11:45 am EDT, June 14, 2018

‘Kiksuya’ proves that ‘Westworld’ thrives outside of the games

Westworld’s “Kiksuya” certainly wasn’t a room full of Bernards, but it was still one of the most impactful episodes of the series.

Westworld is known for its confusing time jumps, cryptic quotes, and convoluted plot lines. One of the most exciting things about being a fan of the show is trying to mine each episode for clues about what is really going on in the park, and beyond.

In season 1, it was the maze. As we began to know and understand the park, we spent the season following those who sought to find its center. We learned what they would find only as they did, thanks to multiple timelines and secret hosts muddling the clues. Of course, we know now that at the center of the maze lives the bicameral mind; consciousness for the hosts.

In season 2, the game presumably revolves around Delos’ secret “project.” Life after death, logs of the guest’s experiences, the “cradle,” and as I mentioned before, a room full of Bernards have been the things spawning and dashing theories, all season long. Now that we know the characters and the world, it’s obvious that the creative team is making the mystery even more difficult to solve.

Sure, searching for clues and developing theories is fun, and is largely what the Westworld fandom is based on. It really wouldn’t be an episode of Westworld if you didn’t ask yourself, “is this now?” at least once. However, is it really worth it if the ever-thickening plot gets in the way of much needed character development?

Westworld’s premise is interesting enough without throwing in all of the time jumps and corporate drama. The moral and ethical implications of the guests’ (and now the hosts’) experiences combined with the complications and possibilities that come along with creating artificial intelligence offer plenty to ponder.

Between the Westworld staff, the Delos corporation, the guests, and the hosts, Westworld is jam packed with rich and fascinating characters that we’ve fallen in love with over the course of two seasons. At the end of season 1 into the beginning of season 2, everything these people knew came crashing down around them.

westworld season 2, teddy and dolores

As their world and perceptions completely change and shatter, their character development becomes the most compelling part of the show. We’re dying to know how these people are growing and experiencing their new reality, which leaves the mysteries feeling a bit heavy-handed and overwhelming.

In the eighth episode of Westworld season 2, the show proved just how breathtaking and impactful it can be when it takes a step away from all the games. Finally, it zoomed in and focused on something that’s been sorely missing from this season, and it proved its immense power as a series when it did so.

Not only did Westworld somehow completely draw us in while focusing entirely on a character who we knew almost nothing about, they did so while telling the story almost completely in another language! In “Kiksuya,” Akecheta told us/Maeve his story in the Lakota language, and we couldn’t stop listening to him.

The episode was chock-full of beautiful imagery, heart, and masterful storytelling. The audience has been conditioned to see Ghost Nation at worst as a villain and at best as a part of the background of the show, thus far, but when the spotlight was shone upon them, Westworld still held our attention from start to finish.

“Kiksuya” brought us through the journey of a host gaining consciousness better than any episode before it. For the first time, we as an audience truly felt the nuances of pain, confusion, and purpose that they must be going through as they gain some understanding; the weight of the loss, frustration, and thirst for answers that must be burning inside of them.

What we got to see with Akecheta is exactly what we want to see with the show’s primary characters. We want to experience their journey, feel their pain, and revel in their growth. It’s difficult to do that when we’re constantly trying to put together puzzle pieces. When emotional and hugely important character moments get glazed over in favor of over-complicating the story, the show loses some of its magic.

The more focused, character driven storytelling clearly works for Westworld, since “Kiksuya” was by far the most universally praised episode of the season. Fans were completely taken with the character of Akecheta and the struggles that he’s overcome, and that all the hosts must now face together.

The episode didn’t lose the mystery entirely (because let’s face it, we don’t want that either). It sprinkled in just enough for us to connect some pieces of the puzzle and continue asking questions. It was pretty perfect episode of television, honestly, and is the bar that the show should shoot for in seasons to come.

Westworld, you’ve officially proven that you don’t need the games to be interesting, and you’ve found the winning formula. Keep us on our toes, but keep the characters at the forefront of the story, and you’ll thrive!

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