Saddle up! But beware potential spoilers in this review, which will discuss elements of the episode.
“Take my heart when you go.” It’s a sentiment that is repeated several times in tonight’s episode, and if your heart doesn’t feel the tendrils of sadness creeping about it like a growing vine, you might want to check your programming and up those empathy levels. With Kiksuya, Westworld took a trip away from the usual story, but still found meaning and connection in broadening, deepening and enhancing the world around the main narrative. For most of the run thus far, the Ghost Nation have been a shadowy, scary presence, embodying the savage aspect of old West stories. But, as with so much of this show, there are many layers. And while we’d understand any frustration at diverting from the various strands to explore a side character, it’s worth remembering that Zahn McClarnon’s Akecheta is the hero in his own story. And what a story! Love, loss, memory wipes and the ever-present mystery of the door.
It’s a credit to the script from Carly Wray and Dan Deitz and nuanced direction by Uta Briesewitz (with much of the dialogue in the Lakota language) that you don’t miss the antics of Dolores and the rest (though she crops up once or twice, known by Akecheta and his fellow tribal folk as the Deathbringer. The only other main character to have much impact this week is Maeve, still badly hurt after being shot by the QA force and now seemingly appreciated only for her “psychic” abilities to talk to and command other hosts. Her powers are on display this week as it turns out that Akecheta is not just talking to her daughter, but addressing her. Heart. Breaking.
Kiksuya is a winner of an episode because it really does dig into Akecheta’s story, revealing when he became aware of the true nature of his “wrong” world and his struggle to understand it. You can’t help but feel for his journey and his sadness at discovering that the woman he loves no longer recognises him because he’s been reprogrammed and repurposed for another narrative. Then he manages to get through to her, only for her to be snatched away, this time destined for Cold Storage. Julia Jones did a lot with a relatively small role in Kohana, pushing her beyond simply being Akecheta’s love interest.
Similarly, our hero’s quest helped us understand more about what has been going on with the hosts and how they’re now fully aware of what is going on. Akecheta took on the nature of a missionary trying to spread the truth about the world, except in this case he was backed up by evidence. And there’s an excellent message lurking within about how situations can be misread, such as the apparent “attack” on Maeve and her daughter by the Ghost Nation, which was really Akecheta coming to rescue her.
Working even more effectively than Akane no Mai, this week’s detour added colour and worked on a level beyond simply seeing some new situations. While the Dolores/Bernard/Charlotte Hale episodes have been entertaining and much more focused now that the world is properly established, this was an excellent look at a much-deserving character. It’ll be interesting to see how Akecheta’s story ties in once again with everyone else as the final two episodes of the season unfurl. But the episode worked on its own merits, pricking the emotions and firing the neurons. It took our heart, but also brought the brain.
1. If it was ever possible to feel empathy for Lee Sizemore, this was the episode to provoke that. Do we feel bad for him? A little. He thinks he’s people! With feelings!
2. Is security at the Mesa really that bad that a host can just wander the base at night? We sort of wanted a scene where Akecheta meets Jerry the night caretaker.
3. With all the depth and thought on display here, was it disappointing to anyone else that Akecheta’s time in the Mesa was full of naked female hosts and yet almost all the males in the lab were clothed? At least cold storage was a little more democratic.
4. Since the door is the same place that the woke hosts all seem to be headed, does this mean Akecheta has a deadly fate awaiting him? And what is that build site? A mega server?
5. We blithely referenced Hannibal Lecter last week with the ghost of Ford in Bernard’s head. But did anyone else get a real Hannibal vibe from Anthony Hopkins’ lone scene this week, scalping Ghost Nation hosts and monologuing when approached by Akecheta?
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Westworld airs on HBO in the US on Sunday nights and Mondays on Sky Atlantic in the UK