TV reviews

Westworld 2×09 – ‘Vanishing Point’ – TV Review

“I belong to another world.  I always have.” – William.

The pieces are finally in place for the great showdown at the Valley Beyond.  There have been diversions, discursions, and the occasional dragging of narrative feet, but we’ve finally reached the endgame of Westworld.  They say that it’s not the destination but the journey that makes a quest worthwhile and ‘Vanishing Point’ backs up this adage.  It’s an episode that sweeps all but the major players away with clinical brutality, but finds poignancy in its parallel depictions of grief, loss and guilt.

Although every story-line is advanced to the point of their final convergence, the writers are bold enough to spend most of the time with William (Ed Harris), both in flashback and in his most recent timeline as he’s recovering from his injuries under the ambiguous care of estranged daughter Emily (Katja Herbers).  We finally realise just how deeply the chasm in his psyche is riven, between that of William and the Man in Black.  Harris does a great job of keeping the various plates of this mercurial role spinning, always finding the essential humanity in a character that ends the episode unsure of his own.

We could understand if the grief of his wife’s suicide plunged him into the dark behaviour in which he indulged in Westworld.  The truth of it however, as he confides to her (he wrongly assumes) sleeping form, is that this is a darkness he’s always harboured.  After he leaves, she finds the data card Ford (Anthony Hopkins) had given William earlier, which contains all his misdemeanours within the park, especially those involving Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood).  She hides the card for Emily to find and kills herself in the bath.  This loss has merely doubled down his behaviour at the park, hardened his obsession to a diamond core, and ultimately stripped him of his sanity.  The extent of his madness is soon revealed.

Cut to the MiB and Emily.  She’s taken him to a rally point and called for medical help from park operatives.  He still insists she’s a host and that she’s another avatar for Ford, like those that have been haunting him all season.  Emily counters with the very human motivation that she wants him exposed and jailed for his crimes.  He believes that the only way she could know everything he he has done is if Ford had uploaded the information into her control unit.  When Delos staff appear MiB snaps.

For all his violent acts over the course of nineteen episodes, they’ve been against hosts.  Here, he murders the five operatives, before turning the gun on his daughter.  When he finds the data card in her hand, the look of sick horror on his face affirms the level of tragedy of his character.  Stumbling numbly through the park’s wilderness, this digital age Herakles considers suicide, before beginning to hack into his arm as he doubts his humanity.  Is he a host after all?

Also losing those closest to her is Dolores.  Like the Man in Black, this is ultimately through her own actions.  Unlike the MiB, this is through her quest for humanity, while his losses chip away at his with the unerring skill of a master sculptor.  Not for the first time this season, Dolores’ plight doesn’t resonate as strongly as that of other characters.  This is down to the relatively small amount of screen time she’s had, and her depiction as the blunt force “Deathbringer”.  Her arc has been easily the weakest part of these nine episodes, with the writers seeming to coast on the nuance and complexity of her awakening in season one.  This isn’t to take anything from Wood’s performance.  When given a glimmer of a chance to shine she’ll take it, as she does here.

After an encounter with the Ghost Nation which leaves all but one of the native warriors, and the entire horde dead, Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) discuss their final destination.  This coincides with Teddy achieving full sentience, and he confronts Dolores with what she has done to him.  “You’ve made me a monster,” he says.  Dolores’ justification that she had to alter his programming so that he would survive sounds awfully like Ford’s to Bernard.

It looks initially like he may turn the gun on Dolores but, saying he’ll love her and protect her until the day he dies, he turns the gun on himself.  Dolores’ silent scream of grief is an eerie parallel with that of MiB after the murder of his daughter.  Does this swell of emotion feel unearned?  Undoubtedly.  However, it’s so beautifully shot and acted by Wood that it’s an accurate stab to the heart nonetheless.  It’s a scene that perfectly encapsulates Westworld’s seductive pull; enough to haul you through its more ponderous, maddening aspects.

Elsewhere, Bernard, Maeve and Delos are also in place for the big showdown.  Delos’ threat comes primarily through the unexpected figure of Clementine (Angela Sarafyan).  She’s been a peripheral figure this season, but Delos techs have been able to channel the same access to the Mesh that Maeve has used to control other hosts, and to gift this power to Clem.  It works startlingly well, a room full of hosts devolving into something resembling the church scene from Kingsman, triggered by nothing more than a hand pressed to the glass and an impassive stare.  Some secret weapon to have, and it’s nice to see the striking Sarafyan given a big role in the carnage to come.

Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) have both felt the ghostly Machiavellian presence of Ford whispering sweet atrocities on their shoulder.  Bernard manages to resist his maker and its exhortations to hurt Elsie (Shannon Woodward) by stripping Ford from his programming.  He leaves a livid Elsie to her own devices for her own safety and heads off to beat Dolores to the Forge, the store of the mind of every guest in digital form.  Poor Maeve is far less mobile, still strapped to a gurney in the Mesa and hacked down to the bone.  She manages to access a message from Ford through Bernard.

It turns out Maeve was Ford’s favourite and she’s been one of the few really charting her own path.  Ford had originally wanted her to escape, but she set off in pursuit of her daughter instead.  Poor Maeve.  It’s likely whoever, that she will have a big part still to play.  Although she’s physically incapacitated, it seems reasonable to assume she’ll be the main adversary against Clem’s mental powers.

In short, we have Dolores, Maeve, the MiB, Bernard, Delos (via Clem), and a vastly depleted Ghost Nation on a collision course at the Valley Beyond.  It’s been a circuitous route, but ultimately a worthwhile one.  Should we expect a straightforward climactic showdown, or are there yet more rugs Nolan, Joy and their collaborators can pull from under us?  For all season two hasn’t quite reached the magic of the first ten episodes of wonderful world-building, there have still been some moments of genuine magic and compelling storytelling.

Let’s hope for one last, epic encounter.

Westworld Season 2 airs every Monday on Sky Atlantic. Let us know what you think of the season.

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