The Sphinx’s Riddle + More Riddles = Tons of Riddles

It took me a while to really see where things were going with the most recent episodes of Westworld. I wanted to absorb it all for a while and then loop back with the insights gathered along the way. I’m glad that some of my predictions seem to be coming true, but this place just has layer upon layer of mystery and intrigue. Let’s try to peel back at least a few of those layers!

“The Riddle of the Sphinx” was one of the best episodes ever for me, in part because for once they finally show us something instead of just alluding to secrets. We open on Delos Sr. in a very posh but locked down facility. William comes to visit him and cryptically passes him a piece of paper. We can infer that this and some subsequent scenes are set in the timeline at some point after Delos Sr.’s retirement party. He was suffering from some disease, and he’s presumably here while they are working on a cure or procedure. We later see William having the same conversation with DelosĀ  Sr., and though in his mind he’s only recently arrived at the location, we learn that seven years have passed.

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SPOILER ALERT! In a nutshell, this may be part if not all of the park’s secret purpose. The same technology used to create and then rebuild host bodies was used to “print” a new body for Delos Sr. Using complex code and tech similar to the host programming, but vastly different (maybe like French vs. English, same letters but heck of a difference in pronunciation), they copied his brain and then inserted it into the new body. As William notes, they are working out the kinks as each clone starts to degrade eventually, in this case only making it to day seven. What I like is how simultaneously horrifying and amazing this is for Delos Sr. and for us as an audience. You could literally bring back the dead, even if only for a little while. At the same time, imagine the horror of learning you’d been rebooted years after your own death to a new world you don’t know, where everyone you know is likely dead or has dementia. I also noted the unique imagery of the record at the opening shot. For me, this is a metaphor of how they are framing a human life in this cloning technology. The music is intricate, beautiful, and complex, but it is finite and fits onto this one recording. Likewise, these clones are complex but finite and flawed copies.

The final meeting between William and Delos Sr. is also full of revelations, and connects with another timeline. At this point it’s been something like thirty years that they’ve been plodding along trying to perfect the cloning technology, and this is the 149th time they’ve revived Delos Sr., burning him and learning from the ashes all along the way. Though this version lasted for 35 days, the technology seems to plateau, and William laments that it seems it may be time to shut things down; no one deserves to live forever. The fact that he is unshaven, coupled with flashbacks in other parts of the episode that reference his wife’s suicide, lead me to believe this whole conversation takes place right at the beginning of season one. William’s wife is gone and he’s doing one last administrative visit to Delos Sr. before immersing himself in the park forever. What’s interesting is that the distraught Delos Sr. clone is not incinerated, and in fact goes mad and later encounters Bernard and Elsie in the post incident timeline.

This whole secret cloning technology is interesting and a bombshell in numerous ways. First, almost no one in Delos and the parks knows about it, so it’s a massive secret. Second, it redefines the very nature of humanity. If it succeeded, it would make the wealthy immortal. Even as it is now it is groundbreaking. Third, it could have become a cash cow. How much would the park’s rich guests, or anyone, pay to live forever? To have a day with a cloned love one who has passed away? Finally, it’s remarkable for what it isn’t. It isn’t a full continuation of the original person. It is a true and accurate copy that will act as they do, but it’s not a download, not a direct line from the source, if you will. An apt comparison can be seen in Hugh Jackman’s “The Prestige”. The technology he used to clone himself for a magic trick was similarly horrific. Yes, “he” continued on, but the original version died painfully. So, in both cases, it both is and is not the same person. Let that one keep you up for a few hours at night!

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Other developments in the episode are notable too. Elsie is alive, though to me she looked a bit too clean for someone chained in a cave for many days. I really enjoyed her in season one, so I am glad she wasn’t actually killed off by Bernard. She and Bernard (with his flashbacks) show us a bit of the technical side of the whole clone operation. A huge bread crumb is that Bernard obtained another human control unit for someone else before he left, i.e. there’s another clone somewhere that is not Delos Sr. I’d bet any money that it is Ford. Also, despite reassuring Elsie his flashbacks allude to the fact that Bernard can be a cold blooded killer. Hopefully no one is pulling his strings anymore.

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The other revelation is that Grace, the skilled human guest who had been in the Indian park, escapes the Ghost Nation hosts and makes it to Westworld, where we learn she is William’s badass daughter. It will be interesting to see her role evolve, and I’m predicting she may end up usurping him as head of Delos at some point. Stay tuned for insights on Shogun World and the other riddles of the parks!

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Hostiles: A Western for the Modern World

Maybe it’s my obsession with Westworld or maybe it’s the way Christian Bale rocks a big moustache, but I felt I had to see the movie “Hostiles”. Though it may not be for all viewers, fans of westerns and slow burn dramas can find a lot to enjoy in this tale.

The basic premise revolves around Bale’s character, Captain Joseph Blocker. An experienced and gruesome soldier, he is charged with transporting Yellow Hawk, an ailing native chief, and the chief’s family back to their homeland after more than a decade of imprisonment. Blocker is outraged as his life’s work has been fighting and rounding up natives, and this man is literally his enemy. However, given some modern sympathies to the plight of the natives, a presidential order has lead to his mission, and with the threat of his pension being withheld he reluctantly agrees to a month long trek across the wilderness to Montana. Thrown into the mix of the journey with his soldiers and the natives is a settler, Mrs. Quaid, played by Rosamund Pike.

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At many points this film does drag. If you’re like me and you’ve liked other westerns or even off the beaten path movies like “There Will Be Blood” then this is no problem. Just keep in mind this is not a Marvel movie with a bunch of special effects to grab you. Rather, the scenery of the west will captivate you, as will how quickly, horribly, and often violence and chaos can punctuate that beauty. I think that more than anything the movie illustrates an idea that goes hand in hand with gun ownership for me, one that is too often forgotten if you live where there are street lights and neighbors within earshot. No one is coming to save you but you. In the wilderness, as in space, no one can hear you scream. When disasters befall you, natural or otherwise, it’s up to you to decide on fight, flight, or freeze.

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Of special notes is Rosamund Pike. Some of her scenes are downright gut wrenching, and she definitely shows a full spectrum of emotion that will keep the audience mesmerized.

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Bale’s portrayal of Blocker is also noteworthy as he is an anti-hero. Here is a man who has hated and subjugated native Americans his whole career, yet he comes to respect them and wrestle with his demons from past and the present. The themes around race and “this is my land” also parallel some modern political drama we are now living, though perhaps in subtle ways. If you like a good western and can put up with some sluggish parts to reach the numerous unexpected and savage twists, “Hostiles” is worth a watch.