Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 8 of Westworld Season 2. Haven’t seen it yet? Read our spoiler-free review of the season’s opening episodes, or click here to find out how to watch it online.
Westworld is many things, but heart-wrenchingly emotional it is not: the intellectual sci-fi is more of a puzzle box than an empathy machine, happy to twist its way through viewers’ brains rather than worm its way into their feelings. That’s what separates Humans (Channel 4’s series) from the robots of HBO. Episode 8 of Season 2, though, is a resounding reminder that this series can do sentiment when it wants to – and it does so by boldly stepping away from the main, action-packed narrative, just at the point when we expect to barrel towards the finale.
The episode follows Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) of the Ghost Nation, bringing a welcome human side to the elusive warriors who have popped up repeatedly in the background of everyone else’s stories. We find him before the park became overrun by exploitative humans, when Westworld was first being built, and he lived happily in peace with his lover, Kohana. But off-stage in the wings, Arnold was en-acting his plans for Dolores, and Akecheta encounters them first-hand when he stumbles upon the aftermath of Dolores’ first wave of killing – a shocking discovery that leads her to be known in his mind as “The Death Bringer”. There, he also finds a copy of the maze you may recall from Season 1.
Enter Westworld’s tech staff, who promptly do what they do best and wipe his memory, before turning him into a villain. Years later, he crosses paths with Logan, Ben Barnes’ delightfully despicable heir to Delos, after he was sent packing by William at the end of Season 1. “This is the wrong world,” he jabbers away – and Akecheta takes that philosophy to heart, ending up remembering his wiped past.
His is a journey of self-awareness that brings about pain as much as strength – when he goes in search of Kohana, he discovers, much like Maeve and her daughter, that he’s also been wiped from her memory.
Zahn McClarnon’s performance is remarkable, conveying huge amounts of emotion from behind his make-up and with relatively sparse dialogue; it’s a physical performance of a man weighed down as much as a vulnerable turn with a voice-over revealing his inner anguish. And so when he plans to get himself killed, we believe his desperation – and we watch excitedly as, after being taken into Delos HQ for repair, he manages to wake up and walk through the hub… only for the final cruel blow of finding Kohana’s body in cold storage.
The result sends him spiralling into a frenzied obsession, fixated on the idea of escaping to the right world, of finding a way to freedom – and to his loved one once more. And so we find another player on this epic board seeking “The Door”, the same end game that has already bewitched The Man in Black (Ed Harris) – and is also guided by Ford, who confronts Akecheta one night and explains that his destiny is to take his people there when the time comes (which, incidentally, is when Ford has died).
“The world may contain everything that we have lost,” he declares of his newly formed beliefs. “Including her.” Of course, he means Kohana, whose spirit he hopes is out there somewhere.
The notion of a spirit might sound cliched, but it’s never been more relevant to the cutting-edge technology of Westworld – a place where, as Ford has demonstrated, the soul can live on without a body in the digital ether of The Cradle. The Door that Akecheta glimpses appears to be the same site under construction that we’ve seen before, courtesy of William (Jimmi Simpson), who showed it to Dolores: this, we believe is, or leads to, The Valley Beyond, and likely seems to be some kind of facility where hosts, humans and human-host replicas are made. Once opened, then, this proverbial door really could find a way for Akecheta to reunite with Kohana, not unlike Bernard’s plugged-in consciousness reuniting with Ford. (Or, of course, it could be a literal door to the outside world, but that seems a tad too literal for this show.)
There’s a neat bit of back-story behind Akecheta’s long-reaching lifespan, as he dedicates his life to spreading the word of The Door, and drawing The Maze everywhere he can – in Season 1, when we saw The Man in Black kill and scalp a man, discovering The Maze on its inside, that presumably was the result of Akecheta’s handiwork.
The other tie connecting this episode subtly to the rest of the series is Dolores’ status as Death Bringer, which suggests that in the looming showdown, the Ghost Nation aren’t about to be on her side – and, frankly, we’ve been given more in this hour to make us feel sorry for Akecheta than we have for Dolores, whose behaviour has become increasingly cruel and ruthless.
Akecheta’s story is cut with that of one other lead character: Maeve (Thandie Newton), whose critical status brings some tension and urgency to the hour. Lee Sizemore remains the one person standing by her body and demanding people help – part of his arc of redemption has not only been his use as comic relief, but his growing passion for Maeve.
Maeve, meanwhile, is secretly communicating with Akecheta on her death bed, just as he talks to her daughter and relays his life story. She’s able to eavesdrop on his conversation, in the same way that hosts use The Mesh to subconsciously ping and locate each other, as well as pass on information and updates. Newton’s work is excellent here, able to convey her heart-wrenching understanding of Akecheta’s story in a barely awake facial expression; if this is her bowing it, it’s as moving a moment as Westworld has ever managed.
But there’s still a chance she might make it, because as Lee pleas for her to be saved because of her special, unique abilities, Charlotte turns up and promptly scrutinises Maeve’s code. And so the barmaid’s talent for communicating psychically with other hosts, controlling them, and overriding their programming, has become unearthed by the corporation that made her. There are no points for guessing whether they’ll try to use that powerful code to their own nefarious ends. The question is: which side will Maeve and Akecheta be on when everyone reaches The Door? With or against Dolores and Teddy? And where does that leave The Man in Black? After this emotional aside, Westworld Season 2 wraps Episode 8 with everything pointing firmly towards two thrilling final chapters.
Westworld Season 2 airs in the UK at 2am on Mondays on Sky Atlantic, and is available on-demand after that simulcast. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream Westworld legally on NOW TV, which gives live and on-demand streaming access to Sky’s main TV channels, including FOX UK (Legion) and Sky Atlantic (Billions), for £7.99 a month – with no contract and a 14-day free trial.