The “William is the Man in Black” theory is perfectly straightforward compared to how Bernard experiences time in the season two premiere.
[This story contains full spoilers for the season two premiere of HBO’s Westworld.]
Who’s ready for another loop around the clock?
Among the many reasons why the first season of Westworld captured the imaginations of feverish fans thirsty for theories, the show’s relationship with time stood front and center. It was the key ingredient behind some of season one’s biggest twists: Jimmi Simpson’s William and Ed Harris’ Man in Black were the same person, interacting with different periods in the park’s history; Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) was immersed in both of these moments (and then some) simultaneously, due to differences between how hosts and humans experience time and memories; Jeffrey Wright was playing not only Bernard (secretly a host, a huge twist in its own right), but also Arnold, the man who co-founded the park and host technology alongside Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins).
Given the critical nature of time to the show’s narrative, and given what creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have said about wanting to tell stories about Westworld’s hosts across long stretches of history, it should come as no surprise that season two is continuing the temporally-jarring tradition. Here are some of the ways Westworld is once again wielding time as a weapon, based on the events of the season premiere:
• Season two’s first scene seemingly centers on Arnold (Wright) and Dolores (Wood), speaking about the nature of dreams. If Wright is actually playing Arnold in this moment, then we’re dealing with the far past, thirty some-odd years ago. However, there are reasons to wonder if Wright is instead playing Bernard in this scene; if that’s the case, it’s hard to tell exactly when this scene takes place. It could be very far in the future; it could be somewhere within the two-week span that Westworld’s comms are down (more on that next); it could be a past conversation between Dolores and Bernard before all hell broke loose, even if there’s no indication Bernard held Arnold’s same special interest in Westworld’s very first host. The possibilities are wide open, and appropriately mesmerizing.
• Following the first scene, Bernard experiences temporal flashes, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpses at his own existence — some scenes we’ve seen before, and others that are entirely new and likely to make themselves known in the episodes ahead. The way Bernard’s cognitive journey comes across is quite similar to how the show represented Dolores’ relationship with time in season one. Now that the show has established how time and memory functions within the hosts, Westworld is free to be upfront with the viewer when someone like Bernard is living through several different memories at once.
• Who knows how many timelines are in the mix, but there are at the very least two: the period of time in the immediate aftermath of Dolores assassinating Ford, and one that exists roughly two weeks later. On the surface, every single storyline in the premiere takes place in the former of the two options, with one exception: Bernard operating alongside Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård), Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and the greater Quality Assurance security team, trying to make sense of what happened when all communication with Westworld ceased two weeks earlier. Are there other periods of time in play that we should be considering? Almost certainly, but for now, the series isn’t hiding the fact that two distinct moments in Westworld history are currently in play.
• With the two time periods established, there’s enormous tension in the premiere’s final images: a sea filled with dead hosts — seemingly all of them — with Bernard identifying himself as the killer. How and why did this happen? And what’s the full picture? Because there’s clearly something lurking beneath the reveal. The image is striking for a number of reasons, not the least of which is how much it evokes the dream Arnold and/or Bernard outlined for Dolores at the start of the episode. Is that Bernard in the future, recalling this harrowing moment he’s experiencing “now” — or is it Arnold in the past, telling a story that Dolores is utilizing for some as yet unrevealed purpose? After all…
• Dolores remains a key cog in the show’s relationship with time. As she torments a trio of human captives, Dolores evokes both her sweet and innocent “rancher’s daughter” persona and the “Wyatt” within with alarming ease. Later, speaking with Teddy, Dolores claims she can “see it all so clearly — the past, the present, the future.” With everything else she’s come to learn about the nature of her own reality, Dolores seemingly understands how to live in several different moments at once. Could the leader of the robot revolution access a past encounter with Arnold, and stage a grisly death that mirrors one of his dreams for some unknown strategic end? She absolutely could, and there’s reason to believe she absolutely would.
• Finally, Dolores mentions that she can see the future… one imagines that she’s speaking metaphorically, right? There’s no chance she can actually see what’s coming next, is there? Well, we’ve underestimated the hosts (and Nolan and Joy) before; it would be wise not to do it again.
What do you think of how season two is playing with time thus far? What else have you noticed about the show’s different timelines? Sound off in the comments below and follow all of our coverage over at THR.com/Westworld.