A Life Less Lived In This Week’s Westworld
There is a lot to unpack in the ninth, penultimate episode of this insane second season of Westworld. I know using insane as a descriptor borders on hyperbolic, but I really don’t what other word to use. Each episode leaves me in a mix of dumbstruck, forlorn, hopeless, and intrgue. I usually don’t sleep very well afterward, with the unfolding battle of hosts versus guest still swirling in my mind – and all the possibilities of where it might go. Despite the routine, unsettling Sunday night I’m left with after the credits roll, I come back each week, for a little more insanity, on both sides of the screen. This week was no different. That’s the definition of insanity. Spoilers ahead…
This week’s episode was a gut punch. I despise the Man in Black/William, though I have to say the character’s arc is one I’m most intrigued by. What fascinates me is not so much the posthumous game Ford left for the Man in Black to shoot and cut his way through, it’s what brought the Man in Black to the park in the first place. Yes, I know a generous portion of the first season told that story, but what I’ve wanted to know is why young William kept coming back. This episode gave us a look into what pushed William back into the immersion of Westworld: himself.
We find out that, in a way, William never really came back from Westworld after we last saw him in season one. A darkness inside of him, what he refers to as a stain, became apparent after his experiences the first time. We all have a darkness to our personalities in some regard. Some explore it with therapy or private self-reflection, others are consumed with it, but William’s darkness was purgatory between what was real and what was not. Westworld was both his heaven and hell as he ravaged hosts to see just how deep down the rabbit hole he could go. I believed in some sort of redemption for William/Man in Black, but I see now that we met the man well beyond the point of no return for his soul. The awful metamorphosis of William to the Man in Black is one that cannot be undone, not even by his own daughter.
Emily has managed to save her father and when the Man in Black comes to, they have something of a reckoning about a trauma they both share. Widow and orphan discuss the guilt they both feel about the suicide of Juliet Delos. Emily shares memories of a music box her mother gave her that embodied the neglect she felt for years. The gift was no doubt precious, but Emily threw it in the garbage. Ed Harris does just a fantastic job looking haunted and troubled as he hears his daughter recount this story.
As the conversation gets deeper, we learn a little more of what Delos intended to do with the information they gathered on the guests. First of all, they have the ability to map minds, and they’re trick to do it is implanting scanners into the cowboy hats they hand guests. Man in Black assures Emily that anyone who sets foot into Westworld wearing one of those hats has their entire mind imaged. Emily suggests that they are building some sort of quasi-Matrix, immortality to offer up their customers, but Man in Black seems to shrug that off. As close as we get to the answer, I really don’t think we’ll know what Delos’ true intention is with these captured minds they are keeping in the server in the Valley Beyond (we learn that a bit later).
We get to meet Juliet Delos. We’ve seen a glimpse of her, but here we get to see that the Delos family demons of addiction have found her as well. We know Logan succumbed to an overdose, but Juliet was drinking herself to death. This flashback sequence takes place the night of her death, at a celebration of William’s philanthropy. Emily and William have a discussion about who is going to take care of Juliet as soon as she has too much to drink. Sela Ward is in fine form as Juliet, a debutante who washes down glasses of champagne with glasses of champagne. We don’t really get to see her much, but Ward’s performance is on point and it was great to see her make an appearance here.
While William is waiting to escort his wife home, he steps into a bar to have a quiet drink, not noticing Ford is sitting at the end. The two clearly have an adversarial relationship in the real world as well. Ford knows what Delos is doing and he seems to flaunt the fact that the two of them are using one another. The mad genius/scientist didn’t arrive empty handed: he has a disk that he refers to as William’s profile. William seems to cringe for a second, knowing that Ford had an opportunity to peak inside his head, but takes the disk. By the time the conversation is finished, Juliet’s drunk and it’s time for William to get her home.
Once back at their house, Juliet lets William have it, claiming she truly knows who he is. We’ve heard this multiple times about the Man in Black, that despite whatever philanthropic acts he buries himself under, the truth of his darkness defines him. Emily breaks up her mother’s dressing down of William and insists it’s time to go back to rehab. William gets Juliet upstairs and into bed, and in a very sad moment, she asks William to tell her if he ever loved her. “Tell me one true thing.” We see this moment from two perspectives, at different points in the episode, but the one that matters the most is when William confesses to being the monster Juliet really believes him to be, all while she’s presumably passed out from too much drinking. Once William believes Juliet is asleep, he hides the disk with his profile behind a few books near their bed. As soon as he’s out of the room, Juliet opens her eyes, startled and grabs the disk. Sure enough, it’s a sizzle reel of every nasty thing William’s indulged in during his annual trips to Westworld. From the routine raping of Dolores to killing Maeve’s daughter, Juliet gets her own look into the dark soul of her husband. It’s a lot more than finding unsavory websites on your partner’s browsing history.
This pushes Juliet over the edge, and in an episode of emotional breakdown – coupled with alcohol – she takes her own life via pills and a clean, vertical slash of the wrist. William never knew she saw the disk, but Juliet left it for Emily to find. And Emily did.
Buckle up, here’s where shit gets real. Back to where Emily has taken the Man in Black in Westworld, she declares that she wants to be a part of the family business. This catches the Man in Black by surprise and he says this is uncharacteristic of his daughter. The Man in Black is so immersed in Ford’s game that he starts to believe his own daughter is a host, tailor made by Ford, just to throw him off his path in the game. Emily tells the Man in Black she knows who he really is and what he’s done, and she actually means to expose him and the Delos Corporation. She’s called for a security team, but when they arrive, the Man in Black takes them all out, not knowing or caring if they are real. He turns the gun on his daughter and fires, convinced that what gave away Ford’s programming of a host-duplicate of Emily was the mention of his profile, which he says he never told anyone about. When he examines Emily’s body, he finds the profile disk in her hand. The Man in Black just killed his own daughter (and one of my favorite up-and-coming characters).
The Man in Black has left the reservation. The last moments we see him, he has a gun pointed to his head and is frantically slashing open his own arm, almost as if he’s making sure he’s not a host. I don’t see there being any future episodes where the Man in Black is subdued or decides to do singular good deeds. This is a man who’s descended into madness and now all he can do is move through Ford’s psychological labyrinth that is kicking his ass everyday. Where I once saw potential redemption for the Man in Black, I have no idea where his story will go. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s going to take on the role of wrecking ball, destroying everything and everyone in the park, guest or host, only to spite whatever end Ford has envisioned. I think the game is over for the Man in Black.
If you to be reincarnated as a great actor, pray that you comeback in your second life as either Thandie Newton or Anthony Hopkins. As much as this episode was about the Man in Black and Emily, the scene that stole the show was Ford visiting Maeve. He’s now arrived in her head and he lets her know that her journey was initially by design – but, Ford intended for Maeve to leave Westworld, and when she came back for her daughter, that was the beginning of her own freewill. Ford lets her know that she’s alway been his favorite and he releases her from any software hold the park has on her. My description of this touching scene does not do it justice. We are quite spoiled with the level of acting the cast treats us to each week on Westworld.
There’s another great moment where Clementine is programmed with Maeve’s abilities to resurrect the hosts. It’s somewhere between The Walking Dead and a bar room brawl, but it establishes Clementine and puts her on the same plane as Maeve and Delores. I’ve been saying we should keep our eyes on Clementine all season, as I’m pretty sure she has a big role to play here. Angela Sarafyan’s portrayal has been great, with the small amount of screen time she’s had, and I hope she has a bigger role going forward. I’ve loved this version of Clementine, but it’d be great to see Sarafyan get to take the role to another level.
Bernard and Elsie pop-up briefly in this episode. Bernard deduces that the guest server (with all their mind profiles) is in the Valley Beyond and that’s why Dolores is leading a team of hosts there. Again, what she intends to do is still kind of a mystery, buy Bernard is sure it’s nothing good for humans or hosts. He leaves Elsie behind and makes starts to make his way there. Lookout for a Bernard and Dolores collision next week.
Oh yeah, Teddy dies. They really packed this one in and barely managed to pull it off. The final scene of the episode is where Teddy declares his unending love for Dolores. He remembers the first time he saw her, just after Arnold brought him to life. All he could think about was protecting Dolores, whether it be providing her nude body a blanket in a cold laboratory or from a gang of bandits. Teddy’s reprogramming began to show cracks in last week’s episode, but here the character has realized he can never escape his desire to protect Dolores. Teddy knows Dolores is going to a place he cannot follow, so he chooses to take his own life. We kind of knew this was coming and I don’t expect it will throw cold water on the Bernard/Arnold/Teddy-gate theory. Evan Rachel Wood definitely steals the scene with the pain and horror she displays when she realizes that her goal to give Teddy freewill has drastically backfired. I feel bad for James Marsden – I got a sense he seemed to enjoy playing “bad Teddy”.
“Vanishing Point” was directed by television veteran Stephen Williams (who has a whopping directorial credit of 26 episodes of Lost on his resume) and written by Robert Patino (who has co-written two other episodes of the season). They had the difficult task of cramming a lot into this episode, not to mention setting up next week’s season finale. This certainly wasn’t my favorite of the season, but I’m still thinking about it and I was just as affected by it as any other episode. Season Two of Westworld has plotted an unknown course for the fate of our hosts and humans. The existential crises and battles will no doubt come to a head next week, but I’m already asking myself what questions I’ll be asking myself when the credits role next week. This episode continued the momentum, excellent acting, and brilliant writing we are used to when we tune in on Sunday night.
Stay tuned for next week. If this week is any indication, I have a feeling we are in for one hell of a ride.