Zahn McClarnon as Ake on Westworld.Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)
This week's Westworld, "Kiksuya," brought an oft-seen but mostly-silent supporting character into the spotlight, and used his incredible story to give us new perspective on the Hosts' awareness. It was a poetic, and frankly rather refreshing, detour from the show's main narrative.
We have to begin with the "previously on Westworld" montage, because (thanks to the editing) I just realised we've seen the main Ghost Nation character before, out of the costume and make-up we're so accustomed to seeing him in. He popped up back in episode two, pitching the idea of investing in Westworld to Logan alongside fellow first-generation creation Angela. Well, I'll be damned. And as we'll soon learn, his long history is quite interesting and important.
The episode proper begins with the badly wounded Man in Black crawling his way to the edge of the river. "You're not dyin' here," he mutters to himself. And he's not. His saviour appears in the form of the Ghost Nation member, whose name (we soon learn) is Akecheta — Ake for short (played by Fargo's Zahn McClarnon). Unlike the Man in Black's daughter, the MiB himself never learned to speak Lakota, so Ake needs to use English. "I remember you," he says. (Like Dolores and the other hosts, he's now able to access his memories... and if they're of the sadistic MiB, they most certainly aren't good.) In the Ghost Nation camp, we see Maeve's daughter, looking frightened. But she's not scared of Ake — she's got her own grim memories of the MiB. We get a flashback of her and Maeve in their bucolic farmstead, and she shows Maeve a rock with the maze painted on it (in fresh blood) that she says is "a warning" from "the ghost." In the present, Ake reassures the little girl that the MiB isn't going to hurt her anymore — and we get a flashback from Ake this time.
Turns out his life/lives at Westworld weren't always in the service of horrific storylines; in the park's earliest days, he lived peacefully with his family. One day, though, he stumbled upon the first host massacre — the one that included Arnold's murder by Dolores, and was intended by Arnold to prevent the opening of the park — and found a map of the maze. He soon became obsessed with the pattern. "I heard a new voice inside," he explains. But before he could truly understand what it meant, he was shoved into a new storyline (with a newly violent personality) at Ford's direction. The park, of course, was about to have its grand opening after all.
Happier times.Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)
Though he'd been reprogrammed to rampage and murder, he was still aware of the "newcomers" — the people in the park that he could not kill. One of those, we see, is good old Logan, in a terrible state after being sent away by William as punishment at the end of season one. "There's gotta be a way out of here. Where's the door?" he babbles. "This is the wrong world!" Ake gives him a blanket and goes on his way, but Logan's crazy rantings stir something inside him, and he remembers Kohana, the woman who was his wife in his original Westworld narrative. "The past was calling me," he tells Maeve's daughter. Caught up in longing, he became fixated on trying to recover it... which is exactly what happened to Maeve.
Speaking of Maeve, over in the Mesa, Lee is frantically trying to save her from certain, and permanent, death. But the Delos tech who's trying to grab as many Host control units as possible amid the chaos doesn't understand how important she is. "She can control the other Hosts with her fucking mind!" he screams. "You can't let her die." A glance at her scans, and he's on the case; as Ake's telling his story, we get some quick glimpses at the gruesome process.
Ake's search for a way out, stirred by Logan's words, leads him to — where else? — the Valley Beyond. We see it after slightly more progress than when William took Dolores there earlier this season, but it's still impossible to discern the true purpose of the massive, artificial canyon other than... something's being stored there. To Ake, it's "a passage to another world," but he won't leave without Kohana, never mind that she doesn't remember him.
Fortunately, Kohana's memory is soon restored after he reminds her of what was once their favourite romantic exchange — "Take my heart when you go" "Take mine in its place" — and they head to "the door," but it's now buried beneath the canyon. "What's on the other side?" she wonders. "Somewhere our memories will be safe," he says. But safety is not on their side, and a horrified Ake can't prevent Delos techs from grabbing his beloved, whisking her away to parts unknown, and producing a stranger to carry on Kohana's narrative. His first instinct is to search for her everywhere, and that's how he first encounters Maeve's daughter, a meeting that's placed in a much kinder context than we ever saw him through Maeve's eyes. "You saw me for who I really was," he tells the girl, recalling how she helped him. On a return visit to his village, he meets a woman whose son has also been replaced. She tells Ake he's gone "down below," where those who've suddenly disappeared — like his wife — are taken. He realises, like Maeve once did, that he has to die to have any hope of figuring out exactly how to escape... and, hopefully, track down his love once again.
This way to the Valley Beyond.Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)
His appearance at the lab, though, causes some consternation. Thanks to his wanderings, he hasn't died (and, therefore, hasn't been updated) in almost 10 years. A stirring piano version of Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" (which we first heard in one of season two's trailers) plays as an unattended Ake revives himself (fuck that four-hour update) and strolls through the Mesa facility to see what's what. In cold storage, he finds her. His wife is unresponsive; like every other iced-out host in the room, she's no longer operational. Ake realises he's being selfish, because every motionless figure in that room is mourned by someone who's still out in the park, even if they don't realise exactly why.
Back in his village, Ake tells the mournful mother that the people who've gone "down below," including Kohana and the woman's son, cannot be retrieved. However, if he can't go through the door, he's got a plan to close that door so that those on the other side — Delos — can't snatch up any more loved ones.
In the present, Lee tearfully apologizes to Maeve, who's still in dangerously ripped-up shape. "You don't deserve this," he says. "You deserve your daughter, and to be joyful and proud." Before he boots Lee out of the operating room, the smarmy tech lets Lee know that while Maeve's code was indeed something special, her fate will be left up to Charlotte Hale (not good odds). Out in the park, Ake tells Maeve's daughter that phase one of his "close the door" plan was to spread the maze symbol among as many hosts as possible. And, as has become quite apparent by now, Ake was never a threat to Maeve and her daughter. He was trying to keep them safe all this time, and let them know the truth.
Too bad the Man in Black interfered with that, but even the most violent of delights couldn't keep the Maeve and the other hosts from eventually waking up. Next, Ake tells the girl about meeting the man who put the hosts to sleep in the first place: Robert Ford. Amid a blazing array of artificial lights against the night, Ford sits with a group of Ghost Nation warriors who've been frozen while fighting a giant bear, crisply scalping one of them to check out the maze imprinted within — something that's been done by another host (possibly Ake himself) with the intention of keeping it hidden. "This is a misbegotten symbol, an idea that was meant to die. But you found it," Ford says admiringly. When pressed, Ake tells Ford that not only does he believe there are multiple worlds, he also believes there's a hidden door that will lead to a new world that "contains everything that we have lost." Ford likens Ake to "a flower growing in the darkness," and tells him that when "the Deathbringer" (Dolores) returns and takes Ford — meaning, of course, the second Westworld massacre that capped off season one — that will be Ake's cue to gather his people and lead them to that new world.
That brings us to the present. The Man in Black's daughter, Emily, rolls up with a spare horse and asks (in Lakota) to collect her Pops. Ake lets her know that if it's really her father, then she surely knows what an evil bastard he is and what he's capable of. "We cannot let him continue," he tells her. She agrees, but she'd like to be in charge of his comeuppance: "My way will be much, much worse." That sounds reasonable to Ake, so off they ride.
Ake assures Maeve's daughter that he'll keep her safe — and just as the Mesa tech is explaining Maeve's extraordinary ability to spontaneously reprogram hosts to Charlotte, we see that Maeve is presently "talking" to Ake through the heightened version of the host mesh network that they share. "We will guard your daughter as our own," he tells her. "Take my heart when you go," she replies.
Ake's lost love.Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)
Will Maeve live or die? What's going on with all those characters we didn't see this week (especially Dolores and Bernard)? Why did Ford take Ake's idea of the door and turn it into a game for the MiB (and is that game still being played)? And just what, exactly, is lurking in the Valley Beyond? There are only two episodes left to find out.