After the second episode of Westworld aired, a fan theory popped up that was potentially mindblowing. The subsequent episodes have completely disproved the theory (unless they haven’t, see here and here). And now showrunner Jonathan Nolan and actor Jimmi Simpson are finally commenting on the most popular Westworld theory. Hit the jump to learn what they said.
The Westworld theory suggests Jimmi Simpson’s character William (aka Billy) is actually the same person as the Man in Black (Ed Harris) and we are seeing stories from two different time periods intercut together. The theory is fun because it would allow us to see Billy’s first and perhaps last visit into the park, seeing how he evolved from a white hat to a black hat VIP. Dolores is one of the oldest hosts in the park, and the Man in Black has been visiting the world for at least three decades. There is a bunch of evidence to support the argument, but the last two episodes have seemingly debunked the popular theory… or have they?
In the final scenes of episode 3 of Westworld entitled “The Stray,” Dolores overrides her programming and kills her attacker. She sees flashes of the Man in Black, memories of him assaulting her, before escaping into the woods where she stumbles across William and Logan. This would seem to suggest that all these things are happening in the same timeline, but it’s still possible they are not. Dolores experiences déjà vu when she returns to the ranch, and we witness two versions of the same scenario through her eyes. It’s possible that both of these moments are from different time periods, its memory after all (something Nolan has been known to play around with). And we also don’t know that Dolores stumbling into William’s arms happens right after these events, we could be cutting to a flashback from 30 years ago.
And in the fourth episode, “Dissonance Theory,” on the surface may debunk the theory, but again, it could all be part of Nolan’s master Prestige. As Jacob Hall notes in his Westworld spoiler review, “If they’re actively fooling us and we are floating between two timelines, they really threw some misdirection our way this episode.”
“After all, William is hanging out with Dolores, who has strayed from her loop, at the same time that Ashley Stubbs, the head of park security, finds himself addressing Dolores straying from her loop. That means one of two things: 1. All of these events are happening at the same time, and Stubbs is simply reacting to Dolores breaking free from her programming and things are exactly as they appear. 2. The scenes with William and Dolores are taking place in the past, and the scene with Stubbs is occurring in the future, as he reacts to another instance of Dolores breaking out of her loop (perhaps at the insistence of Bernard). The implication here is that Dolores initially broke out of her loop years thirty years ago and that she is doing it again with some outside assistance. So there you go. “Dissonance Theory” either proves that William is definitely the Man in Black or it proves that he definitely is not the Man in Black.”
I’m still not sure what to think, but you may be wondering what the Westworld cast and crew have to say for themselves. First up we have Jimmi Simpson, who plays young William. THR asked the actor if he had heard the theory, to which Simpson responded, “Oh, yeah.” As for his take on the theory, Simpson said the following:
First of all, I’m just flattered, because that man is so badass. (Laughs.) Second of all, I can’t comment on anything. I wish I could say how wrong or right you are, but you guys have to wait just like we did.
The interviewer acknowledged that he wouldn’t want to shut down the theorizing, to which Jimmi agreed:
Exactly. Bring it on, because we literally all did this every time we got a script: “Oh my god! This is happening! She’s this, and she’s not this!” Then we were generally wrong, but sometimes, we were a shade right, and you would feel like a genius for somehow figuring out Jonah and Lisa’s brilliant puzzle.
As for showrunners Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy, they were asked by Entertainment Weekly about the timeline, specifically the opening scenes which are intercut and if they are a flashback or in sequential order. Nolan teased, “I think that’s up to the viewer to decide.” Asked directing if we shouldn’t assume that everything we see is taking place at the same time, Nolan responded “I think you want to assume as little as possible when watching this show” before putting EW on hold to “have a sidebar conference about this question.” He returned with the following response:
Part of the fun is people speculating about what they’re are seeing. 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. I’m a big believer in this ever since we went to the Venice Film Festival with ‘Memento.’ My brother [director Christopher Nolan] gave an interview about what he thought the film meant but stressed it was ambiguous. And afterward we talked about it and I felt from then on that the best thing to do is get out of the way of the audience and let them play with it. And there are some things in ‘Westworld’ that are intentionally ambiguous.
And of course, Nolan seems to love to be “intentionally ambiguous” in his answers. He doesn’t debunk the theory, yet at the same time acknowledges that some of the Westworld fan theories are “so elaborate and beautiful” that he wishes he thought of them himself. But is he talking about this particular theory?