Let’s be honest here: season 2 of Westworld has not been amazing. After waiting two years for the robot revolution, the first half of season two has felt… flat. Even worse, it feels aware of its own intellectuality, a sin for any show and more for a sci-fi western. But this Sunday’s episode, “Kiksuya,” lands back in safe, beautiful ground.
Ever since it was first announced, Westworld showed promise. A Michael Crichton adaptation created by Jonathan Nolan and Pushing Daisies writer Lisa Joy, it always looked interesting. The incredible cast, led by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood, was another plus. The first season, while at times convoluted, certainly lived up to its big names and premise. The end result was a little magic, as critics and audiences swarmed to call it the next Game of Thrones.
What worked in season 1 was the slow narrative and mixed timelines. It made for some interesting character reveals, most importantly regarding Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris). But the trouble is that these narrative elements remained throughout the second season. The first time, it was impactful; repeated on loop, it’s gimmicky. It’s self-conscious. The scope was too broad, and each story, uninteresting. The character of Dolores has become tiresome, while Peter Abernathy’s hard drive has felt like a poorly written McGuffin.
This is why it was so refreshing to get a self-contained episode. Mostly focused on Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), the leader of the Ghost Nation, “Kiksuya” provides the most fascinating Westworld twist yet. Without getting into spoilers, the dehumanized Ghost Nation is on a totally unexpected wavelength. We’ve wasted most season on Dolores’ exhaustingly mysterious revolution when we could’ve seen the Ghost Nation’s true colors all along.
A small-yet-crucial exposure of a previously unnamed character, “Kiksuya” reminds us of all the Westworld potential. These well-written characters and their endless curiosity is what first drew us to the show. This 2001: A Space Odyssey-type thing, where the most humane characters are actually the robots. This strange world in which humans are robotically evil, while robots are layered and searching for lost loved ones.
These violent delights have violent ends.
The downside to “Kiksuya”? It’s also a reminder of how flat most of the season has been so far. How easily the Westworld writers can become enamored with their tricky storytelling.
But I have hope now. My love for Westworld has been reignited by what is clearly its best episode yet. This is the show’s “Hardhone,” or its “Battle of the Bastards.” It’s a stark reminder of all the talent involved here and why I started watching in the first place. Plus, HBO just announced Sela Ward will be playing Juliet, Ed Harris’ wife. And a Sela Ward is a terrible thing to waste.
Season 2 of Westworld will end in two weeks’ time, so we have two more episodes left this year.