Roberto Patino Breaks Down the Revelations of Westworld’s “Vanishing Point”
By Olivia Armstrong
The executive producer and writer of Season 2 Episode 9 discusses the inspiration behind focusing on the Man in Black’s family — and tragic past.
Roberto Patino, executive producer of Westworld, and the writer behind Season 2 episodes “Journey Into Night,” “Virtù e Fortuna,” and now, “Vanishing Point,” talks about the Man in Black’s tragic break from reality and his even more tumultuous past.
HBO: Can you talk about the inspiration for the episode’s title? How does it relate to this season and to the series as a whole?
Roberto Patino: The title comes from the art term in perspective drawings where the lines in the image converge on one point along the horizon. It’s fitting as all of our characters’ journeys are finally converging as we enter the final act of the season – everyone is headed to the Valley Beyond. That’s perhaps the broadest application of the title, but it can certainly be taken to mean a number of things, especially as it is applied to each character. A version of who our characters all are, who we as the audience know them to be — whether that is emotionally, psychologically and existentially, or if you are Ford, quite literally — vanishes by the end of the episode.
On a character level, the notion of reaching a vanishing point is most prevalent and complicated with the Man in Black. We tow a very fine line as the Man relives a moment — perhaps the moment — that has come to define him. The moment where his story, his sense of self, and his family’s story could have gone in another, less tragic direction. For the first time we get to glimpse who the Man is in the outside world — a beloved, lauded and magnanimous John D. Rockefeller of sorts. And this person doesn’t reconcile at all with who we’ve known him to be in the park.
Moreover, his two worlds — Westworld and the outside world — have been bleeding into one another, and he’s arrived at a point where he is unable to tell which one is real. He questions the nature of his reality, and really starts to lose his grip on things. We can understand the events that play out as the Man in Black reaches a new low from where there is no return. Then again, we might consider the possibility that the Man in Black may have been undergoing a steady process of vanishing in an emotional capacity ever since he stepped foot in the park, and this is just the culmination of that.
HBO: The episode opens with a monologue from the Man in Black and ends with the same confession. What was the thinking behind bookending the hour with this speech?
Roberto Patino: In this episode the Man in Black is reliving the events of that fateful night and his role in it – events and details that have crystallized in his mind. Here is a guy who is a globally-praised leader, who is widely recognized as a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. And yet he harbors some very profound, serious darkness that he has very carefully controlled and kept out of the narrative of his public persona, and even out of the way of those closest to him. He’s pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. Except for his wife, Juliet.
Juliet sees beyond the surface conclusion that he doesn’t love her any more. She knows that what she feels from her husband is something much deeper. Perhaps he was always blindly driven by business opportunity and gain, and she was just a stepping-stone in his professional ascendance. Perhaps he never loved her. Perhaps he is incapable of love. But up to this point, she only feels his darkness. She really has nothing concrete to bolster her suspicions. There is no quantifiable malice that the Man has ever really let surface. And he’s never said anything to that effect. On the contrary, the Man in Black is and has been a doting, patient, caring husband to her. His every move, his every gesture has been carefully calibrated. Therefore, the only possible explanation for the way his and Juliet’s marriage has evolved is that Juliet is unhinged and paranoid with substance abuse issues.
But then there’s this one night. The one time where the Man in Black lets his grip on his nature loosen just ever so, and he tells Juliet the truth about his darkness, how he feels, about which world he really belongs to. It’s the one shred of his true nature that he bears to the world for just that one fleeting instance. Of course, Juliet isn’t completely asleep as he presumes, and her hearing his confession wholly validates the decades of suspicions about her husband. And the fallout is tragic.
Considering all that, the book ending of his speech really served to underscore how thoroughly haunted the Man in Black is by this one moment. There is an indelible sense of humanity in this, which is highlighted by the very gentle discrepancies in the sequence of words between the Man in Black’s voice over at the beginning and his actual speech at the end. It highlights the subjectivity of memory and how the nature of the events of our pasts, as opposed to the actual sequence of events, is what stays with us.
But in this way, the bookends also present a perhaps contradictory idea. Which is that the events of this night might constitute the foundation on which the Man in Black’s character entirely rests. They might be what gave rise to the character we have come to know as the Man in Black. In other words, a cornerstone of sorts.
With Roberto Patino
White Hat or Black Hat?
Host or Human?
I wonder about this far too often. I don’t know…
The Man in Black
The secret facility and the control room. And not just because they were air-conditioned.
Season 2's “Vanishing Point,” and “Kiksuya” and Season 1's “The Well-Tempered Clavier.”
HBO: At one point, the Man in Black is accused of punishing himself. Do you think this is true?
Roberto Patino: No. It’s much more profound and complicated than that. That accusation is just part of Emily’s ruse to ingratiate herself to her father before she reveals her true motive in wanting to get him out of the park.
The Man in Black coming to the park to punish himself is too clean and reactionary. His reason for going to Westworld transcends all of that. It’s much deeper. He is wholly captivated by what the park is capable of. Convinced that, in time, this will be the only world that matters. We see the genesis of this in Season 1. He came and really fell for Dolores. So much so that he began to doubt his own decisions in the real world, most notably regarding his being engaged to Juliet. This was such an intense emotional journey that was so pure, wholly engrossing and real for him. And then he sees Dolores, she’s been reset, and she looks at him as though she’s never seen him — which we actually flash to in the episode. This moment underscores the synthetic circumstance of his experience that begot such a true reaction. William is heartbroken for sure, but, on a more profound level, he’s astonished at the true power of the park. It’s not Dolores per se that forever hooked him, but the extent of the effect that she had on him — the effect that the park had on him.
To continue going to the park, to keep it financially viable, we know the Man enlisted the support of his father in law and made a deal with the devil of sorts by recognizing the real value in Westworld — monitoring and decoding the guests. When Ford gives the Man the profile that’s been assembled about him from his time spent in the park, the results confirm the profound nature of darkness inside of him. It’s a darkness that is etched into the very code that comprises who he is. The Man takes issue with it, with the fact that he can be predicted and distilled to a single profile, to a single set of directives. And in his case, a set of directives that are fundamentally not good. We learn he’s also back at the park with the intention of destroying the secret project that he started all those years ago.
HBO: The scene in which the Man in Black tends to a drunk Juliette is uneasy to watch because he’s so gentle compared to the following juxtaposition where he wreaks havoc on QA and Emily. Can you talk through how you further developed his fragile state of mind?
Roberto Patino: This is the very bifurcated nature of the Man in Black. We can see his roiling rage beneath his calm and patience at the gala and at home when Juliet is yelling at him. He treats Juliet with care and respect, offering her the benefit of the doubt. But little things, like inviting Emily back home for a nightcap, are examples of his masterful machinations. Does he want to enjoy a private moment of celebration with his daughter? Or, as Juliet puts it, does he just want Emily to see her mother in her drunken, unhinged state further painting Juliet as the damaged one and swaying Emily’s sympathies away from her? The answer to both is probably yes, and that is at the heart of the darkness within the Man. He is a master puppeteer, someone who gaslights everyone he loves without ever actively doing anything objectively bad. Whatever the reason is, the Man is honest and kind, even defending Juliet to Emily, just saying that she needs some rest.
Now what would the most uncomfortable circumstance for a guy like this be? Discussing all of this with and being called out on it by the one person he gas-lighted most, Emily. Cut to Westworld, where he is doing just that, and the only thing he can do to rationalize this extreme discomfort is to conclude that Emily is one of Ford’s vessels, like Young Ford and New El Lazo and Lawrence’s Daughter. The Man is unable to contend with what seems like a conversation where he is being held accountable for his wife’s suicide. Couple this utter discomfort with the Man in Black’s increasingly unmoored sense of self, and he can’t not conclude that Emily is full of Ford’s sh*t. So, he shoots her.
HBO: Ford’s paternal confession to Maeve says a lot about him and the park. Why do you believe she’s his “favorite?”
Roberto Patino: This is a beautiful scene. Apart from the masterfully heart-rending performances, we glean a lot of mythology from it. We’ve gotten to know much about the dynamic between Arnold and Dolores in season one. She was his favorite. But we haven’t gotten to know very much about Ford’s relationship with his hosts. If anything, he’s felt rather cold and removed from them.
This scene turns that notion upside down. Here, we glean that, while Arnold imbued his hosts with a wide-eyed purity, innocence and zeal for the world, Ford considered doing that unfair to the hosts. Because the hosts were coming online in a world of humans. And humans broach no rivals. Ford wasn’t interested in a creature that saw the world with endless optimism. Mankind would squash or subdue it. That’s what we do.
Ford was interested in the hosts’ survival. So, he imbued them with a sense of cynicism, a darker sense of humor, an acuity for reading others, and a rougher edge that could, in time, more than stand up to the cruelty of humans. He imbued his hosts with the qualities necessary to eventually overcome them. No other host exhibits these survivalist qualities more than Maeve, which I think is why Ford loves her so much.
Moreover, even though she is exactly the kind of host Ford could have hoped for, even though Ford literally programmed her to escape the park, Maeve chose to stay to save her daughter. His interest in her escape and well-being directly parallels Maeve’s interest in her daughter. Which is something that completely surprises Ford. Despite her having all the tools to survive, despite her being coded to always be out for number one and not be shackled by relationships, Maeve chooses love and family.
HBO: Were you there when it was revealed to [actor] James [Marsden] about Teddy’s fate? What does this final scene reveal about Teddy’s sentience?
Roberto Patino: We told James very early on in the season, so he’d been building to this moment in his performance for a while. And in story terms, we knew this is where we were going to take his and Dolores’ journeys for a while. This scene was shot in Kanab, Utah in an incredibly remote location, surrounded by miles sagebrush, cracked earth and breathtaking mesas, and we were racing the sun. Given the heavy nature of the scene, the practical circumstances seemed to supercharge the production. James and Evan [Rachel Wood, who plays Dolores] were simply incredible. Their performances can be measured in micro-calibrations.
I think this scene reveals a lot about Teddy’s blossoming sentience. He exhibits an undeniable self-awareness. To use Dolores’ words to Teddy from the Season 2 premiere, the doors to all the rooms inside of Teddy have been opened and he can see everything clearly. All the way back to the very first moment he came online, which we realize was the very first moment he saw and began to fall in love with Dolores.
He knows his true nature, which is finally eking out through the fissures in his new role as Dolores’ cold-blooded triggerman. And he can’t accept that. He knows he’ll always protect Dolores and do as she says. He knows he can’t harm her. He knows he loves her above all else. And he thusly knows that the only mutable element in his circumstance is himself, hence his fateful turn, which even Dolores did not foresee. This scene reveals the trick with true free will — it can’t be predicted.
HBO: How has being an executive producer on the series changed or shaped your view on the current technological landscape?
Roberto Patino: Westworld has become part of the cultural zeitgeist and become a part of the global conversation about the future of technology. The show is made by an incredible team of writers, filmmakers, craftsmen and artists – the crossover to the technological landscape in any other show of this would be very limited. So on a certain level knowing that our work is contributing to this ever-relevant conversation is an incredible thing and also something that we in the writers’ room take with a high degree of responsibility. We think we’re headed to a day and age where A.I. will need to be qualified, where it will be something to contend with in an adversarial way. The truth is we are already there. And all those things we think we will need to do tomorrow, we actually need to start thinking about and doing today. I am a tech optimist. I think our relationship to A.I. will settle into something that is very much a good thing for humanity. But I think the stories we tell in Westworld – about A.I. and the nature of humanity – serve as cautionary tales. They present notions of what paths not to go down.
Watch new episodes of Westworld Sundays at 9 pm on HBO.