Previously on Westworld, “Les Écorchés”
A week after an episode which changed everything, Westworld decided to spend an hour with a character we only just met in the second season’s second episode. Not only that, but most of the episode was in Lakota.
And it was beautiful.
“Kiksuya” (Lakota for “remember”) is a brutal, lovely, and heartbreaking story of Akecheta’s (Zahn McClarnon) journey to consciousness. It’s a story that begins in the park’s early, beta days, but we’re first oriented in the present day. Sizemore rushes Maeve to a lab to save her life. The tech in charge only gets the urgency when Sizemore reveals Maeve’s ability to control the other hosts with her mind. Meanwhile, Akecheta finds the Man in Black near death and brings him back to his camp, but not out of kindness. Death would be too good for him. As Maeve is inspected, Akecheta attempts to reassure her daughter (Jasmyn Rae) that he won’t hurt her, and he won’t let MIB harm her either. He begins to tell her his story and how he came to remember all the lives he’s lived.
Before the park opened, the Lakota tribe lived an easy life surrounded by family, including his love, Kohana (Julia Jones). This changes when Akecheta comes upon the aftermath of Dolores and Teddy’s massacre of the other hosts and Arnold. He finds the maze on the bar where Arnold left it and it triggers something inside of him. He becomes obsessed with the symbol and paints, sketches, and carves it everywhere he can. It drives a wedge between him and the rest of the tribe.
“I was reborn. And this time I came out breathing fire.”
For the park’s grand opening, Akecheta is repurposed as the leader of The Ghost Nation. Purposely made to be violent and fearless; dehumanized as much as possible. But he’s also designed to be curious and seeks out the presence he feels: the newcomers. He finds Logan naked and babbling in the desert where William sent him in “The Bicameral Mind.” Among the nonsense, something Logan says strikes a nerve.
“This is the wrong world.”
Akecheta shows Logan a kindness by leaving him with a blanket. The Ghost Nation travels to the camp where Akecheta used to live to trade, and he sees Kohana. Though he’s a stranger to her, he has a sense of recognition and it grows. He knows he’s lived another life and tries to find his way back there. He searches for Logan for answers, but finds the site of William’s project at the valley beyond instead – a door to another world. He wants to escape, but not without Kohana.
Akecheta kidnaps her in the middle of the night, cleans off the Ghost Nation paint, and presents himself to her with a phrase they said to each other in their past life: Mi cante ki yu ha ya ye. Take my heart when you go. She replies, “Take mine in its place.”
Akecheta takes Kohana to the site of the door, but it’s now completely underground. He vows to find it again with her, but she’s found by Delos techs while he’s out hunting for food. When he returns to the camp to steal her away once more, he finds she’s been replaced with another host.
He becomes determined to find her again, but first he has to find himself. He has to complete the maze. He travels the park, almost dying until Maeve’s daughter finds him and offers him water. When he returns to his old camp, he discovers others have been replaced as well, including Wichapi’s (Irene Bedard) — a tribal elder — son, Etu (Booboo Stewart). Wichapi also realizes something is wrong and reveals the Lakota have turned the people below (the Delos techs they call Shades) into mythical beings to be feared by some and desired by others.
“I had searched everywhere for my love except the other side of death.”
Akecheta realizes in order to go below, he has to die and allows himself to be killed by another host. The behavioral techs marvel at the fact that he’s an original host, not updated in ten years since they only update the hosts when they die. This means he’s been living this life, wandering the park knowing something is wrong, for ten years. In the second act of human negligence and laziness (the first being not wiping Akecheta completely before turning him into the leader of the Ghost Nation), to keep this hidden from the higher-ups, it’s decided that Akecheta will be updated and placed back where he was found. When he’s left alone to receive the 4-hour update, Akecheta goes exploring.
In a scene much like Maeve’s in the other greatest episode ever, “Dissonance Theory,” Akechata views the labs and comes to the realization of what he is. He finds Kohana and Etu in cold storage, and once it sinks in that she’s not coming back, he tearfully kisses her goodbye. Because he knows that the other hosts above ground feel the loss of their loved ones even if they don’t understand why, Akecheta returns with the purpose of helping every host obtain consciousness.
He begins to spread the symbol of the maze to his people and beyond. Since Maeve’s daughter had been kind to him, he watched over her and her mother. He left the maze drawn in the dirt outside their home. He painted the symbol on a rock and gave it to the daughter, who only tells Maeve that a ghost gave it to her as a warning. He couldn’t protect them from MIB, though he tried.
One night, he meets Ford, who is scalping Lakota hosts to reveal the maze they took to carving on them, in a clearing. Under analysis, Akecheta admits to first seeing the symbol when the Deathbringer (Dolores) killed The Creator (Arnold). He gave himself a new primary directive: to bring the truth to the people. Ford admits that The Deathbringer will be coming for him soon, and when he’s gone, Akecheta should gather his people and head for the door he thinks will bring their freedom. Until then, he should keep watching.
Akecheta finds the aftermath of the shooting, once more finding their creator dead. It is now time to find the door.
“If you stay alive, find us. Or die well.”
In present day, Emily arrives at the Lakota camp for her father. She promises what she has in store for MIB is much worse than anything Akecheta could do so he allows her to take him. Hale is presented with the news of what Maeve can do and realizes that Maeve is currently speaking to another host while on the table. She has been seeing and hearing through her daughter the whole time, learning about Akecheta’s past and intentions. He’s been speaking to Maeve, in Lakota, and promises to protect her daughter.
On the operating table, Maeve says, “Take my heart when you go.”
Analysis. What Prompted That Response?
- There were so many elements that made this a truly beautiful experience: McClarnon’s soothing voice and the emotions he was able to display with just his eyes; the music (Ramin Djawadi’s haunting rendition of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box); and the epic shots of Akecheta riding to the edges of the park, to name a few.
- Once again, even when you predict what’s going to happen (I realized Akecheta was speaking to Maeve when he said, “That was a promise you couldn’t keep,” right after we saw her make the promise to her daughter and when he briefly spoke English to say how the daughter had shown him kindness), the delivery still affects you. This is in large part to the amazing acting we receive on this show. Give Emmys to Thandie Newton and Zahn McClarnon, please.
- Also, the subtle change in the way Akecheta spoke means that the writers were okay if you got it before the reveal. I love when the storytelling does that. Yes, we can appreciate a good twist, but it’s refreshing when the writing isn’t twisted in senseless ways to achieve the surprise.
- The meeting with Ford cleared up something I saw as a bit of a confusing moment in season one. While out making plans for which parts of the park would be altered for his new narrative, Ford arrives in Las Mudas and appears disturbed when he found the maze carved into a wooden tabletop. At this point in the series, you’re not sure where Arnold is and the maze was set up to be his work. Ford’s response could be seen as him being shaken by the possibility that Arnold is alive, but that wouldn’t make much sense in retrospect. Now, we know that this was the beginning of Ford realizing other hosts (or at the very least one host) were aware of the maze. It stands to reason that this is what prompts him to find and watch Akecheta, and then looking to see just how far Akecheta had spread the message.
- Sizemore’s apology to Maeve while she’s on the table was surprising, and caused feelings of sympathy I didn’t expect.
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