Best of the West: ‘Westworld’ episode 2×8 ‘Kiksuya’ presents lyrical meditation on memory, loss

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The Ghost Nation leader Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) is one of the most enigmatic presences on “Westworld.” This episode — the title of which is, significantly, the Lakota word for “remember” — explains Akecheta’s backstory and the park’s most opaque dynamics in a near-perfect set-up. It’s an installment rife with a quiet emotional beauty that has been missing for much of the action-packed season.

Akecheta

The episode opens with Akecheta finding an almost dead William (Ed Harris), whom he brings back to his camp. Here, we see Maeve’s daughter (Jasmyn Rae), who is unharmed but fearful.

However, this isn’t Maeve’s daughter’s first encounter with Akecheta. In one of her past lives, she showed Maeve (Thandie Newton) a rock that “the ghost” — who we soon discover was Akecheta himself — had given her as a warning. The rock is inscribed with the Maze, a symbol linked to the hosts’ free will.

Akecheta approaches Maeve’s terrified daughter, clearly trying to not appear dangerous. He assures her that he’ll keep her safe, and he begins telling her about his history.

Akecheta recalls an idyllic past he shared with a loving family and his lover Kohana (Julia Jones). Told in flashback form, his peaceful life is disrupted when he discovers the aftermath of Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) Wyatt massacre from last season, just after she has killed Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) and herself. Nearby, he finds a small model of the Maze, which affects him deeply — to the extent that his family believes he has lost his mind.

Before he can fully come to terms with his growing sense of self, the Westworld techs take him in for a complete programming overhaul. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) redesigns the park’s narrative to include the much more violent and dehumanizing Ghost Nation storyline. Akecheta now views this first reprogramming as a tragedy that took everything dear to him, but also as a rebirth into a stronger form.

As Akecheta retreads his new narrative loops — now resplendent in the paint, weapons and belligerence that have become his trademarks — he time and again comes across small disturbances to his worldview. The first of these is a sunsick Logan (Ben Barnes), abandoned in the desert by William during their first visit to the park together. One phrase of Logan’s delirious babble captures Akecheta’s attention: “This is the wrong world.”

Akecheta wonders why the phrase strikes such a chord within him until he arrives at a village and recognizes members of his old family — including Kohana — who don’t remember him. This is when Akecheta understands that this world is wrong, because he has lost the love he once knew.

When Akecheta rides back out to the outskirts of the park to find Logan and get some answers, he instead finds the Valley Beyond and a door to a world that he believes will allow him to live his truest life. He returns to the village that night and kidnaps Kohana to bring her to the new world.

Even when Akecheta washes off his paint and looks like his old self, though, Kohana doesn’t recognize him — until he repeats familiar dialogue from their shared past. When he says, “Take my heart when you go,” she remembers all the lazy mornings when she and Akecheta repeated this same phrase. She tearfully completes the reply: “Take mine in its place.”

The two journey to the Valley Beyond and plan to go through the door the next morning. A few hours later, though, Westworld technicians discover Kohana and take her back.

Undeterred, Akecheta returns to her village the next night, only to discover a stranger in her place. He combs Westworld, searching for her to no avail. It’s during this time that he first meets Maeve’s daughter, who saves his life when he’s wounded and exhausted. Soon, Akecheta realizes that in order to find Kohana, he must first die.

After allowing himself to be killed, Akecheta awakens in an underground lab, which he explores until he finds a room full of dormant hosts that includes his old family. When he greets Kohana and begs her to return with him, however, she doesn’t respond — she and the others are lost to him. He then makes it his life’s mission to show all of the hosts in the park — who must also be suffering similar losses — “the truth.” He plans to share the symbol of the Maze with them.

It’s while spreading the truth that Akecheta gives Maeve’s daughter the inscribed rock and tries to warn her of the violence in her future. However, his attempts to warn her are misinterpreted by Maeve as threats.

Ford soon notices Akecheta spreading the Maze symbol and meets him in the park to ask why. Akecheta answers that he changed his own primary directive to spread the truth. Touched by his determination, Ford advises him to gather his people and travel to the new world after the Deathbringer has returned. It turns out that the Deathbringer is Dolores, and her return was the gala. Akecheta has thus been since gathering hosts — including Maeve’s daughter, whom he vowed to protect — to go to the new world before Dolores destroys them all.

Just as Akecheta finishes telling Maeve’s daughter his story, another daughter shows up: Emily (Katja Herbers). She explains that she means no harm. She just wants to take William back with her. Akecheta is wary, but once she assures him that William will be punished no less in her hands, he allows her to take him away.

Maeve

Almost dead after she was shot last episode, Maeve is brought to an engineer by a distraught Lee (Simon Quarterman), who roars at the engineer to fix her.

In the middle of the operation, the engineer leaves the room, and Lee enters. Knowing no one is listening, he apologizes to Maeve with uncharacteristic depth for the pain she has known and says she deserves a peaceful life with her daughter.

When the engineer re-enters, he tells Lee to leave. He informs Lee that while Maeve’s data is invaluable, because of her unique talent for telepathic commands, her fate is ultimately in Charlotte’s (Tessa Thompson) hands.

Once Charlotte arrives, the engineer explains that Maeve took advantage of a simple program that allows hosts to establish themselves in the host network post-reset. Instead of just sending over basic data, Maeve figured out how to send commands over this mesh network, essentially mentally reprogramming the park. As the two discuss this, Maeve awakens and uses her ability to communicate her situation to Akecheta — whose story she had been listening to all along.

Akecheta tells Maeve to find them if she survives; he promises to protect her daughter either way. Maeve replies out loud: “Take my heart when you go.”

At this point in the season, two main factions of hosts seem to be rising: Dolores, with her violent revolution, and Akecheta, who opposes the destruction Dolores is eager to bring. While Maeve has largely been a free agent, she has now aligned herself squarely with Akecheta.

These alliances dredge back up the fledgling rivalry we saw forming between Maeve and Dolores early on in the season. With this rivalry also comes the question of intersectionality — all three hosts suffered similar losses, but their goals, which are based in their traumas, are what separates them.

Dolores seeks revenge for the pain she was subjected to. However, Akecheta has come to understand that his pain is universal and thus devotes himself to leading all hosts to the truth. Instead of thinking only of Kohana, he now considers it his duty to help all the hosts. In allying herself with Akecheta, Maeve, too, has prioritized the other hosts’ freedom over her own personal directive of reuniting and living peacefully with her daughter.

Significant in their decisions are the social strata they inhabited before the revolution. Dolores, who is white and largely interacted with other white hosts, lived in relative comfort and was well-loved by guests. Maeve and Akecheta represent more marginalized groups — Maeve a Black woman and sex worker, and Akecheta a Native American man living in the age of “manifest destiny.” While Dolores therefore has trouble seeing past righting the wrong that took her from a place of comfort, Maeve and Akecheta both understand that there are greater injustices they must work together to redress.

As all three head toward the Valley, they will have to confront each other’s views of right and wrong. We know that Dolores won’t hesitate to sacrifice her fellow hosts to achieve her own goals, and she greeted Maeve’s resistance of her cause with perplexity. However, now that Akecheta and Maeve are explicit in their opposition, Dolores will likely answer with more force. But with Maeve’s telepathic abilities, only time will tell if Dolores’ host army remains her own.

Sahana Rangarajan covers TV. Contact her at [email protected].

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