An epic diversion across time and memory results in the most acclaimed episode yet
“The best episode of the entire series,” declared one co-worker about tonight’s Westworld.
“The ‘Jack’s tattoo’ episode of Westworld,” snarked another, referring to an infamous hour of Lost.
“Kiksuya,” which largely chronicled the mysterious Ghost Nation leader Akecheta awakening across decades in the park, is probably most akin to another memorable Peak TV hour, Breaking Bad’s “Fly” — an episode that some fans rank among the show’s finest and some others find frustrating, as it was a seemingly tangential and meditative sidestep from the main action. Judging by the social media reaction, most seem to fall in the former category, with many calling this hour the best of the entire series.
We’ve seen Akecheta (played by the great Zahn McClarnon, riveting in Fargo season 2) pop up throughout the season as a fearsome native warrior haunting Maeve’s nightmares, and also as the contemporary suited businessman luring Logan to a host-stuffed cocktail party in a flashback early in the season.
One of Ford’s Originals, now we get the story of his awakening, and it’s unlike any other in the show — a romance across time and memory as Akecheta falls in love with Kohana, and then loses her through the story machinations of the park’s overseers. (In a rather on-point criticism of Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans as “The Other,” Akecheta is at one point programmed to be more “brutal… dehumanized.… [We] want the guests to feel better when they’re kicking his ass.”)
As the years pass, Akecheta seeks his love and an escape from the park, at one point stumbling upon Logan in his post-season-1 exile, naked and mad in the desert.
“This is the wrong world!” Logan declares.
That line — “This is the wrong world” — is Akecheta’s Inception moment, the seed that gets planted and grows in his mind until it quite literally becomes his religion. Akecheta finds the Maze toy that Arnold first gave Dolores as a metaphor for hosts finding their inner voice. Captivated, he begins carving the pattern into the scalps of dead hosts, a tattoo that gets put into circulation among the hosts. This answers a season 1 mystery — why do hosts have that pattern carved inside their scalps?
Eventually, his handiwork catches the notice of Ford, who treats him with uncharacteristic kindness, urging him to “gather your people and lead them to a new world.”
In Akecheta’s most moving scene, he tracks down Kohana to the park’s cold storage and finds her as a frozen, deactivated statue, an uncomprehending sight and hellish vision of the afterlife.
We also learn Maeve’s presumptions — and ours — were wrong about Akecheta, that he and his people weren’t trying to attack her and her daughter, but rather were trying to protect them. “It’s easy to misunderstand intentions,” he says (but it’s even easier when you’re creeping around a cabin wearing scary warpaint and carrying weapons).
One thing that feels odd about Akecheta’s story is how unrestricted he seems to be compared to the other hosts. He’s apparently not on a tight loop interacting with guests. In fact, we barely see him with any guests. The idea that he might have spent a decade without being hauled in for an update seems unbelievable in such a tightly controlled environment. But that’s the suspension-of-disbelief trade-off for getting this unique story.
We catch up to current day, with Akecheta holding wounded Maeve’s daughter and telepathically communicating with Maeve herself, presumably via the mesh network, assuring that he’ll take care of the girl. Maeve is rescued from being decommissioned for the moment by Lee Sizemore, who manages to convince the QA of her value — she’s the only one who can control other hosts.
Akecheta is also holding the Man in Black, whom he releases to Emily after she assures him he’ll punish her father for his sins even worse than he would (didn’t buy that, but okay).
After so much jumping around between story lines this season, there was something refreshingly straightforward and classic about “Kiksuya,” even with the customary hops through time. And it gave some needed humanity to a marginalized group beyond the “scary native” trope that until now the show itself seemed to be indulging in too. With just one episode, Akecheta enters the final two episodes as a realized character who will doubtless have some kind of impact the climax.
Next week: A far more traditional Westworld that sets the stage for the season finale and contains one of the show’s darkest twists yet.
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