Westworld: “Vanishing Point” Finds Power in Death, But Does Little With the Living

"Of all the hosts I've made, you Maeve, were my favorite."

“Of all the hosts I’ve made, you Maeve, were my favorite.”

Last week’s Westworld episode (“Kiksuya”) is one of the series’ best, so it seemed a given that this week’s would be a step back down again. That expectation comes true with a mixed-bag that spends a lot of time with one of the show’s least interesting leads exploring things we already understand while also delivering a pair of affecting and somewhat surprising deaths.

Let’s take a look at season two, episode nine of Westworld: “Vanishing Point”

The last time we saw the Man in Black (Ed Harris) he’d been shot four times and left for dead before being “rescued” by his daughter Emily (Katja Herbers). He awakes in her care at an extraction point, but as they wait for a Delos team to arrive the two banter in an effort to determine each other’s motivations. She wants to get him back to the real world, and while she suggests it’s because she wants in on his big company project — copying human consciousness into host shells — the truth eventually arrives. The Valley Beyond is home to detailed profiles of every guest to ever visit the park. The data was surreptitiously collected via scanners hidden in the guests’ hats (although not everyone wore one), and Emily’s planning on revealing it to the world.

It’s an amateur move telling someone in advance that you plan on screwing them over, but Emily’s trying to push buttons. She succeeds too, and it gets her the answer she’s been after all season — why did her mom (Sela Ward) take her own life? It should surprise precisely no one that it was due to something her husband said on her final night. Turns out the darkness inside him, the darkness that was never satisfactorily explained between his transition from young man to old, has simply always been a part of him. On the one hand, this is something of a lazy resolution, but it’s also disappointing because it tells us nothing new.

And it’s been a long road to that nothing new too. His transition from white hat to black in the first season was always underwhelming as it amounted to little more than a “nice guy” who felt spurned by the woman he loved and decided on a whim to become a dick over it. Saying he’s essentially always been that dick feels realistic but uninteresting.

Similarly, his incessant whining to Ford (Anthony Hopkins) about wanting a game with weight and real consequence was seemingly answered in two ways — guests can die now, and his daughter’s in the park with him. Did I mention he’s recently been shot four times though? You wouldn’t know it as he single-handedly takes out four human members of Delos security and lives to ramble another day making the new dangers of the park basically meaningless for him. I get it, he’s Ed Harris, you want him around for a while, but maybe ease down on implying he’s immortal.

Unless… is he a host?!? That’s a dumb idea, and I’m hoping they don’t go that route (especially as the scanner shows him as human), but the last we see of him here he’s getting ready to carve into his own arm in search of mechanical and electrical innards. Odds are he’ll only find flesh and blood, though, as the glimpse we get of his profile suggests a man prone to delusions and paranoia. (Of course, the Delos techs could be wrong. Just look at how they spell “psycological.”) Old William’s not a character we pity or care for, but his paranoia does lead to one of this episode’s two moments of tragedy as he shoots and kills his daughter (who we presume was a human and not another surprise host).

The moment works for shock and sadness as Emily has grown into a character of real interest. She was a rare outsider here who had a singular focus and a disinterest in Westworld‘s bigger picture, and not for nothing but she was also the only one calling old William on his shit. That will be missed.

The other big death comes as Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marston) get closer to the Valley Beyond. First, though, they cross paths with the Ghost Nation who tell her it’s not meant for her. It’s a nice touch as she’s been telling others that all season, but their disagreement here leads to a scuffle that leaves most of the Ghost Nation group dead. One survives, Wanahton (Martin Sensemeier), and unless I’m mistaken he does so by displaying the same remote control abilities as Maeve (Thandie Newton) has previously shown.

The fight is followed with a brief respite to take in the splendor of the horizon, and it’s here where Teddy finally makes his own choice. “You changed me,” he tells her, “made me into a monster. What’s the use of surviving if we become just as bad as them?” He puts the gun to his own head, apologizes for being unable to protect her any longer, and kills himself. Dolores has become so cruel — her nickname is the Deathbringer after all — and her reaction to his death is a much-needed reminder of why we fell for her in the first place. The loss truly affects her, and while it could realign her priorities it will most likely only serve to embolden her rage.

It’s a tough scene as Teddy’s death affects us too, but it’s something of a mixed message. It works as a strongly dramatic beat because he’s been someone we’ve lowkey rooted for since the very first episode only to see him screwed over again and again. His loyalty to Dolores was endearing, but it became tragic as her aspirations grew more callous. And now he’s gone (or at least as gone as anyone on this show can ever really be) without ever realizing his own grasp at freedom and joy.

Speaking of characters who seem destined to know only disappointment, Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) is still around too. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) sees Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) and a skeevy tech test a computer virus that Clementine spreads to any host in her vicinity. The infected slaughter each other, and Charlotte instructs the team to pack her up and send her out into the fray. Seems like a pretty straightforward way to wipe out a healthy number of the remaining hosts, but we know it’s still not what lands so many of them in the lake as Charlotte and the rest are surprised by that discovery to come.

Ford, who’s still riding inside Bernard, gives him two instructions this week that once again seem to invalidate the point (and poetic beauty) of his own death last season. First, he sends a message to Maeve filled with compliments and support, and second, he instructs Bernard to kill my dear sweet Elsie (Shannon Woodward). Again. Bernard resists the second command, thankfully, and instead abandons her in the field. (Kudos to Woodward here for her look of sadness at his betrayal by the way as it’s a brief but powerful piece of emotion from a human.) Bernard does some quick hacking into his own system to delete Ford, but does anyone believe he’s actually gone?

“You learned so much so fast,” says Ford to Maeve — who spends the entirety of the episode silent and table-bound — before pointing out that she’s his favorite child. It’s meant to be a sweet moment aligning his own return with her decision last season not to escape the park and instead go looking for her daughter, but it sounds… condescending and deceitful? “I tried to chart a path for you to force you to escape,” he says, “but I was wrong. I should have just opened the door.” Well no shit buddy.

Ford’s puppetmaster routine should have ended last season as his return here betrays his death, but as mentioned previously he continues to be the show’s biggest hypocrite. He’s continually telling his “children” (Maeve, Bernard) that he wanted to give them a chance and that they’re now in control, but he keeps coming back into their lives and wrestling back that control into his own wrinkled hands. His pep talk includes a suggestion that Maeve resist, and while it’s unclear why she needed that message as she’s been resisting like a boss for a while now, it works. Surprise! Maeve has more coding skills.

As has been the case before and will be again, much of this episode feels less like necessity and more like transition. Everyone’s still heading to the Valley Beyond — everyone who’s still alive anyway — but aside from those two deaths very little seemed to happen here. Maybe it just feels “lesser” after last week’s unexpected brilliance? Or maybe it’s filler. Either way, it all ends next week with the season finale.

But, and, what…?

  • “What’s Oz doing without its wizard?”
  • The most reliable element of this show is that Elsie will always say “fuck” within seconds of appearing on screen.
  • Do the host animals have backstories? Do they remember being diddled and killed? When do they get to wake up?
  • “Look at the creatures you have to share this world with.”
  • I’m good at following all the various timelines aside from one — Bernard’s. It always takes me a few seconds to determine if he’s in the most current timeline (after he washes up on the lake) or the second most current (chilling with Elsie).
  • “Humans will always choose what they understand over what they do not.”

Keep up with our Westworld coverage.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.