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Westworld S02, Ep. 4 – “The Riddle of the Sphinx” Review

After a slightly uneven third episode, Westworld is back with one of its best episodes to date. Showrunner Lisa Joy makes her directorial debut in this standout episode that will be remembered for style and substance.

The episode opens with Jim Delos in a stylish enclosed room going about his morning routine. We soon find out he has been under observation after his company, with Young William’s supervision, has placed his consciousness into a host body. Yes, Westworld fans, “Host” has officially taken on a new meaning as the show confirms that Delos’ real endgame is human immortality through AI bodies.

But there’s a hitch in the plan – host bodies don’t take to human consciousness too well. As the episode unfolds, visits from Young William become visits from Old William as they reveal that the experiment has been going on for over thirty years with no success. “Robot Delos” keeps malfunctioning, the research team keeps resetting him. Fed up with failed attempts, Old William refuses to reset Delos and leaves his malfunctioning shell in the bunker to break himself down.

While Delos’ story jumps back and forth in time, we catch up with Bernard and Elsie (surprise! She’s alive!) as they make their way to a secret Delos bunker. They discover a lab where Bernard had once been programmed to murder the technicians and steal a red mind egg, presumably the ones that carry human consciousness as opposed to AI programs.

In a beautifully interwoven piece of storytelling, the two stories come together as Bernard and Elsie come upon Delos’ bunker. Having gone mad from being left to decay, Delos attacks Elsie, forcing her to hit the kill switch and burn the lab down.

People who love the episode will remember it for the Delos/Bernard/Elsie interwoven plotlines. But there is also a significant B-story with William saving a town from the Major. While last season saw Old William murder some of the same town folk, a beautiful and haunting sequence sees William remembering his wife’s suicide and taking action by forcing the major to drink Nitro. It’s almost unfair that one episode gets three storylines this good.

The writing alone would have been enough to put “The Riddle of the Sphinx” on the map as one of Westworld’s best episodes. Okay, I’ll say it. It’s Westworld’s best episode. The writing hits each beat very carefully, never tipping the audience off that the two stories will eventually intertwine. On top of that, this is the most “time-jumpy” episode yet, as Bernard’s “is this now” confusion hits a new level. The lab scenes jump from the past, to present, to some other time which may be the present, we can’t be sure and neither can Bernard. Yet the clarity of the writing never loses the viewer. Cheers to writers Jonathan Nolan and Gina Atwater for that.

This episode would be remembered for its writing if it wasn’t so masterfully directed by Lisa Joy. The visuals are absolutely stunning, and they stand out right off the bat. The opening sequence involving a record player and Delos’ morning routine make the opening distinct from any other episodes, except for perhaps Season 02, Episode 01 of LOST.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Joy revealed that she has never seen Lost, which is actually more shocking. Especially this season, Westworld has filled the LOST-shaped hole in many a fan’s heart since the show went off the air in 2010. With the numerous parallels between the mysteries, themes, and visuals between the two, it’s impressive that Joy pulled from her own inspiration rather than a nod to another beloved show.

In the same way that the writers wove the story together, Joy wove the visuals together to a memorable conclusion. She uses fire throughout the episode until the images culminate in the burning of Delos by Elsie and Bernard. With red lab lights and fire all around, the lab becomes a visual depiction of hell. Without saying a word in the script, the episode depicts the hell that Delos experiences in his attempt to live forever.

What did you think of “The Riddle of the Sphinx?” Which plot did you enjoy most? Respond in the comments below!

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