Emmy episode analysis: Ed Harris (‘Westworld’) questions his reality in ‘Vanishing Point’

After missing the cut in the Drama Supporting Actor category last year, Ed Harris made the leap to Best Drama Actor and scored a deserved Emmy nomination for his performance as William on HBO’s “Westworld.” This is his third Emmy nomination after previous bids for the miniseries “Empire Falls” and “Game Change.” The actor is also a four-time Academy Award nominee thanks to his roles in “Apollo 13,” “The Truman Show,” “Pollock” and “The Hours.” He has submitted the episode “Vanishing Point” for Emmy consideration.

In “Vanishing Point,” William remembers a time when his wife Juliet (Sela Ward) was still alive. Juliet must be taken home after drinking too much at a party, and their daughter Emily (Katja Herbers) suggests that she return to rehab. As William tucks his wife into bed, she asks him to stop lying and tell her “one true thing.” He admits there is some type of “stain” within him, and that he doesn’t truly belong to this world. Juliet watches William’s profile, which contains footage of his horrific deeds inside Westworld, and overdoses on a bottle of pills. William later discovers her dead in an overflowing bathtub.

Back in the park in present day, Emily is tending to her wounded father and attempting to reconnect with him. But William has grown paranoid and suspicious, believing her to be a host. When Delos men arrive to extract them, William guns the men down. A horrified Emily tells her father “those were real people.” As she reaches in her back pocket to show him proof, William shoots and kills her point blank. It’s only then that he notices she was holding a copy of his profile, proving he has just murdered his own daughter instead of a robot. With his mind reeling, William is on the brink of ending his own life. But he begins to question his own reality, noting the “stain” he’s felt his whole life, and a pain in his arm that has always been with him.

He slices into his arm with his knife, searching for circuitry and mechanical parts. The camera cuts to black before the audience, and William, learn if he is human or not. Will “Vanishing Point” net Ed Harris his first Emmy Award? We discuss the pros and cons below.

PROS

Many “Westworld” actors have a hard time at the Emmys due to the large ensemble cast, which can impact the amount of screentime a nominee receives. But Harris is the anchor of “Vanishing Point,” and provides the actor his juiciest material on the series to date. William has several intensely emotional scenes including his wife’s suicide and accidentally murdering his daughter. These events lead to the unravelling of William’s mind, and voters love to reward actors playing someone truly unhinged.

Harris’ submission successfully avoids another trap with “Westworld”: highly complicated plots. William’s story is self contained and easy to follow in “Vanishing Point.” Even voters who may not regularly watch the series will be able to follow the mostly linear narrative, which emphasizes emotional gut punches over complex narratives.

SEE How to watch Best Drama Actor Emmy episodes for Jason Bateman, Sterling K. Brown, Ed Harris, Matthew Rhys, Milo Ventimiglia, Jeffrey Wright

CONS

Harris plays a perfect stoic cowboy figure, but that archetype doesn’t lend itself to passionate outbursts of tears and rage that is so often Emmy catnip. His work is beautifully subtle and internal, but it would be hard to describe it as “showy.”

Most of the episode belongs to Harris, but the script bizarrely ends on the B plot with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden). Since the final minutes end with Teddy’s shocking suicide, it could steal some of Harris’ thunder.

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