“The Riddle of the Sphinx” has been the tightest and most succinct episode of Westworld Season 2 thus far. Enveloped in alternate timelines and memories this week’s episode has finally drawn together the threads behind the Man in Black, James Delos, and the true purpose of the park.
Who is James Delos?
Throughout the course of this episode we learned the fate of James Delos, founder of Delos Incorporated who own, among other things, the entirety of Westworld and its research. For over thirty years James Delos has lived, died, and lived again within an observation chamber, his gleaming Californian apartment. Westworld is meticulous in its uncanny unpicking of reality, and Peter Mullan does an excellent job of portraying James as he glitches living out the same conversation again and again. We learn that James, dying of a disease, invested everything into Westworld’s research in the hopes of living forever, but the technology was never perfected far enough to allow James to leave.
James is clearly a businessman through and through, but when played against Ed Harris’ icy composure as the William/the Man in Black it’s hard not to empathize with his emotional breakdown. Learning of the death of his wife and daughter sends James into an all-too-human spiral, while his cognitive degradation allows Peter Mullan to go full horror show with the role. When we stumble into the observation lab in the show’s final moments the screen is saturated with red light, James’ corruption has consumed him and turned him into a monster, but it is the Man in Black’s willful abuse that haunts the scene.
This series of flashbacks chart the Man in Blacks actions before he dons the black hat and enters Westworld in Season 1, and we can now see how he came to believe that he ought to die in the park. “People aren’t meant to live forever”, not James Delos, and not William either. However, this episode doesn’t only give us backstory as to the Man in Black’s intentions in the park, because the present day narrative is simultaneously tracking something rather new in the Man in Black’s story: a good deed worthy of a white hat.
A Family Reunion Like No Other
In the new robot-run Westworld trouble is catching up on the Man in Black in the form of Major Craddock and his band of Confederados, whom Teddy probably should have finished off last week. The Man in Black, together with Lawrence, who appears to be remembering things from previous cycles, head to the town of Las Mudas where Lawrence’s wife and daughter live.
We know that the Man in Black is without scruples, once the town has been captured by Major Craddock he gives up Lawrence and his family in a heartbeat. But once things get serious something changes inside the Man in Black. In the same episode, we see him continue past prisoners being executed and used as railroad tracks, something else entirely is triggered when he sees Lawrence’s wife being made to poison her husband. The falling rain, the liquid poison, all swirl together in a memory of Juliet’s suicide, the Man in Black’s wife, and the discovery of her lifeless corpse in a bathtub overflowing with water.
The Man in Black chooses to save Lawrence, his family, and the town. He passes judgment upon the Confederados, and in doing so he plays the game as a true white hat would. As we are duly reminded, this doesn’t mean the Man in Black is absolved of his past sins, but it’s the beginning on a path that might well change him. In the closing scene, Grace, the escapee guest from The Raj park, reveals herself as the Man in Blacks daughter, presumably Emily Delos, and a new player in the game for Peter Abernathy. Will this change how the Man in Black values his life, and what game, exactly, is he playing? It seems the Man in Black is headed towards his own revelation, perhaps one which will need him to learn to play as a white hat once more to see his journey through to the end. What’s certain is that when you play riddles with a sphinx, you either discover the truth, or you die.
A Game of Control
In Bernard’s story, we follow not only the discovery of James Delos’ observation lab but also a series of revelations for Bernard himself. Memories of his actions under Ford’s control have begun to resurface, and though Bernard feels ready to finally choose his own actions the specter of Ford’s command is hard to forget. Westworld does a fantastic job of interweaving timelines and flashbacks into a consistent narrative, blurring just enough that we experience Bernard’s disoriented perspective without losing track of the stories arc.
We don’t know if we can trust Bernard, awakened to his own consciousness yet haunted by his own violence, we don’t even know if the trace of Ford’s control has truly left, and nor does he. Westworld season 1 liked to play a game with the audience over whether you could tell the difference between human guests and hosts, now we are playing a much more subtle game of guessing who exactly is in control, and how far the hosts’ free will extends.
Now that the Man in Black is reunited with his daughter, and Lawrence has seen his family saved, it only remains for Maeve to finally reach her own daughter, and to wreak what havoc she may once her goal is fulfilled.
‘Mr. Robot’ Just Changed Everything with a Shocking Reveal
There have been a lot of moving parts put into place over the course of Mr. Robot’s fourth season. Several of them just came together, in devastating fashion.
There have been a lot of moving parts put into place over the course of Mr. Robot‘s fourth, and final, season. On Sunday night, however, several of those pieces came together for one of the best episodes of the entire series in “Proxy Authentication Required”.
The reveal of a trauma so intense and horrific allows the character of Elliot to make so much more sense – so much so it almost warrants an entire series rewatch, to search for other hints.
Staged like a five act play, and utilizing a cinematic aspect ratio, “Proxy Authentication Required” immediately lets viewers know that it’s doing something a little different. While this may not be a huge surprise for fans (Mr. Robot just did a dialogue-free episode two weeks ago, among other experimental efforts throughout the series) the reason for it is fitting.
Essentially a bottle episode, “Proxy Authentication Required” takes place entirely in the apartment of Elliot’s former therapist, Krista. As such, the five act structure makes it even more like a play than it already is. Moreover, the episode is very dialog heavy, with almost no action.
Still, with a meaty chess match between Elliot/Mr. Robot and drug dealer Fernando Vera making up the majority of the episode, the dialogue is weighty enough to justify this structure. The first round goes to Vera, who obviously has Elliot over a barrel, having kidnapped both he and Krista. However, Mr. Robot turns the tables in the second round, pointing out the lack of originality or planning in Vera’s drug-fueled, mystically-advised bid to take over New York City.
Finally, the third round comes: the tie breaker. As Fernando orders Krista to have an impromptu therapy session with Elliot, the most shocking reveal in the series is laid bare. After a tense build-up, and against the protests of both Krista and Mr. Robot, Elliot finally digs up the truth behind his alter ego. Mr. Robot wasn’t created after Elliot had an accident, he was created to protect Elliot from a series of traumas that came before it.
In an emotional moment sold gloriously by Rami Malek, Elliot accepts the truth: his father molested him throughout his childhood. In one fell swoop, so much of what we know about Elliot suddenly makes sense – and the fact that Mr. Robot looks like his dad is just the beginning. There’s also the details of the trauma that we’ve had up until now: that Elliot told Darlene to hide when he heard his dad coming; that he grabbed a bat to defend himself – and, finally, that he threw himself from the window when he feared he couldn’t best his father in the altercation.
The reveal of a trauma so intense and horrific allows the character of Elliot to make so much more sense – so much so it almost warrants an entire series rewatch, to search for other hints. Certainly it’s more logical that Mr. Robot was created out of these terrible memories rather than materializing after the injuries sustained during Elliot’s fall. It also lets the viewer know that Mr. Robot had a history of altering Elliot’s perception and memories long before the events of the series.
Even more disturbing is that the creation of false narratives and fake memories is actually a real-life coping mechanism used by survivors of sexual abuse, especially children. As such, the reveal fits naturally into the character of Elliot – but it’s a huge shock to drop on the audience a mere three episodes before the end of the show.
Of course, the reveal will no doubt ignite debates as to whether Mr. Robot creator and showrunner Sam Esmail planned this backstory from the start, or whether it was concocted as a wrench to throw in the gears at the last minute. Either way, questions remain as to how this new information will affect the remainder of the series.
Will Mr. Robot be back or is he gone for good, now that his job of protecting Elliot from the truth has become obsolete? Did/does Darlene know? Will this affect the plan to hack the Dark Army that has been building all season? All of these questions and more will be answered in the next three weeks but in the meantime, we’ll be waiting with baited breath.
Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “Little Fear of Lightning”
This week, Watchmen delves into Looking Glass’s past and revisits one of the biggest events from the comic: the “interdimensional” squid attack on New York that kills over three million people and psychologically damages millions more. “Little Fear of Lightning” the finest hour yet, a focused character study that connects past and present in fascinating ways. And as always, there’s a lot to digest.
Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this fifth episode, Simon Howell, Sean Colletti, and Randy Dankievitch, take a deep dive into “Little Fear of Lightning” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.
And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.
The Career of Seth Rollins: From Face to Heel at Lightning Speed
It wasn’t that long ago that The Shield debuted on Survivor Series, setting the main event careers of three talented wrestlers in motion. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins all came to the WWE through NXT. In and out of The Shield, each man has held multiple championships and has had great success.
These days, look a lot different for the former Shield members. Dean Ambrose left the WWE for AEW to wrestle again as Jon Moxley and Roman Reigns took a step back from the spotlight after warring with cancer. Meanwhile, the career of Seth Rollins has taken a turn of its own.
Becoming Seth Rollins
Colby Lopez joined the WWE in 2010 as part of Florida Championship Wrestling under the name Seth Rollins. He was there when it was re-branded in 2012 as NXT and became their inaugural champion. Seth Rollins turned heel in epic fashion by betraying The Shield and embarking on a huge singles career after his main roster debut.
Rollins hitting his Shield brothers with a steel chair still rates as one of the most shocking turns in WWE history.
More recently, Rollins had two wars against Brock Lesnar over the Universal Championship. Rollins won the Royal Rumble, using the title shot he earned to beat Lesnar at WrestleMania. Then, Lesnar somehow won a Money in the Bank match he wasn’t technically involved in. He used that shot to get his belt back. Rollins would then reclaim the title at SummerSlam.
It was a repetitive feud.
Rollins vs. Lesnar Into Infinity
The back and forth between Rollins and Lesnar became exhausting to fans. Not shockingly, WWE viewers were already sick of Lesnar being an absentee champion by the point that Reigns finally took him down. When he reclaimed the belt after Roman’s cancer announcement, the focus turned to Rollins hunting Lesnar.
Even when someone else like AJ Styles or Baron Corbin got in the mix, fans knew they wouldn’t win. It was always going to be about Lesnar and Rollins so fans started to turn on Rollins. His Hell in a Cell match against ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt was the final nail.
Top Face or Top Heel?
There was a time long ago that fans over the age of eight cheered for John Cena when he came out to the ring. At some point, it became cooler to boo him. The same is true of Roman Reigns, who had to go through a traumatic personal experience to get fans to ease up on him. In both cases, they were the corporate champions chosen to lead the brand.
In reality, fans didn’t really care if they were good wrestlers or not. It’s just something they chafe against.
The boos echoing through the arena are growing louder and louder for Seth Rollins for similar reasons. That’s due in no small part to the long, tedious promos he’s sent out to give to personally connect with the audience. Play that card too often and the opposite becomes true. WWE was frequently guilty of the same thing with both Cena and Reigns.
Watch the video from the night when Reigns made the announcement of his hiatus to fight cancer. Fans were reflexively booing him because they figured they were in for another long promo. The mood changed quickly when Roman started talking about leukemia.
Things Go Wrong at Hell in a Cell
All of this was already building to a head when Hell in a Cell came along.
Universal Champion Seth Rollins was set to defend his title against ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt in the titular main event. Unfortunately, WWE had painted themselves into a corner. They wanted Seth to retain, which he did, but couldn’t use the traditional DQ or count out to do it. Instead, WWE went for some weird finish where Seth hurt Wyatt so much so the ref stopped the match.
Essentially, a DQ in a no DQ match.
Rollins became the focus of much of the rage for the bad finish but the feud between him and Wyatt would continue. Wyatt finally won the Universal Championship and took it back to SmackDown. The side effect of this would be Lesnar returning to Raw with the WWE Championship.
It’s inevitable that Rollins and Lesnar will cross paths for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, fans will have to choose between the two. They’ll end up cheering Rollins on as the lesser of two evils from their perspective.
The main miscalculation that WWE made at Hell in a Cell is the same one they made with Reigns and Cena. They assumed that being the top face in a match makes you the fan-favorite. Bray Wyatt is, by far, the most over wrestler in the company. People love Firefly Fun House and they love ‘The Fiend.’ Rollins simply couldn’t compete as any ending that wasn’t Wyatt with a belt would not be satisfactory to fans.
Seth Rollins’ Next Phase
Now, Rollins is stuck in a weird limbo. The top face on Raw for management that’s morphing into a heel based on fan opinion. His heel run alongside Triple H was some of his best work and he is still a superb in-ring performer. WWE should let what’s going to happen by letting Rollins perform to his strengths.
Let Rollins burn it down as a heel one more time.
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