'Westworld' Podcast: What "One Good Deed" Reveals About the Future

An unexpected return takes center stage in the latest episode of our weekly 'Westworld' podcast.
Courtesy of HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode four of HBO's Westworld, "The Riddle of the Sphinx."]

Why in the whole wide Westworld would Robert Ford keep Elsie Hughes alive?

It's a question that cropped up this week on "Welcome to Westworld," the podcast collaboration between Post Show Recaps and The Hollywood Reporter in which we dissect every episode of the series. In season one, Elsie (Shannon Woodward) vanished without a trace, just past the midpoint of the year. Theories abounded about her whereabouts. Was she hiding out in the park, teamed up with Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), at the mercy of Ghost Nation — or, better yet, in control of them? All the wild possibilities were ultimately abandoned in favor of the simple truth: Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), as predicted, did indeed capture Elsie at the behest of Ford (Anthony Hopkins), stranding her in a cave with nothing more than power bars and a bucket.

But why leave Elsie alive at all? In his final days, Ford was outwardly misanthropic, signing on to the belief system of his late colleague Arnold Weber (also Wright), convinced that hosts deserve a chance to become the superior species. He callously killed Theresa Cullen via Bernard beatdown. With his last dying act, Ford unchained the hosts, allowing them to kill as many humans as they wish, himself included. This is not a man who viewed human life with great regard, in other words — at least, not on the outside.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter this week, Shannon Woodward talked about Elsie as the one person who could have blown the Westworld conspiracy wide open in season one, given the chance. It makes absolute sense; she was close to solving everything, and as seen in "Riddle of the Sphinx," she's very capable of answering big-picture questions on the fly. (See: Bernard's cortical failures. She quickly identifies his malfunctions as stemming from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, which absolutely tracks.) No wonder Ford wanted Elsie out of the way. But the fact that he made sure Bernard not only kept Elsie alive, but placed Elsie in such a specific location — in the cave entrance of the "Lazarus lab," positioned perfectly to help Bernard solve the riddle of Delos' human-host hybridization program — tells us something about Ford's intentions.

Heading into the season one finale, it was far from clear that Ford's interests were actually aligned with the hosts. It stands to reason that the man's grander designs are still emerging. There's a dark option on the table: Ford plans to resurrect himself in corporeal form, using the technology that the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and Delos have been working on in secret; after all, we know Bernard was at this lab working on someone specific, we just don't know the person's identity quite yet. We also know that Ford remains an active force as a "ghost in the machine," speaking through his various hosts; this week, he uses Lawrence's daughter as a vessel once again, telling William that "one good deed" won't change a litany of personal failings.

But it's that very exchange, about the limited redemptive power of "one good deed," that lights the way for the brightest path forward for Ford's wishes. Much like the Man in Black, Ford is someone who came to regret a lifetime of mistakes in the pursuit of something beyond him. While he cannot fix his broken history, can he pave a way forward for a better tomorrow? And not just for the hosts — but for humankind as well?

Earlier in the season, Lee Sizemore actor Simon Quarterman spoke with THR about his journey alongside Thandie Newton's Maeve this season, describing their dynamic as two different species coming together to reach a mutual understanding, if not an outright alliance: "What can be learned from each other, as a robot and host, and as a human? It's almost like for both of them, this is a journey into a new form of humanity, a different layer of it."

In that light, it makes sense why Ford would leave Elsie alive: He not only believes in her ability to further Bernard's quest, but also believes she's someone with the proper amount of empathy and understanding of the hosts to be an essential player in the future development of both species. Perhaps the late Ford wasn't such a misanthrope after all.

Then again, maybe he was, and maybe the James Delos horror show from "Riddle of the Sphinx" is just the tip of the nightmarish iceberg Ford has everyone careening toward. Hey, it's Westworld. You never truly know!

Hear more musings about the deeper philosophical questions raised in "Riddle of the Sphinx," some theories about Emily (Katja Herbers), a pitch about the Man in Black's future (specifically as played by Jimmi Simpson), and some terrible jokes about William and Lawrence dancing together in this week's edition of the "Welcome to Westworld" podcast:

Make sure you don't miss an episode of Welcome to Westworld by subscribing to the show on iTunes or your podcast catcher of choice. Send in comments and questions in the field below using our feedback form or reaching out to Josh and Jo directly on Twitter. Keep checking THR.com/Westworld all season long for news, interviews, theories and more.

Welcome to Westworld and welcome to our handy guide collecting every episode of the podcast.

• Season 1 Podcasts: All found on PostShowRecaps.com
• Season 2, Episode 1: "Journey Into Night"
• Season 2, Episode 2: "Reunion"
• Season 2, Episode 3: "Virtu e Fortuna"
Season 2, Episode 4: "The Riddle of the Sphinx"