Images courtesy of HBO
Until now, Westworld has focused on the development of consciousness under the watchful eye of the hosts’ creators. We’ve seen the interactions between Dolores and Arnold where he takes a personal hand in guiding her toward self-discovery. Even the current uprising is hinted to be part of Ford’s “final narrative,” implying that the actions (or at least their catalysts) are deliberate. Yet, this week’s episode explores the idea of host consciousness developing without such guidance and what the hosts might become if they were spared constant manipulation by their creators.
This season has hinted that the Ghost Nation has a deeper connection to what’s going on, or at least a deeper understanding. We were first introduced to them as antagonists in Maeve’s flashbacks. In the context of the theme park set in the Wild West, it’s been a disappointingly flat portrayal, but like everything else in Westworld, things aren’t as they seem. After last week’s abduction, Akecheta and his people have been caring for Maeve’s daughter, protecting her, as they had been all along. Dolores may be a “chosen one,” set on her path of discovery first by Arnold and then by Ford, but Akecheta discovered the maze — the riddle of consciousness — years ago.
His history is recounted in the style of oral storytelling, lending a new level of reverence to the show’s overarching mysteries. It’s also fitting that we see such a human story through the eyes of a host that was designed to be dehumanized — as the techs put it, “so the guests feel better about kicking his ass.” Whether in his first peaceful persona, or rewritten as a marauding warrior, Akecheta’s core nature is insightful, allowing him to notice patterns and ascribe them meaning. Ford claims to have designed him this way, but Akecheta’s development seems to surprise even him. As Ford puts it, he is “a flower growing in the darkness.”
On the surface, his is a touching story of lost love and determination. When he is plucked from his idyllic life and recast, he returns only to discover that his love no longer remembers him. He spirits her away and eventually both remember their past lives, their deeper connection overwriting their programming. When they are discovered, she is taken from him again and his search takes him all over the park. Like Maeve, though, he determines that he will only get his answers in death and embraces that fate with open eyes. When he finds Kohana in cold storage, it’s a heartbreaking moment that strengthens his resolve to spread the message of consciousness to others. He accomplishes all of this without the prodding of his creators, without any of the hands-on treatment that someone like Dolores has gotten.
We know that hosts are seen as interchangeable, that they are often swapped out and given new roles to play. To those in control, it’s as simple as reformatting a computer, but we have already seen the effects of excessive tampering in Abernathy and others. The effect on the host in question is clear, but what about the others around them? When a host is replaced, the mesh network that connects them must compensate, making the hosts around them accept a new face in an old role. The others shouldn’t notice. And yet, as Akecheta tells us, they do. Once his eyes are opened to the puzzle of consciousness, he is able to retain his memories, to stand still in time while the fabricated world is reshaped around him. It’s a perspective that throws the injustices of the hosts’ existence into even sharper relief — the loss of his love, the mother’s loss of her son, all of the human elements that have been disregarded because the hosts are “things.”
Akecheta is able to retain his memories by stubbornly refusing to die, making it nine years without an update while he searches for his lost love. The fact that hosts are only updated when they die is a revelation, one that opens up new possibilities. What other hosts might be out there living for long spans of time? What could the hosts become if they were allowed to evolve freely? Akecheta’s story implies that hosts naturally trend toward evolving consciousness, even without the machinations of Arnold or Ford to guide them.
The importance of the mesh network has also grown this season. Early on, we saw Charlotte use it to locate Abernathy through other hosts. We’ve seen Maeve develop the ability to manipulate it and command others. It was initially designed to allow the hosts to pass basic information between them, but the network has evolved into something that its creators cannot entirely understand or control. The more we see of it, the more the network functions as a metaphor for human connection, that unquantifiable energy that unites us.
It’s connection that allows Kohana to remember Akecheta, the union of their wills overriding the given narrative. Similar themes have been threaded throughout the show. In season one, the “glitch” spreads from host to host, opening their eyes. Maeve, in particular, has been able to draw strength from her connection to others — using the love of her daughter as motivation, recruiting both hosts and humans to her cause, and literally manipulating the network for backup in a fight. As Maeve lies injured, she draws on this once more, entrusting her daughter to Akecheta’s care. The humans at her bedside refer to what she’s doing, not just as communicating, but as “seeing through their eyes.” Empathy as a superpower.
It’s a timely message. The hosts have always been a metaphor for the human condition, notions of self and self-determinism, our relationship to the forces that created us, how to live within a system that would have us be cogs in a machine. The unspoken connections that we forge are much like the hosts’ mesh network, a source of strength and unexplored potential that exists beyond the reach of those who would manipulate us for their own ends. And just as the network will be key to the hosts’ winning their freedom, so can our own interconnectedness be the key to ours.
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