Westworld: 2.04 The Riddle of the Sphinx
Ed Harris's William / The Man in Black got some well deserved development this week as Westworld attempted to bridge the gap between Jimmi Simpson's younger version and the weathered, ruthless figure we all know.
It began with a superbly directed sequence featuring William's father in law, the equally ruthless James Delos (Peter Mullan) running through his morning routine. The clues were there that this was not a normal life, that his 'home' was too well-constructed, too enclosed to be real. And as later scenes progressed the truth was revealed; William had planted James' mind in a synthetic host and was repeatedly trying to find ways to give him immortality. And when it didn't work and the host deteriorated, he burned it all down and started again.
These sequences really allowed the audience to explore the mind of this broken, shadowy William, progressing from Simpson's version to the older Ed Harris, the glimpses of the arm in the bath tub throughout the episode offering hints of something equally as dark. James's wife was gone, but worse still William's wife - and James's daughter had slit her wrists and committed suicide and rival and James's son Logan had topped himself too. One by one, every human connection William had had was stripped away, leaving him with the shadow of his mentor, who he in turn left screaming in grief to slowly deteriorate.
So it is kind of understandable that the older William would find connection in the hosts of Westworld. His connection to Clifton Collins Jr's Lawrence was a much stronger bond than anything in real life and it was when the villainous Major Craddock took control of the town, made William and Lawrence his prisoners and terrorised the locals that his true self won out. The sequence where Craddock talked about death and William announced himself as the grim reaper sitting opposite him was spectacular. Taking out each man with ruthless precision - all to save the surrogate family of Lawrence, his wife and daughter - was a moment of real heroism, if smattered with the ruthless bloodshed and moral ambiguity we've come to know from Westworld so well.
And then of course there was the surprise reunion with his [surprise!] daughter Grace (Katja Herbers), who after her perilous escape from what is now being referred to as Rajworld last week, found herself bound and captive by the native American hosts. Alongside her was Luke Hemsworth's Ashley Stubbs, tying together the cliff-hanger of his attack at the end of season one and working with the mercenaries in the future timeline a few weeks down the line. Even before we had the reunion and the connection to William, there was an equal ruthless precision to Grace's actions, making her an intriguing key player in the second season.
One of the other big surprises this episode was the discovery that Shannon Woodward's Elsie Hughes was alive and well. Bound in a cave by Bernard - at Ford's orders - at the end of season one, she was revealed to the more self-aware Bernard by Angela Sarafyan's Clementine, leading to more intriguing new developments as she learned about Bernard's real host identity.
Their mission to uncover the secret facility was full of tension and mystery, the white hosts continuing to be menacing figures; particularly in the flashbacks where Bernard ordered them to kill the human scientists. The show made excellent use of time again, Bernard's deteriorating state resulting in him experience memories in the facility out of order. There was always the sense of threat that some unknown programming might kick in, causing him to turn on Elsie.
But I was still side-wiped by the reveal in the secret room as Westworld went into full horror movie vibe - the scene lit in harsh reds as Elsie and Bernard were attacked by the deranged James Delos, driven mad, his face hacked apart and turned into a blood thirsty killing machine. It was a well-executed, thrilling sequence, that continued to up the tension in an already tense episode.
The Riddle of the Sphinx was another strong episode (something I find myself saying each week). It paid off the mystery of what happened to Elsie Hughes, expanded the mystery behind Bernard and gave some rich, tragic backstory to William. And I still have no idea where the season is going; that's kind of the way I like it.