TV Review: Westworld (Season 2, Episode 8)
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The third episode before the finale, Westworld’s ‘Kiksuya’ goes into a bold new direction, beautifully delving into a side-story, while still keeping the stakes high of the overarching plot.
As Maeve’s life is still hanging in the balance, her daughter sits down with Akecheta, the Native American warrior we have seen so many times already, and listens to the story of his and the Ghost Nation’s slow coming into independent consciousness in one of the most beautiful and poignant episodes of the entirety of Westworld.
Zahn McClarnon finally gets to do something more than just staring menacingly at hosts in often extremely racially charged situations. But ‘Kiksuya’ subverts that, as we hear the story in his own words – and boy, is it a tearjerker.
Like other awoken hosts, Akecheta remembers all his lives, and all the reprogramming. His first life was living happily with his love, Kohana, in a peaceful tribe. When he was still that, one day he wanders into Dolores’ first mass shooting, when she kills Arnold. Finding a small plaque of the Maze starts something in him, but before he can do anything about it, he is taken away to be upgraded.
He comes back “breathing fire”, as the fierce warrior we know better, because Delos wants something different from the Native American storylines. Despite the change in character and story, he continues to be curious and one day comes across a Logan, who, stranded by William and suffering from heatstroke, tells him he is in the wrong world.
Though Logan simply wants to get out, his words strike a chord within Akecheta, who starts believing there are multiple worlds (and he is not wrong). After successfully awakening Kohana and running away with her for a short but blissful period of time, he loses her again, as technicians find her and take her back.
To save her, he braves death itself, as he goes to the technicians, but fails to awaken her as he finds her frozen in the vault. This is how he comes to be the person we now know – he is in fact fighting to awaken as many hosts as possible.
Though the main focus is on Akecheta, we get a glimpse of Maeve’s struggling to stay alive. Lee finally begins to understand awoken hosts’ motivations and her desire to be reunited with her daughter, which is always welcome, although long overdue.
At the end of the episode we also see that Maeve and Akecheta have been communicating with each other, culminating with a promise: that even if she might not make it, Akecheta will look after her daughter.
Beautiful as it is, I cannot help but regret how long it has taken showrunners to get his story out. Striking as it is, the episode doesn’t change the perspective of many of the characters about the ‘savage’ Ghost Nation.
As such, the show presents an interesting debate – whether the stories in the theme parks still suffer from racial bias because of the in-universe writers, or are the creators of the show unable to create a universe that’s moved on from that? More simply put, are we giving show writers more credit than it’s due?
On the one hand, you have characters from the Edo Japan theme park (an extremely isolationist period in the history of the country) directly subverting their narratives – which were created for those guests who thought Westworld was too tame – by feeling, and expressing love, familial feelings and loyalty. On the other you have the treatment of the Ghost Nation characters as complete and utter savages up until.
Regardless of the answer to that, for once Westworld forgoes any weapons of confusion from its arsenal, preferring to simply recount the beautiful story of a man yearning to find his love and be free. We can only hope that the narrative of the show continues to treat the Ghost Nation the way it did in this episode.
New episodes of Westworld arrive weekly on HBO in the US. Sky Atlantic simultaneously airs Westworld for UK audiences every Sunday at 2am, with repeat airings on Mondays from 9pm, and episodes available on NOW TV.