The newcomer, William (Jimmi Simpson), takes the “crates” around him for granted, following his storyline on rails like he’s supposed to. The unnamed veteran, referred to in the credits as the Man in Black (Ed Harris), has come to only see the invisible walls of the artificial world, and now only enjoys trying to break them down. As Westworld methodically builds out its universe, it seems more and more like a commentary on the psyche of the gamer, and the ways the intentionally limited world around them can feel comforting, desensitizing, and eventually stifling.
Until now, the show had mostly focused on the cold, callous nature of Westworld’s programmers, who drag the game’s robots down to the fluorescent subterranean hell beneath the park, clean them up, wipe their memories, and send them topside again to repeat their short, brutal lives as damsels, gunslingers, prostitutes, and black-hatted villains. Episode five, “Contrapasso,” centered around two clients the show has been following through the park, charting their journeys as gamers in a scripted world that’s beginning to malfunction.
William has been dragged along to Westworld by his co-worker and future brother-in-law Logan (Ben Barnes), a more experienced player who sees visiting the park as some kind of manly rite of passage. Logan dresses up in black and enjoys indulging in Westworld’s most lurid features, drawing his pistol at the slightest provocation, and barking at William to be more active. At one point, Logan shoots a host and takes its gun, delighting at the “upgrade,” like a Grand Theft Auto player cheerily swapping a shotgun for a bazooka. But the show’s contempt for Logan is clear. He’s an amateur, looking only to unleash his raging id, and when he’s dragged off by robots after another contretemps in this episode, William, tired of his violent antics, doesn’t try to save him.
Meanwhile, William has been drawn in by one of the game’s core stories. He’s taking part in an adventure with a ostensible damsel named Dolores (a host played by Evan Rachel Wood) who he’s fallen for, while journeying into the park’s “border towns” with an outlaw called El Lazo. The crucial emotional narrative belongs to Dolores, whose consciousness is inexplicably branching into new territories. Dolores’s development is fascinating, but William’s attraction to her is obviously rooted in the fact that she seems “real.” Not real in the sense of her flesh-and-blood appearance, but in the ways she’s breaking the artificiality of the game around her—she immediately stands out in the way that the game’s garish window-dressing (like a ridiculous orgy scene that William and Dolores meander through) cannot.
How directly this relates to the arc of the Man in Black (Harris) is still a matter of opinion. For the last few weeks, fan debate has raged online over whether this mysterious, self-aware gunslinger is just an older version of William, a gamer who has been through the park so many times that at this point he seems to be just going through the sadistic motions. “Contrapasso” seemed to tacitly endorse that theory by showing the Man in Black interacting with a host called Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) almost as if he were an old friend, before killing him off. Then, the show almost immediately cut to William running into El Lazo—also played by Clifton Collins Jr. That the host could have been quickly cleaned up, given a new role, and spirited across the park seems unlikely.