Since before Westworld was HBO's Westworld, a character called "the Man in Black," has been the source of nearly all the plot twists. In the original 1973 movie, the Man in Black was a robot host played by Yul Brynner, who is pretty much nothing like Ed Harris' Man in Black, though both share a predilection for excessive violence. That said, whether it's the '73 Westworld, Season 1 of HBO's Westworld, or Season 3, the Man in Black, on some level, is the man on the saddle, making the plot gallop along like the runaway horse that it is.
In Westworld Season 3 Episode 6, "Decoherence" (the most Westworld-ly, Westworld title, ever) the Man in Black has once again asserted himself as the dominant main character of the entire series. In fact, he now thinks he's "the good guy." But what could that possibly mean, and is the psychopath formerly known as William really poised to become a hero? Here are three ways of thinking about the Man in Black after as we try to bring some coherence to "Decoherence."
Spoilers ahead for Westworld Season 3 Episode 6.
As a quick recap, so far in Season 3, the Man in Black has probably done the most self-exploration of any other character in Westworld. Charlotte/Dolores briefly convinced him to come to the shareholder meeting to help vote against Sercac, but, at the last minute, she had him locked into a mental institution shortly before revealing her real identity.
Even before then, the Man in Black has been grappling with the "accidental" murder of his own daughter, Emily, in Season 2. He believed she was a Host so he killed her, but, apparently, he was wrong. The Man in Black is also a massive asshole in general and got his jollies off for years killing and torturing Hosts in the Delos park, behavior that eventually led his wife to commit suicide.
These days, the Man in Black has been placed in a prison, which we are meant to think is one he basically created for himself. In "Decoherence," he finally escapes.
After being given something called "AR Treatment" (which looks suspiciously like what happened to Caleb in last weeks' flashbacks) the Man in Black confronts all previous versions of himself and his father-in-law turned Host, James Delos. This means Jimmi Simpson is back as young Man in Black, but we get a little kid version of William, too, who, apparently, was a violent, bad-seed child, too. After literally killing every single past version of himself (metaphorically, but visually, quite violently) the Man in Black is discovered still hooked up to the AR goggles by Bernard and Stubs, who seem to be on the run, fresh from their run-in with Dolores in the previous episode.
Bernard notes that the people running the mental facility seem to have left William there by himself, presumably because society has collapsed after Dolores released everyone's INCITE data. (We see William's therapist hang herself right before his AR treatment begins.)
Anyway, while all of that is going on, we also learned there's an "unknown protein" in William's blood, and later in the episode, when Charlotte/Dolores transmits some stolen Delos data, she seems to send it directly to the Man in Black, implying there's some kind of data storage tech in his bloodstream.
The Man in Black also tells faux-James Delos that he doesn't care about what he was "before" because now he thinks he's found his purpose. "I'm the good guy," he says.
But what does it mean? Here are some three options.
3. William has legit changed in Westworld Season 3
The notion of free-will has haunted the character of the Man in Black since Season 1. One could argue that his experiences in the mental facility have proven to him that he does, in fact, have free will. But because so many people don't (Hosts or otherwise) it barely matters.
Call it an anti-epiphany, but it seems like William's attitude by the end of the episode is kind of like: Fuck it. Everything is so terrible, what's the point of justifying anything? I can just decide to be good. I haven't tried that yet!
If William is using armchair nihilism to convince himself that being a hero could be fun, that might actually get interesting. In this case, we wouldn't' be dealing with a plot twist at all, but perhaps something Westworld often struggles with: Actual character development.
2. The Man in Black is a Host
Because William is the person who pioneered the idea that actual humans could live forever in Host bodies, it's reasonable that at some point a Host version of himself was created. In the Season 2 finale, "The Passenger," a post-credits scene involving a Host version of the Man in Black is seemingly depicted. When that episode aired, Westworld writer Lisa Joy told The Hollywood Reporter that this scene took place way past a point in time that we've ever seen on Westworld yet, implying this "version" of the Man in Black as a Host is his eventual fate, and not the same version in Seasons 1, 2, or even 3.
But if the Man in Black eventually becomes a Host in the far future, who is to say he isn't one already? If he is, then the question would really be: How long has that been the case? And is the far-future Man in Black host a different copy of William? And if so, why are there multiple copies of William?
This episode could vaguely even be implying that multiple Host Williams already exist. The fact that the Man in Black kills various versions of himself could possibly, foreshadow a more literal confrontation with other Host Williams later in the season. Plus, Maeve has at least one more Host-body that is being printed to assist her in creating a squad to fight Dolores. We don't know who that is, yet, but what if it was... another copy of the Man in Black??
1. Dolores needs William in Westworld Season 3
Obviously, the biggest WTF aspect of all of this is the fact that Charlotte/Dolores sends the secret data to the Man in Black via some kind of super satellite email. Assuming this was possible either through some tech in William's blood, or the fact that he's a Host, it really does make you wonder why.
We thought, at first, Dolores was putting William in the insane asylum to screw him over, but now it seems like the plan was to have him in a safe place so the Hosts could send him this data when they needed somewhere to hide it. This seems to imply William is a much bigger part of Dolores' plan than we thought.
In fairness, Dolores' plan is still pretty damn cloudy, but the fact that William is being "trusted" with this information (even if he's unaware of it) is a big deal.
If the Man in Black is now the "hero" and he's teaming-up with Dolores, that implies Dolores isn't actually trying to destroy humanity. If anything, right now, it looks like she's trying to save us all.
Westworld airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO.