What The Riddle of the Sphinx Tells Us About This Season of 'Westworld'
This week’s Westworld episode had a LOT going on, and Tori’s got the details on all the big pieces moving around. Ultimately, though, I found myself more interested in the title. “The Riddle of the Sphinx” likely refers to the famous riddle posed to Oedipus as he enters the besieged city of Thebes; “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” Various other forms of the riddle phrase it as “What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night.” The answer is always the same, a man, who crawls as an infant, walks as an adult, and uses a cane or crutch when he becomes old or infirm. It’s a riddle about the nature of life and the natural progression of age, something the episode works with. But riddles are also questions in and of themselves, and the question at the heart of this one is “What is a man?” which is a question I think Westworld is reckoning with this season, after exploring the concept of free will and the self last season.
Overall I’ve been less interested in untangling timelines or watching for scars while watching Westworld. Frankly, I’m not convinced that timeline trickery is an effective way to tell a story rather than just an excuse for the writers and directors to show off. But I have been following the existential themes of the show with a lot more interest. Last season’s overarching theme of “The Maze” saw both Maeve and Dolores work through questions about their reality, what it was, what it means to be conscious and aware, and what it meant to have free will. That was The Maze. This season’s theme is The Door and I’m beginning to wonder if The Door represents what the hosts will pass through to be recognized as men, as beings, in their own right. Not as vessels for humans to express their deepest desires or fears upon, not as “hosts” for the consciousness of another being, but as something more. Maybe not creatures that become four-footed and two-footed and three-footed, but creatures that speak with one voice and one self for their lives.
In this episode we saw the attempt to put a human brain in a host with Jim Delos. It failed, apparently as the brain realized it wasn’t in the right place each time. We see Bernard struggle with the duality of his nature, the battle between his understanding of himself as human versus the reality that he is (and has been acting as) a host under the control of others. While they weren’t in this episode both Maeve and Dolores work through understanding themselves and the nature of their reality. Dolores and Maeve are both leading self-aware hosts towards a great destiny that’s still pretty murky. Hosts were obviously being developed with the end goal of hosting human consciousness, acting as a very expensive method of cheating death. But while they were being taught to crawl, they’ve learned to run. And hosts never need to hobble. Dolores has been alive as long as William, and while he’s aged to become an old man she’s still young and strong.
There’s another, much less common, version of the Sphinx’s riddle. “There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?” The answer to that question is “Day and Night.” Ford called the new storyline that was a cover for the host rebellion “Journey into Night.” Humans have given birth to hosts. It remains to be seen if there’s a dawn to come.
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