This week’s episode is a big departure from the series norm in that it barely features any of the show’s regular players. A few pop up, but their dialogue is kept to a minimum if they say anything at all, and instead the focus is almost entirely on a character who’s been little more than a threatening enigma until now. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t still learn a bit more about the park and the other characters who inhabit it.
Let’s take a look at season two, episode eight of Westworld: “Kiksuya”
Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) has been a part of multiple episodes across both the first and second seasons, but most viewers probably don’t even know his name. As the presumed leader of the Ghost Nation he’s been present for numerous assaults on hosts and guests alike thanks to the tribe’s scripted role as savage bad guys, but perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s far more to his story. One of this episode’s many strengths is how smoothly it brings a background player into the light. More than that, it shows us just how integral this particular character has been all along. It’s been clear throughout season two that something was up with the Ghost Nation as Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) ability to control and command other hosts has been ineffective against its members, and now we know why.
Akecheta reached consciousness before Maeve even heard her first internal whispers.
Just as Maeve and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) have awakened to become leaders of other newly conscious hosts, Akecheta encountered his own journey of suffering, loss, and discovery. Before telling his tale, though, he encounters an old man, riddled with bullets and dying on a river bank. The Man in Black, aka old William (Ed Harris) is nearly dead when Akecheta finds him and brings him back to his people for some good old-fashioned payback saying “Death is a passage from this brutal world. You don’t deserve an exit.” Maeve’s daughter, who was abducted last week, is frightened by his arrival — William’s, not Akecheta’s — but she’s told the man is no longer a threat to anyone.
Akecheta recalls his early life as a time of peace and happiness alongside his tribe and his wife Kohana (Julia Jones). Hosts follow their scripted days and nights regardless of whether or not guests are there to witness them, and in the park’s early years Akecheta’s people live their routines free from violence and the perversions of paying visitors. That changes, though, after the park begins shifting in its aim from historical re-creation to carnal recreation. He stumbles across the maze left behind by Ford (Anthony Hopkins), but before he can figure out the puzzle he’s re-programmed with a more violent storyline.
In addition to stealing his tranquility and quest for purpose, the rewrite also steals away his love. Just as Maeve awoke and pursued her lost daughter, Akecheta focuses for years on finding Kohana before realizing the only place left unsearched is “the other side of death.” The episode to this point already ranked as the series’ most beautiful thanks to gorgeous cinematography and a mesmerizing performance by McClarnon, but Akecheta’s exploration in the lab — set to a breathtaking piano version of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” — becomes a chill-inducing and heartbreaking walk of sad truths.
Kohana is lost to him, but he recognizes that others have lost loved ones too. Maeve is after her daughter, and Dolores is after destruction, but a newly devastated Akecheta becomes the Norma Rae of Westworld as he takes a stand for those around him in the hope of leading them to a world of their own. Perhaps because this is our very first in-depth look at it, but his quest seems far more interesting and honest than that of the show’s more regular characters. There’s a purity to it built as much on McClarnon’s performance as it is the very real history of America’s Native people who were forced by newcomers onto long walks towards uncertain futures. His is a quest with weight, and as flashy and fun as past episodes have been that tangible heft has too often been a rarity.
The episode ends with a pair of memorable revelations regarding the show’s leading women. Akecheta refers to Dolores as “the Deathbringer” and suggests his people need to find the door to the Great Beyond before she “ends us all.” Dialogue is a finite thing, so odds are those words are prophetic and most likely speak to the lake of corpses we know is coming. It’s also enough to leave you wondering if he and Maeve won’t need to join forces to stop Dolores.
The bigger discovery comes as the tech working on Maeve explains her ability — telepathy with other hosts via the mesh network — to Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) only to realize that Maeve is doing it as they speak. Akecheta’s story was being told to Maeve’s daughter and to Maeve, and by the end of it the two awakened hosts are communicating directly. His promise to take care of her child if she can’t make it free of her captors and injuries is as emotionally powerful a beat as Westworld has delivered across its two seasons.
The idea of taking a fringe character and basing an entire episode around them is as fascinating as it is risky, but the episode succeeds brilliantly to the point that it’s almost disappointing knowing we’ll inevitably return to others next week.
But, and, what…?
- “This is the wrong world.”
- Is anyone really buying Lee’s apology to Maeve?
- I’m part of the problem as I’m only just realizing this, but how does Maeve’s daughter still not have a name?
- Logan (Ben Barnes) remains the only human character worthy of our pity. (Okay fine, maybe Ashley too.)
- I wasn’t sold on how fast Akecheta gave up William to Emily (Katja Herbers) after making it clear the man needs to suffer.
Keep up with our Westworld coverage.