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A collection of powerful performances save “Vanishing Point” from being an otherwise sad and redundant penultimate episode of the season.  Much of the episode is spent showing us a flashback of William and Juliet which, while well-done, moves slowly and offers us little that we didn’t already know.  On the opposite end, Bernard’s story fills us in on what’s happening in the Valley Beyond, but does it so quickly it feels like a recipe where a vital direction had been left out initially and scribbled in only after the fact.  SPOILERS follow, so proceed with caution.

A Very Gloomy Father’s Day

Ed Harris as MIB in Westworld

In flashback we see that Juliet (William’s wife, played by Sela Ward) has become an alcoholic in part because she’s come to see that William has been only faking his philanthropic side while he is, at heart, evil*.  She already knows this but when she is confronted with proof (William’s Westworld profile card, highlighting his malicious deeds and paranoid, delusional personality), she finds herself beyond hope and kills herself.  Along the way William “realizes” what he really is and (in a form of self-fulfilling prophecy) commits to being the Man in Black.  Going to Westworld and playing villain is no longer a vacation, it has become his full-time reality.

Emily/Grace may be his daughter or may be only a host used by Ford as part of a final game for William.  William, believing her to be the latter, kills her when she reaches for his profile card, thinking she is reaching for a gun.  Faced with the possibility that he has slain his daughter, he considers suicide, but can’t, and heads on towards the Valley Beyond.

Teddy and Dolores

Deathbringer Dolores continues along her own path to the Valley Beyond (aka the Forge) in her quest to conquer the human world for the hosts.  She is confronted by members of the Ghost Nation, who believe that the Valley Beyond represents a world without bloodshed but (as we saw in the season opener), her gang kills them and moves on.  Well, one member of her gang is unable to “move on”.  Teddy, unable to cope with the conflict between his gentle nature and the increased aggression he was so hastily imbued with, kills himself.  This loss is even more painful for Dolores since it was she who ordered the changes in Teddy’s programming, believing it would allow him to make it to the Valley Beyond with her.

Charlotte has a plan for the Forge, as well.  Using Maeve’s power to control nearby hosts, she has Clementine programmed as a plaguebearer who will force the hosts to destroy each other.

In order to stop her, Bernard heads to the Forge with Elsie, but he is haunted by the presence of Ford’s personality.  Ford tells Bernard that Elsie will betray him and encourages him to kill her, but Bernard resists and removes Ford from his mind.  This happens a bit too easily for me to believe that Ford is really gone, but I guess we’ll find out in the next episode.  Poor Elsie, who wanted to believe so badly that she could trust Bernard, is heartbroken when he leaves her behind.  Bernard saying he is doing this to protect her mirrors Dolores and Teddy, and we saw how that turned out.

Ford monologues to an incapacitated Maeve, condemning the evils of man and saying that she was his favorite of all the hosts (a claim that is hardly borne out by the rest of the show, though it is possible that Ford believes it).  He leaves her with a kiss on the forehead and presumably allows her to continue on (in her body, or perhaps by possessing another host).

“Is this real?  Are you real?”

This question, asked by Juliet before she saw William’s profile and consequently killed herself, is crucial.  William no longer knows what is real.  He keeps looking at his arm, questioning if he is himself a host.  He kills his daughter, believing her to be a host and pawn in Ford’s game.

The second season of Westworld has told some excellent individual stories while losing the overall intrigue that made the first season so great.  I’m hoping the season finale next week can rectify some of that by uniting the disparate threads in a meaningful way.

Odds and Ends

  • Katja Herbers as Emily/Grace stands out among a number of very good performances.  If this is truly the end of her character (who can tell on a show where the meaning of death is so unclear), she will be missed.
  • Does it seem to anyone else like the makers of Westworld are teasing us by killing off characters in their first appearances?  First Giancarlo Esposito’s El Lazo and now Sela Ward’s Juliet?  It feels like a waste.
  • The books on William and Juliet’s dresser are as follows: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Plutarch’s Historical Methods, and Plutarch and Rome by Christopher Prestige Jones.

*While it’s true that William perceives himself as evil, one could certainly argue that the actions a person takes in a “world without consequences” do not outweigh the good the person does in the real world.