'Westworld' Season 2 Is Pointing the Man in Black in a Totally Different Direction
This story contains spoilers for Westworld Season 1 and the Westworld Season 2premiere.
There's nothing more frustrating than reaching the end of a long journey and immediately getting sent back to the beginning. No time to stretch your legs, take a nap, or even use the restroom. Though most games are cyclical and any trip through a maze requires at least a little back-tracking -- it's only human to make a few wrong turns -- the realization that you'll be retracing your steps has to be one of the most demoralizing feelings in the world. It sucks.
Unless you're Westworld'sMan in Black. If you're him, it probably sounds like an adventure.
That's what it seemed like during tonight's season premiere of Westworld, which found the Artist Formerly Known as William dusting himself, licking (or at least pouring liquor on) his wounds, and doubling up on his commitment to what other park-goers think of as "just a game." After an entire season's worth of flashbacks to his origins in the park and scenes of Ed Harris puzzling over scalp-doodles, we now know that Westworld is far more than an elaborate "Escape the Room" challenge for the Man in Black: He's one of the most important shareholders in the Delos corporation, but, more importantly to the plot, he's also personally invested in the park. For others, it's a Burning Man-like experience; for him it's a higher calling.
But where will that higher calling lead him? Judging from "Journey into Night," an episode filled with characters charting new paths and recalibrating their internal compasses, The Man in Black is heading to right back to where it all started. According to a little boy in short-pants, he's heading for "The Door," which sounds as potentially confounding and full of mystery as the maze.
Did the Man in Black survive Season1?
We find the Man in Black how we left him in the finale: Left for dead. He comes to in a sunny field, another body strewn across the landscape in the aftermath of a shootout, and he's definitely looked better. He glares at a nearby wolf, getting ready to chomp down on some of the fresh meat. (Is this a robot wolf? Are all the animals in Westworld androids or no?) Though he's rumpled and bloody, he looks better than you'd think a guy who was shot in the arm and almost crushed in a stampede would look. Despite the degree the make-up team tries to give Harris a damaged exterior, he still has a surfer cowboy glow. The man won't give up.
Instead of sulking, the Man in Black is ready for a good time. "We're gonna have some fun now," he says to his horse Ned, the closest thing he has to a companion. From there, he's approached by another disheveled, wealthy party-goer grumbling about how MiB and his associates have always played "fast and loose" with this place. The guy even uses the "hearing from my lawyers" line. But his lawyers don't end up getting that unfortunate call because the random rich dude gets shot. (That happened a lot in this episode: Character appears, says a couple lines, and gets murdered.)
The rando's untimely death leads to a shootout involving the Man in Black, which gives him a chance to show the marksmanship (and throat-slitting) skills he's picked up over years of arduous gaming. It's a bloodbath that feels similar to many of the skirmishes in Season 1, but this time it's real. The guns in Westworld are now dangerous to the previously invincible Man in Black. He can't shrug off bullets with the same ease that he did in the show's pilot.
Still, all he needs to get cleaned up is a bit of alcohol and a bandage. We see him in a little shack, performing light surgery on himself, and, then, in a moment that called for a little sample of a Sergio Leone score, he removed his black hat from a trunk and placed it right atop his head. Now that he has his favorite clothes back, he's ready to play. The camera settles on Ed Harris's bloody face in a way that shouts "Your favorite millionaire gamer boy is back!"
What is the door?
The more consequential (and interesting) Man in Black scene occurred later in the episode. Now that the hosts of Westworld are free, the gameplay aspect of Westworld has been transformed -- or, at the very least, modified. He found the maze; now, it's time for a new, more challenging task. It sounds like the Man in Black's mission this year, which he received from the young android version of Robert Ford we met last season, will involve returning to his point of origin. According to the little robot boy in short-pants, the Man in Black must head for "the door."
The Man in Black tells young robo-Ford that he feels like he's "just arrived," and that only now does the game have "stakes" and "real consequences." Ford replies a bunch of cryptic instructions delivered in a warbly, vocoder-ey voice. "In this game, you must find the door," he says. "Congratulations, this game is meant for you." He also said something about the game ending where it began. So, what exactly is this door and where is it? Given the fact that the "maze" from last season ended up being more metaphoric than literal -- no corn maze in this theme park -- you should probably bet on this "door" being something more figurative and poetic than just an empty door frame. Maybe it's a portal? A state of mind? The next step in upcoming robot revolution?
Even more than the "door" comment, the young Ford's comment about how "everything is code here" should make you pause. Like many lines in a given Westworld episode, it sounds like a vaguely philosophical koan you'd see on the wall of some Silicon Valley start-up, but it also functions as potentially brain-scrambling clue in a larger mystery. (Merely hearing the word "code" made me think of The Matrix, yet another sci-fi story about a chosen one leading a violent coup against all-knowing overlords.) If everything's code, does that include the park? The hosts? The Man in Black himself?
Unfortunately, the Man in Black doesn't ask any of these questions. He's not exactly the show's most curious character. Instead, he shoots young Robert Ford, sending him to the great scrap-heap in the sky. It turns out violence is the only code he knows.