Though Westworld Season 3 moved from the fictional world of the Delos parks to the dystopian landscape of our own real-world future, the show continues to wrestle with many of the same philosophical themes it always has: Free will. Determinism. Fate. What does it mean to be human? Are we capable of choosing the people we become? Or are we doomed to lives that circle the same loops, despite our best efforts?
While this season of the show may be more straightforward narratively than its puzzle-box laden predecessors, after the Season 3 finale, the answers to those questions aren’t any clearer than before.
Dolores’ mission to bring down Serac and the massive supercomputer divining the fate of the world via algorithm drives much of the season. But the question of her motives is always a murky one. Does she desire to lead a robot revolution to overthrow humanity? Make a safe space for herself and her fellow robot-kind? Or something else entirely?
At the end of the season, Dolores insists her actions have been altruistic ones. That she believes in free will, and wants humanity to do the work to forge a better future. She’s choosing to see the beauty in the world, remembering the kindness and love of her many lives, rather than violence and pain. And the mental image that Dolores returns to again and again is William—both as his younger self and the older Man in Black—picking up a can in the street. It’s much the same way that Westworld keeps returning to this character repeatedly, even when virtually all narrative logic says his story should be over.
Perhaps it’s simply sentiment. William was Dolores’ first love, her first great betrayer, and the key that unlocked her understanding of both her own consciousness and the world around her. Their relationship is a linchpin in her life, after all, for both good and ill. But this is Westworld; and nothing’s ever that simple.
The Man in Black was an iconic figure in Season 1, an over-the-top Wild West villain come to life who spent much of his time venting his inner darkness on the park’s host population and chasing in-game mysteries only he ever thought existed. But as the show shifted into the real world, it felt as though the character was something best left behind with the big hats and horses in the park.
But he wasn’t. Granted, William did have something of a reduced presence this season, but his character remains a constant even as his arc is increasingly disconnected from Westworld’s main narrative. If we’re honest, Season 3’s story could have very easily happened without him, and one of the big questions of this season is what, precisely, William is doing here at all.
Like virtually everything else on this show, the answer to that is unclear. Yet, in a season that espouses the idea of choice, it makes sense that Dolores and William, the two characters who have insisted on the inviolate nature of their own identities, are at the center of it.
“You’ve done terrible things and you’ve done generous things. She didn’t choose you for your capacity for violence, but for your capacity to choose.” Maeve says these words to Caleb in the Season 3 finale, but they’re an echo of a story we’ve seen before.
Throughout Season 3, Westworld has drawn repeated parallels between Dolores’s relationship with Caleb and her connection to William. Their first meeting is an almost shot-for-shot recreation of the Season 1 scene in which William catches a fainting Dolores. Caleb’s constantly going on about looking for something “real” in a world that’s full of false gods, much as William’s search was about finding something “true” in a land built on lies.
?Like Caleb, William’s continued insistence on his own self-determination has always been a strangely hopeful aspect of his character. Both men have done awful things. But both have also shown us repeatedly that it’s possible to be both a good man, a bad one, and something in between over the course of one’s life story. Caleb was a murderer for hire before he was chosen by Dolores as humanity’s savior. William was once a boy who loved a girl, and a man who tried to do good in the real world, even as he lost himself to darkness in the park.
In one of the few extended sequences we get with the character in Season 3, we watch William both confront his past selves, and attempt to choose who he’ll be going forward. Granted, that choice involves him metaphorically beating every other aspect of himself to death with a chair, but no one ever said self-actualization is easy. William declares himself “the good guy” of his own story, now determined to save the world by ridding it of the robot plague he helped bring into being. Your mileage may vary on whether that’s a commendable decision—Westworld itself certainly doesn’t seem to think so—but there’s something compelling about a William who still thinks there’s a way back to being a good person. To being a hero.
Westworld has been teasing a redemption arc for William for some time now, from his sudden decision to be a hero during his second trip to Las Mudas, to his soul shattering grief over his daughter Emily’s death, to his sartorial decisions. Season 3 has repeatedly dressed William in white, and given that his character was known for an entire year simply as the Man in Black, well … that feels painfully deliberate.
Which is why it’s so shocking that William dies in Season 3’s post-credits scene, murdered by a host version of himself. Surely that means his journey—along with any chance to change his narrative or atone for his past crimes—is over. Doesn’t it? Again, this is Westworld. Of course not.
In last year’s post-credits sequence, we discovered a host William in a far future version of Westworld, still repeatedly living a loop of his Season 2 trip through the park, attempting to find a path—and make a choice—that doesn’t end in Emily’s death. Since it seems unlikely that anyone is out there making multiple William hosts, that version is probably the one we meet in this finale, who is every inch the dark, murderous gunslinger we remember from the first season. Yet, somehow, even that most monstrous version of William will become something else by the time this story is over—something that wants to be the good guy, again.
Sure, at the moment it seems that the Man in Black host is primed to do Charlotte/Dolores 2.0’s bidding. But we also know that won’t always be the case. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. Will this William make different choices this time around? Is he looking for vengeance? Or penance? Or something in between?
Perhaps Westworld can’t let go of William because we can’t, either. We keep coming back to the Man in Black because we all want to believe that change is possible. That there’s no decision that can damn us forever. That peace is somehow still attainable even for the worst of us and that given the opportunity, mankind will eventually make different, better choices. Even the Man in Black.
“Time to atone for my sins.” – William
“And what you do will be up to you.” – Dolores
Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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