Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Trace Decay” episode of Westworld.
For much of Westworld, the Man in Black has also been the Man of Few Words, at least in regard to his backstory. That relative silence has allowed multiple theories to flourish about who this guy actually is. He’s William! No, he’s Arnold! Either way, he’s a robot! No way, he’s all man! It only took eight episodes, but in “Trace Decay,” the guy has finally decided to get chatty about his personal life. Thanks to the climactic conversation with his captor, Teddy, we now know everything there is to know about the Man in Black … apart from his actual name. A “titan of industry” in the outside world, his privileged existence came crashing down on his head a year earlier, when his wife of three decades died in what seemed like a tragic accident but instead turned out to be suicide. Haunted by his grown daughter’s accusations that he was the source of his family’s misery, the MiB decided to put his capacity for evil to the test by killing a pre-bordello Maeve and the young daughter she still dreams about.
This extended confession confirms once and for all that the Man in Black’s run-in with Maeve isn’t some imagined nightmare from her past, where he simply plays the part of the boogeyman. No, that encounter now stands as one of the pivotal moments in the show’s mythology, the one that pointed him in the direction of that all-important Maze, and provided her with the first fundamental building block of consciousness. The echoes of that incident have survived a memory wipe and a newly assigned role within Westworld, and are now spurring her on to her next job: leader of the coming robot revolution.
Here’s where the four main character groupings stand after the events of Sunday’s episode.
“It’s time to write my own f***ing story,” Maeve declares to her hapless human underlings, Felix and Sylvester. She means that literally; thanks to the enhancements Felix has installed in her profile, she can now “direct” her fellow hosts, ordering the saloon barkeep to conveniently forget her tab, or having two marshals turn their guns on each other rather than the gang of robbers riding into town. Oh, yeah, and she can also kill humans, which she demonstrates by slicing the duplicitous Sylvester’s jugular. That should be an effective recruitment tool as she goes about assembling her army.
With William in tow, Dolores arrives at the location that’s haunted her own dreams — the long-buried remnants of a frontier town. It’s here that, 30 years ago, she and her fellow first-generation Arnold-designed hosts were put through their paces by park techs. It’s also here that many of those hosts were shot by … Dolores herself? Given how cozy she was with Arnold back in the day, it makes sense that she’d be leading his thwarted uprising. And there’s still something important in those ruins he intends for her to find, even as William tries to drag her away.
In another part of the park, Dolores’s preprogrammed boyfriend, Teddy, has part of his brain unlocked thanks to his new traveling companion, a woman named Angela, who survived a massacre by a warrior clad in some manner of totemic armor. Teddy and the Man in Black work together to bring down that killer, and the stalwart cowboy immediately turns on his partner when memories of the MiB’s treatment of Dolores in the first episode flood his brain. Angela, by the way, is among the hosts whom Dolores saw in her memories of that now-dead town. And that detail becomes important when Teddy proves once again unable to fire a fatal bullet into the MiB’s brain.
So as more warriors emerge from the darkness, Angela pierces his chest with an arrow, while saying, “You’ve been gone a long while, Theodore. It’s time to come back to the fold. Wyatt would need you to.” This seems like a host-on-host version of a manual reset: Wyatt’s army is manually rebooting Teddy in the field to awaken something inside him. Remember that it was Ford who first implanted the suggestion in Teddy’s brain that Wyatt was his nemesis; perhaps the enemy of his creator is actually his friend.
Bernard’s body count now stands at two: Theresa and Elsie. The first murder he knows about, as he’s in the process of cleaning it up and then covering it up, as per Robert’s orders. The second he’s not supposed to be aware of anymore — Ford deleted it from his memory banks. But the reverberations of that murder are still bouncing around his artificial cranium, and it’s highly likely that Theresa will survive Bernard’s second Ford-initiated memory-wipe. “When you’re suffering, that’s when you’re the most real,” the Man in Black casually remarked way back in Episode 2. It’s clear now just how prophetic those words were: Maeve’s consciousness was triggered by a moment of profound suffering, and Bernard’s anguished face communicates how traumatic it is for him to live with the knowledge that he’s killed someone. The reality of that is something he won’t be able to forget, no matter which buttons Robert pushes on his tablet.
Elsewhere, Charlotte continues to conscript Lee into the Delos board’s looming war against Robert. Having successfully framed Theresa as an espionage agent transmitting data out of the park, Ford temporarily has the upper hand. But Charlotte is here to make sure said data does, in fact, leave Westworld, buried inside the body of a reformatted host unearthed from cold storage. Lee’s job is to come up with a believable-enough personality for their chosen robot to pass as human and exit the park with all that data crammed into his noggin. That mission seems unlikely to succeed, however, given the fact that the random host they’ve chosen happens to be Dolores’s father — the one whose brain went on the fritz after studying a photograph of the outside world a little too carefully.
The New Players
Heeeeere’s Logan! William’s future brother-in-law has escaped his pariah prison and looks positively thrilled to see good ol’ Billy again. That’s “thrilled” in a bad way, of course. “Man, are you two f***ed,” Logan tells William and Dolores, making it clear that he hasn’t forgotten or forgiven them for blowing town and leaving him behind.
The Wild Card
We covered the Man in Black’s current status above, but it’s worth noting that he seems in more danger now than he’s ever been on previous trips to Westworld. Sure, Teddy isn’t able to kill him now, but just before she stabs him, Angela says, “These things take time. Perhaps I can help you.” If Wyatt and his allies have come up with some kind of hack that allows hosts to kill guests, that changes the rules of the game considerably. And maybe that will finally break the MiB’s icy calm.
Westworld airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.