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‘Westworld’ Review: ‘Vanishing Point’ Reveals Stunning Stakes for the Finale and Some Tragic Twists

Season 2, Episode 9 takes us deeper inside William's past, as the way is prepped for the future.

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HBO

[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Westworld” Season 2, Episode 9, “Vanishing Point.”]

Programming Note

This is the last episode provided to critics before next week’s season finale, which means that no, we have no idea what happens next either, and that this review will be untainted by any potential future knowledge. Enjoy.

Diagnostic Report

It’s not a good day for anyone in the Westworld park, as the game pieces get set up for next week’s final conclusion.  Unlike “Game of Thrones,” creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy don’t choose to play their biggest hand in the penultimate episode.

The focus is largely on William, as flashbacks to the not-too-distant past depict what happened the night his wife Juliet (welcome to “Westworld,” Sela Ward) died by suicide. Earlier that evening, the two of them had been attending a gala in William’s honor, but the snide teasing William receives about his “humble roots” as well as Juliet’s public drunkenness ensure neither of them are having a good time. When they go home, they have a massive fight that escalates even further after Emily arrives with plans to recommit Juliet to a facility for her addiction issues.

Eventually, William gets her to sleep, but makes two mistakes: He leaves his “profile” (a card of data about his Westworld activities which Ford slips him at the reception) in a place she can find it, and he delivers a sort of confession to his wife about the fact that she’s right: He’s been a massive faker this whole time, and that the world he truly belongs to is Westworld. Once he leaves the room, Juliet finds and watches his file, and then overdoses in the bathtub.

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At the time, Emily is left wondering why, but inside the park she finally confronts William, telling him she knows about his secret project to create immortality, and that she ultimately plans to expose him. Unfortunately, William’s so lost to Westworld and Ford’s game that he becomes convinced that she’s actually a host, and brazenly kills her as well as a few other “actual people.”

It’s only after he discovers that Emily was clenching his Westworld file, which Juliet had left for her, that he realizes what he’s done and nearly kills himself — before instead collapsing in a field and using his knife to dig inside his right forearm… where, if he’s actually a host, a data port will be found.

We don’t discover what he finds inside himself, though. Instead, we spend a bit of time with Bernard inside the Mesa, as he watches Charlotte weaponize Maeve’s admin code and eventually abandons Elsie.

Most importantly, Teddy finally confronts Dolores about how she turned him into “a monster” and unable to live with that anymore, tells her he can no longer protect her… and shoots himself in the head. Dolores is devastated, and how Teddy’s body gets to the lake is just one of the many mysteries we’re left pondering.

White Hat or Black Hat?

We find out this week, once and for all, that a) it really doesn’t matter what kind of hat you’re wearing, because b) either way, Delos is recording your brainwaves with a sensor embedded in the hats! Much of what gets spelled out about Delos’ habit of data collection this week wasn’t too shocking, given the hints we’ve received in past weeks, but now we know exactly what’s in “the Valley Beyond” — The Forge, where, in Bernard’s words, you can find “all of the guests laid bare in code on a vast server, like the Cradle, only much bigger.” That’s what Dolores has her sights on, but while the power that comes with that sort of information feels incalculable, what she’s personally planning remains unclear.

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In the Year… Wait, What Year Is It?

The way in which Season 2 has used flashbacks has been a bit twisty up to now, but “Vanishing Point” is relatively clear about the two time periods in which it primarily exists: The flashback to the night of William’s party and Juliet’s suicide, and the stretch of time between Ford’s death and Bernard’s recovery by Delos forces.

That said, the question of when exactly Juliet killed herself has come up before in these reviews, and now we have a clearer answer but no hard dates. Which leads to a new question: Has it been months between her death and the onset of Ford’s final game? That’s a guess based on the way Emily talked about her guilt as something she’d been living with for a while, but it could easily be much closer to what we’ll refer to for now as “the present.”

These Violent Delights

While both of the episode’s most violent sequences are pretty essential to the narrative, they’re overshadowed in dramatic heft by the bulk of the William story. That said, the fact that Delos has reappropriated Maeve’s code to make Clementine into a sort of mind control bomb for other hosts is a big deal, one we’ll probably see on display in an epic way next week. (The sequence was brutal enough to be reminiscent of the Reavers on “Firefly.”) And Dolores’ armed stand-off with the Ghost Nation proved to be an important catalyst for Teddy’s later actions, though did feel like a bit of filler.

Paired Off

Teddy’s choice to die by suicide under the burden of his new programming is particularly brutal when paired with the memories of his sweet innocent romance with Dolores. But the pairing this week that stuck out was Ford (or a code-based version of him, anyway) coming to Maeve as she remains prone to tell her that she was his favorite, and the closest thing he’d ever had to a child. This honestly didn’t really seem to compute, based on past memories of their interactions — if anyone was likely to be Ford’s self-proclaimed surrogate daughter, Dolores would feel like a more likely candidate. But while bordering on retconning, it’s a choice that feels like it could pay off down the line.

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Best Quote

“You’re a fucking virus — you came into this house and you consumed it from the inside out.”
— Juliet (Sela Ward)

In her speech to William back home, Juliet specifically calls out how William’s presence in her family’s life has ruined them all, which could be her finding someone convenient to blame for what happened to her brother and father, and could be truer than we’ve been able to see. William’s decades of dedication to Westworld may have made him, ultimately, a terrible husband and father, but the seeds of the Delos family corruption may not have originated with him, and hopefully more will be explored on that score in future episodes.

The Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask

  • Was at least part of William’s fancy reception shot at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena? All signs point to yes. The Langham is notable for, once a year, hosting the Television Critics Association winter press tour, which means that for two weeks in January, that bar where Ford and William exchange words is typically filled with drunk reporters.
  • Only just realized what the Delos corporate jeeps are reminiscent of: the Batmobile from “Batman Begins.” Mostly due to the suspension. But if that’s an intentional Nolan family connection, radsauce.
  • Ford’s data file, if you didn’t get a chance to freeze-frame, labeled him as a “Category 47B,” which was designated as “rare.” Just how many categories are there?
  • The books on William and Juliet’s end table: Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure,” Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” and two books on Plutarch (proof that yes, William has done the reading). William chooses to hide the data card with his profile on it inside “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which has more than a few connections to “Westworld” as a franchise (it’s the story that gave us the expression “unstuck in time,” for one thing) – but how deliberate was that choice?

Final Reveries

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One of the best things about “Vanishing Point” is the way it tricks you into thinking that it’s a bottle episode focused entirely on William and his family…until you go back and realize just how much other stuff happened featuring the rest of the show’s core ensemble.

That said, it really is Ed Harris’s episode (however you might feel about William as a character, there’s no denying that Harris is killing it each week here ::cough cough Emmy voters::). Once it became clear what was going to happen to Emily, the tragedy of that sequence made it hard to watch, especially this one very smart choice: There were so many ways William could have realized he’d just shot and killed his real daughter, and not a Ford illusion, but the choice to link it to William’s profile card — bringing with it the knowledge that both Juliet and Emily had seen what he’d been doing in the park, all these years — was an important twist of the knife.

While so much of “Vanishing Point” worked, both on a character level and a plot level, there were some pacing issues, especially when it came to Teddy and Dolores’ final scene. Honestly, before then, this episode was looking at an A grade, but something about how drawn out and meandering that scene was, along with the pretty quick realization on the part of the audience about what exactly was going to happen, ended up bogging down the episode.

It was a big moment that fell too flat given its significance. But what’s to come next week and beyond for these characters may have us changing our minds.

Grade: B+

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