Vinnie: Welcome back to “Fan Theories Wearing Cowboy Hats”, also known as HBO’s Westworld, also known in my household as “Buh-whaaaaaaa?” because Drew, I’m more befuddled than a relatively unknown actor being asked to sit butt-ass naked on a stool in front of Anthony Hopkins. This week’s episode, “Contrapasso”, definitely seems to have shot a whole corpse’s worth of Nitroglycerin into the theory that Jimmi Simpson’s William is in fact Ed Harris’ Man in Black, and the show is operating on at least two different time tables…OR DID IT?
No, honestly, did it do that? Hella confused over here. Let’s break it down:
EVIDENCE FOR: Early in the episode, the MiB decides his super against-his-will travelling companion Lawrence has outlived his usefulness, so he slits Lawrence’s throat and strings him upside down in a tree to collect his blood in a water-skin. (This is, of course, also how Uber drivers under a 4 star rating are released.) But MEANWHILE, William and Logan are headed into the outlaw town of Pariah to meet with a dude named El Lazo, who turns out to be LAWRENCE (or, at least, a robot with Lawrence’s face). We already know the Hosts are swapped around the park into different roles as the years go by. So Lawrence riding around with the Man in Black while he’s also serving as Outlaw King in Pariah proves once and for all we’re watching two stories years apart, riiiiiiiiiiiight? Well:
Drew: Wait, it’s not a “meanwhile,” Vinnie. MIB kills Lawrence, and then AFTER THAT, he shows up as El Lazo. So that could just be one time-table.
Vinnie: EVIDENCE AGAINST: There’s that odd, quick but clearly important moment where Maeve’s body is brought into surgery and that one engineer–the one building his own birds like some weird Frankenstein/Snow White hybrid–is like, “It’s her…again!” I feel like possibly, maybe this moment is meant to illustrate that the Hosts are killed, swapped out, and then swapped back in way quicker than we could imagine or, at the very least, Westworld employs duplicates of some models for…whatever reason. By THAT logic, there could, theoretically, be a Lawrence riding with the Man in Black and an El Pazo Lawrence lording over a harem of Goldfinger prostitutes.
Drew: I want to say that Westworld hid its thesis kind of brilliantly during that engineer banter, which usually is a little too Cabin In the Woodsy for my taste. (Actually, my taste runs VERY Cabin in the Woods, but you know, not on this show, which is already so filled with Abrams and Nolan tropes that throwing Whedon-esque dialogue in there makes me feel like we’re in a terrible crossover where the Jetsons meet the Flintstones and get freeze ray’d by Doctor Horrible.) I love that these two guys are STILL bickering about whether the one who is trying to bring a bird back to life–which, by the way, is beautiful and poignant and makes me tear up for some reason…why can’t he just bring that bird back online? Do engineers not know how to fix these things? Isn’t that their whole job?– forgot to turn on Maeve’s sleep mode. “I really think I remembered to put it in sleep mode!” claims bird brain.
To which is BFF beardo replies: “That’s the thing about forgetting: you think you remembered, but you didn’t.”
UHHHH. Wow. Fuck. That line encompasses so much–how the hosts perceive reality, how the guests perceive the hosts, how we perceive the guests perceiving the hosts perceiving the world–that I rewound it just so I could give it the slow clap it deserved.
Man, I wish I had never read that internet theory that MIB= William. That was my “these violent delights have violent ends” language virus that has caused my brain to malfunction and be aware of this dumb, dumb, illogical (and yes it IS illogical, for so many reasons, which I’ll get to!) theory that, unfortunately, will probably end up being true. Because there are so many dumb, illogical plot holes in the Nolans’ oeuvre that it would be weird if William WASN’T the MIB, even though at this point I kind of want one of those “Everything Wrong With X” guys to start preparing for their inevitable Westworld requests.
Here’s my big take-away about this theory from last night’s episode–which, interestingly, was written by Lisa Joy, the other (better?) half of the married showrunning team doing the show. We finally get some more backstory from Logan about the outskirts of the park, which his family’s company is interested in buying. Which is like saying you want to use your family’s cash to buy only the attractions in Disneyworld that have a track record of alligators eating small children, but all right.
So: Logan knows about Dr. Ford, and he knows about the Arnold, who is buried on the land. He refers to these things as far in the past-tense, and we know that there’s been enough time where the park was up and running (so, discounting the year where Arnold was just teaching all the robots how to barnyard dance and believe in God) that Logan’s sister, William’s fiance, had a chance to screw all the cowboys “back in her day.”
Now, at the end of the episode, we finally see a showdown between the Man in Black in Dr. Ford. Now, Anthony Hopkins is 78-years-old, IRL. (Which…really? He looks AMAZING.) Ed Harris is 65. Jimmi Simpson is 40. (WAIT, REALLY?!) So! Using those rough estimates, if we’re supposing William is MIB 25 years ago, that would have made Ford 53. And….
You know what? Fuck it. My hypothesis was that Ford would have been too young to have created the park and have his partner die already by the time William got there, but since it turns out both Mr. Simpson and Mr. Hopkins are immune to aging, the fact is, it’s TOTALLY PLAUSIBLE. Womp-womp.
Let’s move on, shall we?
Vinnie: Let’s just focus on Pariah for a minute, because we learn a lot and also nothing during the whole nitroglycerin orgy that is that storyline. At least we get a change of scenery. If Sweetwater is Epcot, Pariah is like the dumpster behind Epcot where Gaston and Jafar go to consummate their forbidden lust.
Vinnie: But really, if we’re subscribing to the W = MiB thing, this basically served nicely as an origin story. Logan is still talking about their company buying out Westworld, a company that employs William as the schlubby, unfulfilled EVP that probably buys everyone Dunkin Donuts on Fridays and never gets thanked. But now, William is using that Dunkin-fueled rage to find himself: He shoots some people! He allows Logan’s condescending ass to get kicked by some racist-as-hell robots, which wow that has to be such a huge legal liability but good for William! Mostly, though, William’s journey to self-awareness mirrors Dolores’, hers is just more literal because duh she is a robot. After sharing a kiss, Dolores and William are off on a train filled with a highly-explosive dead body (and “Lawrence”) to Who Knows Where-ville.
Drew: Right! Worth going back to that phrase though, about forgetting! Because it would make sense if William’s journey of self-discovery ends when he realizes Dolores, for all her gaining self-awareness, will just get wiped clean and not remember their intensely personal connection. You can kind of imagine, for instance, a future where MIB’s rape of Dolores is just one of a million sad attempts William has made ever since their initial bond-forging, to have some kind of permanence stamped into her consciousness.
Vinnie: Worth noting, as a nod to William and Dolores’ obvious cosmic connection…Right before the Man in Black kills Lawrence, he casually says, “As another old friend of mine says, ‘there’s a path for everyone.’” Well:
Drew: Sure, I mean, but in that way, William/MIB has so many “old friends” in the park that he could have easily said “As another old friend of mine says, ‘Don’t mind me, just trying to look chivalrous’” or “As another old friend of mine says, ‘You don’t have much a rind on you yet. I’ll give you a discount’” or even “‘Do you know what that voice said to me? This is the new world, and in this world, you can be whatever the fuck you want.’” It’s just that those phrases would have made less sense.
Vinnie: If you couldn’t tell, I have bought all-the-fuck-way-in to this show. I feel deeply for it, I really do. And I know, in any circumstance, getting the chance to watch Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris act in each other’s direction is a damn gift. But, while everything in my being knew I should have loved the scene between Robert Ford and the Man in Black, I just couldn’t help but find it oddly infuriating. I mean, I’m not asking for straight up answers. Mystery drives this show. But there’s also a difference between building mystery through clues and being ham-fistedly vague. Like, here was their convo, basically:
MiB: Am I any closer to that big truth? You know the one.
Ford: The only truth I know involves old greyhounds killing cats.
MiB: I mean the truth at the center of the maze.
Ford: Mazes are for the back of Cracker Jack boxes.
MiB: Ah, but I’m looking for the real prize in this Cracker Jack box.
Drew: Oh ho! But we as the audience know what the truth behind the greyhound and cats are, right? It’s about losing your purpose once you get what you think you want. It’s like Ford is warning MIB about getting that Cracker Jack prize (which, by the way…THAT’S the brand that survives into the future?) And MIB/William, in my fan-brain, answers him with a Sondheim lyric: “But how can I know what I want till I get what I want and I see if I like it?”
Vinnie: The only semi-interesting thing that was said was from the Man in Black: “[Arnold] almost took this place with him. Almost, but not quite, thanks to me.” This is only intriguing because in some timeline, who the hell knows when, Dolores and William are riding on a train with enough nitroglycerin to blow everything halfway to fuck, and Dolores seems to have the voice of Arnold inside her head.
Drew: A big “meh” to that idea. Because clearly the park is working just fine–albeit with some monetary losses that might not be recoup-able now that Logan found the loophole in the host’s code that allows them to curbstomp a guest to death– when he arrives.
Wait, what if MIB isn’t William?
What. If. The. Man. In. Black. Is. Logan?
Vinnie: Ford, who was a regular old Chatty Cathy this episode, also has a long conversation with Dolores. It’s just a general check-up, routine maintenance work, just making sure the disembodied voice of Ford’s long-dead business partner isn’t instructing her to kill everyone and everything. The thing is, at least on the surface, it looks like the disembodied voice of Ford’s long-dead business partner totally is doing that. “He doesn’t know,” Dolores says to…someone. “I didn’t tell him anything.”
Drew: Well, we’re pretty sure she’s talking to Arnold, unless he’s out right now and Jacob is just taking his messages.
Vinnie: What’s really interesting, though, is how emotional Ford seems through all this, especially when Dolores asks if they’re old friends. “I wouldn’t say friends, Dolores,” Ford replies, all teary. “I wouldn’t say that at all.” At this point it seems like everyone has some dark, hidden past with Dolores. She’s like the Laura Palmer of cowboy robots.
Drew: What. If. Ford. Is. Logan?!
Vinnie: Elsie gets access to the Host that went haywire and crushed its own head two episodes again. She does this by blackmailing a technician that snuck into the stage area and had sex with an unconscious robot, a bargaining tool I assume she can use on literally every male employee of Westworld. Either way, she finds a “laser-based satellite uplink” inside the Host, which someone has been using to smuggle data out of the park. My money’s on FSociety. I mean, the show is just called Mr. ROBOT? Come on. The stars in Orion’s Belt aren’t the only things lining up here, am I right?
Drew: Yeah, that was so ripped from Jurassic Park, I wouldn’t be surprised if that bird the engineer was trying to bring back to life woke up say “Ah ah ah! You didn’t say the magic word!”
(By the way, I totally think the engineer with the bird is the mole. That’s why it’s so important that he figures out how to bring hosts back to life; so he can steal the proprietary data and sell it to Whiterose or whomever.)
(Wait….but then Whiterose DOES go on to make the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park! Oh my god. Circles within circles within mazes, Vinnie! I want the prize in my Cracker Jack!)
(Just another side-point: Prizes in Cracker Jacks don’t work like that. You don’t have to solve the maze on the back of the box to get the prize. Just dump the whole thing out on the table and find your little toy top that never stops spinning.)
Vinnie: “Contrapasso” closes with Maeve waking up on her operating table, pretty darn aware of her surroundings. This is…bad? No, yeah, definitely bad, at least for the people in charge of keeping the robots acting like robots. Somewhere Bernard is yelling “the Hosts aren’t unaware of their surroundings, you are!” at some really confused unpaid intern.
Drew: Remember when I came into work today, totally excited about my new theory that Ford would have been too young to run the park during William’s adventures? And without even doing the math, you deflated it by just saying “Yeah, unless Ford is a robot.”
At that moment, Vinnie, I would have definitely let the hosts take you away to curb-stomp you. Way to crush my dreams, buddy!
Also, before we wrap up, we need to focus a little more on Logan’s trajectory here. Because holy shit, we’re REALLY getting the sense that in this Cinco De Mayo town, the hosts didn’t get the memo about not hurting guests! We’ve been wondering for awhile now if it’s possible to kill a guest by means other than a gun, and do you kind of feel like, after this episode, the answer is a “hard yes?” And to what end would that even serve, besides a ton of lawsuits?
I also can’t believe that Logan–the biggest asshole outside the Man in Black on this show–tried his hardest to come up with the ultimate burn for beta-male William, and landed on “You’re a really nice guy who does your job well and doesn’t bother anyone.” That’s like, the nicest performance review ever?
Vinnie: Let’s end on a HOT TAKE. Did that full-blown orgy scene seem like a big old eff-you commentary on Game of Thrones? It just had that Thrones-y vibe; the lighting, color-palette, camera work and that music? Pretty sure they changed, like, two notes of The Rains of Castamere. And at the same time, it was clearly so over-the-top, gratuitously graphic, and that…was the point? It was like, if there was a Westworld for Game of Thrones fans, this would be it. And you’re a monster for wanting that to be a real thing (is what Westworld is saying here).
Drew: Ooh, that take is as hot as a tamale filled with nitroglycerine! Again, I think that wasn’t Westworld’s “fuck you” to Game of Thrones, but maybe Lisa Joy’s personal statement of rolling her eyes. Because this show took flack for its off-screen rape scene on the pilot before it even aired. And there really just isn’t a comparable level of gratuitous and sexualized violence on Westworld as there is on Game of Thrones, so you KNOW the woman in charge of writing this episode was like “Fine. You want an Eyes Wide Shut theme party? Here you go!” And then she personally curb-stomps Logan in the balls with one of her (sensible) heels.