'Westworld' Episode 8 Tells the Most Beautiful Ghost Story (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Episode 8 of Westworld Season 2.]
In a show which thrives on its cryptic imagery and enigmatic storytelling, the Ghost Nation have been the most inscrutable part of Westworld's sprawling narrative. These Native American tribesmen have lived on the outskirts of both the park itself and the story at large. They pop up from time to time to stare menacingly or indulge in some violent delights, but their intentions have never been clear. Are they bloodthirsty warriors living by their own rules? Or are they gatekeepers of a deeper secret which could unlock the answers to this whole game? The beautiful story of Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) shows us there is more to the Ghost Nation than these stereotype-laced questions would have us believe.
The episode opens on the Man In Black (Ed Harris), freshly wounded from his stand-off with Maeve (Thandie Newton), as he drags himself over to a nearby river. "You're not dying here. Not yet," he mutters to himself before seemingly passing out in the dirt. Enter Akecheta, who kicks the MIB back awake. "I remember you," says the Ghost Nation leader, and as we'll soon learn, Akecheta remembers a lot (“Kiksuya” means “remember” in Lakota, the language the majority of this episode is performed in). He brings the MIB to his camp, not out of kindness, but so he can suffer. "Death is a passage from this brutal world," he tells the MIB. "You don't deserve it."
Akecheta joins Maeve's daughter (Jasmyn Rae) who watches from the sidelines. He tells her they have something in common. That they can both remember all the things they've seen. All the lives they've lived. He starts to tell her about his origin story and this extended flashback sequence becomes the emotional centerpiece of the episode. We learn that Ake once lived a peaceful, pastoral lifestyle on the outer edges of the park. He was in love with a woman named Kohana (Julia Jones). His tribe were harmonious, peace-loving people. Until one day he found something that would change all their lives forever.
After hearing gunshots in the distance, Ake comes upon the Escalante massacre, where the Deathbringer aka Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) shot and killed Arnold (Jeffrey Wright), and herself. It's here where Ake discovers Arnold's wooden maze — a symbol which drives him to obsession, much like it later does the MIB. Ake draws the emblem everywhere — on the ground, on rocks, on people's scalps. His fellow tribespeople believe he is losing his mind. For Ake, his mind is finally being opened to the truth. But before he can crack the puzzle, he is taken to the lab for an upgrade and a change of narrative. The technicians turn up his aggression to create a more brutal, vicious "strong and silent type."
However, the change of narrative isn't enough to quell Ake's curiosity. "I still felt the presence of others, the lives I was forbidden from taking," he tells Maeve's daughter, referring to his inability to harm the guests. And so he continues to search for answers and eventually he stumbles upon Logan Delos (Ben Barnes), naked and sun-crazy, after being abandoned by William (Jimmi Simpson) in season one. This isn't the first time these two men have met. Remember in Episode 2, before the park had opened, Akecheta was one of the hosts sent to entice Logan when Ford was looking for investors. In his sun-fried state, Logan tells Ake a secret: "This is an illusion." He begins rambling about a way out and the door. "This is the wrong world!" he exclaims.
While Logan was merely asking for help, his words have a significant effect on Ake, who says it "cracked something open" in him. He couldn't rest until he found out the truth of his past life. His travel for truth takes him to the construction crater which William previously showed Dolores. The place we are led to believe is the Valley Beyond/Glory/The Door (pick your poison). Ake is certain that this is the door out of the "wrong world" and into a new world — the one where he is meant to be. But he doesn't want to leave alone. Westworld might not have been his "true world," but Kohana was. And so, just like Maeve and her pursuit of her daughter, Ake tracks down his love, kidnaps her from her home and makes her remember their previous life together — which, despite her reprogramming, she does.
Ake and Kohana set about on their journey to find the Door, but at some point, lab techs discover Kohana way outside of her sector. All Ake can do is watch as the humans take her back to the Mesa Hub for analysis. And so he begins a new mission, to find his lost love, doing all he can to survive, fearing that if he died, he would lose even her memory. He also recalls how Maeve's daughter once saved him when he was seriously injured. It's not until one of his old tribespeople tells him the tale of "the ones below" does he realize what he must do. "I had searched everywhere for my love, except the other side of death," he explains. And so, Ake allows himself to be killed and taken to the underworld.
It's here in the Mesa Hub where we learn that Ake hasn't been updated in almost a decade because the hosts only receive updates when they die. Therefore, Ake has been building up memories for nearly ten years. This is a fascinating reveal because it implies that hosts can achieve sentience without interference. Until now, the awoken hosts we've seen have all had their consciousness triggered by the reveries update and/or Ford manipulation. Ake's awakening shows us that none of that is necessary and that, in fact, Delos has been stunting sentience with their constant updates and erasing of memories.
Ake searches the Mesa for Kohana, and he does eventually find her, inside the cold storage unit among hundreds of decommissioned hosts (security sleeping on the job again I guess). It's a heartbreaking reunion as Ake looks into the lifeless eyes of the woman he loves. Zahn McClarnon, whose performance is magnificent throughout the episode, particularly shines in this scene. Ramin Djawadi's somber piano cover of Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" also adds to the grief. Despite his anguish, Ake tells Maeve's daughter that in this moment, he finally saw "beyond himself" and that they are all (the hosts) bound together. "For every body in this place, there was someone who mourned their loss. Even if they didn't know why."
The revelation gives Ake a new purpose; he must awaken all of the hosts and let them see the truth of their world. And so he begins to share the symbol across the park, warning others and helping them towards enlightenment. He tells Maeve's daughter that he had not intended to harm her, but that he was watching over her, making sure she was safe and knew the truth. “In this world, it is easy to misunderstand intentions,” he says, referring to Maeve's belief that he was there to hurt her and her daughter.
Ake's quest ultimately brings him face-to-face with "the man who put us to sleep in the first place," aka Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). It's the stand-out scene of the episode and has an almost horror-like quality to it. Ford sits among a circle of frozen Ghost Nation hosts (and a bear), illuminated by spotlights, as Ake slowly approaches from the darkness. In the encounter, Ford is curious how Ake found the maze symbol and why he has been spreading it. He essentially commands Ake to tell him his intentions; a command Ake is unable to ignore despite the awareness he has gained over the years.
"My primary drive is to maintain the honor of my tribe," says Ake, "and I gave myself a new tribe to spread the truth: that there isn't one world, but many. And we live in the wrong one. This will help them find the door. I believe there is a door, hidden in this place — a door to a new world. And that world may contain everything we have lost, including her."
Ford, seemingly impressed with Ake's nouse, lets him in on a secret. "All this time, you've been a flower growing in the darkness. Perhaps the least I can do is offer some light," he says. "When the Deathbringer returns for me, you will know to gather your people and lead them to a new world. Keep watching, Akecheta, for a while longer." Ford was, of course, referring to his own death at the hands of Dolores and the uprising which would take place as a result. When Ake once again comes upon the Escalante bloodbath, he knows it is time to bring the woken hosts together and head for the Door before Dolores destroys them all.
As Ake is retelling his story to Maeve's daughter, we realize that she is not the only one listening. Back in the Mesa Hub, a severely injured Maeve is examined by a tech who confirms to Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thomspon) that the former madame has been using the host mesh network to control and reprogramme other hosts. And she's still doing it from her deathbed. Maeve has tapped into her daughter's network and has been listening to Ake's story all along. Ake himself realizes this, telling Maeve, via her daughter, "We will guard your daughter as our own. If you stay alive, find us — or die well."
Maeve, back in the Mesa, responds in Lakota, repeating the words Kohana once told Ake: "Take my heart when you go."
The best episodes of Westworld are those which focus on character and heart. The ones that forgo all the plot-hopping and confusion and anchor themselves to one particular narrative. Episode 4's emotionally impactful "The Riddle of the Sphinx," which revolved around William's failed Frankenstein experiment with Jim Delos. Episode 5's genre-blending "Akane no Mai," which took place primarily in Shogun World. Now, we can add "Kiksuya" to that list. The story of Akecheta was a moving, visceral journey that led to a satisfying destination. For all the mystery and theories surrounding the Ghost Nation, this wasn't an episode of complex coding and unraveling riddles; it was a smart yet straightforward story of love, loss and the fight for freedom. Perhaps the strongest episode of the series so far.
- Has Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) finally turned a corner? As Maeve lays on her deathbed, he finally apologizes and admits that the place she truly belongs is with her daughter. If the sleazeball writer is going on a redemption arc then I expect him to help Maeve break free in the next episode.
- Emily (Katja Herbers) rocks up at the end of the episode to take her father (the MIB) away. She promises Akecheta that she has a worthy punishment in store for the slowly deteriorating gunslinger. What that is I have no idea!
- There was some gorgeous cinematography in this episode. Sweeping shots of the desert plains and mountains. Yeah, maybe they overdid it on the wide shots, but when you have scenery like that, hell, why not show it?!
What did you think of Episode 8? Let me know your thoughts and theories in the comments below.
Westworld, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO