Westworld's been awfully cagey about what Delos really wanted from its investment in Westworld, but in a series of dazzling scenes featuring James Delos (Peter Mullan) — well, sorta — we got a much clearer picture of why they're throwing cash at the park. And it's scarier than we imagined.
We saw in previous episodes that Delos wasn't interested in catering to the desires — adventurous, rape-y or otherwise — of park guests as a means to make money, and it makes sense. Westworld is hella-expensive to maintain, too pricey to survive on with just admission fees no matter how expensive they are. No, Delos had something much more insidious planned, and we got a hint of it when it became clear that Delos was capturing the experiences of the guests into a giant log and collecting their DNA (you don't want to know how they're doing that, do you?).
Now we know why. Delos is in the business of clones. Not Dolly the Sheep clones, but more accurately Blade Runner type replicants. But they're already making hosts, you say! Ahh, yes. But these are different. Delos is trying to make copies of people who already exist/have existed, rather than making "characters" from the ground up, as the hosts in Westworld are. Well, let's say most of the hosts. More on that in a bit.
The James Delos scenes in "The Riddle of the Sphinx" unfolded beautifully, so let's examine each one individually and explain the clues that unlocked the who, the when, and the why of the what.
Scene 1: The first scene recalled the wonder of the Season 2 opening of Lost. James was in a room somewhere, listening to some Stones on vinyl, riding his bike, having a fondle (answering the BIG question we've all been wondering: Yes, hosts masturbate) and whatnot. A visit from bearded William (Jimmi Simpson) — the beard places this timeline sometime after William's experience in the park and after James' retirement party in Episode 2, but it could be months or even years since — added to the confusion but William's behavior hinted he knew something different was going on. They have a conversation, and it turns out to be a test. William says they're establishing a baseline for fidelity — essentially to see how accurate this copy of James is to the real thing. Of course, we don't outright know that yet, as that's part of the puzzle that unfolds over these scenes.
We've been led to believe that James is deteriorating because we know from Episode 2 that he's sick, and in this scene he's pouring cream into his coffee but he spills it all over the tray rather than getting it right in there. Naturally, we think it's because of his illness and there's some degenerative disease he's battling. But it's actually the opposite; he's getting better as the cloning technology is getting better, and this is just a bug.
At the end, William hands him a piece of paper, which we know from later scenes is the script of the conversation.
Scene 2: The music choice here? "Do the Strand" by Roxy Music. Does it mean anything? Hell, I don't know. There's an argument to be made here that they've added more appreciation of the arts into his code, because he's a damned dancing fool here. The more interesting tidbit is James looks into the mirror and appears to not recognize what he sees, or is at least surprised by it. Again, not knowing what we know later, we could assume it's a symptom of his degenerative disease, when in actuality it's probably more tied to what William talks about later, which is that consciousness is rejecting reality or itself. He gets the cream in his coffee with just a bit of a shake, an improvement on before. Perhaps fine motor skills are a problem to code in these cloned hosts as the consciousness is not in sync with the body like a host built from the ground up is?
William arrives again and the conversation is nearly identical. The son-in-law is clearly studying James more this time around, taking mental notes about James' behavior in this final stage of observation. William hands over the conversation's script and we see it for the first time — BOOM! <-- that's your mind — and if we didn't know it before, we know it now: this James is a robot. James isn't freaked out, in fact, he's happy that William is putting his money to good use. He's not even immediately sad that he died, and William reveals it's been about seven years since he passed. Then it starts to hit him a bit, but his consciousness is so advanced that he still doesn't understand that he's just a test subject. William drops the detail that James' wife died of a stroke, and James wants to move on with his life and GTFO of there and "get some fresh aid." That snafu seals it for William, who decides to keep James in for more observation. As he's leaving, James freezes and William has a tech — who says James made it to Day 7 this time, which apparently is progress — incinerate the entire room, with Jamesbot still inside. Back to the drawing board. This is also insanely amazing acting by Peter Mullen. He and Louis Herthum are fantastic at playing fritzing robots.
There's an interesting parallel here when James flubs the "fresh aid" line; William gives James a look of disappointment. It's remarkably similar to the look Arnold gave Dolores when she repeated the "splendor" line in Episode 2. These men are both trying to create something — or someone — that's never been done before, and these minor bugs are reminders that they just can't get it perfect. And make no mistake, with their ambitions, there's no settling for anything less than absolutely perfect. Arnold also said Dolores wasn't ready — just as James isn't here — to be part of the Westworld pitch to Logan while all the other hosts apparently were, which lends some credence to the theory that Dolores isn't just a host made to play a character in a park, but she's a host like James and is modeled after a real person.
Scene 3: OK, now this gets nuts. James is able to pour his cream flawlessly. Progress! But there's a new tech alerting James that he has a visitor. That's because this scene takes place in the Man in Black's timeline, and he shows up to pay dear old dad-in-law a visit. James is shocked to see his son-in-law now wrinkly and near his age and it takes him only a few seconds to realize what's going on and that he's not human. James flubs some language pretty quickly and the Man in Black gets to explaining: it's called a cognitive plateau, and his mind is stable for some time before it begins to reject reality or itself.
The MIB says they've brought him back 149 times and that this current run has lasted 35 days, but they can't get replicating an actual person right. He's now wondering if this was a good idea at all, and is thinking of shutting down the whole enterprise. MIB also informs James that Juliette killed herself and that Logan overdosed, and that no one is coming for him. James goes nuts, and MIB decides to let him flip out for a few days to see if they can learn something from his degradation.
This scene is different from the others in that it's more about William/MIB than it is about James; old William is cold and disenchanted with the repeated failure. This incredible technology has hit a roadblock; he no longer sees what these robots can be, he only sees what they're not. Is this why he tried so hard to solve the maze in Season 1? Did he think that would give him the answer to unlocking the solution with this cloning tech? That's my guess.
Scene 4: Jumping ahead to Elsie and Bernard's timeline — how long has it been, days? Months? Longer? — they walk into the room used to test James and it's a f***ing disaster. Everything's broken, red lights are flashing, the Stones record is skipping, there's blood. James has gone all Colonel Kurtz and is cutting himself, the tech is dead, definitely murdered by the degraded James. This is James' version of Hell, he's a prisoner to his fracturing mind and his cell is the observation room. What he says is hard to hear, so I transcribed it for you.
"I'm all the way down now, I can see all the way to the bottom," he says. "Would you like to see what I see?" As he attacks Elsie, Bernard shows a rare case of badassery and stops him. "They said there were two fathers, one above, one below. They lied. There was only ever the Devil. When you look up from the bottom, it was just his reflection, laughing back down at you." There's probably meaning behind this, but to me it's pure crazy talk.
Bernard believes this version of James was both host and robot as he recognizes James. This is secretly very confusing for Bernard, as he's the same thing: a host version of Arnold. But he's not glitching. Ford clearly cracked what Delos engineers could not. Ford figured out how to replicate people with high fidelity. He figured out a form of immortality, which is exactly what Delos was trying to do with its investment in Westworld. Extract guest experiences and their personalities — their true selves — as well as their DNA, and you can sell the idea of virtual immortality.
Bernard tells Elsie he remembers why Ford sent him to this place before. It was to print a control unit for someone else, "another human." We don't know who that human is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was Ford. It's possible Ford was willing to sacrifice himself at the end of Season 1 because he also knew he could live again. You don't book an actor like Anthony Hopkins only to lose him after one season, right?
Westworld airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on HBO.