You can’t handle the truth.
These violent delights have violent ends, indeed.
Westworld’s main shortcoming (aside from a stubborn insistence on non-linear plotting when sometimes a straightforward narrative – like Akecheta’s story in episode 8 – would be equally effective) is that it has a tendency to tell us what we already know. Most episodes are either so vague as to be almost incomprehensible without the context of future episodes, or they spend multiple scenes spelling out plot twists that the audience discovered weeks ago.
Such is the case with “Vanishing Point,” which fills in a few of the gaps about William’s past and his wife’s suicide, but mostly just reiterates what we figured out back in Season 1 – that the Man in Black is a deeply disturbed individual who attempted to compartmentalize his depravity by ostensibly limiting it to Westworld for most of his life, pretending that this “stain,” this “darkness” inside him was an aberration, rather than who he truly was.
But as we’ve seen over the course of the past two seasons, from William’s interactions with Dolores to the callous way he toyed with Jim Delos, the Man in Black has been cruel and selfish and brutal for a long time, in and out of the park, and rather than admitting it or trying to deal with it in the real world, he drove his wife to suicide by gaslighting her that his darkness was all in her head. And William is so committed to his messiah complex (far more than Ford ever was, it seems), he ends up killing his daughter rather than daring to face the reality that the entire world doesn’t revolve around him.
“Vanishing Point” is a fascinating examination of the ways in which we humans have a tendency to dehumanize each other. William is so lost in the game (and the righteousness of his quest) that he doesn’t hesitate to shoot the real, flesh and blood security team that comes to retrieve him – nor to turn his gun on Emily – simply because he thinks that they’re avatars being used by Ford, even when there’s no real evidence to support that theory beyond his own hubris. As an avid gamer himself, I don’t believe that showrunner Jonathan Nolan is trying to draw a correlation between video games and real-world violence, as politicians are so wont to do, but there does seem to be an underlying message about how easy it is to forget (or simply not care) that there are real people populating these virtual worlds that we inhabit, whether that’s through online gaming or social media, and that our actions in artificial spaces can still have real-world consequences.
And as this episode illustrates, even if William spent years trying to convince himself that he was a good person in the outside world, it’s clear that everyone else in his orbit – from his wife to Ford to his business rivals – saw the darkness within him. Juliette may have killed herself after seeing the horrific truth in William’s profile (that he’s delusional, paranoid and persecutory, along with a sadist), but it’s probably not the confirmation that she’s been right all these years that pushes her over the edge, so much as the realization that no one will believe her – she’s trapped in William’s mind game for as long as he wants to play it, given that he’s already turned her daughter against her and they intend to have her committed for trying to tell the truth.
Given how much exposure Dolores had to William in her formative years, it’s no wonder that his hubris has infected her too – and her relationship with Teddy becomes an unfortunate analogue to William’s relationship with Juliette. By taking away Teddy’s agency and trying to shape him into what she believes he needs to be, Dolores completely shatters the man she loves – we’ve been seeing glimmers of his free will trying to assert itself whenever he chooses to spare people Dolores has asked him to kill, but his final act of freedom is to take his own life, because he’s horrified by what she’s turned him into, and perhaps even more tellingly, who she’s become in the process. (Sidenote: Since the hosts’ backups were destroyed in the Cradle a few episodes back, does this mean Teddy is dead for real? If so, it’s a shame, since the show never really knew what to do with James Marsden, but tonight’s episode was a potent farewell.)
It remains to be seen whether Dolores will be able to reckon with the monster inside herself now that she’s lost Teddy, her father and everyone else she’s professed to care about in her quest to get to the Valley Beyond, but it’s fitting that, as she’s faced with the consequences of her own actions, William is desperate to escape his own, cutting into his wrist to check whether he’s a host, since it would be far easier to live with what he’s done if these choices were never truly his to begin with.
While there’s an air of inevitability to William and Teddy’s stories, the most enlightening moment of the episode comes from Ford’s visit with Maeve, when the creator reveals that she is his favorite. “You stayed here in this world to save your child, and so have I,” he says, in a moment that’s both poignant and a little hard to believe, given that he’s also been spending time trolling William and puppeteering Bernard. Still, given Arnold’s fascination with Dolores, it makes sense that Ford would focus his own energies on the headstrong Maeve, imbuing her with all the practicality, manipulation and chameleonic qualities that would allow her to flourish in the real world, if she were to succeed in escaping.