REVIEW: Westworld – “The Riddle of the Sphinx”


The following is a spoiler-filled review of the fourth episode of Westworld: Season Two – Developed by Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy

In the fourth episode of the second season of Westworld (“The Riddle of the Sphinx”), William (played by Jimmi Simpson) tests Jim Delos (played by Peter Mullan), Bernard (played by Jeffrey Wright) somehow comes across an old friend, and we find out who ‘Grace’ (played by Katja Herbers) actually is.

Just like last week, we should probably start by digging into the title of the episode. This time around there is more to be said than just the title referring to Machiavellian leadership-terminology — this time around I actually find it rather interesting on multiple levels. The episode is titled ‘the Riddle of the Sphinx,’ and as such it refers to Greek mythology.

A sphinx is a mythological creature with the head of a human, the body of a lion, and sometimes the wings of a bird. The riddle of the sphinx refers to the story of Oedipus who was prophesized to kill his father and marry his own mother. Apparently, to enter the city of Thebes, one had to answer the riddle of the sphinx. If you failed, then the creature would eat you. If you succeeded, however, then the sphinx would allow you to enter the city.

The sphinx would ask travellers, “what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?” Oedipus answered correctly. Oedipus said that ‘Man’ was the answer, because humans walk on all fours when they are young, on two legs as adults, and with a cane (three legs) when they are old and weak. By answering correctly Oedipus also became the King of Thebes, and he would then fulfill his prophecy.

So, what does this mean for the show, you may ask? Well, the entire episode is about how William wanted to make it so that they could cheat death — this is something that has been talked about the entire season whether you’ve noticed it or not — and, in this episode, William kept on trying and trying to make it so that Jim Delos could live on after he had died. He tried, and he tried, and he tried — but it seemed like he never truly succeeded.

In the context of the show, the riddle of the sphinx seems to refer to the age old question of whether we can cheat death. How do we make it so that we do not have to walk on three legs and later be put in the grave? How do we solve the riddle of the sphinx? How do we solve the problem of human life? William seemingly never did, but, as the season has laid out, the company still wants to try. William wasted his entire life trying to solve the riddle of the sphinx, but he never succeeded. Perhaps someone else will.

But what about Oedipus, you may ask? Where does he fit into all of this? We don’t know for sure that he does, but I do have some theories about how his part in the mythological tale is a part of the overall season of Westworld. Oedipus becomes king after he kills his father and gains entry into Thebes. It would make sense for Dolores to fit into that character storyline. Dolores killed her fathers (Ford and Arnold) and is looking to get out into the new world, which she wants to rule.

It all makes sense, right? On the other hand, some may say that the title and its reference to the story of Oedipus could have more to do with the episode’s final reveal — or confirmation — that Katja Herbers’ character is William’s daughter. This should not surprise anyone. Especially not those who have read the reviews on this site, seeing as I mentioned this was one of the stronger theories about Herbers’ character. Maybe she kills her father eventually. Maybe William recreated her mother just like he recreated his own father-in-law.

“If you aim to cheat the devil, you owe him an offering.”

Speaking of Jim Delos, how great was Peter Mullan in this episode? We often talk about how extraordinary Louis Herthum has been on this show, and Mullan is another great surprise. This is Mullan’s episode, but, truth be told, when we first saw his daily routine, I thought we were going to get a flashback to what the home of Ed Harris’ William looked like. But it was Jim Delos, and in his scenes this episode we got to see the exact confirmation that eagle-eyed and speculative viewers have been waiting for — they are, as mentioned, indeed trying to figure out how to live forever.

Delos was dying, he did die, and now they were trying to ‘bring him back.’ But it didn’t work, and that was really the biggest surprise for me in this episode which absolutely did have a few up its sleeves. Are we to assume that William never got it to work, and that his attempts at solving the riddle of humanity ruined his life? I think that may be it, even though, as I mentioned, I still wouldn’t be surprised to see another hidden facility with William’s wife in it.

“You have a family, you have an ex-wife, you have a backstory.”

Along the way, we get to see that after Bernard was knocked out last week by Clementine, he was brought to a cave. Clementine threw down her weapon and left him by himself. This was undoubtedly Ford’s doing (Hopkins apparently isn’t in this season’s episodes, but his character sure has an impact on the storylines this year). And then we finally get to see Elsie Hughes again! After she confronted Bernard with the fact that he choked her out, she finds out that he is a host too.

One thing leads to another, Bernard and Elsie make their way into a secret facility, in which many people and drone hosts were found dead. Oh and Elsie gets Bernard his fluid. These scenes are very interesting, but, for me, there was an over-reliance and a general overuse of flashbacks, flashing images and such. This is how it is with characters as broken as Bernard, but I feel like it got out of hand. He is an unreliable narrator, but it can be too much.

Eventually, Elsie and Bernard find out that the red balls didn’t just contain code — they contained something more. These seem to be the implantable minds of humans, and it is going to be fun to figure out whose mind was taken by Bernard — my best guess is that it was William’s wife, but it would be kind of cool if it were Ford himself, or maybe even William’s own mind (imagine if the Man in Black came across his younger self).

Right as Elsie and Bernard get ready to open a mysterious door, we get to see Ed Harris meet with Peter Mullan’s Jim Delos. The Delos experiment has been so unsuccessful that William was still working on it all these years later. William says some interesting things to his father-in-law, and one of these is the fact that Logan overdosed a while back. Also, seeing as William’s wife no longer lives, there really isn’t a good reason why William would want to continue the unending struggle to get her father back alive — so he stops the experiment, but he dislikes his own father-in-law so much that he leaves him there to ‘rot’.

And that’s when the horror movie starts. I thought this was all executed really well, with Delos’ day-to-day routine having been done so often and without change that he has lost his mind. Delos now looks devilish with open wounds in his face. Elsie and Bernard get out of there alive, but then we get another (!) flashback. This one is pretty interesting, though, as it turns out Bernard was behind the deaths of all of the men working at the secret facility.

The second season of Westworld has gotten off to an electrifying start with plenty of theories having been confirmed already by this point. As you undoubtedly noticed, this episode did the good Game of Thrones trick of keeping characters out of episodes entirely. We didn’t get to see Maeve or Dolores in this episode, which likely means that they will return next week.


For my reviews of the previous episodes in the series, click here.

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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