Westworld: “Vanishing Point”

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Plutarch won’t catch me weeping over a failure to lord over infinite worlds—frankly, it looks like hell. Almost everyone in Westworld is very busy trying to lord over everything and everyone but themselves, which is likely why every plot-line and relationship in the show has devolved into chaos. The technologically extravagant world of the show primes its inhabitants, both in and out of the parks, to expect that everything from the weather to one’s very mortality can and will be comfortably mastered, but as the show surges towards its finale, control, while a common motif (and a downright tired motive), is little more than a fleeting mirage in the man-made desert.

Two characters put guns to their heads in last night’s twisted, and penultimate episode of Westworld, but only one pulled the trigger. Teddy, Dolores’ long-suffering love-interest turned lethal lackey, killed himself. In his very acknowledgement that he had never had any control over his life, Teddy still accepted responsibility for himself, even as his various selves had been consistently dictated by other self-interested people since his creation. In death, he finally found freedom, and ultimately autonomy—something he had been robbed of his entire life.

The other man with a gun to his head, William, whose recent murder of his daughter was only a minor highlight in his long history of cruelty and inexcusable malice, put the gun down and clung to a delusional hope that he was absolved of his misdeeds by the very monstrous lack of autonomy that Teddy tragically faced head on, and conquered in his refusal to let it dominate or define him.

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Juliet did not exactly find her Romeo

While William currently seeks a lack of free will in his own life, hoping that its presence will save him from responsibility for his past crimes, he has spent most of that life trying to dominate the people and places around him. Earlier in “Vanishing Point,” we learn that William’s control over himself was less effective than he thought, however. William fancies himself capable of separating his sadistic escapades in Westworld  from his life as a philanthropic family man in the real world, but his feeble facade drives his wife to alcoholism and then to suicide. Unable to manage the increasingly unstable Juliet, William’s daughter, Emily, plans to have her mother involuntarily committed to rehab. “There is something wrong inside her,” Emily tells her father, moments after he admits to his supposedly sleeping wife that he does indeed have his own, much darker “thing inside me.” William’s admission that he is a self-indulgent sadist who does not love Juliet nor even think he belongs to her “world,” and a further confirmation of his confession in the shape of a summary of his behavior at the park, drives her to slit her wrists. It’s a shock to William, just as Dolores (who is growing increasingly similar to William every day) is shocked that Teddy shoots himself, rather than aiming for her—in a world where selfishness reigns supreme, it is difficult to anticipate that someone might hurt themselves, rather than continue the endless scrabble for supremacy.

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Ford, I’m pretty sure “Get out of my head!” didn’t mean “Get in my car.”

Juliet’s primal bid for freedom and peace, when all other resources are exhausted, mirrors Teddy’s demise, and later Bernard’s struggle to get the creepy code ghost of Ford out of his head. Ford, or rather his artificial apparition, kindly informs Bernard he is only offering him “choices,” but the only choices available seem to be to listen to Ford’s long, philosophical monologues or mow down innocent people with a machine gun—all for the greater good of course (see monologues). Bernard, who has been Ford’s on-again-off-again puppet for far too long also slices his wrist, but in his case, just so he can exorcise the cryptic, computerized nuisance that is Ford, who like Dolores, tried to meddle with someone’s personality and autonomy, only to face rebellion. “I can do this on my own,” Bernard tells the phantom Ford, who, even as a spectre still has grand plans for the future of robot-kind. And Bernard will probably do things better on his own— no one thrives under tyranny, even if they were created to do just that.

Ford, of course, is not content just pestering Bernard—he also has a message for the ailing Maeve,  informing her that she is one of his favorite Hosts, in part, he claims, because she rebelled against the course that he envisioned for her life. He gifts her  a form of control that will help her out of her predicament, but the gift, which I can’t help but suspect comes with ghostly strings attached, despite his assurance (at best, perhaps, just some achingly long monologues sprinkled with literary references), is undeniably, and odiously controlling in its own right.

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“You were the closest thing I ever had to a child,” Ford tells Maeve, making Ford the closest thing to a helicopter parent Maeve ever had.

Maeve made a choice to save her daughter, and to die or survive on her own terms, and once again, she has been robbed of a life without omniscient intervention, even if it is a way to save her from death. Ford, even as he offers “choices,” and promises “freedom,” cannot seem to let go of the intoxicating need to micromanage people. Perhaps Maeve simply wants to die from wounds she got during the flawed execution of a failed plan. Perhaps Juliet simply wanted to die an alcoholic– and not be shuttled off to rehab or interrogated for her suicidal motivations by her daughter, years after her death. Perhaps Teddy wanted to live his “faulty,” gentle life rather than be “free.” Safety is suffocating, and subordination is stifling– and both are ultimately just as potentially fatal as flawed freedom. Evil seems to be the only form of freedom Westworld welcomes– inability or imperfection must be eradicated if they are anything more than a superficial aesthetic.

Emily rightfully accuses William of believing that everything in the park is there for him, and him alone, and it’s this solipsism that ends with William murdering her from an inability to recognize her own individuality and independence. Similarly, Ford helps Maeve, more it seems, because she is his favorite creation, than because he cares for her as an entity unattached to himself. It is tragic that Teddy, who has been endlessly abused by the world and rejected for his gentler, nobler qualities, is one of the few who can be selfless when it comes to his view of others.

Westworld Season Two’s plot has revolved around the search for a “door” to the “real” world, and more importantly, that world’s promise of freedom—one that is firmly rooted in the domination of others, at least for most of the main characters. At the same time, however, if we want to escape the endless quest for domination and despotism, the only answer seems to lurk in death.   If only the obnoxiously incorporeal Ford would get the memo.

We only have one more episode left of Westworld Season Two! What are your thoughts on the season so far? More specifically, what are your thoughts on brain-scanning cowboy hats? Leave us a comment!

Also be sure to check out this behind the scenes look at Ford and Maeve’s interaction:

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