Sophie Gilbert: Spencer, you mentioned mythmaking, and Akecheta’s journey into “the other side of death” (i.e. the subterranean control centers of Westworld HQ) to find his beloved felt modeled after the story of Orpheus, heading into the underworld to find Eurydice. When Akecheta left his four-hour programming update (too real, Westworld, too real) and ventured into a cold, dreary wasteland—finding Kohana standing motionless amid a vast group of naked bodies—the room was like a high-tech kind of Hades, dark and empty. The moment was chillingly powerful, as was the following scene, when Akecheta returned the braid of a warrior to his sobbing mother.
David, you wrote last week about how the true host awakening of Season 2 has been Maeve’s humanity. Her personal journey was echoed by Akecheta’s in this episode, and his powerful affection for Kohana. In the beginning, he explained to Maeve’s daughter, he had a very different life, with a peaceful home and a love he would have died to protect. But, it turned out, that was just phase one of Delos’s narrative. What was described mockingly by Delos technicians as Akecheta’s “dull, exquisitely pastoral existence” was disrupted by a more violent storyline in which he was dehumanized so that the humans who tortured and killed him could feel better about it. This might not feel particularly shocking given what we know about the callousness of Delos and its employees, but it fits into both the sweep of American history and the more recent treatment of immigrants by ICE and the commander in chief. The easiest way to enable brutality against other humans (or hosts, in this case) is to make them seem less human.
I agree with you both that McClarnon was extraordinary in this episode, conveying an entire emotional arc and evolution that in Maeve’s case has played out over two seasons. But I’m also with Spencer here: The episode felt like an echo rather than something that really deepened our understanding of the events at hand. And so much of it was entirely predictable: Akecheta waking a woman in bed only to find she was a different person from Kohana, Kohana’s unresponsive presence, Emily’s return to claim her father. The biggest surprise of the hour was Maeve, communicating with Akecheta in her wounded and subdued state, commanding him to protect her daughter. But wasn’t he doing that anyway?
As for the scene with Ford, Spencer, it left me cold. More florid metaphors about darkness and light, more irritatingly calm explication, more affirmation that Ford is both creator and prophet of this cruel and ugly world. To quote Blofeld in Spectre, he’s the author of all this pain, which he justifies by arguing that the hosts need to suffer to achieve self-awareness. Is it worth it? Only the hosts can say. Is it ethical? Absolutely not. At this point, for me, Ford and the Man in Black are different sides of the same megalomaniacal coin, deluded and increasingly tiresome to watch. Charlotte Hale, too, feels almost implausibly awful. Westworld has always been more about plot than character development, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive, as Season 2 seems to think. And as interesting as the hosts are, their awakenings (as this episode showed) follow the same pattern, meaning the show continues to keep viewers at an emotional distance.
One thing that is clearer now is what’s in the valley beyond: a door. Or “a passage to another world,” as Akecheta described it. Is it the way to the real world? And if so, couldn’t the hosts just get there via the visitor’s center? Or is it a portal to the three other worlds we haven’t yet seen? God, I hope one of them has dinosaurs. That would truly make Westworld a contender for the most ambitious crossover event in history.