The series premiere of Westworld raised a ton of questions. But a futuristic sci-fi western series about a robot cowboy rebellion in a debaucherous theme park will do that. I mean, I guess. This is the first futuristic sci-fi western series about a robot cowboy rebellion in a debaucherous theme park I’ve ever watched. If the first episode of Westworld is indicative of the sub-genre, though, it turns out I’m a fan. Who knew?
While many of the questions have to do with what is happening at the corporate level (examples include “What is the bigger picture that Theresa was discussing while dressing down a subordinate between drags off her cigarette?,” “What’s up with the puppetmaster played by Anthony Hopkins?,” and “Do they assign robot horses to the robots and real horses to the people, or is it all robot horses, or what?”), the biggest question for me related to Ed Harris’ character, The Man in Black. Specifically, my question is… What is his deal?
Some people who are familiar with the 1973 film the series is based on think that the character could be modeled after The Gunslinger (played by Yul Brynner), a robot that goes berserk and starts killing humans in the park. Through one episode (no, you’re jumping the gun), this appears to be reversed, with The Man in Black being a human who has been coming to the park for 30 years to live out his most violent fantasies against the park’s A.I. hosts. And that’s extremely interesting.
Here is what I’m saying: If your bad guy is a malfunctioning evil robot or some sort of undercover A.I. being from a competing organization (and the character could end up being either of those, for the record), you can explain the whole thing just by saying “because it was a robot that malfunctioned or was built to do that.” If it’s a human, though, then you open up things like motivation and backstory. We have a small sense of his motivation so far, which has to do with finding a “deeper” level to what he calls the game, but we know precious little about him as a person. This is fun to ponder, because if The Man in Black is a human, that means he has a regular person name and a whole life outside the park, and if you start to bounce that around in your head for a while, it will become the only thing you can think about.
For example, if he is a human who is in the park via the traditional manner, it means he’s paying a presumably steep price to be there ($1,000/day in the 1973 movie, which works out to about $5,000/day today, and probably even higher if the series takes place in the future), and has been doing so for three decades. He would have to be pretty rich. Even if he’s only blocked out a long weekend for his dastardly deeds and such, that’s still a $15,000 vacation, plus air fare. You could spend two very comfortable weeks in Hawaii for that price, my guy. Granted, you won’t get to torture a gaggle of robots, but you could drink a bunch of mai tais in a cabana, which seems a lot more relaxing. To me, at least.
Also, unless he wears all-black cowboy attire in his everyday life, it means he showed up at the park in other clothes and chose that outfit on purpose. And when you think about it that way, it all feels like a bit much, right? Especially if he has this big secret plan to cause havoc and tear apart the fabric of the game from the inside. Seems a touch suspicious, is my point. (“Hey, something weird is going on. Almost like someone is trying to sabotage the whole system.” “Hmm. Let’s go ask the guy who looks like the villain in a dang Disney cartoon.”)
The funniest — and by far my favorite — way to think about all of this is to picture him out in the real, non-Westworld. I’m sure, if he is a human, he’s probably some bored billionaire or someone with a financial interest in digging into the park’s business, but I’ve given it a lot of thought and this is what I choose to believe: The Man in Black is a moderately successful, mild-mannered real estate agent named Chad who lives alone in San Diego and scrounges together the money to go to Westworld every year, showing up in Dockers and a Polo shirt before changing into his evil attire to go a-murderin’, and when he gets back home after his trip, all of his co-workers make fun of him for it.
Prove me wrong.