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Westworld – Vanishing Point Review

If last week's episode of Westworld showed us how precise and insular the show can be when it takes the time to fully explore a character, giving much needed depth to him and infusing his interactions (past, present, and future) with layers that had been missing. This time around, Westworld tried to have their cake and eat it to: providing much needed context and backstory to William, but then removing his most interesting foil from the board (that would be Emily, despite the show constantly trying to convince us Ford is William's true equal), which only serves to undo much of the heavy lifting accomplished throughout the hour (which finally gave Ed Harris something to sink his teeth into). I've been pretty vocal about my disinterest in William, and nearly all of that stemmed from the games the series has gone through to keep the character as bland and undeveloped as possible. Leaving aside the ridiculous identity puzzle from season one, spending significant time with William in season two has felt more like a chore than entertainment, as the writers have refused to give us any real motivation for his actions and his slavish focus on completing this game of Ford's (not to mention the show's refusal, until this episode, to get into the real beef between the two characters). Taking time to unfurl story is fine. Taking nearly two seasons to help us understand how the broken man at the center of our series became broken is a flaw in the narrative. Knowing that Ford and William had a massive falling out over William taking part of the park for his consciousness experiment is a massive piece of the puzzle into understand why William is willing to wander around Westworld on an amorphous quest for two seasons. It explains the animosity of Ford toward William (and why William would think Emily was actually a host- the Ford he knew would pull something like that, but the Ford we've seen up until this point wouldn't care about William's psyche). And it make both Ford and William more complete characters- something that has been sorely missing throughout the series. Making William a three-dimensional character has been needed since the reveal that the Man in Black is the same fresh-faced white hat from the past. The series did such a good job of showing us who he once was, but has been so resistant to show us who he has become, that I assumed the reveal was linked to a major puzzle. But it wasn't. We've known for weeks about the Valley Beyond and the experiment with James Delos. We've been aware, at least on a surface level, that data has been smuggled in and out of the park since the beginning of the season. Yet the show waited until now to give us insight into William. We knew Juliet killed herself. We knew that, on some level, was the trigger that turned William into the black-hatted man from season one (although we don't know exactly how long ago the event was- likely in the arena of five years, based on Emily appearing mostly the same). But beyond that, we knew nothing about who William of the present was. What made him tick. What the darkness inside of him was. Now we do. The fact that Emily had to die to allow us the deep dive into William's mental state was incredibly disappointing. One of the most interesting new additions to the show, Katja Herbers imbued Emily with swagger and a sense of character that has been missing from so many of the human characters on the series. I had hoped to continue seeing her go toe-to-toe with William, since the only person of substance he interacts with is the ghost of Ford (to very disappointing results, but that's a whole other story), and it's disheartening to know this is (presumably) the last we'll see of her in the here and now. Westworld has a lot of issues with characters and their development, so to see them make strides in developing a new and interesting character only to sacrifice her at the altar of William's own development was acutely awful. That being said, while this wasn't close to the show's best episode, it was still a good episode all around. Yes, the Bernard story is moving ridiculously slow. And yes, having Teddy kill himself over his crisis of conscience was underwritten (Teddy was a killing machine for less than a day, and that was enough to make him kill himself? That's a pretty stunted story arc for a major supporting character. But, then again, this is Westworld.). But I walked away from the episode with a better understanding of who William is and what he wants- which is something I haven't known since the start of the series. Better late than never, right? Final Thoughts: -- If you have come away from Emily's brief time on the series as a fan of Katja Herbers, might I suggest The Leftovers, where she plays a decidedly not murdered scientist with a major role in season three (and gets to use her natural Dutch accent). -- As annoying as Ghost Ford has been, I do appreciate that he is on Team Maeve, just like all the rest of us. -- Remember how I kept wondering if Clementine would get something to do this season? Looks like she's going to get something to do in the finale . . . -- That was Sela Ward playing Juliet. The criminally underused actress also co-starred with a very young Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores) years ago on the excellent ABC family drama Once and Again. -- If I didn't express it clearly enough above, kudos to Ed Harris for a strong, emotional performance this week. I've been a fan of his for years, and it's been killing me to see the series fail to utilize Harris effectively. If the expected twist comes out next week (that this version of William is, in fact, a host from the Valley Beyond), it will cheapen the character growth, but it might also allow Harris more to do moving forward. After all, the show's hosts seem to be the only characters allowed to actual have development (Free Tessa Thompson!!).
Rating
8.0
Pros
  • Good development for William
  • Finally explained the William-Ford falling out
  • Killing Teddy strips Dolores of her last security blanket
Cons
  • Killing Emily robs William of his best foil
  • Bernard remains a disappointing character this season

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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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