Westworld and Lost are a lot alike. They’re both theory-rich “mystery box” shows, conceived and executive-produced by J.J. Abrams, about self-contained territories where the laws of the natural world don’t apply. They both have a Man in Black and kill off a character played by Rodrigo Santoro. They both feature shadowy, nefarious organizations (whose names allude to the ancient world and begin with “D”) with shadowy, nefarious adversaries who have white hair, Commonwealth-country accents, and long histories in strange settings. They both rely on multiple timelines and explore the limits of free will. And they both exhibit a fondness for the same passage from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
On Sunday, Westworld unintentionally introduced another parallel with Lost when the show built a big story reveal around an isolated Scotsman confined to close quarters. In Westworld Season 2’s fourth episode, “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” a series of simulacra of Scottish Delos founder James Delos spend decades in a circular room that’s reminiscent of the fishbowl on Delos’s bedside table. There, Delos (or the host copies of him) listens to ’60s music—the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire”—on a turntable, rides an exercise bike, goes to the bathroom, uses the kitchen sink, and engages in a variety of other time-killing activities.
The Fishbowl sequences are extremely similar to a scene inside Dharma’s “Swan” station (more commonly called “The Hatch”) in Lost’s Season 2 premiere, “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” in which Scottish former monk/military man Desmond Hume also listens to 1960s music—Mama Cass’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music”—on a turntable, rides an exercise bike, goes to the bathroom, uses the kitchen sink, and engages in a variety of other time-killing activities.
The juxtaposition between the two enforced stays in small chambers sets up a divisive debate: Who has it worse, Delos or Desmond? The 10-point breakdown below is designed to establish which nightmarish, involuntary confinement in corporate accommodations would be preferable: life in the Fishbowl, or life in the Hatch.
Unless James has a hidden vinyl stash, the Fishbowl’s futuristic discs (whose inner circles look a little like the Maze) have a higher capacity than regular records, or Delos Inc. secretly sprang for a streaming-service subscription, James’s playlist is limited to four records, including the ones that contain the two tracks we hear him spin: “Play With Fire” and Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand.”
Desmond, meanwhile, has an LP library that would make a hipster proud.
While I’d opt for either of Delos’s jams over Mama Cass’s cover as my desertmystical-island disc, Desmond’s DJing options are a lot less limited.
Delos has a better bike, but Desmond has a mediocre-motel-quality fitness center, featuring dumbbells, an adjustable weight bench and barbell, a pullup bar, and wall-mounted resistance cables.
For Desmond, life in the Hatch is a depressing slog of tedious activities. Frankly, though, the guy looks great.
It takes more than gyrating to Roxy Music to get rhomboids and lats like that.
Duration of Stay
There’s no telling how many incarnations of James occupy the Fishbowl, but most of them aren’t there for long; one of his monitors tells William that the latest James “made it to Day 7 this time” and calls that “progress.” By the time William starts to look like Ed Harris, the copies of his father-in-law may be making it further before beginning to glitch. Even then, though, they’re unlikely to rival Desmond’s endurance record. Desmond’s stay in the Hatch with his rescuer Kelvin lasts three years, plus the additional 40 days he spends by himself, which is enough to make him suicidal (like Kelvin and his predecessor Stuart Radzinsky had been before him). Confinement to the Fishbowl is bad, but at least it typically doesn’t last long. And psychologically speaking, the stay has to be easier for James, who thinks he’s checked himself in to avoid dying, than for Desmond, who’s separated from Penny against his will.
Delos lives in a fully transparent room and is monitored round-the-clock by his erstwhile employees.
Granted, Delos doesn’t know he’s being watched; from the inside, the Fishbowl’s walls look opaque. (Hence his uninhibited dancing and his highly efficient gargling/urination combo, a sign of the astute, multitasking mind that built a biotech behemoth.)
The Hatch can be monitored via video feed from the Pearl, another Dharma station, but it’s not clear whether the Pearl is staffed during Desmond’s days in the Hatch. Even if the Others are observing, Desmond doesn’t know it either, and his watchers probably can’t see every nook and cranny the way the Delos minders can.
The Hatch has a lava lamp and a comfy corner couch, coffee table, and chair.
Throughout much of its interior, though, the décor can be described only as “dank,” with walls that look like they haven’t been cleaned since the ’70s and are weeping with moisture from the tropical climate and subterranean setting. To make matters worse, much of the area is cluttered with clunky computer equipment.
Kelvin and Desmond do what they can with the inhospitable space, but the Hatch can’t compare to the clean lines, functional layout, and natural-looking light that James enjoys in the Fishbowl. Sure, the Fishbowl’s literal fishbowl and hourglass are a little on the nose, but the bed is a big upgrade over the bunk Desmond sleeps in between countdowns.
Life in the Fishbowl is boring, but there’s little anxiety involved: James thinks he’s in an office park in Carlsbad, waiting for his company to complete a few tests. Desmond, meanwhile, knows he’s on a remote, inescapable island and, thanks to Kelvin, believes that the environment is too toxic for him to go outside without wearing a hazmat suit. Worse, he’s convinced that the world will end if he doesn’t enter a code and push a button every 108 minutes. Imagine not being able to get more than an hour and a half of uninterrupted sleep for years at a time. That alone would be enough to send Desmond’s cortisol levels into the stratosphere, even aside from the constant alarms and unending pressure to save the world from electromagnetic Armageddon.
Freedom and Activities
James has one book; Desmond has a bookshelf.
He also has a folded-up ping-pong table where he can play against himself, not to mention a movie projector, although the only show in town is an edited Dharma orientation video. James has cigarettes, but Desmond has booze—both Dharma-brand bottles of wine and the kind of hard liquor that James has to do without until William comes calling at the end of his stay.
Desmond also has the option to go outside in a suit, even though Kelvin forbids him to. As far as we know, James never leaves his quarters, which would lead to an awkward conversation about whether Delos was watching him masturbate. Even allowing for the fact James is usually deactivated before boredom drives him crazy, the Fishbowl is light on potential activities.
Desmond has a washing machine, but as far as we can tell, he uses it to wash his one Dharma coverall and pair of standard-issue underwear over and over. James has a silk robe, a stylish sweater, a short-sleeved-tee-and-black-pants ensemble, and a button-up polo that he wears with gray slacks. This is the easiest call of the competition.
We don’t see anyone except William visit James, but we can infer from his behavior and comments—including “The most potent thing these cretins will give me is grapefruit juice”—that the people stationed outside visit from time to time, possibly to restock his supplies. Until he accidentally kills Kelvin, Desmond has more constant companionship, but his companion isn’t much of a conversationalist, and he’s also a liar who’s trying to manipulate Desmond into becoming a permanent resident of the island. At least the Delos techs are ostensibly trying to help James, right up until they exterminate him.
After Kelvin’s brain is busted, Desmond is completely alone. James, at least, has his goldfish, which I’d like to think is a robot replica of a real goldfish that once was suffering from a fatal illness.
Desmond eventually escapes the island, reunites with Penny, and has a son. James repeatedly dies in a fire, except for the one time when he survives long enough to lose his mind, mutilate himself, and get killed by Bernard.
We have a 5-5 draw, which confirms what we suspected: The Hatch and the Fishbowl are both terrible, torturous places that should be avoided at all costs. If at all possible, spend your dystopian futures in different sci-fi facilities.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.