A popular fan theory regarding HBO’s new hit Westworld posits this: that William (played by Jimmi Simpson) is the younger version of The Man in Black (played by Ed Harris). It’s an interesting theory and to be perfectly honest I bought into it for a few weeks. The evidence for it is rather strong but sadly the evidence against it is much stronger. Very briefly, here’s the evidence for it:
- The Westworld Logo shown when William enters the park appears to be different than that shown during the scenes involving Mr. Ford and the Westworld staff
- They both use a similar looking knife
- The have similar wardrobes apart from the color of their jackets
- The Man in Black “saved the park” 30 years ago while William’s soon to be family appear poised to invest in the park
- The Man in Black played it “White Hat” during his first trip. William is on his first trip
- Maeve, the show’s other main character host, is not seen at the brothel with William and Teddy, which would make sense if the two timeline theory is correct because Maeve should be a homesteader in the past
- Angela, the host that meets William in Episode 2, is finally seen with Teddy and The Man in Black as one of Wyatt’s supplicants. The Man in Black remarks that he would have thought Ford had retired her by now, indicating that she is an old host
There are other pieces to the puzzle, mainly in dialogue and the mirror images their characters make. But there are some very big holes in the theory, and one that makes it impossible for the theory to work. First off, the minor points:
- The Logo: this one is probably one of the stronger pieces of evidence for the two timeline theory. The only time we see the other style logo in the present is when characters venture downstairs to an abandoned part of the park.
- The Knife:
- The Wardrobe: The only real similarity between the two wardrobes is that both characters have a similar shirt. Now the shirts are bespoke but there are only so many shirt designs in existence…
- We have yet to see William “save the park”
- We only know a few things about The Man in Black’s first trip. One of those things is that he once opened up a host and described it as a “thing of beauty” composed of wires and metal. The park has since changed designs to a more lifelike host in part to cut down on costs. If we see William open up a host and see a mass of wires rather than blood and bone I’ll be more impressed
- This is the only item that gives me real pause. Maeve had no direct interactions with either William or Teddy and we know by now that she’s only been the madam at the brothel for about a year.
- Angela: this one is pretty hard to swallow. William’s only been in the park for a few days, perhaps a week at most, and if there is only one timeline we are expected to believe that Ford repurposed her for Wyatt’s storyline in that small timeframe.
But there’s one major hole in this theory that blows everything else out of the water: Dolores. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is currently riding with William. The Man in Black and Dolores are “old friends” and this story, so the theory goes, is her and William’s first meeting.
But if you look closely at episode 3, the one which ends in Dolores running away and falling into William’s arms, the incident that causes her to break character, kill her assailant and run away is her encounter with The Man in Black. That’s right, a memory of The Man in Black’s previous assault on her is what causes Dolores to run into William’s unsuspecting arms. Now there are three possible explanations for this:
- Everything we see occurs in the present
- Dolores somehow can see the future Man in Black from the past
- The show is purposefully editing this scene in a way that makes us thing we’re seeing one timeline when there are really two
Now, it may be that the show is using some tricky editing here. It could be that the end of episode 3 where Dolores runs away and where she runs into William’s arms are two timelines. Perhaps Dolores has run away multiple times, and we have yet to see where “present Dolores” ran to. But, to be perfectly honest, that would simply be bad writing.
If that weren’t enough, let’s take a look at Stubbs, Westworld’s Head of Security. In episode 4 we see him approve a small pyrotechnic blast for The Man in Black and send Behavior after the stray Dolores. Now unless Stubbs is a host like Bernard then he can’t possibly be appearing unaged in both timelines. That is, unless Stubbs was referring to “present” Dolores and “past Dolores” had behavior sicked on her by another, unseen head of security but again, that would be bad writing. The only two purposes of that scene are to:
- Demonstrate William’s growing emotions toward Dolores (which is amply demonstrated in other scenes)and
- Ground William’s and Dolores’ story firmly in the present.
Simply put, there is no other reason to have this scene in the show unless the showrunners want to either ground William’s story in the same time period as everything else in the park or to misdirect the hell out of the viewer. And misdirection is fine, except if true it’s a poorly written way to do it.
Lastly, a somewhat weaker piece of evidence against the two timeline theory is El Lazo/Lawrence. When Teddy, William and Dolores are waiting to meet El Lazo we are told that they will have to wait. Only later to we realize that Lawrence is El Lazo. If the show is following a single timeline then of course the three would have to wait for El Lazo because he was being murdered by The Man in Black at the same time. Of course, this is weak evidence but on that I feel I should note because it seems to have been missed by a a lot of commentators.
Don’t get me wrong: I think that if William and The Man in Black were the same person it would be a great plot twist, and good writing, if the above objectionable scenes hadn’t been included. I was willing to entertain the possibility that Dolores had run off twice (or more, as Ford hints at in a later episode) and that the events we see now are the first time Dolores has eloped. But to show multiple scenes firmly cementing the single timeline and then to reveal that Dolores and William are in fact in the past would simply be misdirection for misdirection’s sake, rather than to progress the story. And that, is bad writing.
But we’ve seen the creators of Westworld do good things with their stories and I find it hard to believe that they would simply write themselves into a corner in such a way. Whatever the storyline William is following, it’s not the same as The Man in Black’s.