[This story contains spoilers from the season two finale of HBO’s Westworld, “The Passenger.”]
“There is no such thing as a happy ending.”
These legendary words of warning from Stephen King, presented in the final stretch of his beloved Dark Tower series, are very much front of mind in the closing moments of Westworld season two. The episode, called “The Passenger,” closes out with a post-credits sequence focused on the Man in Black (Ed Harris), finally at the source of his dreams, only to find himself trapped in a nightmare.
In the scene, written by Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the Man in Black has finally passed through “the Door,” the destination he’s searched for all season long. Throughout the episode, viewers expect the Man in Black to burst through the door and come into contact with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), both of whom are already inside. Instead, when he reaches his destination, it’s quickly apparent the Man in Black has arrived at another time entirely.
The Man in Black steps out of an elevator and into the same general area, “The Forge,” that has already served as a focal point of the finale. However, the place is in ruined, entirely abandoned, with one lone exception: a woman with the likeness of Emily (Katja Herbers), the Man in Black’s daughter — the same daughter he killed just one episode earlier.
“I knew it,” the Man in Black grunts, limping forward. “I’m already in the thing, aren’t I?”
He believes he’s inside the simulated world he’s come here to destroy, the same one that created “the Sublime,” the idyllic digital realm in which Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) and many of the other hosts now call home. But the woman, “Faux Emily,” states otherwise.
“This isn’t a simulation, William,” she tells him. “This is your world — or what’s left of it.”
Faux Emily leads the Man in Black into another desolate space, one that’s the spitting image of the apartment where the human-host hybrid version of James Delos (Peter Mullan) was being tested for so many years. It’s here that William finally starts to understand his situation: “I’m in the park. I’m in my fucking park.” Asked how long he’s been here, the Man in Black replies, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
The two sit down across from one another, and Faux Emily makes it clear that the Man in Black has reached this same destination, under these very same circumstances, many times before.
“It’s been a long time,” she tells him. “Longer than we thought. I have a few questions for you. The last steps of a baseline interview to allow us to verify.”
“Verify what?” he asks.
“Fidelity,” she replies.
With that word, and with one final look at the broken gunslinger’s weary face, the season comes to an end. It’s a brutal way for Westworld to close, on a number of levels, not the least of which is that it’s an astoundingly confusing scene at first glance. Does this confirm that the Man in Black has been a host this entire time? Such a twist would have roots in the 1973 Michael Crichton film on which Westworld is based, given that the Man in Black is based on the mechanical gunslinger played by Yul Brynner.
While it’s a tempting conclusion, it’s not the right one. The post-credits scene takes place in the “far, far future,” according to Westworld co-creator and co-showrunner Lisa Joy, at some undetermined point in time after the main action of season two has already taken place. The Man in Black we have come to know and love (or loathe; take your pick) across two seasons of the show is very much a human, and his storyline very much occurred in the present day — but the character seen in the post-credits scene is … well, something else entirely, stranded in another time.
Here’s how Joy explained the scene to The Hollywood Reporter: “In the far, far future, the world is dramatically different. Quite destroyed, as it were. A figure in the image of [William’s] daughter — his daughter is of course now long dead — has come back to talk to him. He realizes that he’s been living this loop again and again and again. The primal loop that we’ve seen this season, they’ve been repeating, testing every time for what they call ‘fidelity,’ or perhaps a deviation. You get the sense that the testing will continue. It’s teasing for us another temporal realm that one day we’re working toward, and one day will see a little bit more of, and how they get to that place, and what they’re testing for.”
In other words, the post-credits sequence takes place at the furthest point in the Westworld timeline yet, one that Joy promises will be explored “eventually,” if not imminently: “Season three, the main story, will not be leaping forward that far.”
The Man in Black we’re seeing in the scene is “not his original incarnation,” Joy adds, stating that it’s “some other version of himself.” What’s more, Joy says it’s not fair to automatically assume that this version of the Man in Black is a host: “A host refers to a creature like Dolores, someone who is pure cognition, someone who is made up of nothing and has a fabricated body as well.”
What exactly is this version of the Man in Black, then? A human-host hybrid, along the lines of James Delos’ digital doppelgänger? Why does this version of the Man in Black even exist, and how will he factor into the future of the series? Honestly, the way in which the aforementioned Dark Tower ends might provide some key clues, but the official answers won’t surface until much further down the line.
For now, here’s what we do know: the Man in Black of the post-credits sequence is an entirely new entity, someone separate from the character portrayed on-screen up to this point. Still confused? Take the post-credits scene for another loop with all of that context in mind, and see if you can find fidelity.
Did the post-credits scene make sense to you? What are your theories about this new version of the Man in Black? Sound off in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.