westworld epsiode 8 ford

What Kind of Narrative Is Being Built Around Wyatt?

Dr. Ford has been working on his new narrative for most of the season now, but the storyline has remained shrouded in mystery and its lead villain, the vile Wyatt, has yet to show his face. What we do know can be described in just a few quick sentences: Wyatt is a former Union soldier who went mad, gathered a gang of psychopaths, and plans to claim the land in the name of an unknown cause. His followers dress like they walked out of a horror movie and they absorb bullets like they’re a GoldenEye N64 henchman on 007 mode. The narrative’s secret purpose is to protect the Maze, with Wyatt himself becoming the ultimate Westworld villain, a final boss, if we’re going to use video game terms.

As we learned elsewhere in “Trace Decay,” Dr. Ford is the only one who really knows what this new narrative is about, with Sizemore reduced to working on the fringes. It may be telling that Wyatt and his men don’t really gel with the rest of Westworld. While so much of the park strives for something vaguely realistic, this new storyline feels borderline fantastical, with bad guys who act like sponges to punishment and secret motivations that feel downright apocalyptic in their intent. I’m reminded of the Undead Nightmare DLC that came to the great western video game Red Dead Redemption, which populated the game’s otherwise realistic western world with zombies and monsters. In that case, the goal was to create a fresh and funny experience for those who had exhausted the core game. But for Westworld, Ford has built a logic-defying, rule-breaking set of characters who seem to exist only to stop the high-tier players from breaking the game.

The Man in Black is the alpha gamer in search of that perfect route, exploiting every glitch on his path to ultimately glory. Ford is the video game developer patching the game after release to make sure he can’t get where he’s going.

westworld episode 8 teddy and the man in black

Who Is the Man in Black?

I was once a member of a Dungeons & Dragons group where the Dungeon Master, the guy in charge of running the game and creating storylines, had one simple rule: no one could play an evil character. When it came time to design our heroes and choose our alignments, he would only allow us to mark ourselves as good or neutral. Running a group with evil characters, he explained, wasn’t fun and it was often depressing. Free to do whatever they want within a fake world created on the table, “evil” players would run roughshod over the game. They wouldn’t cooperate with the other players, they’d murder non-playable characters for fun, and they’d generally ensure that everyone else at the table had a miserable time. And that was before you took into account the sensitivity of the other players, some of whom would be genuinely disturbed or upset by the random acts of depravity that an “evil” player would find amusing. To play evil is to engage in your worst possible influences, to go as low as you can within a faux world because you have the social restraints to hold back in the real one.

I thought about this Dungeon Master when the Man in Black told Teddy about his personal history, about his work as a philanthropist and a titan of industry, about how he’s a respected man with a family outside of the park. I thought about this Dungeon Master when the Man in Black spoke about his wife and daughter living in quiet fear of him because they knew, deep down, what kind of man he truly was, the man he “role-played” during his frequent visits to Westworld. And then I thought about Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night, a novel about a man who pretends to be a vile Nazi propagandist while acting as an operative for the Allied forces. Specifically, I thought about this quote: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

The Man in Black, a good guy in the real world, a husband, a father, a man who would never take a real life, comes to Westworld so he can pretend to be a monster. He executed Maeve’s daughter just to see what would happen. He torments Dolores and Teddy often enough that he has decades of memories revolving around their suffering. But he’s not inhuman. There is genuine concern in his eyes when he talks of his wife’s suicide and his daughter’s condemnation. Westworld is his escape, his vacation, but it’s also the place where he can be the person he wants to be. And he chooses to be evil. In a world of infinite possibilities, where the only limit is the imagination, this good guy has chosen to be a bad guy.

We’ll learn his name soon enough. We may even learn that he’s the older version of William, as many viewers have predicted. But this revelation is even more important. He’s the kind of guy who insists on playing evil at the RPG game because being noble, because saving the world, isn’t as enticing as burning it all down.

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