The Man In Black – How “Westworld” Revealed Him


As each episode of Season 1 of Westworld was released viewers were teased with what initially appeared to be two different storylines – that of the naïve, White Hat, Billy/William (played by Jimmi Simpson) and that of the unnamed Man in Black (played with the gravelly-voiced intensity of (Ed Harris).  In the final episode, the Man in Black confirms a fan theory that the two storylines are not about two separate people but rather about two separate times. The way these timelines were presented allowed for the surprise season finale twist but they also somewhat blunted the unfurling of his true nature.

As William arrives in the park, his friend and future brother-in-law Logan (played by Ben Barnes) tells him “this place is the answer to that question you’ve been asking yourself…who you really are. And I can’t fuckin’ wait to meet that guy.” Initially, we are led to believe this means that William will be shown to be the ultimate hero, especially measured against Logan’s ManInBlack_pic02-300x165debauchery and cynicism. But Logan was not wrong when he said the park reveals who you actually are and I don’t think he (and definitely I didn’t) predict that what William would reveal are some deep-rooted rage and sociopathic tendencies. William becomes the story of the ultimate Nice Guy and the terror of the female protagonists of the show.

It all starts with Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood). Nice Guys want to be the White Knight that rescues (and is rewarded by) the helpless and beautiful woman. The problem is Dolores is programmed to look for a hero to help her – whether that’s another Host or a park guest. There is nothing unique about William or about Dolores’ reaction to him. Nonetheless, William clings to Dolores’ reaction to him and rejects Logan’s insistence that he see the park for what it is – not real. He revels in being seen as a hero, rather than as Logan sees him – an introverted and socially awkward average guy. This hero arc continues to the episode “Trompe L’Oleil” when he and Dolores sleep together. For him, it is the ultimate confirmation of his greatness and the illusion he has of himself. Dolores tries to let him know that she is not some reward for his actions or a confirmation of his White Knight status. She insists, “I’m a person, not a key.”

Logan (who William had left with Confederates) catches up with them again and he once again tries to remind William, and then forcefully show him, that the park is not real. It’s a great momentary escape from the real world but the people, the Hosts, are not real. But William continues to insist that Dolores is special and that he is special because he is such a good person that refused the darker pleasures of the park and tries to save the girl. His fantasy cracks when Dolores is “killed” and subsequently rebooted. When she finally sees William again she places him in the ultimate friendzone because she literally has no memory of him. While most Nice Guys would simply post internet rants or complain to their friends, William went to the extreme. Denied what he sees as his rightful love and happiness he unleashes hell, both on the Hosts in the park and ultimately on the people in his life.

Following the linear storyline of William:

  1. Slaughters all the Confederate Hosts in a gory massacre
  2. Leaves a trail of deaths until he reaches the Edge of the Park
  3. Proceeds to tie a naked Logan to a horse and set him loose – after clearly torturing him at least mentally and possibly physically
  4. Literally, destroy Maeve. Her initial life – as a frontier mother – had to be completely wiped because he wanted to see what would happen if he killed a child.
  5. He returned to find Dolores and violently attacks and rapes her.
  6. After assaulting Dolores he is seen leaving a trail of mutilation, torture, and death through the park. In the episode “Trace Decay” we learn this has spilled over to life outside the park.
  7. Although we don’t know what happened to Logan after William tied him naked to a horse and sent him into the edges of the park, we do know what happened to his wife. She lived in constant fear of him and ultimately took her own life to escape him. Although he insists he was never physically violent towards her it is easy to see, starting with his slaughter of Hosts, how he could be emotionally and mentally abusive.

ManInBlack_pic03-300x173He entered the park as William, someone who saw himself as the hero and who thought he’d found a great love with a woman who was programmed to respond to him in a certain way. When that fantasy crumbled, he lashed out with the pain and darkness inside of him. He began to search for the maze, believing it would take him back to the feeling of hero and happiness he had. He cannot grasp that the maze is an internal journey we must all take to become self-aware. The Man in Black already completed the maze – he just rejects the truth of who he is.

So the real question for Season 2 will be – does he stay the terror of the Hosts or now that Dolores has led an uprising, does the hunter become the hunted? 

We will find out as the new season of Westworld launches April 22 on HBO. 

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