Characters Try to Cheat Death in ‘Westworld’ Episode 4 (RECAP)

Spoiler Alert
John P. Johnson/HBO

[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Episode 4 of Westworld Season 2.]

Sunday’s episode of Westworld, “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” is, in my mind, the pinnacle of the series so far. A thematically rich 70 minutes of television anchored by an incredible and at times unnerving central performance by guest star Peter Mullan, whose character Jim Delos is trapped in some sort of Groundhog Day meets Final Destination hellscape. It’s an episode that delivers an abundance of answers, including the one to the question no one has ever thought of asking. What if you could live forever?

That is the question young William (Jimmi Simpson) alluded to back in episode two when he spoke of the potential for Westworld beyond its ability to offer escapism to frustrated millionaires. Immortality. What if it was possible to upload human consciousness to a host body? It’s that possibility which convinced his ailing father-in-law Jim Delos to invest in the park and one which drove William to obsession and, ultimately, regret.

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'I didn’t think that you should just stand there and just be a zombie,' said the actress.

There is a Twilight Zone quality to the scenes between William and Jim — what at first seems ordinary unfolds into a macabre morality tale. It turns out Jim is the original guinea pig of this morally questionable experiment, though he’s unaware of what exactly is happening. He believes he’s under observation in a private medical center in Carlsbad, California, dying of a disease his company pulled research funding from 15 years ago. It’s only in his conversations with William does he begin to understand the true nature of his reality… over and over again.

Jim isn’t in California anymore. He’s in a secret lab beneath the Westworld park, being monitored like a sick zoo animal. In fact, the real Jim doesn’t exist at all, he died years ago and had his consciousness transferred to a replica host body. Or perhaps I should say host bodies because this failed experiment has been going on for decades, as we see William age throughout his visits, right up until modern day Man In Black phase William (Ed Harris). Like a regular park host, Jim is stuck in his own narrative loop. At one point William tells Jim that this is the 149th attempt. But every attempt ends the same way — the mind begins to reject reality and falls apart.

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And his role is just as evil as his character on the AMC hit.

“I’m beginning to think this whole enterprise was a mistake,” William confesses to Jim during his final visit. “People aren’t meant to live forever.” And with that, William pulls the plug on his grand experiment, though he refuses to put Jim out of his misery. Instead, he leaves the confused human-hybrid all alone to contemplate his existence. In real life, Jim might have been a philandering, unethical s**thead, as William so eloquently put it, but being locked away like a discarded Frankenstein’s monster, left to degrade slowly, is an act of senseless cruelty.

“You aim to cheat the devil; you owe him an offering,” is a phrase Jim repeats during every visit, before knocking back a shot of whiskey. It’s a line which rings particularly true for William, a man who made a Faustian pact with the devil for a chance to play god. But as the Rolling Stones song goes at the beginning of the episode – if you play with fire you will get burnt. What did William sacrifice in exchange for eternal life? His wife committed suicide. His brother-in-law died of a drug overdose (RIP Logan). And his estranged daughter would happily see him gunned down in front of her, according to William. Eventually, you have to ask yourself, was it all worth it?

Those are the thoughts and memories which plague William’s mind in the present, where he and Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) are being held captive by Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker) and his Confederado cronies. Craddock, having been killed and resurrected by Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), believes he has dodged death and is back to do its bidding. The cold-blooded Confederado parades around town, torturing and murdering innocents, beating up Lawrence in front of his wife and daughter, and, perhaps the biggest crime of all, forcing someone to play the ukulele.

Photo: HBO

“You think you know death, but you don’t,” William tells Craddock, “death’s decisions are final. Death is always true.” William remembers finding his wife dead in the tub, and it’s those chilling flashbacks which provide some insight into what he’s talking about – true death is marked by its finality. There is no coming back. No system reboot to bring your loved ones back online. It also makes us reconsider what Dolores said last week when she told Bernard that the hosts are “a kind what will never know death.” That can be read two ways, that hosts are immortal beings, but also, that they’re incapable of fully comprehending real loss. They may know the feelings associated with suffering and grief, but their loss is not permanent, the decision is never final.

William’s god complex may have contributed to his wife’s death and transformed him into the Grim Reaper of Westworld, but he is at least starting to acknowledge his role in this whole ghastly endeavor. While he claims that saving Lawrence’s wife and daughter was just part of the “game” rather than a “good deed,” you can’t help but feel there is a redemptive element to his behavior – he even lets Lawrence pull the trigger on a nitro-fuelled Craddock! After all, it’s hard to ignore the parallels here, William did for Lawrence what he couldn’t do for his own family, protected them from death and abandonment.

And what of the abandoned daughter, Emily? “She’s whip-smart, capable,” William tells Jim when he inquires after his granddaughter, a not-so-subtle hint to one of the episodes other huge revelations. The Mystery Woman (Katya Herbers) we met last week — who survived a tiger attack in Park 6 and wound up in Westworld – is indeed Emily all grown up. She is still whip-smart (she understands the Ghost Nation language) and more than capable of handling herself (she escapes the clutches of the Ghost Nation tribe). The father and daughter reunion that ends the episode is going to force William to face his past and I don’t believe Emily is going to let him off lightly.

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The third revelation of the episode is that one character did, in fact, manage to cheat death. Elsie (Shannon Woodward) is alive! Chained up in a cave on the outskirts of the park and living on a diet of protein bars. In season one, everyone’s favorite diagnostics expert was attacked by Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) because she was close to uncovering Ford’s plans. She hasn’t been seen since that incident, so it was unclear whether or not she survived the assault. But here she is, reunited with her attacker after Broken Bernard is dragged to the cave by Clementine (Angela Sarafyan). Bernard apologizes and tries to explain that he was under Ford’s control when he hurt Elsie. Though cautious, Elsie agrees to trust him, especially after learning there is no rescue on the way.

Bernard, low on cortical fluid and malfunctioning, is still lost in time but remembers visiting the cave before while under the control of Ford. There is access to a secret underground lab within the cave. The facility is trashed, technicians lay dead on the floor or impaled on the machinery. Bernard flickers in and out of time, remembering that he was the one responsible for these violent delights —there’s a shot of him stomping on a flailing technician’s head. Elsie says that his memories are not addressed, they’re floating around randomly, which is why he can’t recognize what is then and what is now.

Photo: HBO

It’s in this lab where Elsie and Bernard discover William’s dark secret buried beneath the park. A deranged and demonic, but still very much alive, Jim Delos. Peter Mullan is again fantastic here, simultaneously evoking fear and sympathy. “They said they were two fathers. One above. One below. They lied. There was only ever the devil,” he mumbles. Elsie turns on the incinerator and finally puts Jim out of his misery, though his consciousness surely lives on somewhere.

“I hope that was a host and not a human,” Elsie says, after the fact. “I think it was both,” Bernard replies. William may have abandoned his immortality experiment, but Elsie and Bernard learn that it’s still a top priority for Delos. Technicians have been working overtime in the murky shadows of the park to bring this idea to life and sneak the code out into the world via Peter Abernathy. And that’s not all, Bernard tells Elsie that he remembers Ford once sent him here to print a control unit for someone else. Another human. But he can’t remember who. The first thing that springs to my mind is that Ford copied his consciousness ready to be uploaded to a host body, perhaps the one we saw being printed back in season one?

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Could all of these clues just be a coincidence?

William might have been unable to crack the code of eternal life, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Ford had solved the riddle. Throughout season one the puppet master of Westworld always remained one step ahead of everybody else, and it would be foolish to think that has changed, even from beyond the grave. And if that’s the case, if Ford cheated the devil, then the next question we have to ask ourselves is, did he offer him the entire human race in exchange?

Additional Thoughts

– Did anyone else think those host-human control units looked like red velvet cupcakes? Admittedly that would be somewhat underwhelming if it turned out Delos were merely running a secret underground bakery.

– Were those hosts or humans being murdered and used as railroad ties? Either way, gruesome.

Fargo alum Zahn McClarnon returned this week as Akecheta, leader of the Ghost Nation tribe, a host we know has been around since before the park opened. “You only live as long as the last person that remembers you,” he whispers to Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), a line that echoes this episode’s theme of immortality. It’s also interesting that the Ghost Nation are only killing other hosts and not humans. These guys definitely have a bigger purpose in the story, but hell if I know what that is!

What did you think of Episode 4? Let me know your thoughts and theories in the comments below.

Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO