The following contains spoilers for Westworld Season 2 Episode 4 “The Riddle of the Sphinx”
One of the reasons we love science fiction is that it puts characters into wild, unthinkable situations and then must imagine how they would respond.
Take Elsie Hughes of Westworld for example. In this week’s episode, “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” Elsie is faced with a seemingly easy choice: should she trust the sentient robot who choked her to near death and then shackled her in a cave with nothing but ketchup packets to slurp and a bucket to shit in….or naw?
The answer in the real world is obviously “…or naw.” But this isn’t the real world. This is Westworld, baby. And Elsie’s only realistic choice might be to trust Bernard.
First let’s recap some of what we know about Elsie Hughes (portrayed by Shannon Woodward) since this is his first appearance in Westworld Season 2.
Elsie has been a programmer at Westworld for years and was Bernard’s assistant for most of that time. She was a pretty consistent presence throughout all of season one because when a host “broke” she was one of the programmers most likely to fix it. Here is how Elsie fixed stuff:
Later on in the season Elsie discovers a satellite up-link in one of the malfunctioning hosts, a Woodcutter. She follows the thread and it reveals that there is something rotten going on at the Delos Corporation. She heads to Sector 3 to find more information and is promptly grabbed from behind by who we later find out is Bernard operating under Ford’s control.
When he remembers what he did, Bernard believes that he’s killed Elsie. But Ashley (the Hemsworth) discovers her signal in Sector 20. That, combined with her voice being heard in promotional materials for season three made it clear that Elsie was in fact alive.
The only question was: what role would she play. Based on “The Riddle of the Sphinx” it seems as though Elsie’s role is to remain almost exactly the same. She’s Bernard’s assistant again.
In a non-science fiction universe, that is some very poor decision-making on Elsie’s part. You probably shouldn’t trust murderous robots. By episode’s end, however, Elsie has made the decision to follow Bernard again and see how deep Robert Ford’s new maze goes.
“Fuck it. I always trusted code more than people anyway,” Elsie tells him. You gotta promise me one thing. No more likes. And you’ll never hurt me again.”
That’s patently absurd and also probably the right decision. The human characters on Westworld are becoming more rare. After Ford’s death and Bernard’s host reveal, the only alive, major human character left is William. And the non-major character humans have not fared particularly well either. Through three episodes most human beings who have appeared on-screen have amounted to little more than lambs to the robot slaughter.
That’s why it is deceptively smart for Elsie to intuitively understand that she’s strangely safer with the murderous hosts than she is the most peaceful human beings. It’s like she’s finally realized she’s on a television show.
Westworld struggled with its characterization of human characters a bit in season one. Elsie, and head writer Lee Sizemore were often the biggest offenders. They were underwritten in favor of “fleshing out” Westworld’s mechanical creations. In Westworld Season 2 both Lee and Elsie have become more self-aware. The only way out of the robot uprising is to ingratiate one’s self with the robots.
Too bad Bernard killed all those people though.