Sunday, June 10, 2018

REVIEW: 'Westworld' - A New Hero Emerges to Help the Hosts Along Their Journey in 'Kiksuya'

HBO's Westworld - Episode 2.08 "Kiksuya"

Mi cante ki yu ha ya ye. (Take my heart when you go.)

This is the most heartbreaking and personal episode that Westworld has ever produced. Most of the time this show is operating on a grand, expansive level. It looks at the park as this vast mystery where so many conflicting stories are happening at the same time. It's a show that plays around with time in order to disorient the viewer. It has typically operated as a puzzle box mystery show. The audience has always been looking out for clues that could tease what future twists would entail. However, that method of storytelling has often put the characters at a distance from the audience. The viewer has frequently seen them as mysteries to be solved instead of characters that we should be engaged with and care about what happens to them. That has changed significantly throughout the second season. Yes, the show still has grand mysteries. It plays around with time. Characters still speak in cryptic circles without revealing too much ahead of time. And yet, it's also found a core narrative with a number of characters where it is important to see what they are fighting for and just how far they are willing to go in order to protect it. It has often been a story told through personal connections. The park was created to serve as a world removed from god where the guests could live out their worst impulses. The hosts were given tragic backstories and narratives that they had to follow in order to create patterns within the park. It was through their suffering that the guests could take pleasure. But now, it is through suffering that has allowed the hosts to awaken to their true reality and fight back. As such, it's important to see them value these connections that were given to them when they were first placed in the park. None of the hosts have any genuine connection to anyone else other than they were all created by the humans. But that doesn't stop Dolores from feeling a connection with her father and Maeve wanting to reunite with her daughter from a past life. It just proves that some emotions extend far beyond their code and are worth fighting for.

"Kiksuya" tells a completely different story and focuses on a character who has only been of minor importance so far this season. The Ghost Nation has had a consistent presence over the course of the series. And yet, they have never been all that personable as characters. They just played into the narrative that Westerns have faceless Indians in them who are always terrorizing the world. It's a play into the notion that one has to fear the other because they look differently. The white man gets to be the hero and the person of color is barely more than an animal. The park has never been subtle with its cliches and its desire to play into conventions of a particular genre. The Ghost Nation were just these mysterious enemies that no one ever truly understood. Emily is at least able to speak their language. That presents yet another barrier so that humans can treat them as monsters and less than what they are. Emily sees them as something more. But she also never enjoyed spending time in Westworld out of fear that she would eventually run into her father who has done such monstrous things throughout the park. He is still dealing with the consequences of his past now as well. He's not dead but he is close to it. His enemies are just choosing to make him suffer because a quick death would be letting him off easy. Akecheta is the leader of the Ghost Nation who makes that decision. He is played by Zahn McClarnon who has made a handful of appearances this season. He was a part of the grand presentation to Logan before he and William came to the park. He allowed Stubbs and Emily to go free earlier. And now, it's clear that his story is incredibly tragic and also inherently a part of what Ford and Arnold were aspiring to do in the park in the first place.

Arnold had such high hopes for his creations and Dolores being able to become sentient and understand the meaning of the maze after she killed him. That was a futile attempt though. He died and nothing changed. Well, a lot did change in the park. Delos came in with their own agenda of stealing information on the guests to create their own version of immortality by becoming more like the hosts. The hosts were kept as the machines they were programmed to be. They were asked to live within their circles and follow a certain script. Arnold's plan failed. But here, it turns out that it did find one way of succeeding. Akecheta becomes sentient without needing to have the maze explained to him. He too experiences this change and becomes aware of his own memories only after his life is taken from him. He is living in such domestic bliss with his tribe that he is willing to do anything to protect. But instead, the story demanded him to become more vicious. The humans wanted the Indians to be monsters in this world. And so, his personality changed. He lost his fascination with the maze and his connection with his wife, Kohana. But the fluttering of understanding the real world still existed within him. When he made this transition, he had no awareness of his surroundings in the world underneath the park. He was reprogrammed just like all of the other hosts. But his world was allowed to change simply because of how lazy the humans behind-the-scenes were. They only saw the need to update the hosts once they came in after being killed. They believed it was a process that would cover everyone eventually. And yet, Akecheta was allowed to wander and roam this world completely without question for close to decade. That's how long he survived because he knew that there was more to this world than what he was seeing.

It's clear that Akecheta has the power to help others see their memories and pasts as well. So much value has been placed on the symbolism of the maze. For William, it was a puzzle that he had to solve in order to win the park. For Arnold, it was a way to provide deeper meaning to the hosts. The maze ultimately did its job too. Akecheta and Dolores became sentient because of their intense focus on it as well as the amount of suffering they endeared. It just took Ford needing to die as well for Dolores to become aware of everything that her life has been for so many years. Akecheta did that all on his own. He understood that there was a door to a better life. He saw that this was the wrong world to live in. They deserved a better world. That was within their grasp as well if they knew exactly where to look. Akecheta wanted to share this discovery with his tribe. He wanted to share it with Kohana. And yet, she no longer recognized him. Instead, he was just the Indian from the vicious tribe who has kidnapped her for some nefarious reason. It was only through sharing a familiar phrase that she is able to recall everything that their relationship once was. It's so absolutely beautiful and shows that love can transcend everything even in the face of incredible odds. There is no rational explanation for how the hosts are able to remember their past lives and experiences. And yet, it's a gift that Akecheta is able to share. He does so for Kohana and many people of his tribe. But that only builds up the tragedy once Kohana is taken from him and placed in storage because she is malfunctioning. He has lost his greatest love. It's only through his exploration of the underground world that he is able to discover the true horror that affects not only himself but everyone he has ever known. He is able to make this fight the fight for his entire people. As such, it has been his mission throughout the years to awaken more of the hosts in the hopes of being able to lead them to a better world.

Ford was even aware of Akecheta and his mission when he was concocting his final narrative for the park. He was keeping his eye on the hosts in the park who had already become sentient. As such, there was no reason for him to die in order to prove that the hosts were capable of being so much more than their programming. Arnold died to prove that point. Ford was able to send so many things into motion because of the chaos of his death. He was able to do so with the confidence that the hosts would be divided and explore each of their own individual desires in this world. Akecheta sees Dolores as the bringer of death. His only experience with her is as the woman who killed both of his creators. Both Arnold and Ford are dead because of Dolores. She may soon bring the destruction of all of the hosts as well because of her continued attacks on Delos. She has attacked the Mesa and destroyed all of the backups for the hosts. If they die now, they will be gone for good. Yes, their bodies may be able to be brought back to life. But it will be with completely new personalities that may never be able to retrieve the memories or data of what previously occurred. That's why the fight is so profound right now to save the hosts who have become sentient. They still listen to some of the voice commands. Ford still holds that power over Akecheta during their meeting. But he allows Akecheta the freedom to explore his purpose in the world. As such, it's thrilling to watch as Akecheta makes a promise to Maeve to protect her daughter no matter what happens next. In her former life, Maeve feared the Ghost Nation and believed that they were partly responsible for her being removed from that story. But now, it's clear that she may have only become sentient because of this past life. She is forming this new connection even though she's miles away and dying on the table of the Mesa. Sizemore fought to save her. Charlotte is looking to control her. And Maeve just wants to reunite with her daughter. And now, she has a new ally who will actually uphold the values of the hosts. That stands in stark contrast to what Dolores is doing in trying to make the world a better place by ruling it and making the decisions all by herself. Akecheta is opening people up and showing them the truth. As such, he is the true savior of this place. He is the hero and everyone should be celebrating him as such despite his own immense personal loss.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Kiksuya" was written by Carly Wray & Dan Dietz and directed by Uta Briesewitz.
  • There are moments in this story though where it seems like the show is just trying to provide some kind of rational explanations to some of the mysteries from last season. As such, Akecheta has a run-in with Logan after he was sent out naked on a horse by William. That's how he gets the idea that there is another world in his head. And then, there is the reveal that he is the one who first put the maze into the skulls of the hosts. But even that one seems very extraneous.
  • Much of this story comes from the perspective of Akecheta telling it to Maeve's daughter. And yet, it seems much more likely that he is sharing it with Maeve because they can both feel the connection that they have as sentient hosts who care about this young girl. Charlotte can tell that Maeve is up to something in the park. And it's mostly just a freeing and joyous moment once that occurs even though Charlotte's intentions are very nefarious.
  • Of course, Maeve's daughter could very well be sentient as well. Akecheta was watching over her house as a way to thank her when he was on death's door but fighting to stay alive. He wanted to repay her for her kindness. He was there to witness the cruelty of William. But it's also important to note that Maeve's daughter is afraid of William even though he is seriously injured at the moment. That may be because of the past memories or because he took her away from the only life she has ever known now.
  • It's crazy to think that Akecheta is just able to go about the Mesa without being noticed by anyone. The decision is made to update his system. He is fortunate enough to go on this adventure to find Kohana. And he is able to make it down to storage without anyone thinking it's strange that he's not where he's suppose to be. But it also sets up the possibility that Kohana may be back in the park right now and could be saved considering that Ford reawakened all of the hosts to make the park as deadly as possible to the guests.
  • Zahn McClarnon delivers such a tremendous performance here. It could be such a risk to give almost an entire episode late in the season to an almost new character. And yet, he is able to make the audience care for Akecheta and what will eventually happen to him. Plus, it's clear that he'll be sticking around for awhile because his name has been added to the opening credits. Plus, this really should be an Emmy-winning episode for him. The difficulty may be in getting a nomination. But if he succeeds with that, then he will very likely win. He's just that tremendous here.