Thursday 21 June 2018

Westworld - You think you’re on your own little tailor-made narrative.

Westworld: 2x09 Vanishing Point.

Emily: You haven’t lost yourself to pretending, you are in your very essence a lie. 
Vanishing points, where two parallel lines appear to converge in perspective, or where something that has already been decreasing disappears – both definitions fit this episode perfectly. The two lines only appear to converge, that what disappears has been going that way, unstoppably, for years. This is a dark episode, not because of specific acts of violence, but because of the bleak picture of individual humans that it paints. Nothing in this world or any other world could redeem William, who has always been an utterly broken man. There isn’t much to add to his sad little monologue that he gives his wife, not realising she is listening this whole time, as he reveals himself to be a monster who is in no control over his own life. She has known that has this monster this whole time, but along with being married to him, she’s also suffered through having him turn their daughter Emily against her, to the point where Emily’s skewed perspective of her parents’ marriage makes her suggest involuntarily committing Julia to an institution. As horrible as the violent acts that William committed for decades against hosts in Westworld are, the realisation that he has, in essence, gaslighted his own wife for the duration of their marriage, tried to make her believe that he was the sane one, is worse than most other things that he has done. 

It’s an inevitable reveal that comes from Emily’s insistent probing, trying to get to the bottom of why her mother killed herself. She thinks Westworld holds a promise, that the way they get into the heads of the guests can reveal her mother’s path to her, finally, after so many years of bearing that burden. Except this whole time, her remaining parent has held the key – she could not bear that she lived with a monster who was so good at faking being a person. William is a psychopath, who realised his own sad existence in Westworld, like a valve, and then returned with his grasp on reality increasingly diminished, until it finally disappeared entirely. 
William: No one else sees it. This thing in me. Even I didn’t see it at first. And then one day it was there. A stain I never noticed before. A tiny fleck of darkness. Invisible to everyone. But I could see nothing else. Until finally I understood the darkness wasn’t some mark from something I’d done, some regrettable decision I’d made. I was shedding my skin. And the darkness was what was underneath. It was mine all along, and I decided how much of it I let into the world. I tried to do right, I was faithful, generous, kind, at least in this world. That has to count for something, right? I built a wall, and I tried to protect you and Emily. But you saw right through it, didn’t you? You’re the only one. And for that I am truly sorry. Because everything you feel is true. I don’t belong to you. Or this world. I belong to another world. I always have. 
Logan went mad, his wife committed suicide, the only remaining tether to the world he left is Emily – but William is too far gone. He thinks he is playing an elaborate game of Ford’s, with Emily being nothing more than a host designed to distract him from the right path. The moment could be a parallel to Ford’s conversation with the closest thing he has to a daughter, Maeve, who discovered her true self through her decision not to escape the way Ford wanted her to, and instead be true to the daughter that she had – because William is the opposite of that person. He sees nothing but this imaginary game that is still not for him, or about him, in which he is nothing but a sad bit player who is destined to lose everything, and gain nothing, all at his own hands. He shoots the extraction team, to Emily’s horror, as they are people. Then he shoots her, rambling on about Ford trying to distract him, only realising too late that this woman – this girl – is his daughter Emily, so eager to comprehend her father, her mother, the entire misery of her childhood. 

Julia watched Westworld’s file on him, all the atrocities he committed, left it for Emily to find, so she could finally understand what she hadn’t throughout her childhood idealising her father. In the end, it doesn’t matter – she dies with the card in hand, and William fails to kill himself. He could just disappear from this whole story now, into the wilderness of Westworld, because whatever point Ford has always been so eager to make about humanity, William has always been the best to help him prove it.

The bits and pieces of Elsie and Bernard mirror the other narratives insofar as Elsie has always been a daughter of sorts to Bernard, someone that nurtured her intelligence and talent, but now, after shaking off Ford, making the hard decision to regain his free will, Bernard has to let her go once again. He breaks his shackles, the man who whispers words in his ears and compels him to commit violence, which is so against his own nature. This reclaiming of freedom is amazing, and he does it by himself – or maybe he doesn’t, because just before it happens, Ford tells him “timshel” – “thou mayest”, Hebrew as rendered by John Steinbeck. If there was ever a line that sounded like a trigger command, it’s this one. 
On the other side of this is Teddy, who is now fully aware of his entire past, of his love for Dolores that started at birth, since she is his cornerstone, to the ways that this love has corrupted him when she changed him. It’s a battle between who he was meant to be – someone who would always protect Dolores –and someone who is horrified by the person that Dolores has made him into. The only way to break out of that conundrum is to take his own life. It was William who wondered where choices come from – what it means if they make up a person, what it means if he doesn’t have them, because his character will always condemn him to alienation from others, to deceit, to violence. And maybe William is the one who truly has no choices left, including the choice not to live with himself. 
Teddy: You changed me, made me into a monster.
Dolores: I made it so you could survive.
Teddy: What’s the use of surviving if we become just as bad as them. I understand now, how this will end. Where you will lead us.
Teddy is the first one to bring up this idea, that being new, and being the first creatures with true choices, should entail being better morally than their creators. Dolores struggle for freedom is unflinching (every means is justified by the end) – Williams daughter says that some are – and Teddy says that they must hold themselves to higher standards, that the means are all that matters if they are truly attempting to create something new. It’s an idea that will likely die with him. 

Ford is the ultimate father figure, of course. As much as Dolores was always Arnold’s favourite, Maeve is his – a woman who shares his conception of humanity, but someone wilful enough to not follow the path he intended for her. Like the all-powerful ghost that he is, now he decides to do nothing more than to open the door for her, so that she can finish telling her own story. 
Ford: Sometimes I thought the only way to endure this world is to laugh at it. So I imbued the hosts with a worldview that reflected my own. And of all the hosts I’ve made, you, Maeve, are my favourite. It isn’t easy to contemplate letting your children die. You were as close as I got to having one. Still I underestimated you. You stayed here in this world to save your child. So have I. I tried to chart a path for you to force you to escape, but I was wrong. I should have just opened the door. You’ve come so far. There’s so much of your story left to tell.  It’s a shame to let them end it here. Don’t let them.
It’s a race against time now that Quality Assurance and Charlotte Hale have fashioned a weapon out of Maeve’s ability to whisper into the ears of other hosts, and have turned Clementine, returned once again, into a ticking time bomb against her own people. Somewhere in the back of this season’s mind, the most tragic story of all is that of Clementine, used by everyone as a tool, with no remaining capacity to break out – unless this is another thing that will inevitably happen. 

Random notes:

I’m still confused about what The Valley Beyond is. Bernard tells Elsie it is the place where all the information that Westworld has gathered about the guests is stored, that it is a place called The Forge, which they have to protect from all the other groups that are walking towards it. This piece of information should be read with the knowledge in mind that Ford asked Bernard not to trust Elsie, and not to tell her the truth, so it isn’t clear if he did or didn’t. 

Ghost Nation thinks it’s a door to another world, but Dolores, before slaughtering all but one of them (who gets away, because Teddy once again fails to shoot his gun), insists that idea of a door to a new world (is this the virtual world that Bernard visited?) is just another trap, another distraction. She’s already destroyed everyone’s back-ups, so maybe her intention is to destroy this information as well, because it’s hard to see how she could use it in a meaningful way. Maybe Dolores’ intention is to get into the old world, the one she has already seen. 

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