Sunday, June 17, 2018

REVIEW: 'Westworld' - William Struggles Rationalizing His Inner Monster With Reality in 'Vanishing Point'

HBO's Westworld - Episode 2.09 "Vanishing Point"

Try to kill it all away, but I remember everything.

The effectiveness of "Vanishing Point" may hinge entirely around the audience's views on William as a character. This is a somewhat disjointed episode where a lot of big things happen. It's the show essentially setting the stage for next week's finale. It's laying all of the ground work to make it a personal battle to get to the Valley Beyond first in order to control the information that resides there. But William is largely the main character this week. However, "Vanishing Point" doesn't really offer the audience anything new or interesting about the character. The effectiveness of "Kiksuya" came from being completely surprised by a corner of this world that hadn't been explored before but seeing just how important it is to the overall stakes of the park. With this hour, it's mostly just confirming a lot that we already know about William and his backstory at home with his family. His story this season has been the least engaging as well because he has frequently just been off on his own adventure playing his own game. Yes, he too had a personal stake in getting to the Valley Beyond before anyone else. He knew what resided there because he was the man who built it and understood just how the data from the park could be mined and used. And now, he has a complete change of heart. It's one that may tie closely with his idea that he's a man beyond redemption who still has some goodness within him. But this episode mostly points out that William has now become a delusional madman incapable of telling the difference between what's real and not. That could have been a very compelling character arc this season. And yet, it's frustrating because it feels like the show keeps going around in circles with this particular character. Yes, Ed Harris is doing his best to sell the various nuances of the character and the tragedy of his life. But it's still a difficult character to truly connect with and understand why he does what he does. There are only so many moments where one can hear him talk about the stain on his soul and his desire to hide it from the world.

The big tragedy of this episode is William killing his daughter. That's such a shocking moment because it confirms that William is absolutely lost in playing Ford's games. All of last season he wanted the stakes of Westworld to be real. He wanted a challenge. The show has always painted him as a man who was nice and charitable in the real world but a vicious monster in the park. He tried to keep those two worlds as separate as he could. He feared that his family could see the real him though. That's why his wife, Juliet, killed herself. And now, that story plays out for the audience to see the inevitable tragedy. It's all told from the perspective of Emily trying to get some emotional catharsis from her father. She wants to know that he is feeling the exact same way that she is or that he can offer her the piece of the puzzle that has been missing for all of this time. She wants to understand why her mother did that to herself. She blames herself for suggesting that they commit her into rehab so that she could get better. She was forever tormented by the actions she took that night. And yet, William is the man truly to blame. He is the one who finally confessed to Juliet that she could always see who he truly was. All of this was nothing more than a performance. He didn't belong in this world. He was more alive in Westworld than he could ever be running Delos and being a family with Juliet and Emily. And so, Juliet looks at William's profile from the park which had been conveniently handed to him by Ford earlier in the night. What she sees is absolute horror. She sees her husband being so cruel and vicious in the world. She gets all the confirmation she has ever needed about her husband actually being a monster that she needs to run away from as quickly as possible. This tragedy opened Emily's eyes to the true reality of her father as well. She had access to his profile too. She wants to form this new connection with him by being able to openly talk about it. And yet, he is just refusing to accept that his real daughter would actively try to help him in the park. This simply must be another one of Ford's games.

Of course, it's easy to see that William gets pulled into this story as well. He allows himself to believe for awhile that this is real and that Emily has changed that much since he last saw her. She remembers all of the details of that fateful night and the cruel arrangements they were trying to make for Juliet. She has all of these memories. And yet, William is only fixated on how Emily was able to find him so quickly in this world. He doesn't see that as something that can easily be done. This is a vast world that people can get lost in if they are not too careful. William knows his daughter well enough that she wouldn't want to spend more time in the park than she had to. He just doesn't want to accept that she is still here on a mission. She wants to take her father back to the real world so that he can get the help he needs. Him instead choosing to open fire on the Delos rescue party and his own daughter proves that he is a deeply disturbed individual who no longer has any hopes for salvation. He is a monster who wasn't able to accept what was right in front of him. He wanted the stakes of the park to be real so that he had an actual challenge. And now, the park couldn't be any more real for him. Not only has he suffered a significant gun shot wound, Emily returned to him and forced him to be honest about the night Juliet died. Instead, all he wanted to see was the illusion. It was just another one of Ford's sick games to distract William from what he was suppose to unlock in this world. And yet, he kills his daughter. It's such a surprise because she was one of the few sane characters who was willing to call him out for his bullshit. He never believed in that connection but it was real. Now, he's lost to this world. Even if he succeeds in destroying his creation, he will be lost because of everything he has killed. As such, he is pushed to the brink of sanity. It's a fascinating place for him to be heading into the season finale. But there is still a lot of information that is simply repeated about the character here as well.

Emily isn't the only character who dies here either. Teddy becomes fully sentient. He makes a handful of decisions about his life and the current actions he is taking with Dolores. Throughout this entire season, it's been clear that she was still just controlling him. She wanted him to see the world as openly as she did. She wanted him to have full access to his memories. But in the end, she still altered his personality in order to suit her needs. She may have some twisted motivations for doing that but it was still wrong. She claims she changed him in order for him to survive in this world. And yet, he could never possibly forgive her for that. It was her proving that she's not any better than the humans who gave birth to them in the first place. She just happens to be in the position of leading this rebellion and delivering the hosts to a new, better world. It's a mission she believes in completely even though she has no problem killing any of the hosts who stand in her way. Right now, she is confronted by the Ghost Nation who feel the need to protect the Valley Beyond from the slayer of their creators. They see it as the door to a new world. Dolores understands it to be the leverage needed to push back against humanity and their twisted ideas of controlling them. It's a conflict Dolores only wins because of Teddy. And yet, he still chooses to let one live because he is walking away from the battlefield instead of continuing to fight. That highlights that Teddy still has compassion in this world. Even though Dolores changed him, he can't fight off his natural impulses and programming. He sees the world clearly now. He remembers the first time he ever saw Dolores. He understands that he loved her from that very moment. He still loves her now. He can't ever hurt her. But he can no longer protect her either. As such, it's so tragic that he kills himself. It's a brutal decision that represents a significant loss for Dolores on this journey. Now, she is all alone trying to fight the humans who caused all of this misery and pain. She has lost her greatest love. That could fuel her into becoming even more deadly. Or it could force her to reflect on her own actions as of late and wonder if there is a better way to rule this world.

Meanwhile, Bernard is furious with Ford's voice in his head. Ford is essentially telling him that no human can ever be trusted. It's simply in their nature to lie and deceive. He's warning Bernard that it's only a matter of time before Elsie betrays him in this fight. Bernard understands the personal significance of getting to the Valley Beyond before anyone else. He actually has a vehicle which can travel land faster than William on foot and Dolores on horseback. He may actually win this race. But again, the decision will still have to be made. Bernard wants to have some clarity on his mind too. He needs to understand and accept that the actions he is making our his own. When he's in the Mesa, he is simply being guided around by Ford. The creator wishes to deliver a message to Maeve. He wants her to know that she was his proudest creation. He had such grand ambitions for her to escape this world and find a way to survive. Instead, she made the choice to stay here. As such, he's willing to give her a fighting chance to escape her current dire situation. But that's mostly a cryptic tease for whatever is bound to happen next in the finale. Elsewhere, Bernard makes the decision to cut Ford out of his head instead of handing control over to him to once again believe that Elsie has been killed. He can't betray her like that ever again. That's the action that Ford deems necessary in this war. And yet, that doesn't make any sense at all. Ford purposefully kept Elsie alive to help Bernard on this journey even though she was learning too much about what was actually going on. As such, it's silly to think that she is now suddenly disposable. It shows that even Ford has seemingly lost his way in this transition to just being a piece of the code that exists within the minds of some of the hosts. Bernard wants to sever that connection. Only the finale will confirm whether or not he succeeded in that endeavor. He does leave Elsie behind. But she's still alive to continue to fight in this world and help the humans push back against the robot rebellion.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Vanishing Point" was written by Roberto Patino and directed by Stephen Williams.
  • Of course, one has to wonder if Emily and Teddy are dead for good. This is a show that loves playing with those life-or-death stakes. But it has brought plenty of characters back from the dead after all. The creative team said that Ford was completely gone. And then, Anthony Hopkins came back and is now a regular part of the show again. The same could also be true for Katja Herbers and James Marsden depending on whatever twists occur in the finale.
  • William also confirms how Delos was able to monitor the actions of the guests without them being aware of it. He says that there are scanners in the hats. Well, he doesn't actually say it. He just infers it. As such, that makes it seem likely that there are scanners in many different articles of clothing and not just the hats. Not everyone in Westworld wore a hat after all. Plus, every world in the park has different styles.
  • Sela Ward plays Juliet and she too brings enough acting to the role to make the audience feel for the tragedy of the character even though the audience knows what's coming. There's no need to talk around it either. Juliet is going to kill herself. Both William and Emily blame themselves for that action. As such, it's significant seeing them interact with her while also seeing the struggles she currently has with addiction - similar to the issues that her father and brother had.
  • It's notable that Akecheta is not one of the Ghost Nation soldiers who stands opposed to Dolores in this initial fight. That proves that he's away somewhere else planning to do something to further complicate this race to the Valley Beyond. That too should be very exciting. Of course, it also means he sends many of his own men to die in this battle with the person who has already claimed so many lives in this war.
  • The technicians have figured out a way to implant Clementine with a bug that will infect the other hosts in proximity to her. All it takes is the right touch for them to immediately turn on each other. As such, that makes her a very deadly weapon in this war. As such, Charlotte will continue to exert her influence and power in order to prove that humans and Delos won't go down without a fight.