Westworld Season 2 Episode 9: Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil

The Scope Weekly recaps “Vanishing Point,” the ninth episode of Season.

Shakespearean Fatalities Haunt the Penultimate Episode of Season Two

What is death in Westworld; a project that if realized enables the mind to live on forever?  Mortality, and the fear of dying motivate our most innate drives– fight to stay alive, fight to reproduce, fight to ensure the survival of our kind.We need death. Evolution itself requires a species to be mortal. Survival of the fittest does not apply when survival is not a question, but a given. The consequences of a society where a degrading physical body is no longer a limitation are become increasingly foreboding as Westworld nears the end of its second season. Because beyond the simple biology of being human lies a deeper and much more complex dilemma — what happens when you become immortal, but you can no longer live with who you have become? Trigger warning: suicide. 

Tell Me One True Thing

In a party scene that buzzes with an eerie foreboding dread, not dissimilar to The Shining‘s ballroom sequences, The Man in Black/William (Ed Harris) mentions a stain that haunts him. This Macbeth-ian stain is “invisible” to everyone but his former wife — Delos’ daughter who we already know is doomed to die by suicide. “I almost wish he [her father] were here to see it,” she flirts and a look passes William’s face that reveals he is already deep into beta testing of the host version of Delos. William’s daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers), begrudgingly extracts her drunk mother from the party. Her alcoholism haunted Emily’s childhood. Interestingly, for Emily’s birthday, her mother gave her a robot — a dancing ballerina music box that Emily hastily destroyed and later regretted.

The events of this night in William’s memory unfold in limited light, as though in a black box theatre space without the details of the rooms. The effect is profoundly similar to the experience of recollection, with certain details, people, and conversations very clear and others completely lost to infinite darkness. On the night of her death, his wife asks him, “Did you ever really love me?” He places his own profile card from the park inside a book, then returns to her bedside. “No one else sees it, this thing in me,” he says, repeating his monologue from the episode’s opening sequence. The “stain” is his own dark desires, the park where he can unleash his violent demons. On the outside he is moral, but within the park he indulged his demons. “I don’t belong to you,” he admits, “or this world. I belong to another world. I always have.” William can’t reconcile who is inside Westworld with who he is in the real world. Like everyone, light and darkness live inside him. But William can’t abide the decisions he makes. As it turns out, neither could his wife. After William left the room, his wife looked his profile and learned of his exploits in the park. This led to her tragic death — this unfiltered insight into the man William really is.  He puts her to bed, and Emily tries to convince him to place her mother on a 14 day involuntary hold. But dripping water comes through the ceiling to the dining room where they sit. Panicked, William races up the stairs to reveal the mother, dead in the bathtub by suicide.

Emily seeks to rekindle her relationship with her father, and confronts him about his immortality bid in the park during the chaotic upheaval of the current timeline. William does not believe his daughter is real — he accuses her of being a host. When park security arrives, he shoots them, intent on finishing what he believes is still Ford’s game. Emily pleads with him to see reason, but he kills her too, believing that she is a host. It is not until he sees his own profile card in Emily’s dead hand that he realizes she was real, a human. He killed his own daughter. Overcome with grief at his error, he turns the gun on himself, his final encounter with his wife echoing inside his head.

There is No Place for You in the New World

Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) army confronts the Ghost Nation as she nears the Valley Beyond. She reveals that she plans to use the Valley Bond against the humans. “There is no place for you in the new world,” a tribe member tells her, and she kills him in cold blood. She leaves Teddy (James Marsden) behind with orders to kill any remaining survivors, and the new violent programming she gave him should have ensured he would. But Teddy doesn’t pull the trigger on a sole surviving Ghost Tribe member. “We’re the first creatures in this world to make a real choice,” Dolores later tells a disillusioned Teddy, but the irony is that Teddy’s choices were taken away from him when Dolores altered his programming against his will. He is devastated by the ways she has changed, and the ways she has changed him.

In Shakespeare, Hamlet asks “To be, or not to be,” as he struggles to contend with his own consciousness, and whether he is indeed capable of the actions necessary to avenge his father’s death, or even the sheer will to live in a world where terrible things are so possible. Both William and Teddy suffer the same questions and arrive at similar conclusions about the intolerability of life, but to different ends. Unable to live with his actions and the man he has become, Teddy shoots himself while the Man in Black cannot bring himself to pull the trigger.

A Battle for the Host’s Minds Begins

Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) and Ford (Anthony Hopkins) are both tinkering the with the host’s programming, each attempting to make certain changes that would enable their own victories. Charlotte is running a new program on Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) that enables her to turn the hosts against each other. This plot point could perhaps be seen as a metaphor for wealthy white upper class leaders spreading racist propaganda to ensure that infighting among minorities kept them from rising up.

Ford’s voice continues to echo in Bernard’s head, instructing him. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) tells Elsie (Shannon Woodward) that the consciousness of every guest who has ever visited the park is stored in a place called The Forge — perhaps also known as the Valley Beyond, for it’s where the hosts are also headed. The Man in Black/William reveals that there are scanners inside the hats that all the visitors wear, constantly imaging their brains as they make decisions and capture everything about them. The sheer amount of data stored on the park’s servers. Ford also appears to Maeve (Thandie Newton), advising her not to let the humans destroy her. A screen reveals that her “core permissions” are now being unlocked.

Back in the park, Bernard begins to fight Ford’s instruction — since they are now to kill Elsie before Ford’s prediction that she will betray him. He rapidly searches through his own code try and delete Ford’s data package. He appears to do so, and again abandons Elsie in the park.

The hosts fear death in the park and thus evolve to crave and ultimately gain agency, whereas the humans become complacent in a world where they cannot be killed, or may even already be dead. Yet for the first time in Teddy’s actions we see one tragic result of human consciousness. The folly of the humans places the hosts at a distinct advantage in this new competition, where the fittest to survive in a world of immortal minds may be the machines. There are many questions that remain to be answered in next week’s finale, but topping the list: Why did The Man in Black/William take a knife to his own arm at exactly the place where a host might cut to change their programming?

Westworld continues Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Missed last week’s recap? Catch up here.

Vanishing Point was written by creator Lisa Joy and Gina Atwood and directed by Stephen Williams.

Photos and video credit courtesy of HBO.

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