TL;DR – In a dramatic return to form, Westworld shows that when it is firing on all cylinders it can be so very good, and this week we see it as we focus in on only one character.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Well, this was a complete surprise and I honestly didn’t see it coming. In a season that has all been about jumping timelines, exploding trains, mystery boxes, and rampaging warriors. However, this week we take a step back and focus in on really only one character someone who has been there all season on the periphery and now we find out that there I much more to their story.
So to set the scene, we open on the Man in Black (Ed Harris) slowly dragging himself across the dirt to a river, desperately trying to stay alive after he was shot during Les Ecorches (see review). Things are not looking great for Maeve (Thandie Newton) either after also being shot in Les Ecorches she was brought to the Mesa just in time for Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) invasion in Phase Space (see review). However, in all of that we are not here to talk about any of the main story threads this week, because all season there has been something happening in the background and today we see just what that is as Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) walks onto the screen to great the Man in Black. All season we knew something odd was happening with the Ghost Nation, Dolores was hunting them down in the opening Journey into Night (see review) and we also discovered that they do not respond to Maeve’s administration commands like all the other hosts. So is this just another of Robert’s (Anthony Hopkins) little games, part of his end game, or is it something else, well today we find out.
One of the things I mentioned back in my review of Virtù e Fortuna (see review) is that it will be interesting to see how they explore the role of Indigenous Americans in this setting given the clear colonialist overtones of Westworld, and the other parks. One thing settler states have been very poor in dealing with historically is in how to recognise that their country was built on the land that was already occupied and in many cases led to the extermination of peoples that were already living there. Indeed, not to just point fingers at others, here in Australia where I live we are dealing with this very issue at the moment with the lack of acknowledgement of the Uluru Statement. So why is this important to discussing Westworld the park and in extension Westworld the show, well the park is based around the fetishisation of this very settler/Indigenous struggle by being set in the time when a man ‘tamed the west’ or more broadly ‘Manifest Destiny’. Westworld the park is based around a time when people were occupying Indigenous lands, playing on this lawless gun slinging narrative, that doesn’t have the best basis in real life. As well as this, we can see this continues across Delos’ park as The Raj also feeds into this colonialist narrative this time set in some sort of Indian/South East Asian setting. So all of this had to come to a head at some point and I was worried in what for it was going to take, but I am so happy to see that they really took their time to get this episode right, one of the best of the series so far. Now as always we will be looking at the episode as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead for the episode.
The first big departure that Kiksuya makes from much of this season is that it is not interested in multiple stories across multiple timelines shifting without you knowing. Instead, what we have here, for the most part, is Akecheta sitting down and telling the story of his life to Maeve’s Daughter (Jasmyn Rae). It is an incredibly straightforward narrative and given this season it was almost refreshing to see. Here we see the story of the first host to ever wake up after a simple programming oversite left him with the memories of the beta before the park opened, the massacre of Delores, the image of the maze, and most importantly the memories of his love Kohana (Julia Jones). We see his drive to leave this world, but not without his one true love, how he slowly revealed the truth to his tribe and how even some of the other older hosts like Wichipi (Irene Bedard) had started to notice that hosts like Etu (Booboo Stewart) were being replaced over time with what they call ghosts. For Delos it was standard practice to update host’s software when they have been killed and getting repaired, but what if a host never dies? As Akecheta is as old as Dolores he has seen the whole park evolve over the years, it also gives a chance to see a follow up to Season One when he runs into a delirious Logan Delos (Ben Barnes) naked and sunburnt in the desert. We see that ‘the door’ or that secret project has been there from the start, and that like the Mesa the hosts have been programmed to ignore it.
This would have all been just enough to be a really interesting story and a nice change of pace as we enter the endgame of the season. But no, instead of resting on its laurels, Kiksuya instead goes out of its way to be the best episode so far this season, and maybe even for the series as a whole. The first thing you will see, or in this case hear, is that the vast majority of this episode is not in English but instead is spoken in the Lakota language. This might be the first big American television show to really give an Indigenous Language such prominence, and given that they could have easily just used English is was a bold but welcome choice. It also has some of the best cinematography of the season so far, and that is in a season that has almost weaponised beautiful sunsets. This is aided by wonderful art design and costuming, that helps to draw it all together, for example, I liked the nice touches of older Westworld logos in some of the flashback scenes. Also, yes, of course, I am going to totally mention Ramin Djawadi’s score, the use of Heart-Shaped Box was perfectly placed.
However, what elevates this episode comes down to the acting and here Westworld’s Indigenous cast excelled. I don’t think it is too much of an exaggeration to say that the episode rested very much on Zahn McClarnon’s shoulders. This is because it was both his character’s story we were seeing, but also he was narrating the whole time so if it had fallen here this episode would have failed from the start. But in just over one hour he explored grief, triumph, anger, rejoicing, despair, and tenderness. The narration is positioned mostly from the perspective of Akecheta talking to a young child and as such he speaks with a tenderness of a grandfather explaining a core part of their family’s history. Though by the end we find out that it was not just Maeve’s daughter he was talking too. Indeed, that moment when Akechata finds his one true love in deep storage and realises that he cannot save her, almost broke me, and just when I thought I had recovered he gave the lock of hair of Wichipi’s missing sun to her, and for the first time this show made me wipe tears away from my checks. Add to this we have Martin Sensmeier who is here as Wanathon one of Akecheta’s Ghost tribe members. He made a huge presence in The Magnificent Seven (see review) and he does so again here. Also Julia Jones as Kohana who has to go through her own arc that unfortunately ends in silence.
In the end, do we recommend Kiksuya? Yes, yes we do. This is a complete return to form for the series, it was a bold risk that really landed, and it is a powerful look into a world people rarely get to see on TV. If Zahn McClarnon is not being inundated with projects after this, well then there is no justice in the world. Now with only two more episodes remaining and the timelines all catching up to each other, I have no idea where we are going to go from here.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you seen Westworld yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Westworld
Directed by – Uta Briesewitz
Written by – Dan Dietz & Carly Wray
Based off – Westworld by Michael Crichton
Created by – Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
Music by – Ramin Djawadi
Starring in Season Two – Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Rodrigo Santoro, Angela Sarafyan, Zahn McClarnon, Shannon Woodward, Ed Harris, Clifton Collins Jr., Talulah Riley, Louis Herthum, Katja Herbers, Gustaf Skarsgård, Fares Fares & Anthony Hopkins with Ben Barnes, Neil Jackson, Jimmi Simpson, Oliver Bell, Giancarlo Esposito, Betty Gabriel, Christopher May, Peter Mullan, Jonathan Tucker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rinko Kikuchi, Tao Okamoto, Kiki Sukezane, Jasmyn Rae, Martin Sensmeier, Irene Bedard, Booboo Stewart & Julia Jones.