HBO’s Westworld is a bona fide hit. The show scored the network’s highest ratings for a drama debut since True Detective, and the quality over these first three episodes has spurred plenty of thoughtful discussion about A.I., human nature, and violence and objectification. But the show also has proved to be a breeding ground for harebrained fan theories. There are many secrets still to be unveiled in the sci-fi Western series, which is to be expected given that it hails from executive producers Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J.J. Abrams. But fans have already started attempting to crack these secrets just a few episodes into the show’s first season, and one theory in particular was given some potential credence in the show’s third episode.
Here is your free and clear potential spoiler warning, as the theory below could be a pretty huge reveal if true.
This fan theory involves the true identity of the mysterious Man in Black, played by Ed Harris. We’ve seen this human character since the pilot making his way around the park, attempting to unlock some “deeper level” of the game and running around like he’s in some sort of God Mode. Upon his arrival, he made reference to the fact that he first came to the park 30 years ago (the last time there was a “big incident” at the park), and it’s been made clear that he’s well acquainted with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden), alluding to the fact that he’s crossed their paths many, many times before.
So what’s the theory? Well, it posits that the character of William, played by Jimmi Simpson, is actually the Man in Black, and that his story is playing out in flashback while Harris’ story is the present day. William’s arc, then, would be the origin story of the Man in Black, and would attempt to explain how he became so demented in the first place while also potentially revealing that “incident” that was alluded to by the behind-the-scenes folks.
There’s actually some solid evidence to back this theory up. As with the Nolan-scripted Memento, Westworld deals heavily with the concept of memory, and we’re starting to see the hosts remember past experiences that in turn could make them arrive at full consciousness. In the closing moments of the third episode, “The Stray”, we saw Dolores return from her private session with Bernard under the promise of not deviating from her loop. She comes back to her farm, which is once again under siege, but as she’s about to be violated by one of the outlaws, she sees the Man in Black’s face. She shoots him, breaking protocol, and as she’s about to be shot by another of the raiders, she seems to “remember” this encounter in which she is shot, and she runs away before the bullet finds her gut. She then stumbles upon William and Logan, falling into William’s arms.
Now, William and Dolores met once before, when he was waved off of starting this “encounter” by his friend Logan in favor of finding something more adventurous. Could this be the beginning of William and Dolores’s connection, which subsequently devolves into Dolores being violated by the Man in Black? So far, William and Logan have not encountered any of the outside human characters in the show, and some fans pointed out that the train they rode on seemed “newer” than the one we saw in the pilot.
There’s also the fact that when the Man in Black was shot at, bullets made no impact whatsoever, but when William was shot he received a bruise. This could certainly be explained by advances made in the bullet technology since the Man in Black’s first time in the park to now.
Of course the theory isn’t without its holes. If William’s plotline does exist in flashback, including Dolores deviating from her narrative loop, then that would suggest that Bernard’s conversations with Dolores are also happening in flashback, which doesn’t entirely add up when factoring in the stories that have been taking place behind the scenes. We’ve already seen Luke Hemsworth’s Stubbs wave off the presence of the Man in Black, saying he’s earned the right to basically do whatever he wants in the park. Or perhaps we only thought he was talking about the Man in Black and/or that Dolores and Bernard’s conversations are happening in tandem with the events that lead her to William. Is there a bit of misdirect going on? With the Nolans, all bets are off.
It’s certainly a tantalizing theory, and one that could add up to a pretty huge reveal. And it doesn’t explain everything—why, exactly, is the Man in Black trying to find this maze? What’s his endgame?
What’s great about Westworld is that theories like this can pop up, questions can be answered, and there’s still plenty to discuss. The show is thematically rich, offering up not just compelling narrative, but also compelling characters and larger ideas. I’m not entirely sure I buy this “William is the Man in Black” theory, but it would seem as though William has a much larger role to play in the Westworld story than the show thus far lets on.
What say you, folks? Does this add up? Any other evidence to back up the theory that William is the Man in Black? Sound off in the comments below, and if you missed Kayti’s full recap of “The Stray”, click here.