Westworld Vanishing Point review

Welcome to our weekly recaps of HBO’s Westworld. This Westworld review takes a look at the ninth episode of season 2, “Vanishing Point”. Be warned: spoilers follow.

westworld man in black wife

Here Comes The Man In Black

After last week’s series-best episode focusing almost entirely on Akecheta, this week’s Westworld – “Vanishing Point” – zeroes-in on another character: William, the Man In Black. The results are not nearly as game-changing as the previous episode, but at the very least, “Vanishing Point” is a great showcase for Ed Harris. Harris has remained a supporting player for most of this season (and series), but here, he gets to take command, peeling away the Man In Black’s gruff exterior and revealing something darker and more troubling underneath.

The Man In Black has gone through some changes this season. He dipped into anti-hero mode early-on when he saved the life of Lawrence and his wife. But since then, he’s been solely focused on his mission – getting to the end of Ford’s game, whatever the hell that game might be. Along the way, he’s re-connecting with his estranged daughter Emily (Katja Herbers), and the narrative wrap-around for this episode has the injured Man In Black talking with Emily about the past.

It’s a past full of regret and death. Here, in flashbacks, we finally learn what happened to Juliet – William/The Man In Black’s wife, Emily’s mother (and James Delos’ daughter). From past conversations, we already knew Juliet killed herself. “Vanishing Point” attempts to explain why.

Juliet (played here by Sela Ward) is in a truly poor state in the flashbacks. She’s suffering from alcoholism – a fact that pains and embarrasses both William and Emily. But William has other things on his mind – like Westworld. In the real world, William looks awkward and out of sorts. Westworld occupies his every thought, and he can’t escape it. At a fancy party, he has visions of Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), and later runs into Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the Wizard of Westworld’s Oz, who presents William with a gold card that contains William’s “profile.” And just in case you thought this episode was going to be subtle, the flashback moment between William and Ford ends with William saying he’s done with Ford’s games, only for Ford to whisper to himself, “I think, perhaps, one final game!” Ok, we get it Ford. You’re laying it on a bit thick. 

Back home, William and Juliet quarrel, and Emily suggests having Juliet sent away for treatment. “Vanishing Point” sneakily sets this up as the catalyst that tips Juliet over-the-edge, because not long after this talk of being sent away, Juliet takes her own life. But it’s ultimately not Emily’s fault. It’s William’s (of course it is).

After establishing Juliet’s death, “Vanishing Point” later returns to the moment in question and shows William confessing his thoughts to his supposedly sleeping wife. He tells her he doesn’t belong in this world, and he tells her of a darkness growing inside him. Then William tucks his gold card profile away in a book (Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five). After William departs, we see Juliet was only feigning sleep. She grabs William’s profile, hooks it up to a futuristic iPad, and watches in horror. The “profile” contains a montage of some of William’s most diabolical deeds within Westworld – all the murders and assaults he’s committed in the confines of the park. This terrifies Juliet – her husband, who has spent his life on the outside pretending to be good, is, based on these videos at least, a psychopath. It’s too much, and it tips her over the edge.

Things get only more depressing from here. Back in the park, the injured Man In Black reveals he still thinks the Emily before him is a robot host created by Ford to trip him up. Emily insists she’s human, but that’s just what a lying robot would say. In any case, it’s clear that the Man In Black is too far gone, mentally, to listen to reason at this point. Delos security pulls up just as this conversation is getting super-awkward, and the Man In Back seizes this opportunity to grab one of those fancy red security machine guns. In the Man In Black’s warped view, these security guards are also hosts sent in by Ford.

The solution, as far as the Man In Black is concerned: mass murder. The Man In Black kills all the security guards, and Emily. Of course, he quickly discovers she wasn’t a host at all, after he finds the gold profile card clutched in her hand (I guess she was just…holding onto that the entire time?). Now, William’s entire family is dead. He drove his wife to suicide, and killed his daughter with his own hands. It’s bleak stuff, and Harris plays it perfectly, with a mix of horror, anger, and confusion.

This gives way to the episode’s most surprising moment: after the slaughter, William wanders out onto the plains, contemplates killing himself, and then begins to suspect that maybe – just maybe – the real secret robot host isn’t Emily, or the security guards, but himself. In true Terminator fashion, he begins cutting into his arm, perhaps to find the circuitry underneath. Does he locate the truth there? We’ll have to wait and see, because the camera shot cuts away before he gets too far under the skin.

westworld episode 2.9

Oh, Right, Let’s Talk About The Other Characters, Too

While William gets the brunt of the screen time this week, Westworld apparently couldn’t stick with two episodes in a row focused entirely on one character. Which means we get to check in with the rest of the gang. Do you care? Even if you don’t, let’s talk about them anyway!

Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is still dealing with Ford stuck in his head. After Bernard and Elsie (Shannon Woodward) reunite, again, Ford orders Bernard to kill her – something Bernard really doesn’t want to do. In the midst of all this, Bernard takes a few minutes to explain to Elsie what the Valley Beyond is. The official name is The Forge, and it’s a lot like The Cradle. But where The Cradle was the storage facility for all the host backups, The Forge is where Delos has stored all the personal data they’ve (illegally) mined from their guests (in a very stupid scene, we learn that Delos extracts this data via sensors hidden in every guest’s cowboy hat). To avoid killing Elsie, Bernard hacks into his own robot brain and deletes Ford. Then he drives away, leaving Elsie behind. Not cool, Bernard.

And what of the Deathbringer herself, Dolores? Dolores, Teddy (James Marsden) and their gang have a run-in with members of Ghost Nation (although Akecheta is nowhere to be seen). The Ghost Nation Native Americans tell Dolores that the Valley Beyond is not meant for her. She, of course, disagrees, and a big shoot-out ensues. This leads to a scene we saw back in the first episode of season 2 – where Dolores guns-down a Ghost Nation tribesman and says, “Not all of us deserve to make it to the valley beyond.”

By the end of the shootout, the only two left standing are Dolores and Teddy. But Teddy has had enough of all of this. He’s not reacting well to his sudden change of personality, and he calls Dolores out for transforming him from affable, lovable Teddy into a lean, mean killing machine. Dolores professes her love for Teddy – although it’s clear from the inflection in her voice that she doesn’t quite believe this anymore – and Teddy proclaims he still loves Dolores. But it’s not enough anymore, and Teddy kills himself, much to Dolores’ horror.

Dolores has come a long way, but now she has literally no one left. Her father, Teddy, all her minions – they’re all dead now. This revolution has brought nothing but slaughter. Will she stop now and cut her losses? Or will she continue onward to the Valley Beyond? And hey – just how does dead Teddy end up floating in that mysterious body of water we saw earlier this season?

Maeve (Thandie Newton), meanwhile, has managed to spend three episodes in a row laying in a hospital bed. She’s not quite dead yet, and she gets a visit from Ford, who confesses that Maeve was his favorite host (wow, way to be rude to the other hosts, Ford). While Maeve lays half-dead in the bowels of Westworld, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) and the Delos tech nerds have extracted Maeve’s all-controlling robot superpowers and implanted them into the mind of Clementine (Angela Sarafyan). Why they chose Clementine, I’m not sure – but now Clem has the power to control her fellow robots with the movement of a hand. This will probably backfire in some way. Just a guess.

After last week’s episode, “Vanishing Point” can’t help but pale in comparisons. It’s not nearly as emotional, or exciting. But it is a step in the right direction, especially compared to the bulk of the season. We’re almost at the end here – only one episode remains – and after losing interest, I confess I’m back to being curious about how this will all end.

westworld slaughterhouse-five

Stray Observations and Questions

  • It’s been a fan theory for a long time, and now it’s out in the open: is William a host? My guess would be no, because that really wouldn’t make sense at this point. But let’s wait and see.
  • Right before Ford vanishes, he says that Bernard has the power to “stop it all.” While other characters have stepped into the spotlight this season, Bernard is, in a sense, the true lead. The season began with his point of view, and much of what’s happening is a flashback to stuff he’s remembering. This cryptic comment by Ford serves as a reminder that Bernard still has some big part to play in the end.
  • Speaking of which, William’s hiding place of choice – within the pages of Slaughterhouse-Five – is likely a hint of what’s to come. Slaughterhouse-Five is about a character coming “unstuck in time”, and earlier this season, Bernard wondered aloud, re: the timeline, “Is this now?” I can only assume that the multiple timelines at work this season aren’t quite what we think they are, and all will be revealed next week. Or I’m wrong.
  • I don’t know if they planned it this way, but bonus points for airing this episode filled with paternal themes on Father’s Day.
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