiler though; he all but kicked the bucket last time we saw him (he had one of those dreaded TV coughs). ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ is primarily concerned with what goes on after his death -namely the transposing of his conscience to a host body. It’s some real, heavy, sci-fi stuff and one of the best questions Westworld has asked for some time. Mullen is absolutely fantastic as the cocksure Delos, who we see repeatedly trying to take in the fact that he’s dead and now has his consciousness inside a host. The conversation between him and Harris where Harris’ William explains they’ll no longer be trying to sustain his artificial life, is a series highlight. Mullen captures all of the grief of a man who is told about 5 different life-changing things in the space of a few minutes, all while pulling off the show’s most convincing ‘malfunctioning host’ routine. Shame about his seemingly permanent shut down at the end of the episode; I would have loved to have seen more of the brilliant Mullen.

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The episode plays out the scenario of trying to meld human consciousness to a host body over three almost identical scenes of robo-Delos waking up in a mysterious room and being interviewed by William. Delos is in a loop and doesn’t age but William slowly turns from Jimmi Simpson into Ed Harris, a trick I used to think wouldn’t be anywhere near believable. But by the very nature of the repetition in these scenes; the repeated movements, dialogue, and speech patterns, it gives the actors something of each other to emulate, leading to a genius and, most importantly, realistic progression from Jimmi to Ed. The conversation between Mullen’s Delos and Harris’ William reminded me of the Ford – William conversation back in season 1; two heavyweight actors squaring off for an impressive verbal sparring match. Only in this one, it’s William who holds all of the cards. Harris gives a cold and ruthless turn as he explains to Delos that’s he’s been killed and brought back 149 times. It’s brilliantly countered by the more up to date scenes between William and the confederados, led by major Craddock (Johnathan Tucker) wherein Harris’ William shows his more compassionate side (albeit still through violence). Seeing Lawrence (a quietly brilliant Clifton Collins Jr) and his family being tormented (similarly to how William himself tormented them in season 1) brings back a bit of the good in William and he metes out some fiery justice. I don’t expect his story to have a happy ending, however, but it was nice to see a more compassionate side to out Man in Black.

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In the same time as this, Bernard meets up with Elsie, last seen in season 1 when Bernard kidnapped her. She now resides in a cave/secret bunker entrance. Upon realising he’s a host she accepts he was almost certainly following orders in doing this and maybe even sparing her of death at the hands of the newly awakened hosts. I liked seeing these two back together, it reminded me of happier times early on in season 1, but I don’t think Elsie’s story is going to end well. I certainly wouldn’t want to hang around with a mentally unstable guy who we find out this episode murdered a whole bunch of park technicians (he even curb stomps one, Tony Soprano style). Jeffrey Wright’s wonderful performance as Bernard makes it difficult to feel anything other than sympathy for the poor bastard. Bernard is the shows loveable loser, a guy who seems to attract bad things happening to him. I hope he catches a break in season 2 some time, although I hope this doesn’t come at the expense of his likability.

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‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ was a wonderful hour of TV – possibly even the best of the year. As well as the dynamite performances (someone get Mullen the best guest star Emmy ASAP) the episode was also notable for its outstanding direction by longtime showrunner, first time director Lisa Joy. The repeated montages of Delos waking in his bunker (which gave me a serious Desmond from LOST vibe) were some of the best scenes in the entire show. The shootout in the rain was also a gorgeous highlight. Hopefully, Joy will get a chance to show off her keen eye and fantastic directing skills again soon. Next week looks like a winner too; Maeve and the gang taking on Shogunworld. また来週!

Reviewed by Tom

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