Westworld has been on a tear lately. After a season-plus of often confusing narratives that darted around space and time, recent weeks have seen a string of episodes telling almost self-contained stories. These episodes have deepened our understanding of the show's characters and world, while exploring its themes in greater depth than a frantic plot-juggle ever could. Not coincidentally, they've also represented the show's best episodes.
And this week's episode may be the best.
“Kiksuya” centres on a character frequently seen at the fringes of the show, but never really explored - until now. It's Akecheta (Zach McClarnon), the Native American “Ghost Nation” host we've seen menacing various characters since last year. It speaks volumes to the rough shorthand used to depict the character previously that this episode is able to completely reframe Akecheta as a tragic, yearning character. He's the most sympathetic depiction of the android condition so far, and his story is the most emotional the show has yet told. That “Kiksuya” almost exclusively focuses on him only makes the storytelling all the stronger.
Akecheta’s story is an hourlong epic spanning over a decade, making this another one of Westworld’s deep dives into character history. Turns out, our man didn’t start out as the bloodthirsty warrior earlier episodes have painted him as. Rather, he started as a more pastoral type, before being reprogrammed as “brutal and dehumanised” to drive up engagement. More importantly, he appears to have been one of the first hosts to become self-aware, thanks to an early encounter with the “maze” symbol that’s been a similar obsession for William. For Akecheta, the maze represents the notion that there is another world out there; that there's a way out. It's an idea confirmed when Akecheta encounters a naked, parched Logan Delos ranting about being in “the wrong world.” I’ll be honest: I’d forgotten that Logan had been sent out into the desert in the first place, but his brief intrusion into this storyline serves a more interesting purpose than he ever did in Season One.
Upon his return from the desert, Akecheta begins to notice strange things going on with his people. Individuals vanish only to reappear, including his wife, who comes back as a total stranger, reprogrammed and repurposed. It's only through surviving for so long - nearly a decade - that Akecheta is able to observe all this going on. Westworld hosts weren't designed to live very long, such is the likelihood of their murder at one pair of hands or another. This longevity explains Akecheta's uncanny understanding of the park's systems, but also his emotional connection to the world in which he lives. Whether finding access points to Westworld’s underground, or seeing his wife abducted by lab technicians, he develops a comprehensive worldview based on available information. It’s a fascinating process to watch.
When Akecheta encounters the other side of Westworld, his mission really becomes set. Getting himself killed for the sole purpose of seeing the subterranean world beyond, he finds his way into the park’s labs, where he sees how the sausage is made - and where retired hosts go when they're no longer useful. Released without a memory wipe, seemingly to see what happens, Akecheta sets about teaching others the harsh truth about their world. He even meets Ford, in what can’t possibly be a coincidence, who instructs Akecheta to seek the exit he believes in. Ford’s death is the trigger for Akecheta's new quest - it seems Ford's postmortem meta-narrative is more overarching than we thought.
This storyline is intriguing for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it introduces the idea that hosts have developed spiritual beliefs pertaining to their nature and the nature of the park. The very phrase “Ghost Nation” takes on new meaning when paired with the belief system behind it. The notion of “the ones below” is a strong underworld equivalent, while the reappearance of memory-wiped hosts is a heartwrenching take on reincarnation. Akecheta’s emotional pain is the realest-feeling of the show so far, pushing him to spread a horrifying gospel, to find a way out of the park, and to protect Maeve’s daughter.
Akecheta spends this entire episode recounting his story to the girl, but Maeve herself spends it lying in an examination table in Westworld's labs. Lee, who brought her in, is intent on saving Maeve, so unique are her android mind-control abilities. But the dodgy attending tech only sees that special spark as “anomalous code” to be extracted and analysed. We, of course, know the truth behind why her brain is so busy during the proceedings: she's communicating with Akecheta via the hosts’ mesh network. Their agreement is legitimately tearjerking, given the history of misunderstandings between the two. If this is Maeve's exit from the show - though I suspect it isn't - it's a remarkable one.
About the only “plot” in this episode, strictly speaking, is Grace’s arrival at the Ghost Nation camp to claim her father. Akecheta protests, saying he wants William to suffer, but Grace concurs - in fact, her way of making him hurt will be “much, much worse.” Indeed, extracting William from Westworld and forcing him to face the real world for the first time in decades would be the worst punishment imaginable for a man who's rejected reality so comprehensively. But maybe Grace has other plans in the interim. We’ll find out, I suppose.
“Kiksuya” is a pretty easy sell for the title of Westworld's best episode thus far. It’s full of beautiful imagery and dialogue; it tells a powerfully human story in a show about machines; it recontextualises a villain as a hero and gives meaning to otherwise perplexing symbology. Clearly, Akecheta will be a significant driving force in the season’s two remaining episodes; he’s also suddenly the most interesting thing on the show. Westworld has amazed on a regular basis this season; hopefully it continues this streak towards whatever endpoint (or cliffhanger) it has in mind.