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Westworld – Kiksuya Review

"Kiksuya" made me realize something about Westworld: The series has a hell of a lot more in common with The Walking Dead than with any prestige series currently airing on television. Both shows tend to favor style over substance (despite streamlining things more in season two, Westworld has a long way to go in this area). Both often allow for meandering story arcs and confusing timeline hijinks, just because they can. And both have the ability to craft incredible stand alone episodes focused on building and exploring a seemingly minor character. Which just makes me absolutely bonkers. As I found myself saying time and again while reviewing The Walking Dead, if you know you can do character-first work, why would you choose to waste time burning through carelessly constructed plot and refusing to allow characters to grow and change (and even make reasonable decisions from one episode to the next)? With "Kiksuya," which was far and away the best episode Westworld has ever released, I'm asking the same questions of Westworld: You know you can make this series into something special, with complex and layered characters. Why aren't you, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy? Why refuse to build Old William into anything more than a bitter old man (and give the great Ed Harris something to do)? Why lean so heavily into the puzzle box nature of the series at the expense of giving us a reason to care about these characters? Holding back on "Big Reveals" doesn't help make the show better. It confuses things even more. "Kiksuya" made me irrationally angry at Westworld's failings. Because I now know the show can be so much better than it is (they have the cast to pull this off- imagine if Evan Rachel Wood or Thandie Newton had an entire episode like this one). There's no excuse not to keep this high level of storytelling and character development moving forward. Sure, a single background character can't be highlighted every week, I know that. But there's a rich underbelly to this story that is consistently getting overlooked while we try to decipher which timeline Bernard is in this week, or why Stubbs has managed to survive this long (seriously, how has that happened?). But enough complaints, because "Kiksuya" was absolutely spectacular and should be lauded as such. For the entire run of the series, I have wondered if we would ever get more information regarding Ghost Nation, or if the tribe would be relegated to the "here's another troubling aspect of this park" scrap heap. Using Akecheta (played by the wonderful Zahn McClarnon, probably best known on TV from his great work in Fargo season two) as a means to explore how certain hosts outside of our core group also gained sentience was a brilliant move. Akecheta has been around since season one, on the periphery and as a menacing presence in the backstories of several of our characters. We have been conditioned not to trust his motives and fear him (which will certainly be the basis of a think piece in the coming days written by someone far more qualified than I). Yet, as is so often the case, there's far more to this story than we knew from our few moments with the character prior to "Kiksuya" (a smart, if unoriginal, storytelling technique, that places us on par with other more prominent characters in our knowledge of Akecheta, while also feeding into our curiosity of other background characters in the show). I certainly didn't expect to see such a beautiful tragic love story, to see that Ford wasn't even aware of Akecheta's sentience (like us, Ford was spending too much time focused on Dolores and Bernard to give much thought to a background Native American host), and to learn that Akecheta's actions with Maeve weren't malicious at all. He was actually trying to save the young girl who once saved him (a second, beautiful love story within the episode, and the best commentary yet as to the empathy within these hosts- which can, it appears, be even greater than that of a human). The revelation of him promising to protect her until Maeve could return (or to adopt her should she die) was heartbreaking (and, frankly, allows the show to kill of Maeve should it really want to shock us all). But that moment doesn't work without the hour that came before it, with an excellent script from Dan Dietz and Carly Wrey, and a great performance from McClarnon. I feel more connected to Akecheta than I do to any other Westworld character at this point (which says a lot about the failings of the series as a whole), and desperately hope we get more time with him moving forward (considering his only role at the moment is caretaker of Maeve's daughter, I'm not going to hold my breath on that). "Kiksuya" showed us everything that Westworld could become it ever decides it wants to be more than a confused jumble of timelines and half-baked characters. And that show would be incredible. Final Thoughts: -- Shout-out to Thandie Newton, for managing to walk us through a wide range of Maeve's emotions in that final neural conversation while laying on a gurney covered in blood. -- A plea for Hollywood to give McClarnon more to do. This guy is an absolute gem of an actor. -- That shot of Akecheta on the sand ridge on his horse was so gorgeous. Uta Briesewitz directed the episode, and her background in cinematography was on display throughout.


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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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