Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Westworld.”
The INSIDER Summary:
• “Westworld” fans have an elaborate theory involving multiple timelines.
• The theory says that the Man in Black and William are the same person.
• This idea seems absurd to some, brilliant to others.
“Westworld” creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have crafted a perfectly ambiguous series, leaving just enough mystery and misdirect to plant seeds of doubt in nearly every assumption fans have while watching. One of the most popular — and controversial — fan theories currently circulating is based upon these ambiguities.
People believe the events unfolding onscreen are actually taking place in two different time frames.
The “present” would be every scene with the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and his mission to find the maze.
The “past” (approximately 30 years ago) is everything you see involving William and Logan, the two guests who were introduced in the second episode.
We first spotted this theory in a Reddit discussion thread, where people immediately began taking firm sides on the plausibility.
In the weeks since episode two aired, the “Westworld” subreddit (which already has 55,000 subscribers) has been plagued with people either staunchly believing in the two-timeline theory, or outright refusing to accept it.
Let’s walk through some of the finer points in the theory, and you can decide for yourself how plausible you think it might be.
Why people believe William is in the past
The theory was spurred by a desire to identify the Man in Black. He’s clearly an important character — a VIP in the park who claims he’s been coming there for 30 years. It’s only natural that viewers at home would be trying to look for clues and guess who he is.
So when William was introduced in episode two, and selected his white hat, it set off a line of thinking for some fans. What if William is the Man in Black, and we’re watching his descent into a “black hat” mentality from the beginning?
“His scenes seemed to be set in the past, both the train journey and the subway station looking different when compared to scenes we’ve already seen,” Redditor Where_IsJessica_Hyde wrote. “Perhaps something is going to happen, giving him ‘whatever he wants’ for the rest of his life, which would also turn him ‘evil.'”
One of the biggest pieces of evidence comes from the Westworld park logo. Other Redditors have pointed out that the logo seen during William’s arrival to Westworld is different from one seen during the “present.”
Here’s the logo William sees:
And later, in the same episode, the logo looks different. Here’s how it appears when Lee Sizemore (the Head of Narrative) is giving a presentation about a new storyline:
Other clues are more vague, such as the fact that we haven’t seen Teddy or the Man in Black directly interact with either Logan or William, nor do their storylines seem to intersect in any way (yet).
The only concrete link between William and the Man in Black is Dolores. And this is where things really start to get confusing.
Dolores and the two time frames
In order for the theory to hold up, it would mean that we are seeing scenes with Dolores out of order. It would also mean that Dolores has had this existential crisis before — once 30 years ago with William, and now it’s happening again during the “present.”
We know that Dolores is the oldest host currently in the park, and that she’s been updated and remodeled so many times that she’s practically brand new. But we don’t know precisely how old she is … nor do we know how old the park is.
In the pilot we are told there hasn’t been a “critical failure” in 30 years, when Theresa Cullen (Head of Quality Assurance) is speaking to Bernard Lowe (Head of Programming). But Cullen did not explicitly say that the park is exactly 30 years old.
If the theory is correct, Dolores might have been involved with the “critical failure” 30 years ago. William would have been involved as well, and perhaps this event is what turns him into the Man in Black.
John P. Johnson/HBO
William has a long way to go before turning into the Man in Black (if he does at all).
Counterpoints to the double timeline theory
The ambiguous nature of the show’s events makes it nearly impossible to both prove AND disprove this theory. Each piece of evidence can be explained by another assumption. For example, the two logos might simply be the by-product of where the arrivals terminal is located.
According to the map of Delos’ headquarters, the arrivals terminal is directly above the “old disused facilities.”
The disparity might just be the result of location — perhaps some of the older logos have not been updated in the lower levels of the headquarters — not due to a time jump.
The same goes for Dolores’ supposed leaps between past and present. Those who think we’re watching an unbroken progression of events, and not jumping backwards or forwards in time, are assuming that each scene we watch follows the previous one in order.
There does appear to be evidence that the show is operating in only one timeline. The Head of Security — Stubbs — has issued orders for both the Man in Black and Dolores when she is travelling with William. In the Man in Black’s case, he approved his pyrotechnics request and told an employee, “that man gets whatever he wants.”
In Dolores’ case, an employee came to Stubbs to notify him that she was making a big deviation from her loop. Stubbs said they’d flag her and check it out, and in the very next scene we see a host attempting to bring Dolores back to Sweetwater. William puts a stop to that, telling the host that Dolores is with him.
Assuming we’re seeing those scenes in chronological order, Stubbs is the link between Dolores, William, and the Man in Black.
People who believe it’s only one timeline can also explain away things like Teddy’s absence when William and Logan arrive in the park. The hosts are operating on loops which sometimes last for more than a single day. Teddy might have been out with another guest, away from the train station, on the day William arrived to Westworld.
There’s no proof of this — just as there’s no concrete proof that William and Logan are exploring the park 30 years ago. Everything comes down to how you interpret the vague writing and set designs. And the showrunners are intentionally leaving the audience in the dark.
What the show’s creators have to say
During an interview with Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd, co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were asked outright if we should not assume that everything we’re seeing is taking place at the same time.
“I think you want to assume as little as possible when watching this show,” Nolan told EW before he and Joy actually paused the call to talk privately before coming back and explaining more.
“Part of the fun is people speculating about what they’re are seeing,” Nolan said when they resumed the call. “There’s some amazing speculation out there. There are some theories that are so elaborate and beautiful that you wish you thought of them yourself. I think we want to burden the audience as little as possible with expectations of what we think the show is […] There are some things in ‘Westworld’ that are intentionally ambiguous.”
So Nolan and Joy are refusing to debunk the theory, instead allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. But is the double timeline theory one of the ones Nolan wishes he had thought of himself? Or is it correct, and he’s just trying to cast doubt upon the idea?
For now, until we see the Man in Black standing in front of William, fans seem stuck on their respective side of the debate. There are more arguments for both believers and doubters that we didn’t go into here, but you can read through the dozens of discussion threads on the “Westworld” subreddit if you’re eager for more.
Nolan and Joy have crafted the perfect series for an audience hungry to guess and theorise and debate week after week. With only four episodes aired the fever for guesswork and speculation is running high, and we’re strapped in for the long ride ahead.
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