This post contains frank discussion of Westworld Season 2, Episode 4 “The Riddle of the Sphinx.” If youd rather not be spoiled on the turns of the plot and the larger ramifications it may hold, now is the time to leave.
This episode of Westworld revealed a major new wrinkle in the artificial intelligence debate. As fans have been predicting since Season 1, part of Delos Incorporateds mysterious agenda involves a digital immortality achieved by implanting a humans developed mind into a cloned robotic body. (No wonder the show has been using the word “Host” to refer to its robots.) Those developed minds are stored in a red egg- or bulb-like containers as compared to the white egg- or bulb-like white containers weve seen in the Hosts this year. In this weeks episode, we saw Peter Mullen return as Jim Delos the former head of the company who was striving to live forever in a synthetic body immune to the disease which killed him in reality. Over the course of the episode we find that William (Jimmi Simpson/Ed Harris) was unable to make that technology work beyond a “cognitive plateau” that saw the Host body rejecting the implanted mind in its red container. But they were close before William had a change of heart inspired by his wife Juliets suicide and it seems very likely that unbeknownst to Delos, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) got the rest of the way.
It seems as though Delos was trying to conduct a few of its operations without Robert knowing. The labs are somewhat of a mystery to Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and certainly off the main grid of the park. But Ford hinted several times in Season 1 that he knew exactly what Delos was up to at any given time even if they thought they could pull something over on him in his own park. And though Bernard is a massively unreliable narrator, it appears as thought Ford sent his faithful robot minion to the underground lab in Sector 22 at some point last Season (Bernard says he was there “recently”) in order to upload someones mind into a new red unit he then took out of the lab. Bernard destroyed the people working there on his way out. Ive been told by someone in production that the red and white bulb-like contraptions are called “chestnuts” and the balls contained inside them are called “pearls.” (Makes you wonder about the references to the “Pearly Gates” this season, no?) The bottom line is that at some point during the events of Season 1, Bernard made off with a red pearl belonging to a as-yet-unknown human and it will be fun for us to guess who that human might be.
Before you get into that, you may want to listen to the latest installment of Vanity Fairs companion podcast, Still Watching: Westworld, where we take a deep dive into Episode 4 including an interview with guest star Jonathan Tucker who plays the late great Major Craddock:
Last season Theresa discovered that Ford was printing unregistered Host bodies in his own off-the-grid underground bunker. (How many of those are in the park?) So lets assume that Ford instructed Bernard to steal the developed mind of some human so Ford could put it in the robot body he was printing. Im also going to assume the identity of that person will either be revealed by the end of the season, or is already walking around in the park. There are a few good options as to who that might be and a few things about that mystery person to consider. 1) They must be based on a human person otherwise the ball would be white. 2) Theyre someone whose “developed mind” would have to have been uploaded into the Delos system at some point. 3) Whoever it is, they will help Ford prove some kind of point and either instruct a character he cares about (Dolores) or mess with a character he seems to hate (William). Or maybe both! Okay so lets break down the options.
Robert Ford: Fans who boldly predicted that there was no way Ford would take his own life at the end of Season 1 have to be doing some kind of dance of joy right now. I am sure that they are sure that the red ball belongs to Ford and that Hopkins will make a triumphant return to the show before the season is over. I admit that for the first time since he pulled the trigger I am willing to say this is a possibility but I also think its a terrible one. Fords ego would be the only reason for his return. His presence would neither help Dolores nor hurt William so I dont know why he would come back. It also undercuts the emotional stakes and character arc for Ford in Season 1. So while I have to put this option on the table, I dont think its likely and I certainly dont think its a good idea.
Logan Delos: Theres no real reason to do this other than the fact that Ben Barnes is a fun actor and his return would certainly mess with William a bit. I confess that I was sad to learn in Episode 4 that Logan had over-dosed because I had been waiting for a great older actor to take on the role of an aged-up Logan and spar with Ed Harriss William. But other than my desire to see Ben Barnes again, this doesnt feel like the right choice.
Jim Delos: Again the motivation for this might be ego. Ford proving he was able to do what William couldnt. But I dont like it either despite my fondness for Peter Mullen.
Juliet Delos: This would mess with both William and his daughter Emily (Katja Herbers), but it feels a little too cruel even for Ford.
Arnold Weber: Here we get to the good stuff and a very likely theory. There have been rumblings in the fandom all season that something very strange was going on with Bernard. For one thing, the man played by Jeffrey Wright who washed up on the beach in Episode 1 doesnt have the scar on his temple that Bernard sustained back in Season 2. Hes deeply confused and disoriented which we could chalk up to some of the systems Bernard read off about himself in Episode 1 (face blindess, losing time), but could also be the confused disorientation of a Red Pearl trying to graft on to a Host body. His actions are not dissimilar from those experienced by Jim Delos. In other words, the Jeffrey Wright character we see in the recent past with Elsie in the lab, with Dolores at the fort, and with Charlotte in the other lab is Bernard. But the one who washed up on the beach and has been going around with Delos security is actually Arnold.
I know youre wondering why Arnolds mind would be in the system. I confess Im not sure. We do know that Ford has his DNA. He used it to make himself a Bernard bot. Theres also another vitally important Season 2 scene that supports the fun theory that the show is again pulling a fast one on us about whether were watching Arnold or Bernard.
In the opening moments of the first episode this season we got a familiar sight. Dolores in her blue dress and country girl accent sweetly sitting across from Arnold have a chat about the nature of reality. Eagle-eyed viewers were quick to point out that the aspect ratio on that scene was odd. (Its wider and narrower than the rest of the episode. The rest of the season, in fact.) They suspect its meant to signal that were watching something other than we think we are. It seemed safe enough to assume that we were watching something from the past. From the early days of the park when Arnold was alive and would often question Dolores. But what if we werent.
A podcast listener pointed out to me that if you watch that scene again it really seems as though Dolores, not Arnold, is running the interrogation:
Arnold: “Im sorry, Dolores, I was lost in thought.”
Dolores: “We were just talkin.”
Arnold: “What were we talking about?”
Dolores: “You were telling me about a dream.”
Arnold: “Yeah, I guess …”
What if this is Dolores talking to a newly-made Arnold and, much like William with Jim Delos in this episode, having a conversation to test the limits of his cognitive plateau. Weve already seen Dolores assume the persona of the Ranchers Daughter multiple times this season. I would not put it past her to slap that accent on, slip back into her blue dress, and tidy up her hair just in order to lull a robotic Arnold into a false sense of security and familiarity. When you think of it that way, her final line—“why on earth would you be frightened of me?”—becomes much scarier if she says it after all the hardcore carnage shes pulled off this season.
The only question is why Ford would have resurrected his friend Arnold who so clearly wanted to die. That seems very cruel and not in keeping with the enlightened Ford we met at the end of Season 1. So, perhaps, there are two Host bodies running around with Red Pearls inside them and this one was made by Dolores herself. She said she was going to get herself a weapon. Something that could help defeat humanity. We also know she was disappointed that Bernard didnt have any of Arnolds memories. She loved Arnold. So perhaps Dolores herself finds the lab, prints the Red Arnold Pearl, puts it in the Bernard body, and is using it in order to pull off whatever it is she seems to be up to with that flood and those “dead” hosts. Her freshly-made Arnold might pass whatever tests Delos security is carrying out (we saw them scan Charlottes spine) and he might also be able to make it out of the park in one piece. But if Dolores made this Arnold then who was Ford planning to make?
William as Played by Ed Harris: Okay assuming there are two Host bodies with human minds running around out there—and of course we dont know if there are—then wouldnt it be fun if one of them was William. Wouldnt it be fun if he was a Host this whole time. That reveal would certainly mess with his mind and, recalling Harrison Fords character Deckard in Blade Runner, call into question everything William thinks he knows about the difference between Hosts and humans. Its a cute reveal and just the kind of twisted game Ford might play with William. But we can maybe do one better than that.
William as Played by Jimmi Simpson: Ive been wondering why, if he could upload his developed mind into any body, Jim Delos would choose the older version of himself. You know, the one who looks like 58 year-old actor Peter Mullen. If you were striving, egotistically, for digital immortality wouldnt you want a Host body that looked like the ideal version of yourself? Like 20 year-old Peter Mullen. (Or 20 year-old Brad Pitt while youre at it. Why not? Go nuts!) Presumably, Jim Delos was hoping the developed mind uploading technology would be developed fast enough that he would be able to pop it into his old body and assimilate back into his old life. He said as much when talking to William in this episode. But if we can age down the body then I think Williams developed mind implanted into young Williams body would be the best way for Ford to mess with older William. I think that is who may be waiting on the other side of the Door.
William seems so sure he has everything figured out. Hes gone off the idea of immortality. He knows that death is the only thing that makes human life worth living. He says so to Major Craddock in this episode. As long as weve known him, William has been in search of something true. He tells Craddock: “Deaths decisions are final. Its only the living that waver. Death is always true. You havent known a true thing in your life.”
But nothing would knock William off his conviction faster than Westworlds other pet theme a defining human characteristic: love.
William fell in love with Dolores. Losing that love gave him permission to indulge in the worst aspects of himself. (Aspect which, lets be honest, were already there waiting for him.) But what if he could erase all the badness that came after losing her. What if he could turn back time, become his more innocent self, and have another chance with her. Not a chance with the programmed Dolores, but with a fully awake and aware Dolores who chooses to be with him. Thats the thing hes been waiting for. His true thing. His real love. It may sound sappy, but the power of love crops up again and again and again in Jonathan Nolans other work including this Anne Hathaway speech from the Christopher Nolan film Interstellar. (Its complicated but Nolan wrote at least some of that screenplay.)
Listen to me when I say love isnt something that we invented. Its observable. Powerful. It has to mean something. Maybe it means something more—something we cant yet understand. Maybe its some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can't consciously perceive. Love is the one thing that were capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we cant understand it.
Remember that Westworld is a show created and run by a married couple, Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan, who might have a thing or two to say about the importance of love.
At any rate, this is the big reveal that had the greatest potential to mess with both Dolores and old William. For Dolores to see the young man she loved could shake her conviction that destruction and vengeance is the right path forward. For William it could mean second-guessing his ideas about mortality. If young William is the final test in Fords Door game, I think the correct choice for old William to make is to deny himself this immortality and shot at love and stick to his resolution that death matters. But we dont always make the correct choice, do we?
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