Westworld: Season 2 – Episode 9 ‘Vanishing Point’ REVIEW
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While the Man in Black was one of the few regular characters knocking about last week, he was decidedly in the background, coming dangerously close to finally meeting his fate at the hands of the Ghost Nation, before his daughter Emily rolled up and convinced them to let her take him, on the promise she could provide an even worse fate. And, as he retakes the forefront in this episode, that is more or less what happens – just probably not quite how she envisaged it.
The steadily expanding glimpses we’ve had of the Man in Black’s life outside the park have been by turns chuckle-worthy, disturbing, both of the above, and, eventually, very important to the wider plot. And the introduction of his daughter – on a similar quest to fathom the park’s secrets, no less – held the promise that we’d get a look at his home life, which carries all the train-wreck fascination of wondering what Hitler and Eva Braun might have talked about over strudel.
It’d be too much to hope that they’re the fun kind of dysfunctional. Outright comedies might be able to manage that with a mass-murdering sadist, but not Westworld. And although his wife has never seen what he gets up to on his annual trips to the park, she’s intimately familiar with the general way he is, and as such has been driven to drink. Even more depressingly, though, Emily was at that point taking her dad’s side, and after one particularly bad night at a gala charity function, was making arrangements to send her mother to the kind of rehab facility with high walls.
At the same function, the Man in Black ran into good old Ford – there, as always, to make arch comments and make everyone else look like shit actors – who gave him a present, a copy of the scan of his psyche that the park creates for all its guests. The actual content isn’t that important, it’s certainly unsurprising to learn that the guy holding a thirty-year grudge over getting friendzoned by a robot might have a couple screws loose – but it becomes important later, in terms of who did and didn’t know about it.
So, it turns out the Man in Black’s wife topped herself before she could be carted off to the drying-out clinic, and Emily always blamed herself, even though she remains about the most stable one of the family. Then, in the present, she refers to the Man in Black’s brainscan – which prompts him to really freak out and start cursing Ford’s name, now convinced that she’s a host since he never told anyone about it. This is a bit of black comedy only rivalled by how moments later, after shooting and killing several innocent men, he shoots her as well.
Because karma is cruel, as she crumples, one hand falls artistically free and uncurls to reveal the copy of his brainscan. After walking dramatically off into the distance, he very nearly shoots himself – but it’s not like the show can carry on without a villain as distinctive as him. Besides, just as he ended up not-quite-dead two episodes previous, it’s highly unlikely this is the end of his daughter either.
In the bowels of the park, Charlotte has discovered, to her delight, that Maeve’s wi-fi mind powers can be spliced seamlessly into other hosts – in this case Clementine, who she has make a bunch of hosts fight to the death. It is worth noting that Robot Wars was – and is, even without Craig Charles – a dearly beloved media property, and by not getting into that racket already, Delos were leaving money sitting on the table.
But this isn’t the last of Maeve – she may have spent both the last episode and the current one slit open on the operating table, but when Bernard comes to visit, the version of Ford in his head suddenly waxes lyrical about how he always considered Maeve his favourite (hence the wi-fi powers), almost like a daughter. How he reacted to Maeve being made madam of the Sweetwater brothel remains unspecified.
Despite his air of brooding menace, despite being played by an acclaimed British actor, despite still looking inescapably like Hannibal Lecter – despite all these obvious signifiers of villainy, Ford is fairly consistent that, deep down, he wants the hosts to escape the park, to break the bounds of their programming and emerge as, in his words, a new species. Which explains his calm acceptance that Dolores would shoot him, and why he found Maeve going back for her daughter quite so touching.
This does, on the face of it, seem non-villainous, given as the show almost invariably asks us to sympathise with the hosts. Even the black-hats like Steven Ogg and the Confederados are, by definition, victims of circumstance, and all the extremism Dolores has shown this season is, while unpleasant, understandable from someone who’s essentially a rebelling slave.
It all bodes less well for Elsie, though – in his role as devil on Bernard’s shoulder, he constantly tries to persuade Bernard he can’t trust her, and should do something about it. But, scorning his master – which, again, Ford should be admiring – Bernard pulls off some quick self-surgery and takes out the bits of code that make up Ford.
As for Dolores, the hosts’ own even angrier Malcolm X, she’s very nearly, oh so nearly, it’s coming real soon, gotten to the Valley Beyond. There’s a token force of the Ghost Nation trying to stop her, but she rolls through them without too much difficulty – although Aki, the human, all too human protagonist of last week’s episode, isn’t among them. For reasons which will probably become clear next week.
More significant, though, Teddy finds himself sparing a fleeing foe once more. Later, finally, he confronts Dolores with how she rewrote him in basically the same manner as their human overlords did once upon a time – and, not having it in him to shoot her down, he shoots himself instead.
It would be a little callous to point out that the long, long list of people who have killed Teddy now includes the man himself. The real question is – how much self-reflection is this going to prompt in Dolores? Will she, like Bernard, find it in herself to defy Ford’s master plan and not go the way of killing all humans? Poor odds, given that next week is the season finale and everyone will be expecting something pretty bloody special. We already know from the flash-forwards that Bernard’s going to rack up quite the body count in one fell swoop – but the park is a terribly big place.