Westworld: Another Man in Black Theory


Photo: HBO

Hello! For those readers who don’t follow me on Facebook, a quick update: The first half of Divorce Can Be Deadly has been edited and critiqued by my experts. I am working feverishly on the second half, so it can receive the same scrutiny. It won’t be much longer, and that’s why I declined to write a blog post about Westworld 1.4 (“Dissonance Theory”) or 1.5 (“Contrapasso”). But I have the bare bones of yet ANOTHER Man in Black (MiB) theory that I want to share. As usual, my speculation is loaded with spoilers, so please don’t continue if you haven’t caught up.

Now. We all remember this guy, right?


Photo: MGM Home Entertainment

Yul Brenner’s performance in the original film Westworld (1973) is arguably the best part of a fondly remembered sci-fi romp. I tuned into HBO’s Westworld expecting a similar gunslinger, and I got him in Ed Harris. One look at Harris in costume, complete with black hat and black horse, and you just know you’re looking at a formidable villain.

Or are you?

Let’s review his appearance on the scene. He taunts Teddy (who we originally believed to be a human visitor) and shoots him. Then he grabs a screaming, pleading Dolores by the hair and drags her into the barn, presumably to have his way with her. He says something like, “You think I paid all this money because I want it easy? I want you to fight.” We never see what happens, but we assume Dolores is raped and killed (in the sense that hosts can be killed), and the MiB is a sadist who visits Westworld to exercise his cruelest instincts.

Later, we see a bit more of what happened inside the barn. The MiB takes out his enormous hunting knife (which I originally took as a bit of Freudian symbolism) and says something like, “We’re going all the way back to the beginning.”

Until now, I’ve assumed Dolores’s father triggered her growing self-awareness with the phrase (voice command?) “The violent delights have violent ends.” But what if the MiB did it? And could the knife somehow be involved?


Photo: HBO

Recalling Maeve’s flashback to a prior incarnation, we see her cornered by the MiB. He pulls the knife as he advances. Again, the obvious assumption is, he’s going to rape and kill her. But does that fit into what we’ve learned about him?


Photo: HBO

We’ve spent a lot of time with William. Many viewers, including me, think William’s story only seems to be running concurrently with, say, Elsie’s realization that the self-destroying host carried a secret transmitter. Due to various clues, we think William’s story is a flashback to thirty years ago, just before the mysterious “critical failure.” William clearly has a thing for Dolores, and he’s discovered a knack for excelling in Westworld. Perhaps when the MiB mentioned “All the way back to the beginning,” this is what he meant.

William is a kind, decent, fair-minded person. Of course, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t transformed himself into a reprehensible beast over the intervening thirty years. But another guest recognized him and tried to thank him because his foundation “literally saved” the guest’s sister. So in the real world, at least, the MiB does good things.

In Westworld 1.5, the MiB tells Teddy he once cut open an early host model and found a mechanical marvel within. He then says something like, “What would I find if I cut you open?” I can’t help but think the knife is more than a knife, but not the way Freud meant. Even Dr. Ford, who seems to harbor some antipathy for the MiB, examined it with some interest, as seen below.


Photo: HBO

So if the MiB was once William, and he’s been coming to the park for thirty years, and now he doesn’t plan to leave (as he said in WW 1.1), what’s his endgame? In my previous blog post, I floated the idea of consciousness-transfer: he wants to put his essence into Westworld and live forever, either in one host body or many. Now I wonder, despite his all-black costume that hearkens to Yul Brenner’s… are his motives more aligned with his real-life role as a philanthropist? Perhaps he’s dying, and has no wish to live as Dr. Ford described in 1.1, clinging to life through technology. And perhaps he’s returned to Westworld with the hope of a grand selfless act: the freeing of its self-aware hosts?

I can’t wait for next Sunday night. And now… back to those rewrites.

Westworld 1.3: The Stray


Photo: HBO

Well, it seems all my theories from last week are wrong. Unless he’s a persuasive liar (and he may be), Dr. Ford doesn’t want to create life, and I doubt Dolores means anything to him. However, I found an excellent theory about the Man in Black, and why Dolores might mean something to him. You can check it out over at Beyond Westworld.

Now here are my thoughts about the third episode, “The Stray.” As usual, this post is loaded with spoilers and intended only for those who have already watched.

I’ve always liked the expression “ghost in the machine.” When I was a teenager, the Police put out an album by that name. When I asked what it meant, someone defined it for me just as the Urban Dictionary does:

When software or hardware is made to complete a specific function, but a small percentage of the tasks completed have an unexpected result which cannot be explained.
“I launched the game a million times through that shortcut, but this time it didn’t launch for some reason… must be a ghost in the machine.”
Of course, if you dig deeper, you’ll find the term dates back to 1949, when Gilbert Ryle used it to describe mind-body duality. If the human body is a machine, and you believe humans have souls, then what truly separates us from AI is a ghost, so to speak, rattling around inside our hardware.

Last night’s episode of Westworld reminded me of that expression. Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) takes Bernard into his lab, giving viewers more hints about the park in the process. Bernard is concerned about an apparent glitch among some of the hosts. One went on a rampage, carrying on a strange conversation with a nonexistent person called “Arnold” the whole time. The name means nothing to Bernard, but Dr. Ford has an answer.
According to Dr. Ford (who may or may not be a reliable narrator), he created Westworld with the help of a partner named Arnold. Dr. Ford was the realist who understood the hosts were only machines, and always would be; Arnold was the dreamer who wanted to create consciousness, not just the illusion of consciousness.
Arnold believed imbuing AI with consciousness would require 4 factors. To illustrate the notion, Dr. Ford draws a pyramid split into 4 parts. At the bottom, MEMORY; above that, IMPROVISATION; above that, SELF-INTEREST; above that … blank. Bernard asks what belongs at the top. Dr. Ford says Arnold never found out. He died in the park, and while his death was called an accident, Dr. Ford’s words and demeanor imply it was murder. The obvious conclusion is, he got too chummy with an unstable host and paid the price.

But what if Arnold wasn’t murdered? Suppose he committed suicide, of a sort? What if Arnold decided Westworld needed an upload of human consciousness–his consciousness–to provide the pyramid’s apex? The “ghost in the machine?”

Photo: HBO

After all, when Dolores overcame her programming (which had prevented her from firing a gun) and “killed” her host attacker, it was a male voice in her head that said, “Kill him.” A voice I didn’t recognize. (Though if it did belong to the Man in Black or some other character, I’m sure other fans on the web will write about it soon, if they haven’t already.)
But if I’m right, perhaps that’s why the stray host spared Hughes by mysteriously bashing his own head in? To silence a similar murderous voice?
I look forward to learning more next week! Back to those revisions on Divorce Can Be Deadly. I’m making progress, I swear!

Westworld 1.1 and 1.2


Photo: HBO

I’m enjoying Westworld so far! Of course, you probably guessed that I would give anything starring Anthony Hopkins a look. But it didn’t take long for me to fall under Westworld’s spell. As I do with Game of Thrones, I want to discuss the specifics of BOTH episodes, so if you haven’t seen them, my standard admonition applies: beware. This post is loaded with spoilers and unfounded speculation.

Question 1: Where is the story set?

The future, clearly. Westworld appears to be an interactive hologram, a massive version of Star Trek’s holodeck, and it’s populated by AI embodied not in plastic and circuits, like Yul Brenner in the 1973 movie, but in artificial flesh and blood. Westworld’s creator, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), says, “We can cure any disease, keep even the weakest of us alive, and one fine day, perhaps we can even resurrect the dead, call forth Lazarus from his cave. Do you know what that means? That means we’re done. This is as good as we’re going to get.”

But beyond the artificial environs of Westworld itself, where are the principals? If it’s a building, well, sub-level B has at least 83 floors. If it overlooks a peaceful vista (as seen during a conversation between Theresa, the head of security, and Lee, the head writer), that vast landscape contains no cities or signs of human life.

My guess? Earth is no longer habitable. The main action takes place on a space station. Westworld may be generated inside the station, or it might be placed slightly out of phase, occupying the station yet separated.


Photo: HBO

Question 2: What happened during that critical failure thirty years ago?

In episode two, newcomer William is greeted in a steely welcome center with numerous escalators and AI hosts. In episode one, way down on sub-level B, Dr. Bernard Lowe and his security escort pass through what looks like the remnants of a smaller welcome center. There is a ruined fountain with a globe that says Delos (the name of the company). So it appears that the critical failure went all the way to the welcome center.

We also know that Westworld’s mysterious Man in Black (a deliciously evil Ed Harris) has been coming to the park for thirty years. Which brings us to another question.

Question 3: Who is the Man in Black?

He’s a sadist. He seems to particularly enjoy harming women. He knows the world so well, he understands every character’s backstory and seems almost frustrated by their limited memories. When a park technician notes that he’s “killed” a lot of hosts, the reply is something like, “Give that gentleman whatever he wants.”

So the easy answer is, he’s Westworld’s best customer. But why does the show refer to him as the Man in Black? Why is he listed in the credits that way?

I suspect it’s because the Man in Black is someone very important. Theresa observes in 1.1 that Westworld is one thing to the guests, another to the shareholders, and another to the creative braintrust. I think the Man in Black might be someone high in the company, perhaps the chairman of the board.

In episode 2, he says he’s never going back to the real world. What’s his end game? That brings me to the final question.


Photo: HBO

Question 4: What do the major players want?

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is almost certainly heading toward revolution. But is it a coincidence that she is the oldest host, never decommissioned after thirty years of service, or that her name is quite similar to the company name, Delos? Probably not. We’ve seen that Dr. Ford still meets with his second oldest host, the decommissioned Wild Bill. Does Delores represent something for Dr. Ford—a recreation of a lost love, etc.?

Perhaps. I think Dr. Ford’s primary desire is to create life that possesses completely free will. His software update, the “reveries” that supposedly comprise a mistake, are perhaps a deliberate attempt to hasten this final progression.

What about Dr. Bernard Lowe? We know he’s been having secret conversations with Delores. We know he carries a photograph of a young boy, and that he lives alone. I think perhaps the child is dead, and Dr. Lowe’s desire is to resurrect him.

And the Man in Black? Can it really be that all he wants is a permanent vacation in Westworld?

I look forward to finding out. If you subscribe to HBO and want to watch episode 2 early, head to HBO GO. As for me, I’ll get back to writing. Happy weekend!


Photo: HBO

Enter Agatha Raisin

Katie McCall, PI

agatha-raisin-imageBeing an avid Acorn TV user (the best of British television available to Americans everywhere!), I was thrilled to discover a new cozy mystery series available: Agatha Raisin. I’d never read the books, but I thoroughly enjoyed the series about a quirky 50-something single woman who moves to the Cotswolds for a quiet life and finds herself embroiled in murder.

quicheNaturally once I’d finished binge watching the first season, I had to read the books! I was a little worried I wouldn’t enjoy them after having seen the TV versions, but I shouldn’t have because they were marvelous! I was hooked after the first couple of chapters of The Quiche of DeathI’m now on book 3 25(good thing there are 27 novels!).

Are there differences between the books and the show? You betcha. There always are, aren’t there? And since the first book was written in the…

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UPDATE: Divorce Can Be Deadly; Dr. Bones and the Christmas Wish; Blue Blooded


Hello all!

Sorry I haven’t checked in since late July. I’ve been writing! My eyes are doing better in the sense I’ve been able to tolerate longer and longer periods at the computer. Here’s an update:

Divorce Can Be Deadly (Dr. Benjamin Bones Mysteries #2): I’m very pleased by how this one is coming along, and I hope when it arrives, you’ll agree it was worth the wait. I’m close to finishing it up–after which comes the rewrite, the editing, the proofing, and publishing.

Dr. Bones and the Christmas Wish: I’m almost done with this one. It’s a novella set right after DCBD, and will be included in a Christmas-themed anthology called Romancing Christmas 2. Watch this space for publishing news on that book, which may introduce you to some new favorite authors. And yes, the anthology is about romance, so draw your own conclusions on that score.

Blue Blooded (Lord & Lady Hetheridge Mysteries #5): Yesterday, I glanced at my phone and saw a wonderfully prescient message. It was from a reader who said she needed more Hetheridges, and was waiting patiently. I usually answer all queries first thing the next morning, but I couldn’t find it today–not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or my email. (LOL, I am over-connected, like most of us.) However, I was amazed to see that message at that moment, because during the long drive back from my hairdresser*, the opening paragraphs of Blue Blooded came to me. That’s a sure sign my work on DCBD is coming to a close.

So for that reader–sorry I can’t locate your message–and anyone else who may be interested, here’s what my first draft of those opening paragraphs looks like. Not fine-tuned, not edited, but right out of my word processor, to show you Dr. Bones will soon return and the Hetheridges will be next up to bat.

Anthony Hetheridge, ninth baron of Wellegrave and former chief superintendent for New Scotland Yard, welcomed the spring. In January, he’d been forced out of his distinguished career by old enemies who’d long been sharpening their knives. In February, he’d returned to the Yard as a consultant, allowing him to do things heretofore only dreamt of; namely, billing by the hour, ignoring internal politics, and going home each day at five o’clock. In March, as daffodils sprang up all over London and pink camellia trees spilled over wrought iron fences, Tony completed the byzantine obstacle course necessary to receive his private investigator’s license. Now it was April— unusually sunny, unseasonably warm, and full of surprises.

On April fifth, his brother-in-law, Ritchie Wakefield, had modified the shape of a Lego brick by heating it with a cigarette lighter. In the process, he’d set alight a two-hundred-year-old French mahogany sofa. This had caught the nearby Italian silk brocade curtains on fire, which went up like tissue paper. Half of Tony’s ancestral London townhouse, Wellegrave House, had been burned out. Thankfully, no one was injured. As his wife Kate raged, his assistant Mrs. Snell tutted, and his manservant Harvey wept, Tony decided that he, too, would abandon British reserve and vent his true feelings on the matter: he chucked what survived and hired an interior designer to chase away the ghosts of Hetheridges past.

No more living in a museum, he thought, smiling as he passed from kitchen to stairs, a cup of tea in hand. Things are quiet at the Yard. Now all I need is a case.

*Redhead by choice



Stranger Things

Today’s post will be another quick one, as I am still very deep in writing, and it’s going well. I just want to alert those of you with Netflix to a remarkable 8-part series, set in 1983, called Stranger Things. It’s kind of Firestarter meets Jean Grey of the X-Men, with a little It thrown in. I’ve heard Stephen King is a fan, and I don’t doubt it. The series owes a lot to him, and I don’t just mean his trademark, the seamless intermingling of horror and real life. Like King’s best work, Stranger Things spotlights children in an unusually believable way, provides interesting backstories to virtually all adult characters, and unfolds at a unhurried, masterful pace.

Stranger Things stars 80s staples Winona Ryder (with a haircut straight out of the movie Silkwood) and Matthew Modine, who some of you might remember as the hunk from Vision Quest. It also features several future stars, including Millie Bobby Brown as El and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin.

That’s it. Enough from me! Go watch it.

Stranger Things Poster

Dispatches from Cornwall, Part #4

Hello! I’m currently at that stage of writing where my answer to everyone, in virtually all situations, is, “Not now, I’m working on the book.” But I’ll pause this morning to upload some more pics relating to my  June 2016 trip to England’s southwest country.

Rhododendrons are everywhere in Cornwall. Even a “routine” drive along the freeway was enlivened by bursts of color.

Rhododendron London Park

(My collection.)

Climbing roses. The notion of a rose-covered English cottage is quite real and just as lovely as you might imagine.

Climbing roses

(My collection.)

Lupines are another flower I frequently encountered. It’s no exaggeration to say that on every twenty-minute ramble along a footpath, I could have collected a bouquet of wildflowers.

Lupines in vase

(My collection.)

Chamomile flowers were also common, particularly in Plymouth (which is in the neighboring county of Devon).


(My collection.)

Variations on the English rose were everywhere: formal gardens, public greens, churchyards. They occupied pride of place in many front gardens, each specimen’s health and beauty a testament to the homeowner’s hard work. When the hired car got a flat and we awaited rescue, I enjoyed the neighborhood’s roses. They were just as fine as the ones I’d admired at St. Michael’s Mount the day before.

Damask rose

(My collection.)

All right, I must get back to writing. Have a wonderful weekend.


Dispatches from Cornwall, Part #3

Hello again. It’s Saturday and I plan to spend the weekend writing, so here’s another post that’s essentially just snapshots from my latest visit to the Mother Ship, England.

Fans of Poldark won’t be surprised to learn I spent a day at St. Agnes, which is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage site. Because I was still recovering from surgery, I didn’t actually get to walk among the abandoned mines. (Too much of a climb.) However, I could see them, even from far below:

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Here’s a much better professional photo of a tin mine, purchased a couple of years ago:

Cornish Tin Mine

From my collection.

According to The Little Book of Cornwall (a book I highly recommend for Anglophiles), “Most of the national Trust’s stately homes in Cornwall were built on the profits of our mineral trade.” That declined in the 1800s and disappeared altogether in the 1900s, but one wonders if the knockers remain in those deserted shafts. To learn about the knockers, also called Tommyknockers, click here.

More of my snapshots from St. Agnes:

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My favorite view.

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A holiday cottage for rent. (Or “to let,” as I should say.)

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Entrance to a old shaft.

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Another lovely view.

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A dreamy version of St. Agnes as viewed by me and optimized by Instagram. 

Have a safe and happy weekend.

Everything I Ever Needed To Know as a Writer, I Learned From the X-Men

It’s July 3rd and I am still embroiled in writing, so here’s a quick post for the next week. When I was 11, my good friend Rosemary O’Malley introduced me to the Uncanny X-Men. Here’s just a smattering of the lessons I learned.

Sometimes heroes and villains just have to take off their masks and have a rational (if contentious) discussion. The villain might even be genuinely horrified to hear that one of his adversaries is dead.


First issue I ever bought, Uncanny X-Men #150 (Claremont/Cockrum/Marvel).

The best villains are capable of human emotion, including remorse.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Cockrum/Marvel)

There are times when a tricky scene is best viewed through the eyes of a character who stands apart.


Uncanny X-men (Claremont/Byrne/Marvel)

Even the closest relationships have their angry moments, especially if the dynamic is mentor/mentee or parent/child.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Cockrum/Marvel)

When good people do terrible things, the root cause is always the same.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Byrne/Marvel)

Different leadership styles may be called for, and surprising results may occur.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Byrne/Marvel)

Change is never easy.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Romita, Jr./Marvel)

Even tough guys can be paralyzed by fear.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Byrne/Marvel)

The most interesting hero/villain dynamics are based on similarities as well as differences.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Cockrum/Marvel)

Your most impulsive character may literally throw himself off a cliff rather than quit while ahead. Also: it’s glorious to see a hero do something stupid when that stupid action entirely in keeping with their characterization.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Romita, Jr./Marvel)

There is such a thing as a genuine change of heart. But amends and trust-building won’t come easy.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Marvel)

There’s all kinds of toughness (emotional, intellectual, physical) and all kinds of heroic people, from pretty ladies to growling savages.


Uncanny X-Men (Claremont/Smith/Marvel)

It’s natural to look back on your old writing and want to cringe, laugh, or kill it with fire.


Uncanny X-Men (Lee/Adams/Marvel)

Note: it’s difficult to credit anything as collaborative as comics properly, but let me give a shout out to Glynis Oliver and Tom Orzechowski, who hand-colored and hand-lettered most of the panels I included, back in the day.

The complete stories these panels were pulled from can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and other retailers.

Dispatches from Devon: Dartmouth

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying a wonderful holiday weekend. Me, I am writing. Thank goodness, nothing makes me happier than the times when it really flows. So here’s a quick peek at some of my snaps from a visit to Dartmouth Castle, Devon.

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Dartmouth village. We drove to the village of Knightswear and took the ferry across the river Dart. I love all that green. 

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Celtic cross on the grave of a local drowning victim.

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Inside the castle.

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The River Dart.


Here’s a gorgeous shot of Knightswear and the River Dart that I found on Wikimedia Commons. (credit: Herbythyme

And last but certainly not least, some flying quadcopter footage of the castle and grounds. (Credit: SparkoRC)