The first episode of Westworld raised plenty of questions for viewers, and more than a few of them focus on Ed Harris’s enigmatic vigilante, the Man in Black.
He is seemingly based on the famous gunslinger played by Yul Brynner in Michael Crichton’s 1973 film, but in the show, unlike in the movie, he’s not a robot on a mission to kill one man. Instead, he’s a human guest who kills at will, and has captured our curiosity with his love of pain and suffering. But King Joffrey he is not. He might be a sadist, but the Man in Black is a sadist with a purpose.
While it’s easy to assume that he’s merely continuing his 30-year streak of madness and mayhem, the Man in Black clearly wants something more. The maze-like design he finds on the wrong side of a gambler’s scalp hints at a deeper puzzle he hopes to solve, something lurking beneath the game that could spell trouble for our robot fantasy amusement park.
Harris recently said his character had a tragic experience in the past that awoke something “very violent” in him, but that his mission isn’t just about fulfilling his deepest, darkest desires. It’s clear he’s looking for something special; he cares about it personally, and over the course of the season we’ll find out more about what that thing is and why he wants it.
We still don’t know what’s in store for the Man in Black, but we’ve got a few ideas about who the ultimate black hat is and what he wants.
He’s a hardcore gamer who wants to win
The Man in Black has been coming to Westworld at least once a year for 30 years, so he’s probably one of the finest players the game has ever seen. After all, he’s memorized Dolores’s storyline perfectly and is able to absorb gunshots like mosquito bites. Still, he hasn’t been able to beat it, because no one can. It’s a game without an ending, the ultimate MMORPG.
So, what do you do when you’ve played a game so many times that you’ve practically memorized it, but you still can’t beat it? You try to make the game beat itself. Finding the heart of the game and turning it on its head would be the ultimate victory in a normally victor-less game — the ultimate prize for a top gamer.
He’s a plant from a rival company
If we know one thing, its that the Man in Black is insanely rich. He’s spent $40,000 a day for more than one day a year for 30 years running, so he’s clearly got money to burn. We haven’t been given a clear indication of what he does for a living, but it’s possible he’s been playing the game for a long time to figure out how to use the technology for his own ends.
Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has created a product that has unlimited growth, with the potential to change the entire planet as we know it, and you can damn well bet that there have been more than a few Slugworths trying to steal Willy Wonka’s Gobstopper recipe. The Man in Black could be trying to get at the heart of the game to figure out the technology’s internal secrets, the source of artificial life itself, to either seize control for himself or sell it to the highest bidder. What he would do to the park remains to be seen, but I’m sure he wouldn’t it to stick around as competition.
He’s trying to awaken the hosts’s consciousness
The Man in Black’s first interaction with Dolores and Teddy is gruesome and terrifying. The bulk of the commentary on the scene has been about questionable female representation, but it also had a pretty unique moment, when the Man in Black challenges Dolores and her father to remember their past.
The initial interaction sparks a chain reaction that indirectly results in both characters gaining some form of awareness. Dolores hurts a fly, even though it’s not in her programming, and her father seeks a higher understanding that ultimately leads to his downfall.
Granted, the Man in Black uses and abuses Dolores like a sadist, but that could be something that he thinks could open her eyes to the reality of the world around her and the fearsomeness of the newcomers. Fear is one of the most prized responses in the hosts, because it’s what makes the guests feel like they’re dealing with real people. The Man in Black may recognize that, and use it to help the hosts in his own twisted way. That doesn’t make it okay, but it explains his reasoning.
In one of the more recent trailers, the Man in Black asks a host, “What if I told you I’m here to set you free?” The center of the maze-like map could hold the key to awakening the robots. Whether he wants to do it for the robots’ well-being, or just to “see what happens” is debatable.
He’s trying to save humanity from itself
The Man in Black might be the secret hero of the story, and we just don’t know it yet. There’s clearly a deeper level to what’s happening in the park. Flawed humans have created a flawed system, and it could lead to something terrible. He might be the only man trying to stop it.
Science fiction often explores themes of humanity against artificial intelligence, and oftentimes the more human-like the robots are, the more convoluted it gets. But whether you’ve got a heartless machine from The Matrix or a seemingly charming girl from Ex Machina, they’re two sides of the same coin. It’s a technology that humanity will abuse until that same technology comes back and bites them in the butt. Through that lens, it makes sense that the Man in Black would torture the hosts, because he doesn’t want to see them as human.
Theres a lot to digest with the Man in Black, and it looks like we’ll be getting bits and pieces of his story over the coming weeks. Harris has pointed to Episode 7 as a possible turning point for his character, telling The Berkshile Eagle that we could learn more about his backstory and origin around that time.