HBO's science fiction drama Westworld is not only known for its talented cast and philosophical reflections on the nature of reality. He has also become famous for his revelations, from explosive bombs that unite two characters with simple elements of the background story that bring a new perspective to a story. See Westworld is like peeling an onion, one layer at a time.
That's why for the second season of the series, I'm going to dive into a particular spoiler revelation of each episode, to discover what it means, how we got here, and where things could go in the coming episodes. Some weeks, it could be a big twist of the plot. In other weeks, it could be something subtle. Either way, we're going to spoil hell. Welcome to Westworld Spoilers Club.
One of the most notable characters introduced during season 2 of Westworld is the founder of the mega corporation that runs Westworld and its sister parks: James Delos (Peter Mullan). It appeared for the first time in the second episode, "Reunion", demonstrating a remarkable lack of interest in the long-term potential of the robotic hosts, until an astute William (Jimmi Simpson) convinced him otherwise.
As that same episode was revealed, James Delos retired, giving William the opportunity to take over and become the ruthless Man in Black (Ed Harris) of Westworld later timelines. But there remained a mini-mystery without response, a persistent cough that indicated that Delos was facing health problems and that maybe it was not too much for this world. Despite the wealth and success he had accumulated, and the technical acumen of his society, he seemed to be fatally ill.
But like last night's episode, "The Riddle of the Sphinx," he revealed, Delos, Inc. also has an answer to that problem.
The great revelation?
The episode opens on a revolving disc: "Play With Fire", by The Rolling Stones. There are several ways to read the title of the song, but the first moments of the episode simply follow James Delos going through the routine of any morning. He exercises on a stationary bicycle, has a morning cigarette, goes to the bathroom and serves his morning coffee. Everything is completely banal, except for the slight tremor in his right hand and the fact that his cough has disappeared.
There is also the issue of where is doing this routine. It is a very well decorated space with a minimalist aesthetic, but it seems to be a small studio apartment without exterior views, it is not the usual room of an extremely rich man. That's because it's really a small medical center. Very soon, William appears to chat, and it is clear that James Delos is under observation, waiting for a final signature before he can leave. William is there to conduct an interview, a baseline, he says, that will be used to measure the mentality, mood and sense of humor of Delos. "I own a biotechnology company and I am dying of a disease whose research I deferred 15 years ago," Delos replies. "I think my sense of humor is fucking intact."
William clarifies that the intention is to measure "fidelity", whatever it means in this context. "So, what's the idea? What after you and I have exactly the same conversation?" Delos asks. "It seems a bit exaggerated, is not it, William?"
It's confusing at first, but it's not unreasonable at all. As the episode repeats variations of the same scene, with William becoming a little older, it becomes clear that Delos, Inc. is not trying to save the life of its founder. James Delos died, and William has been interviewing host clones that look like him, talk like him, have all his memories, and in fact think that are him. Everyone, in their own time, eventually suffers a mental collapse. When Major William (Ed Harris) – better known as The Man in Black – visits the presenter of James Delos later in the episode, he reveals that although researchers initially thought his mind rejected the new body, they now think it is as if his "mind rejects reality … rejects itself." Each time, it leaves them no other choice: to discard everything, including the crippled guest itself, and start over.
What does it mean?
From a character's perspective, the story between the ever-growing William and the James Delos series of clones offers a significant insight into The Man in Black. In many ways, this season is serving as its origin story, and in "The Riddle of the Sphinx", the public has a firsthand idea of the great change in his character over the years. William is merciful to the first clones of James Delos, reluctant to subject them to unwanted suffering. But when we reach The Man in Black in a "current" timeline, his cruelty is exposed. He tells the Delos clone that his son Logan died of an overdose; that his daughter, William's wife, committed suicide; and that Delos, Inc. has created and destroyed innumerable clones of James Delos throughout the decades. The last one, it turns out, is his 149th attempt, and even he can only survive for a little over a month before going crazy. The Man in Black even tells the last clone that he thinks they should stop the program to bring it back completely, and that the world is actually a better place without James Delos.
Since this whole story seems to be more about William's transformation than the fate of James Delos, the episode provides another insight into his character. The Man in Black seems so disgusted, so full of contempt for all that James Delos represents, that he begins to feel that this clone 149 guest is not the true target of his anger at all. Each criticism The skirmishes of The Man in Black could also be used to describe William himself, and as he spits out his poison, it seems that he is actually speaking more of what he feels for himself than for his old boss. And like the last punishment, The Man in Black leaves the clone of Delos in purgatory: trapped in that solitary observation room, awake and alive, to be able to feel how his mind falls apart little by little.
It's cruel even for The Man in Black, and later in the episode, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and the highly hopeful Elsie (Shannon Woodward) leave Delos Clone # 149 of his misery. But even though The Man in Black showed contempt for Delos, something else in him seems to be thawing. Elsewhere in the episode, in what appears to be later in the personal chronology of The Man in Black, he is trapped in Las Mudas with Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), while a presenter named Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker) mocks and torture other hosts for the sport. Seeing Craddock threatening the life of Lawrence's wife reminds The Man in Black of the death of his own wife. He retaliates, knocking down Craddock's men, and allowing Lawrence to take the last offensive on the Major to avenge his cruelty.
Later, Dr. Ford appears once again, this time talking to The Man in Black through Lawrence's daughter. "You may not remember it, but I know who you are, William," she says. "A good action does not change that." The Man in Black rejects the idea that what he did was a "good deed", but despite his protests, his actions speak for themselves. He would not have saved Lawrence's wife earlier in the series, and whatever The Door is, he could be placing him on a possible path to redemption.
The episode seems to underscore that idea by giving The Man in Black a great opportunity right in the final moments of the episode. While he, Lawrence and his men ride the plains, they run into a lonely woman on the back of a horse. It's Grace, the guest who escaped the tiger attack on The Raj last week. But when she greets the men, it is revealed that she is not just a random visitor to the park. She is a separate daughter of the Man in Black.
Changing the game
Along with the character's implications, the revelations about the Delos cloning program open up considerably the narrative of the series. Originally, William saw Westworld as an opportunity to better understand customers and allow Delos, Inc. to market them better. But now it is clear that the company is exploring how to use host technology to create replicants of real people, to offer immortality as a product. This season has also revealed that the company has been quietly collecting DNA and other evidence about guest visits to the park. With the concept of host cloning, it is not inconceivable that Delos is interested in creating copies of some of his high-profile guests, an idea explored in the 1976 movie Futureworld .
But there is a much more immediate implication, and it should excite the fans of Anthony Hopkins. Bernard recalls that before Dr. Ford's death, he had Bernard print a control unit for another clone host. Since Ford has been making short appearances, speaking with The Man in Black through presenters like El Lazo and Lawrence's daughter, the points become too easy to connect: Ford created a clone of himself before starting the narrative of "Journey Into Night", and now that host is somewhere in the park, overseeing everything, while everyone thinks Ford is dead and gone.
Of course, that's just a speculation, but if it's true, it gives a new kind of urgency to the focus on deadlines. It was established at the beginning of the season that the story of Bernard crossing the parks with Delos security forces takes place 11 days after the robot was lifted. The 149th host of James Delos could only last 35 days before beginning to "degrade". If there is a Dr. Ford host clone, it may have an expiration date, and it could be halfway through that.