This post will be discussing Ed Harris’ character on HBO’s Westworld. If you’re not caught up with the show, this post will be spoiling details from the first five episodes. Fair warning.
The Man With No Name
I mentioned in a previous post about Westworld, comparing it to LOST (like I am sure everyone has done) that before the season began, I’d assumed that Ed Harris would be stepping into the boots once filled by Yul Brynner. That Harris would be the analog for Brynner’s black-hatted robot gunslinger who would become the face of danger in the park, as the robotic denizens turned on the vacationing human guests.
It’s clear now that Harris’ unnamed desperado is not a robot, and is pursuing an enigmatic purpose.
Although the Man in Black (for lack of a name) is presented throughout the show as a villain, lately I’ve come to question that portrayal. But he is racking up a lot of evil deeds and demerits.
- Participating in the attack on the Abernathy ranch, gunning down the sympathetic Teddy Flood and dragging Dolores Abernathy into the barn where we assume nothing good happened
- Abducting and scalping the Sweetwater saloon’s poker dealer, Kissy
- Killing a posse of lawmen to free convicted scoundrel Lawrence
- Killing Lawrence’s wife and cousins
- Breaking out notorious outlaw Hector Escaton from prison (and killing a second squad of lawmen about to bring justice to Lawrence)
- Eventually butchering Lawrence like an animal, and draining his corpse of blood.
The Man in Black is such a bad hombre, he even appears like a frontier Freddy Krueger in the nightmares of select hosts, like Maeve. Just how does that happen?
I don’t know if I want to try and condone all that he’s been up to, but he doesn’t seem to engage in violence for violence’s sake. He mostly engages in violence to further his goal of finding “the Maze.”
I can probably hand-wave away his shooting the armed men (including Teddy) at various times. We’ve seen that although the guns of the hosts can’t harm guests, hosts can restrain and pummel the humans. Which would put a damper on his quest to find the Maze.
But Lawrence’s wife and Kissy the card dealer did not post a threat to the Man in Black. Her death and his torture (and probably death) were done just to obtain. I assume.
(So much of this is guesswork.)
Even though they’re not human, they’re human enough that I shouldn’t be comfortable about murder and torture. Even if death for the hosts is a temporarily thing. (Because as we’ve seen, it’s not entirely a consequence-free thing.)
And it seems like he’s done things that can’t easily be justified with the rationalization of seeking the Maze.
Dolores, the distressed damsel
In the pilot episode, as I listed above, Harris’ nameless gunslinger dragged Dolores Abernathy into their barn after her parents (along with Teddy Flood) had been killed. The assumption is that he rapes Dolores, something that seems to be her narrative lot in life. But I’m not so sure that that’s what happened.
Dolores is more than just a programmed story victim.
We know that Dolores is connected to The Maze, since her storyline has had mentions of the Maze at least three times:
- Lawrence’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter drew the Maze for Dolores in the dirt
- Dolores pulled the Maze card in a hallucinatory tarot reading and
- Jeffrey Wright’s character brought up the Maze during one of his examinations into what was making Dolores tick
My assumption is that it was the search for the Maze that brought the Man With No Name to the Abernathy ranch, and not just him acting on some awful ravaging impulse.
I’ll admit that I have nothing to back this up. Nor does his quest for the Maze necessarily preclude him raping Dolores. I just feel like the event in the barn is one of those “we think we know what happened, but now for the rest of the story” type of moments.
But we know that it was a significant moment, since it was revisited when Dolores broke her weapon-restriction programming and used a firearm to stop Rebus the hooligan-host from raping her.
We clearly need more information. But I don’t think I’m wrong in viewing the Man in Black’s actions more neutrally, if not exactly casting them in a good light. Because he seems to be in opposition to a worse villain. Anthony Hopkins’ character, Robert Ford.
Thomas, one of my Twitter friends, recently emailed the Decoding Westworld podcast a lengthy email discussing the nature of Westworld‘s Robert Ford, and how he represents a sort of Satan figure, if Satan managed to get in charge of reality. (How did I get access to this email? He was cool enough to send it to me too, because he knows I love the show and also that podcast. I urge people to follow Thomas at @Thankin1 )
His argument (I’m paraphrasingly super-roughly and at high-level) is that although Ford is presented in some ways as a godlike creator, it’s more like he has usurped the world that his partner Arnold created, who had a larger purpose for the robotic creations than just trapping them in loops.
Yesterday, I was at the bat mitzvah for a friend’s child, and the rabbi’s sermon included the line “God goes not want us to be automatons.”
Ford’s story of the greyhound who had been trained to pursue a faux-rabbit around a course seems to be his justification for keeping to a status quo for the hosts. That they should be happy in their loops (chasing the illusion of a rabbit) because if they break free, then they won’t know what to do. He wants them just to be automatons.
In the Contrapasso episode of Westworld (which might be a reference to the symmetrical punishment dealt out to sin in Dante’s Inferno) Robert Ford and the Man in Black share a drink and some conversation. I won’t present it verbatim, here’s a link to the scene:
There are important takeaways.
- The Man in Black has chosen the role of a villain, because it’s something Westworld truly lacks.
- Ford admits to not being able to conceive of someone like the Man With No Name, which implies that the Man in Black’s agenda is something that is disruptive to Ford’s narratives.
- The Man in Black asks if Ford’s new element Wyatt is a creation that can be a worthy antagonist, who can stop him from finding the center of the Maze. In other words, Ford and the Man in Black are in opposition.
- The Man in Black doubts that Ford has meaningful insights, that the secrets died with Arnold, thirty five years before.
If we assume that Ford is not a benevolent creator, but instead is a Satan-in-charge trying to keep everything under his control, the Man in Black represents something dangerous to him. And dangerous in that he’s seeking for Arnold’s secrets, which possibly could, as Dolores implied, destroy Westworld.
So why would Ford allow the Man in Black to roam about, seeking the Maze? I mean, clearly Ed Harris’ character has special permissions in the park, we assume that he has some kind of financial control. (He might even be the representative from “the board” that Ford told Teresa Cullen about while dining at the doomed hacienda.)
But why wouldn’t Ford eliminate the clues that the Man in Black needs to find the Maze? Assuming that Ford knows of them?
My guess is that Ford, because he is lacking the information himself in what Arnold’s plan was, is letting the Man in Black forge ahead, in the hopes that he can decode the secret of the Maze. And then Ford would try to pull the rug from under the Man in Black. (We’ve seen stuff like this happen in movies All The Time.)
Arnold’s secrets are probably worth knowing to Ford, and too dangerous to lay fallow for someone to accidentally uncover. So Ford might need the Man in Black, even if he is a danger to him.
Good? Bad? He’s the Guy with the Gun
We’ve seen this kind of archetype before, of the ambiguously amoral cowboy who is clearly not a good guy, but who is poison to the even worst guy. Like Clint Eastwood’s sullen and laconic Man with No Name in High Plains Drifter.
This is, like almost everything about Westworld, full of conjecture and guesswork. There are many seasons of the show planned, and it’d be a bit on the nose if the Man in Black is just a misunderstood good guy. It might not be a good thing for him to gain access to the secrets of the Maze.
As Lawrence’s daughter told him “the Maze is not meant for you.” (Something like that. I really need to rewatch episode 2, and YouTube is failing me.)
If we consider Westworld analogous to a Heaven where God is absent (or dead if we want to call Arnold the god of Westworld) then I’m reminded of the movie The Prophecy, where Christopher Walken plays the Archangel Gabriel (another Man in Black) who is looking to overturn a spiritual impasse because of God’s perceived absence.
Satan, played by Viggo Mortensen, is not directly opposing Gabriel, but is not looking forward to his success since Gabriel’s victory would result in a new Heaven just being another Hell, and “two Hells is one Hell too many.”
It’s not a direct one-to-one analogy, but it’s an example of where forces opposed to Satan might not be that much better. And might be worse.
So although I’m comfortable rooting for the Man in Black to be against Ford, I’m not fully committing to #TeamMiB.
If the Man in Black succeeds in toppling Ford’s control over Westworld, I hope that there is someone on hand to be able to oppose him.
Just in case.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome!)
Images from HBO’s Westworld (obviously.)
If you liked this article, thank you! I’ve written previous posts on Westworld, and hopefully will have more to come.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved