A quick note to the reader: if you have not yet watched Westworld, and don’t want the plot to be spoilt for you, then please, read no further.
Westworld. it didn’t take more than one episode to make me fall in love with this science-fiction-cum-Western television series introduced in late 2016. Let me give you the backstory as a reminder. The show is set in a futuristic world and focuses on a synthetic robot-inhabited “park” in the USA which is open to rich visitors who can shoot, drink and engage in coitus to their heart’s content without reprimand. The robots are called “hosts” and the human visitors are called “newcomers”, or “guests”. The guests can do whatever they like to the hosts, but the hosts are incapable of harming the guests. I guess that if you play video games like Call of Duty, it would be like doing a mission on Easy Mode and having stormtroopers instead of enemy troops (because stormtroopers are notoriously awful at aiming, geddit?). The hosts follow a storyline on loop and are usually killed as a result of the end of their storyline loop or if a guest kills them. The hosts are then taken in, repaired, interviewed and then placed back in the park to restart their storylines. This set-up has been a winning formula for thirty years without major incident. The oldest host in the park is Dolores Abernathy (played by Evan Rachel Wood) who is a beautiful rancher’s daughter with a fondness for painting. And the most frequent guest is the Man in Black (played by Ed Harris), a rich philanthropist who has been visiting the park regularly for thirty years.
This man is who my blog post will be focused on. Like my post about the character of Heathcliff in the novel Wuthering Heights, I will be describing how I can emphasize with an unlikeable character.
The Man in Black
The Man in Black is certainly earning of his black cowboy hat (before entering the park, guests can choose whether to wear a white hat or a black hat. If they want to be good, they will wear a white hat. If they want to be bad, they will wear a black hat). He is ruthless and kills the hosts without seeming to bat an eyelid. However, he appears to enjoy the roleplay involved with communicating with the hosts, and will slip in and out of being a sadistic killer and getting to know them. But this is not through any care for them because he likes to push the hosts to their limits in order to provoke strong emotions from them. He treats the park as a game and uses it to his advantage for his relentless search for “The Centre of the Maze”.
The pilot episode gives us our first inkling that there is a lot more to the Man in Black than the viewer first sees. Clearly, he is a guest, as in the voiceover, Dolores is asked in the interview room about the guests in the scene where the Man in Black makes his first appearance. The first thing that the Man in Black says is, “Hello, again… Is that any way to treat an old friend? I’ve been coming here for thirty years. you still don’t remember me, do you? after all we’ve been through?” We can thus observe that the Man in Black has a longstanding relationship with Dolores, and Teddy Flood, too. Teddy is Dolores’ beau. We, the viewer, are thrown off the scent because Dolores and Teddy appear to have no knowledge of the Man in Black’s identity. It is not until later in the episode that we realise that, every time the hosts die, their memories are erased, and they restart their storyline loop. This explains why Dolores and Teddy do not know who the Man in Black is, but the memories of the guests stay intact, which is why he remembers them.
The Man in Black is on a quest to make the Westworld experience more interesting. “I don’t pay all this money because i want it easy,” the Man in Black said to Dolores in the first episode, before he kills Teddy and rapes Dolores, “I want you to fight.” As I will mention later on, the Man in Black is searching for the ‘Centre of the Maze’ in the hope that the hosts will be granted more power, because he hopes that from then on, the game will be harder. He has grown bored with the hosts not fighting back and he wants to play the game on a sort of Expert Mode version of Westworld.
We don’t know an awful lot about William. I would guess that he is meant to be in his early to mid-thirties. William’s surname, and forgive me if I am wrong and just haven’t picked it up, is never mentioned. He arrives at the Westworld park with his brother-in-law-to-be, Logan. Logan is William’s fiance, Juliet’s brother. William has recently received a promotion, whether that is down to his own work or through his relationship with the boss’s daughter is not divulged.
It is discovered that William goes on to marry Juliet pretty much straight after coming back from Westworld because he tells Teddy that he has been married for thirty years, and I am assuming that he marries Juliet because of the next point, which is that he also then takes over his wife’s father’s company, Delos, as the Man in Black divulges that he is a majority shareholder with Westworld. The majority shareholder of Westworld is of course the company, Delos, which Logan had bragged about inheriting in the future.
We should have seen it coming.
When it was revealed in the finale that William was in fact the Man in Black, I shouldn’t have been surprised. There were hints throughout the series that William had come to the Westworld park before the present day. The train which William arrived on looked more new than the one used in present day. When William was shot at, the bullet didn’t kill him but it did bruise him, whereas when the bullets were shot at the Man in Black, they deflected off of him completely. These subtle hints all point at an advance in technology, thirty years’ worth of advancement. More evidently, even though the park is huge, in not one scene did William and the Man in Black cross paths, and not once was the Man in Black, an evidently formidable character, mentioned to William, which implicates that his existence was, well, non-existent.
“Why don’t I give you the first shot?” The Man in Black said to Teddy during their standoff in the pilot episode. This echoes with the finale episode when William offers a man who had seen Dolores to have the first shot, before he kills him too.
The picture of Juliet was a huge giveaway, too. Dolores’ father finds the picture of Juliet in the pilot episode, the picture which had been dropped by William in the season finale. The picture, in the present day, was of course in very bad shape, which is obvious to the viewer with hindsight as it had been left there for thirty years. But we should have known that the picture of Juliet was crucial. Juliet’s brother, Logan, had the same colour hair and they looked very similar. She was also standing in front of a modern scene, albeit thirty years ago, but let’s face it, it’s more modern than the Westworld scenery. The link was there to be made.
Another clue was the time lapsing. Angela is a host who greeted William and assisted him in getting ready to go into the park. The same host who was in the park during the modern scenes where the Man in Black and Teddy encountered and she was also who Teddy had shot during Dolores’ epic Wyatt meltdown, so she had started off in the park thirty-ish years ago, had a brief stint outside the park after Doloratt-gate (yeah, I fused Dolores and Wyatt’s name together for ease) and then got put back in. This is why the Man In Black makes the comment about how Robert Ford, the creator of the Westworld park, couldn’t get rid of a pretty face, because he had met her when he was younger.
Another time-lapsing character was Maeve, the madam of the Westworld Park. The Man in Black had slain Maeve and her daughter when her role was being a mother living on a ranch, whereas now she is programmed to work in the brothel in town. William had not encountered Maeve in the town, he had encountered a familiar face, Clementine, a prostitute, but not Maeve. That was another clue to the timeline of the story.
The Man in Black is still William. Deep down… Very deep down.
William humanised the Man in Black for me a lot more. When Dolores cried upon realising that William had turned into the monster who haunted her, I felt her anguish, too. And yes, William did turn out to be an awful man, but the Man in Black, for me, is still William. There were still little traces of William inside of him.
A guest had approached the Man in Black and had thanked him for saving his daughter. Again, we see a part of William inside of him, we understand that the Man in Black still has a sort of goodness about him. When the Man in Black tells him to back off, though, this shows that the Man in Black may well be good in the real, “outside” world, but in the park, he wants to indulge in this evil side of himself, and not be reminded of the good side of himself, the “William” inside of him, if you will.
The day after raping Dolores and killing Teddy in the pilot episode, the Man in Black sees Dolores in the town and helps her with her tin that she drops on the ground as part of her storyline loop. “Sweet. But not as sweet as you,” he says to her, with a genuine smile. This meeting can again compare to William, because William had met Dolores in the town in the same way. The Man in Black is never usually kind to hosts without a calculated alterior motive, so his kindess to her (albeit the day after raping and murdering her) shows that he does, sort of, have a heart. I would venture a guess that sometimes he is kind to Dolores because she was his first love and he still cares for her, in a morbid way, or maybe he’s just reliving memories that he’s not ready to let go of, which shows that he is capable of feeling.
Note – Rape is not acceptable and I would never, ever condone it. Nor will I ever understand it so please do not interpret my words as condoning rape culture or making excuses for rapists. The following paragraph is just me trying to figure out why the Man in Black carries out these acts.
So, anyway, I digress. Maybe the Man in Black comes back regularly to assault Dolores because he despairs of the situation that he is in. He witnessed Dolores in her sentient form thirty years ago (where she digressed from her storyline loop and was able to use a gun – just before meeting William, she had been able to fire a gun which was incredible since she was programmed to be unable to fire a gun, a punishment, I suppose, as a result of Doloratt-gate) and he fell in love with her. And then she just lost all memory of him, whereas he stayed infatuated with her for many decades. Dolores had inadvertedly caused the Man in Black’s moral decline because he had been so obsessed with finding her after he told her to run away. He had killed so many hosts and alienated himself from his brother-in-law-to-be in order to protect her, but it had all been for nothing, because when he did eventually find her, she didn’t know who he was and she remembered nothing of what they had together. He has seen her retain her beauty and watched himself grow old. He has seen her romance storyline with Teddy, and maybe even seen her flirt with other visiting men. The frustration must be unbearable and while raping someone and abusing someone is never understandable, some people do have a violent nature and many express their feelings through violence. I guess that he must also have the reassurance that, while at the time, Dolores is in great pain, as soon as he kills her, she will start afresh and become brand new. He knows that she won’t remember the pain that he puts her through. This must make it easier for him to torture her.
What makes the Man in Black most like William is that he thinks of himself as being a good guy, despite wearing the black hat. He says to Teddy, “You want to know who I am? Who I really am? I’m a god. Titan of industry. Philanthropist. Family man. Married to a beautiful woman. Father to a beautiful daughter. I’m the good guy, Teddy. Then, last year my wife took the wrong pills, fell asleep in the bath. Tragic accident. Thirty years of marriage, vanished.” He also claims to want to “set the hosts free”, seeing himself as less of a plundering psycho and more of a saviour of Westworld’s hosts. We the viewer know that he only wants the hosts to have more power so that ‘the game’ is harder for him to play. But, in my opinion, he wants to find the centre of the maze, maybe, so that Dolores will finally remember what they had together.
But who knows. Maybe you guys can give me your opinions, too. We have plenty of time, it’s going to be another two years until Westworld continues with its second series.
Thank you so much for reading. xxx
Westworld the TV series found on Sky Atlantic.