This second season of Westworld has been a bit of a mixed bag. There have been some excellent episodes, particularly ‘Riddle of the Sphinx’, which I called one of the best hours of television of 2018, and some that felt like wading through molasses. I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that sets the great apart from the gruelling and it was about half an hour through ‘Kiksuya’ when the answer finally hit me.
Westworld’s central narrative – hosts awaken and revolt against the humans – is an intriguing one, but the majority of the storylines seem to wander in circles for an eternity, only revealing the destination about three episodes after everyone else has figured it out. I’m past the point of being all that interested in what lies in the valley beyond, what Charlotte Hale is up to, Ford’s endgame or what Bernard is mumbling about now. What does interest me is the individual stories, the ones that reveal the humanity of the hosts vs the inhumanity of their creators. ‘Riddle of the Sphinx’ had that in spades with its creator and monster analogy, while the season’s other stand-out episode, ‘Akane No Mai’, found the show’s heart via stunning performances from Rinko Kikuchi and Thandie Newton.
‘Kiksuya’ does something similar, mostly breaking from the principle narrative to delve deep into the story of Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), a character who has mostly remained on the periphery of things. He was the host who, along with the sadly departed Angela, duped Logan with his cocktail party shenanigans and he’s the Ghost Nation warrior who has popped up occasionally to whisper opaque warnings or stalk Maeve and her daughter. Pausing at this point to tell one heartbreaking story is a bold move, but one that pays off handsomely.
At the end of the last episode, Akecheta rescues Maeve’s daughter from the homestead. Back at his camp, he tells her his story. He was once the leader of a peaceful tribe, deeply in love with his wife Kohana (Julia Jones). One day, he inadvertently wanders into the aftermath of Dolores’s first massacre at the church and finds the wooden maze toy. The symbol unlocks a door in his brain and Akecheta becomes obsessed with it, to the point that he’s whisked out of the park and given a new, violent narrative as the leader of the Ghost Nation. But, as we’ve learned, once opened, this door stays open. Akecheta encounters his wife and former tribe again and it all comes flooding back. She doesn’t remember him though, not until he whisks her away at night and helps her to see the truth too. They search for a way out of the park, but Kohana is discovered by some technicians and taken away. When Akecheta returns to her tribe to retrieve her, there’s a different host in her place.
So begins a decade of searching, until Akecheta learns that death is the answer. He allows himself to be killed and uses the opportunity to search the underground facility for his wife, finding her decommissioned in cold storage. Distraught, he returns to the park and vows to help others wake up and find the way to the other world, where their loved ones can’t be taken from them. One of the hosts he took under his protective wing was Maeve’s daughter, who once found him wounded and helped him. So it transpires that all Maeve’s memories of Akecheta weren’t of him attacking them, but instead warning and protecting them.
Back in the Mesa, Lee is trying to convince a technician to save Maeve. Instead, he calls Charlotte to come and witness her unique abilities to ‘telepathically’ control and communicate with other hosts. While Charlotte examines her, they realise she’s communicating with someone else right there and then: Akecheta. Not only was he telling his story of loss and yearning to Maeve’s daughter, he was telling it to Maeve too.
Zahn McClarnon’s performance in this episode was so piercingly moving, it made me wish for a version of Westworld that is more an anthology of the different host’s stories, rather than the mind-puzzle it strives for. It’s a shame that it will inevitably return to the latter, as it’s in its quieter moments that the show gets close to being truly brilliant.
Questions, questions, questions
- Akecheta meets Ford while the great creator is removing the scalps of Ghost Nation warriors, revealing the maze carved into the underside of them all. Are we supposed to believe that Akecheta did this?
- So that’s what happened to Logan, insane and babbling by a rock when Akecheta finds him. Surely, though, the park’s employees would be tracking guests and would have noticed him wandering off into the desert?
- Akecheta and his people speak the real-life dialect of the Lakota tribe. Is this the most that the language of an indigenous people has been spoken on TV?
- Are we passed the point of there being any doubt that William is a host? For the second season in a row, it seems he’s the subject of the show’s worst kept secret.