“Emotional” isn’t a term I’d usually apply to a show like Westworld. Its wheelhouse tends to be more cerebral/philosophical, with emotions being a plot point rather than a mood. Feelings are a thing I’m supposed to wonder whether the hosts have, not something I typically wind up having about them. And yet, last night’s episode took the usual Westworld playbook and tossed it by the wayside in the interest of telling a genuinely moving and necessary standalone story about Ghost Nation and the mysterious Akecheta. And it turns out when the show stops questioning the nature of the hosts and lets them exist, it’s perhaps even more effective than when it’s tying itself into narrative knots.
The episode begins with Akecheta coming across a bleeding-out Man in Black and hauling his ass back to the Ghost Nation camp — where, incidentally, he’s got Maeve’s daughter safe and sound as well. The girl is clearly more frightened of MiB than of Akecheta himself, and as the pair begin talking it becomes clear that she also remembers her past lives. So Akecheta tells her the story of his own past life, and how he came to be who he is right now. Originally Akecheta was a peaceful member of an agrarian tribe, alongside his wife Kohana. But one day he stumbled across the site of the massacre where Arnold was killed, and as he explored he also discovered that iconic Maze symbol. From that point on, he became obsessed with the symbol and began painting, carving, and drawing it everywhere — at least until he’s taken back to Mesa for a little narrative redesign to make him more compelling. By turning him into the savage leader of the Ghost Nation!
[Westworld has a way of having its cake and eating it too, and there’s something to be said about the way it used the Ghost Nation as a vaguely offensive threat for a season and a half, only to explain that all away as a narrative contrivance of Delos because, duh, people want savages they won’t feel bad about fighting. THEY’RE EXCITING, DAMMIT. But this episode goes a long way toward soothing my uneasiness around their portrayal thus far, despite that.]
After his existence was rewritten, Akecheta realized he could sense “newcomers” — namely, the humans whose lives he wasn’t allowed to take as a host. Which is perhaps why he approached Naked Sunburnt Logan (Hiiiii Ben Barnes!) with more curiosity and animosity when he discovered the Delos heir in the middle of the desert, ranting and crying about how “This is the wrong world.” Yup, they snuck in a follow-up on what happened after Logan too his naked horseback ride into the sunset last season (though we already knew he made it out of the park somehow, didn’t take over the company, and eventually died of a drug overdose).
Logan’s crazytalk cracks something open inside of Akecheta — a crack that gets wider when he visits the agrarian tribe he use to belong to and sees Kohana. He recognizes her, but she has no memory of him, and he realizes that these memories of another life might mean that his current life isn’t the real one. “This is the wrong world,” indeed. So he goes BACK to the desert to talk to Logan again, who has by this point probably been recovered by Delos lackeys, and his search brings him to… The Valley Beyond. Or what would one day become The Valley Beyond, after construction. But in all that construction is a door, which becomes Akecheta’s new obsession: leaving this wrong world behind and finding a place beyond where his memories will be safe from interference.
So he rides back to the tribe and steals Kohana away in the night so they can find the door together (seriously, this episode had maybe a bit too much “riding back and forth” but ultimately it’s all worth it), and he awakens her memories of him in the process. Too bad the Delos techs finally start paying attention to these hosts that have strayed far from their loops and come back to round them up. Akecheta returns from hunting to find Kohana being loaded into a car by the white suits — and even worse, when he heads back to the camp to try and kidnap her again, he finds “a ghost in her place” (a new host that has replaced her in the storyline).
And this is where Akecheta’s sad story begins to align with Maeve’s, because as he searches for Kohana throughout all of Westworld, he becomes terrified of dying — as death might mean losing the memories he has fought to discover in himself. Which is why when Maeve’s daughter discovered him injured and helped him one time (as we see in a flashback earlier in the episode), it meant so much to him. So much that he gave her a rock with the Maze on it as a warning, and tried to watch over her. Still, he eventually realizes that Kohana isn’t in this world any longer, and to find her he may need to find “the ones below” (the techs) himself. So he finally, after years of wandering, allows himself to die — and be taken back to Mesa, just as Maeve did.
How do we know it was “years” of wandering? Because the techs realize that Akecheta is an “Alpha 2”, and hasn’t been updated in like a decade. Because apparently Delos only updates hosts when they come in after death? Which means every host is expected to die VERY VERY FREQUENTLY. TL;DR Teddy isn’t special.
And just as Maeve did before, Akecheta wakes up in Mesa and looks around for answers, eventually coming to the room filled with naked leftover hosts that have been taken out of commission and replaced. Here he finally finds Kohana, but no amount of tearful kisses can wake her up. So he goes back to his chair and waits to be updated, realizing that since he can’t bring hosts like Kohana back through the door, he’ll need to close it to keep the remaining ones out of Delos’s reach instead.
Zahn McClarnon became a season two MVP based on this scene alone, by the way. Just… damn, dude.
I keep bringing up Maeve for a few reasons. For a long time she has seemed like a fascinating outlier to a plot that seemed hell bent on pitting Dolores against the Man in Black, but by explaining Akecheta’s history I think it draws Maeve’s own role into relief. Both Akecheta and Maeve awakened themselves based on the power of love alone, and have gone to terrifying lengths to reclaim those lost parts of themselves. Dolores is still fighting against the bonds of her programming despite still being the tool of her creators (she is the “Deathbringer,” after all), while Old Man William is so terrifyingly set in his own ways he may as well have been programmed for self-destruction. But Maeve and Akecheta don’t care if their memories are just code — a story given to them. The feeling, the emotion, is real to them. The memories exist. And through these two, we as the audience can witness the truth of that feeling. It’s not just theoretical, or philosophical. The true potential of the hosts as living things is distilled more in Maeve and Akecheta than anywhere else.
Also, during this episode Akecheta’s storytime with Maeve’s daughter is interrupted periodically to catch up with Maeve herself. She’s in Mesa after being saved by Lee, who himself ends up apologizing to her while crying and saying she deserves more from her life. For a minute there, I actually started to ship them — but like, who would even leave Hot-ass Hector for Lee? Anyway, Lee tries to convince the new Delos operatives that she is valuable because of her special powers. After everything that has gone wrong with their systems, it turns out Maeve is the only one with Administrative privileges, which she uses via the host’s mesh network. Where they typically share data, she can share commands. But also data, because it turns out…
She’s been watching Akecheta tell his story through her daughter’s eyes THIS ENTIRE TIME. Yeah, he wasn’t just telling the girl his story. He was talking to Maeve all along, and he knew it. So while Charlotte & Co decide what to do with Maeve’s unique code, and Lee cries over his newfound sympathy of her plight, Maeve has been checked out. She realizes that Akecheta was never there to attack her, back in the old farmstead days — he wanted to protect them from the MiB, but she misunderstood his intentions. And though her daughter was again taken from her, she at least knows that whether she lives or dies, she’s got Akecheta’s word that he’ll keep the girl safe.
And as for the Maze symbol, Akecheta’s story also reveals that he was the one that made it so widespread throughout Westworld. In fact, it was never something that mattered much to Ford… until Ford decided to encounter Akecheta himself, in a really cool scene involving Ford designing a fight against a bear in the middle of the night. Ford puts Akecheta into analysis mode, and Akecheta shares his theories about the wrongness of the world and the way he gave himself a new primary drive to spread the truth about it to the other hosts. And Ford, perhaps realizing just how much this host has learned with zero interference from himself or Arnold, gives him a kind of revelation: when the Deathbringer comes for him (i.e. when Dolores kills Ford), that will be the time for Akecheta to lead them to a new world. Probably through that door, which sets another character on the path back to the Valley Beyond.
The final thing of note is the fate of the MiB. Akecheta didn’t save him out of pity — he just didn’t think the asshole deserved a reprieve from pain and suffering. So when Grace rides into camp, offering to take her father away because she also wants him to hurt, Akecheta lets them leave together. I’m sure that’s gonna go swimmingly…