The remaining six episodes of Altered Carbon‘s first season explore Takeshi’s backstory and lead to a costly confrontation onboard Head in the Clouds
The first four episodes of Netflix‘s Altered Carbon introduced a murder mystery and the cortical stack technology that allows for humans to live forever. The last six episodes continued to explore the stack technology and all its disturbing ramifications. They also dug deeper into the backstories of the main characters, causing the past and present to collide. After being brutally tortured in a virtual construct by Dimitri, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) and Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) continued getting to know each other. Ortega, after having a deadly run-in with the Ghostwalker (Trieu Tran), was fitted with a cybernetic arm, which greatly enhanced her fighting abilities. While searching for connections to the Ghostwalker, Kovacs and Ortega found themselves forced into fighting Dimitri himself in a clone of Kovacs’ old body (Byron Mann).
They then came face-to-face with with Reileen (Dichen Lachman), Kovacs’ sister. The introduction of Rei in the present day storyline pushed all of the characters in intriguing, and sometimes disturbing, directions. It all led to a confrontation onboard the Head in the Clouds, a giant flying facility where the wealthy could pay for sex and violence and all other manner of twisted desires.
The second half of the season also explored Tak and Rei’s backstory in a lengthy flashback in “Nora Inu.” The flashback acted as a large showcase for Will Yun Lee (Kovacs), Dichen Lachman, and Renée Elise Goldsberry (Quellcrist) and directly connected the present day storyline with Kovacs’ past. It helped add depth to the complicated brother/sister relationship that Tak and Rei had, and escalated the stakes.
Every character was given a moment to shine during the assault on Head in the Clouds. If they weren’t present for the actual attack, they helped plan it or acted as support. The murder mystery that acted as a hook in the first episode was also given resolution. The last six episodes answered a lot of questions but also asked enough new ones to setup future seasons.
Altered Carbon‘s last six episodes pushed the plot and the characters in new and exciting directions. Or in the case of several characters, they were pushed in new and disturbing directions. What did our roundtable think of the second half of the season? Let’s find out!
Gav (@GavinUK86) – Lover of video games, science fiction, comic books, science fiction, animation, heavy metal and of course, science fiction.
Sydney (@TappyToeClaws) – Part-time nerd, full-time beer-loving theropod
Rae (@reviewsbyrae) – Star Wars, Supernatural and science fiction fan obsessed with all things storytelling
A. King Bradley (@AKingBradley) – Author, artist, gamer, nigh-invulnerable.
Candy (@Candyrose_BTV) – Music fiend, TV enthusiast, and proud weirdo.
1. Rei claimed that she made a copy of Quell before she killed her. Do you think she was telling Takeshi the truth? Or was she simply desperate to survive and saying anything she thought her brother wanted to hear? Would you like to see Quell and Tak reunited?
Gav (@GavinUK86): At first, I didn’t believe her. I thought it was her last-ditch attempt to win Tak over and to finally get her brother back on her side but then we got “head” Quell and Rei elaborated a bit more and I now believe she was telling the truth. I’m not entirely sure how Rei could’ve backed Quell up before the explosion though. I guess that will be answered in Season 2 if we get it. I did like the chemistry between Kinnaman and Goldsberry but I’m pretty sure if we get to see them again they’ll be in different sleeves, unfortunately.
Sydney (@TappyToeClaws): I think the showrunners are very privy to how they might set up the plotline for a second season. The question on their minds isn’t whether or not Reileen was telling the truth, but whether the audience cares enough to want to find out. The fact that Reileen and Takeshi were presented as complex enough characters to merit a discussion of the question at all is a great sign. I’ll wager people want to stick around and see for themselves.
Rae (@reviewsbyrae): I do think Rei loves Takeshi, even with her love becoming more twisted, corrupted and obsessive over the years. So it wouldn’t be completely out of place for her to have saved a copy of Quell. Whether it was out of love for her brother or just another way to punish him for choosing others over her remains to be seen. I felt that Ortega and Takeshi had more chemistry than Takeshi and Quell, but that’s likely my own personal bias. My prediction for season two: Takeshi will find Quell, but have an internal battle over whether to resleeve her. She was clear about her belief in a limited human lifespan, but maybe he’ll bring her back to reignite their crusade.
A. King Bradley (@AKingBradley): I think she told the truth. The story made it clear that she would do anything to keep Takeshi in her life so it is very likely that she made a copy of Quell to use as a fail-safe of sorts.
Candy (@Candyrose_BTV): It is certainly within the realm of possibility Rei was telling the truth. She was aware of what Quell meant to Takeshi, and it would make sense for her to use Quell as leverage against him. She’s also a character who didn’t achieve what she did without being cautious and having a contingency plan. The search for Quell would be a good starting point for the next season, but I don’t know if I’d like to see them reunited as a couple because a part of Takeshi’s inner struggle stems from how emotionally tethered he is to his past, particularly his relationship with Quell. The beauty behind his relationships with characters like Ortega and Vernon is how he was initially reluctant to get close to them but ultimately ended up caring. These relationships helped pull him out of the past and bring him into the present.
2. We were finally given a large portion of Takeshi and Reileen’s backstory in the seventh episode, “Nora Inu.” It also established how Tak and Rei ended up joining the Envoys. Were there any parts of that story that you’d like to see fleshed out more in future seasons?
Gav: No I wouldn’t. Personally, I thought that episode was the weakest of the season. It was also the longest. It felt like it dragged on way too long. It was nice seeing how they were ripped apart and how they found each other again but now we’ve seen it play out I don’t need anymore.
Sydney: It was a bit unclear which of Takeshi’s skills were honed with CTAC and which were learned under Quell, a situation the reader never had to contend with in the book narrative. It provides us with a somewhat awkward picture of Takeshi coming to the Envoys with highly efficient combat training (we see the two Kovacs siblings take out half of a CTAC squad and a Yakuza crew with almost preternatural ease) but are later shown to be green recruits by Envoy standards. The pace and direction of this narrative also loses the opportunity for one of my favorite discussions of Reileen’s character from the novels, a simple and utterly sinister detail of her Yakuza work as a young woman that highlights perfectly the direction of her character.
Rae: All of it? I’m being serious. Takeshi’s time as a Praetorian. Rei’s dealings with the Yakuza. Quellcrist Falconer’s backstory, especially when stacks are first introduced to the population. Heck, even more Ortega and Ryker…if just to have more Martha Higareda and Joel Kinnaman. I want it all.
A. King Bradley: I would like to know more about the Elder civilization, in part to fully understand their history, but I also want to know their exact connection with the human race. How did we come to discover their existence? Why are they seemingly extinct and did humanity have a hand in their fate?
Candy: No matter how ambitious the writing, there will always be constraints on how much ground can be covered in an episode. While a backstory is always interesting and helps create a solid foundation to build upon, focusing too much on it can be counterproductive. However, I think with Rei’s death, we could very well be seeing more flashbacks of the two together to emphasize the emotional aftermath of Takeshi’s loss.
3. Kovacs double-sleeved himself in order to protect himself when he assaulted Head in the Clouds. He claimed that the version of him that said goodbye to Ortega is the one he decided to save. Do you think he was telling her the truth or was he lying? Would he want to keep the memory of his sister’s face when she died?
Gav: I was a little bit torn on that one, it could easily be either one. I’ve taken it at face value and believe that he was telling the truth. Judging by how down he looked when he was leaving Ortega I think he was the one that killed Rei and he needed to remember the experience first-hand, not just being told what happened, to use as a way to push himself forward and find Quell, wherever she may be.
Sydney: Kovacs is too harsh a critic of himself and his actions to absolve himself of the memory of killing his sister. Where Bancroft melted his own stack to absolve himself of the guilt of killing, Kovacs never would. Not because he lacks the resolve to real death himself, but quite the opposite. We see the Kovacs from the novels (which are written in first person POV) as a man who constantly digs at the old scars and memories of his past transgressions, a similar effect to what we get with Kinnaman’s version on screen. If anything, the Kovacs who went to paradise island wouldn’t be able to live without the memories of his sister’s death. The guilt of their absence, of not being able to carry them, would somehow be worse.
Rae: I just want to say that I loved the whole paper, scissors, rock thing between the two Kovacs. It added some levity to an extremely grave situation. But I believe that he was telling Ortega the truth. As much as Takeshi loves his sister, I think he strongly relates his humanity to his suffering. It’s how he grounds himself in who he is and to strip that memory away would remove part of himself as he is now. He wants to be reminded of what he had to do because of stacks, the Meths and Rei’s industry, Head in the Clouds.
A. King Bradley: I think he’s the “real” Kovacs and the memory of his sister dying is likely one of the reasons he left.
Candy: We don’t know, and that’s the beauty of it. He could have been himself, a copy of himself, or anyone for that matter. It’s one of those questions woven throughout the entire season. I can see the motivation for him lying. Ortega became emotionally invested in his well-being and cared for him. His Envoy intuition could have told him she wanted his original version to be the one that survived, and thus he told her what she wanted to hear. From a plot standpoint, however, it makes more sense for him to be telling the truth. He was reunited with the sister he thought he had lost, only to realize she is not the person she once was. He wants to save her because he hopes one day he can get through to her, but ultimately he ends up killing her. It would be interesting to see how his sister’s death impacts him in the long-term, which can only be accomplished if he remembers it happening.
4. Poe not only helped rehabilitate Lizzie. He helped turn her into an extremely powerful weapon. What do you think she is? Is she still human or is she some sort of human/artificial intelligence hybrid? Or is she something completely new?
Gav: Lizzie is still Lizzie, she just became strong enough to finally overcome the trauma of what happened to her. From her point of view, she was probably in psychosurgery for years and had been learning from Poe for all that time even though it wasn’t that long in the real world. Barring any extreme damage, Lizzie won’t ever need to be resleeved again now she kept the synthetic body. Maybe we can get a spin-off where she’s a super secret assassin?
Sydney: She’s something, that’s for certain. Something that seems to be straddling a border between human and…not quite. Whether that’s more or less we don’t know. I’m quite happy that the writers left the full effects and the full extent of Lizzie’s change nebulous. Gives us something to talk about, and sets up some neat points to jump off in the future.
Rae: The new Lizzie is an AI/human hybrid, in my opinion. It would be interesting if we revisit her storyline in season two and see the complications that arise from her creation.
A. King Bradley: She seems mostly human but there’s obviously much more to her story. From a storytelling perspective, I like the fact that they wrapped up the overall narrative while also introducing major questions such as the nature of Lizzie’s unique abilities.
Candy: There were allusions to the possibility of her being something different ‒ that is, something the other characters had never seen. She developed a mystical quality which seemed to elevate her to something more than human. She appeared to be privy to the future and have an understanding of events and how they were connected. Before Takeshi runs off with the rest of the gang to Head in the Clouds, she predicts one of them will die, but says she can’t remember which one of them it will be.
5. Reileen went to enormous lengths to protect herself, all while claiming her goal was to reunite with her brother. Do you think Tak could have eventually gotten through to her if given enough time and the right virtual construct (i.e., similar to how Poe helped Lizzie)? Or had she ceased being human long ago? Is there another copy of her DHF stashed away somewhere?
Gav: I don’t think there are any Rei clones left. Her reactions seemed genuine enough. There isn’t any way for her to come back. Tak and friends took care of that. I also don’t think Tak could’ve ever gotten through to her, it had been too long. She had her set path and she was sticking to it. If her own brother couldn’t convince her there and then to stop, no one could.
Sydney: I imagine we’ve seen the last of Reileen. From a narrative perspective, I think we’ve run the well dry. Not only does she serve any future story better as a character point for Kovacs, to bring her back would underwrite effectiveness of the character we began to see her as in those last few episodes. I think to try and rehabilitate her in any way would lose the gravity of those last minutes.
Rae: I’m not sure on any of this. I sensed the obsessive personality she had with Takeshi early on and through the flashbacks during their time with the Envoys. It was unnerving how much she distanced herself from the other Envoys and didn’t consider them family while Takeshi did. She was so obsessive and possessive of Takeshi whenever someone else supposedly got between them. And what she said about their mother in the final episode? Ouch. I wonder if Rei always had these tendencies, but they all just grew exponentially with her immortality. I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of her, either. I would hope not!
A. King Bradley: She was flawed but still human. That said, I think it was obvious she wasn’t going to change. I’m not sure if she has another copy of herself stashed somewhere, but I certainly hope not because I think it’s time for a new “big bad”. If she does ever come back into the story hopefully she returns to redeem herself rather than continuing to twirl her mustache…
Candy: With the reality of immortality alongside the vast array of technology available, if given enough time Takeshi could have possibly gotten through to Rei. We saw a drastic transformation with Lizzie ‒ from a fragile, traumatized girl to a fearless fighter. It’s not far-fetched to believe Rei could undergo a transformation of her own. The question, however, is if she would be the same Rei Takeshi knew. Rei is still very much human because her actions are motivated by the most basic of human emotions. She seeks wealth and power, but at the same time seems to do so in order to render herself immune to vulnerability. She’s also possessive and jealous of the relationship Takeshi has with others. Given how cautious Rei is, it’s safe to say she could likely have a copy stashed elsewhere.
6. Now that you’ve seen the entire first season of Altered Carbon, which characters stood out the most to you? Who would you like to see return in future seasons? Any thoughts on who you’d like to see play Tak next?
Gav: I really liked Poe and was really bummed when he, basically, got deleted. I was hoping we were going to get a little tease of Poe being restored with that scene at the end with Tak leaving The Raven. Unfortunately, we didn’t. I have no idea who could play Takeshi in another season. If it follows the books, maybe Idris Elba? That would be a ride.
Sydney: One of the first thoughts I had when I heard about Altered Carbon being slated for a Netflix series, was the unique opportunities that Morgan’s world presents. In the same way that Doctor Who or maybe even the James Bond canons have a built-in context for a revolving door of actors and faces to play the same iconic characters, we have something similar, maybe even better suited in Altered Carbon. I would be great to see some of these actor’s return for some memory cameos, but the letter of the world almost mandates that we see fresh faces in any future seasons.
Rae: Takeshi, Rei, Ortega and Poe are my favorites, but the supporting characters in this show were all strong and had deeply personal story arcs that I truly enjoyed. Both Joel Kinnaman’s and Will Yun Lee’s portrayals of Takeshi were outstanding. It’s not often that we have two different actors playing the same character and they pretty much match each other in personality, mannerisms and sass. They got it right and it was beautiful. In that same breath, it makes me really sad that we likely won’t see Kinnaman play Takeshi again. But if I had to cast the next Takeshi, I’d need to read the next book in order to make an educated decision.
A. King Bradley: Ortega stole the show. So much so that I would honestly have a hard time watching season 2 if she didn’t come back or if she wasn’t prominently featured. I would like to see a hell of a lot more of Quell and Lizzie.
Candy: Takeshi stood out the most for the simple fact his journey is the driving force of the plot. He is a richly complicated character who faces physical, emotional, and mental obstacles which he must overcome in order to continue on the journey he was initially reluctant to embark on. I would like to see Ortega return in a future season. She’s a feisty and spunky character, and she and Takeshi made a really good team. I think Aleks Paunovic would be a good fit to play Takeshi next. Aside from being a gifted actor, he has the size and overall look to pull off a convincing portrayal of an anti-hero who can kick some serious ass.
7. How do you feel about the series now that you’ve seen the whole first season? Where would you like to see the story go next?
Gav: It was fantastic. The only episode I wasn’t so keen on was episode 7, “Nora Inu.” I’m currently in the process of rewatching it I loved it so much. I was really impressed with how they expanded the Elliots’ story and how badass Lizzie became. Ortega was a bit much in the first couple episodes but she mellowed out as the season continued and she became one of my favourite characters in the show. As far as where it should go if it got a second season… I kinda hope it doesn’t follow the books. The second one is more of a military sci-fi and I liked the cyberpunk/noir tone of this one. Maybe another sleeve, another world, another case?
Sydney: I’m here because I read the books. I quote them to my friends and they roll their eyes and groan because they’ve heard me do it twelve times before. I’m actually pretty surprised to say that I’m not upset? There were a few changes to the original canon that left an odd taste in my mouth, but I enjoyed the ride. It’s hard to be too salty when you see something given such a loving treatment because that’s what it was. The visuals, the actors, the music and GOOD GOD as a cosplayer I’ve been waiting five years for someone like Ann Foley to lend her amazing talent to something I love this much.
Rae: First thought? Rewatch. It’s an intensely packed series full of all the things that cyberpunk and classic science fiction should be. I’m so happy we’re returning to these types of shows and genres, and I hope more are made. I appreciate shows that wrestle with bigger questions regarding technology, the future and how that affects our own humanity. As for next season, I think the story should happen on another planet and a focus on Takeshi and Quell is needed in some form or another. Whether that’s only for the first few episodes and then it goes somewhere else or the entire season, I think that these writers will give us a solid installment.
A. King Bradley: I thoroughly enjoyed season 1. The pacing was perfect, the world building was top notch, and the character development was magnificent. I would like to see those trends continue with the seasons to come. As for the direction of the story, a part of me wants them to open up the world to us but another part of me really dug the grounded film noir elements of season 1. I honestly can’t decide if I want them to introduce another self-contained case in season 2 or just open it up into a full sci-fi/action blockbuster.
Candy: I am thoroughly impressed with the first season. Everyone involved in making it did a superb job of giving us a solid sci-fi, cyberpunk series filled with both action and substance. The fight scenes were beautifully choreographed. The visual effects were stunning. The cast did an excellent job of portraying their characters and gave compelling performances. I am really interested in seeing the next part of Takeshi’s journey. Does he indeed endeavor to find the copy of Quell? How does coping with Rei’s death impact his journey? And what about Ortega? The show ends implying a much-anticipated reunion with Ryker. If that occurs, how does it play out? Do they resume their relationship as if nothing ever happened?
Final Verdict: The last six episodes of Netflix’s Altered Carbon pushed the limits of the premise central to the series, led to a disturbing and heartbreaking reunion, and set the stage for future storylines in unexpected and satisfying ways
Despite halting the action in the present day for multiple episodes for extended flashbacks, the first season of Altered Carbon continued to build on itself. The remaining episodes were a slow burn, with each episode adding more layers to the complicated story and equally complicated characters. The flashbacks were directly connected to the present day and pushed the story towards a violent, suspenseful climax with consequences that should impact the show for the rest of its run. It did all of this while continuing to look like a big budget theatrical movie. Bay City’s dark, gritty, and rainy look and feel never lost its edge. Action scenes remained suspenseful, fast-paced, and appropriately gory without becoming gratuitous. The sexual violence throughout the season is difficult to watch but the show gradually takes a strong stance against it and empowers those who were victimized.
No matter how gorgeous, violent, gory, disturbing, or suspenseful the show became, the characters and cast remained as the focus. Martha Higareda as Ortega is, quite simply, a multi-layered force of nature who plays off of Joel Kinnaman’s more stoic Kovacs perfectly. Will Yun Lee was given numerous opportunities to play Kovacs from 250 years earlier and didn’t disappoint when taking the lead in “Nora Inu.” Dichen Lachman managed to convey Rei’s obsession with keeping her brother all to herself while still adding a vulnerability to her. It’s subtle and can be easy to miss, but it’s present throughout her performance. Lizzie’s transformation from a scared, damaged girl into a nearly unstoppable killing machine was handled masterfully by Hayley Law. Joel Kinnaman’s more subdued performance as Kovacs has a surprising amount of depth and nuance to it.
Altered Carbon has a lot of strengths but some of those strengths may not work for everyone. The extended flashbacks, for example, do slow down the action at a critical part of the story. They’re necessary for the story to work and aren’t used as padding but the pace does slow some. The intense violence at various points will likely be difficult for some viewers to stomach. There aren’t any torture sequences as intense as what Kovacs experiences in “Force of Evil,” but Rei’s twisted offerings on Head in the Clouds are quite disturbing and push the central premise of being able to live forever to very uncomfortable places.
The second half of Altered Carbon‘s first season took the already rich and detailed world established in the first half and added even more detail. With fast-paced, intense action, thought-provoking concepts, and complex characters, we’re really looking forward to a second season. Make it happen, Netflix!