We’re back to the main narrative with “Vanishing Point” as the season arrives at its penultimate episode, and the Man in Black/Older William’s life outside the park gets a lot more context in relation to his daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers) and his wife, Juliet (Sela Ward).
Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Westworld episode “Vanishing Point” written by Roberto Patino, directed by Stephen Williams.
Essentially the bookend episode to “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” the narrative explores the visual clues that director Lisa Joy laid out for the audience in episode four and provides definitive answers (yay!) about what kind of man William (Ed Harris) is outside of the park.
As it turns out, the sins of the park stain the soul. Every awful deed that William’s been doing in Westworld has left an invisible stink on him that he’s been able to hide from everyone…except his wife, Juliet. She sniffed out that there’s a darkness to him a long time ago, and he knows that she knows there’s something not right with him. And all of that comes to bear in this hour as he reflects back on his life with his daughter as she provides life-saving first aid on his wounds.
In the park, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) digs into Maeve’s code to figure out how they can reproduce or use the code on other Hosts.
Bernard now has Ford’s voice in his head, goading him to not trust any human, including Elsie (Shannon Woodward).
And Teddy (James Marston) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) take a break in their journey to have a much-needed conversation about her goals, and what he wants from this relentless path of violence.
After the beautiful storytelling of last week’s episode, it’s a bit underwhelming to go back to the main storylines which are certainly coming to a climax, but are as obtuse as ever. I will attest that it is satisfying to finally get a glimpse at older William’s life outside of the park. We’ve been told, and seen, that he’s married with a daughter, and the world outside views him as something of a philanthropist. But we also know they are all smoke-screens for the awful behavior he’s indulged in for decades inside the park.
William’s voiceover that “no one sees this thing in me, this stain. But you always saw it” opens and closes the episode. In-between, we finally get to witness the last day of his long marriage to Juliet, and how her public behavior as a lush has made her the embarrassment of their social circles, and their daughter, Emily. Getting to see that younger Emily was essentially a daddy’s girl for most of her life, then juxtaposing that with the present adult Emily in the park, who loathes her father, is an interesting connection of point A to point B. Getting to see how that pivotal night played out and got both of them to where they are now, discussing how Juliet’s tragic ending impacted everything moving forward, is engagingly revealed and constructed.
The episode is also edited beautifully, tying together the mysterious imagery of “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” into a more linear narrative that charts the peeling back of years of William’s lies and secrets that have taken a bitter toll on his suspicious wife, who knew she was playing second fiddle in her husband and daughter’s hearts. It’s that potent gaslighting that led her to find solace in a lot of liquor bottles, and ultimately take her own life. Knowing she was right all along gave her no peace. How could it, knowing that she had a child with a monster, and lost the love and respect of that child because her daughter bought all of William’s lies.
And thus, while the last act reveal that Juliet heard every word of what William thought he confessed to his unconscious wife feels like the kind of ugly loss he deserved to experience, it also comes with the horrifying knowledge that Juliet had to sacrifice herself to get any satisfactory revenge on this man. Distasteful all around.
I have to add a caveat to the success of the Juliet reveal, which is tempered by the convenient nature of how exactly she knew where William put his profile in that particular book. Did she catch his movements when he wasn’t (or we) weren’t looking? There’s no clear reveal of that which makes how everything unfolds feel convenient and sloppy.
Speaking of convenient,I’m not buying that Bernard is so guileless now that he would totally believe that Elsie is such an absolute ally that he’d go so far as to change his code to get Ford’s questioning voice out of his head. She hasn’t done anything to warrant that kind of loyalty. Everything she’s done, even in The Cradle, was so she could finally get some answers, not for any love for Bernard. Thus, it comes off as very orchestrated for plot, rather than an organic character move we would expect from Bernard. I’d have preferred that he just leave Elsie at the side of the road, and removed Ford from his head because he wanted free will, full stop.
I thought I meant it when I said, “Poor, Teddy” before but man, what an awful loss. Even Dolores’ recoding of her ‘soul mate’ couldn’t wipe away her stains from his code. He did her bidding but there was some kernel inside him that remained and tallied every awful deed he did for her until he couldn’t do it anymore. When he says, “What’s the use of surviving if I’m as bad as them” and then blows his brains out, I shed no tears for the monster Dolores has become. I’m not even sure if this loss, and its impact on her choices, will be enough to land any redemption for her that lies in the Valley Beyond.
Things to Ponder ...
It looked like the lone surviving Ghost Warrior was able to pull a Maeve on Teddy to save his life. If her code elevation is expanding to others, that’s going to make for a very interesting final showdown. Plus, knowing that Ford wants his daughter, Maeve, to end all of this on her terms and not Delos' is admittedly intriguing.
Are we supposed to think the park has finally cracked William because the now mortal stakes in park have driven him to the brink of death, and a mania to know the end game Ford left him? That’s really the only explanation for me to buy about why William would be certain that Emily is a Host and kill her without any concern that she could be his actual daughter.
When Ford (Anthony Hopkins) confronts William at the bar after the big party, we finally get to hear the gentleman’s agreement the two sustained for years. Delos was to stay out of Ford’s stories, and Ford was to stay out of the valley – a.k.a. The Forge (which is the backup of The Cradle). So, Ford was aware that William was doing something with his code that was not what Arnold or Ford intended with their A.I. creations. If so, why play a long game with William? When he slides William’s secret park profile to him at the bar, how could he know that it would spark the tragedy that would unfold that night? It certainly plays out like he must have intended, with someone in William’s family discovering his park profile and the repercussions that would come from that knowledge. But doesn’t it seem awfully laborious to push William into isolation in his real life, just so Ford can push William towards the “final game” in the park to get revenge, or a comeuppance on the man? It’s also asking that Ford give up his own life, and pre-plan this kind of an outcome to get the last word. While all of it is certainly grandiose in scale, befitting a master storyteller, but it’s also unwieldy as a plan, and far too dependent on uncertain outcomes to be realistic in any way.
And of this leads to the bigger picture question of what this is all going to be about when we get to the Valley Beyond. Way back when young William entered Westworld for the first time, fell in love with Dolores and the power of what the world instilled in him, he made his choice that his real home was in the park. He came out a changed man, manipulating his father-in-law to fund his immortality experiments so he can, what? Live in his beloved park forever? But the park how now taken everything from him: his wife, his daughter, and his professional reputation. There’s no answer in the end game that can possibly satisfy him, or us, at this point to make any of the bloodshed, loss and pain worth it. The park has deconstructed humans, and Hosts like Dolores, into pitiable shells unworthy of compassion or caring. I can’t imagine what this finale will give us, unless it’s a Season 3 just about Akecheta, that will make all any of this feel worthwhile. What can Maeve bring to the climax, or Ford's end game be for William, that will take the story forward enough to make us want to follow along?