Netflix shows have a habit of sagging right in the middle of their seasons, and Altered Carbon can’t avoid the same fate, spinning its wheels a bit this episode, at least until a bloody climax jolts the story on to the next chapter. Before that, “The Wrong Man” ticks a few boxes we saw coming, especially the consummation of the flirtation between our two genetically blessed leads, but feels more overwritten and repetitive than the previous four. Let’s hope the pace picks up again in episode six.
The key drama of “The Wrong Man” concerns the man that Takeshi Kovacs used to be: his sleeve’s former identity of Officer Elias Ryker, a cop on the edge and the life partner of one Lieutenant Kristin Ortega. That’s why she’s been particularly interested in the last envoy — he’s running around in her boyfriend’s body. We open with a flashback to Ryker trying to violently solve the murder of the girl who fell from the sky. It turns she’s been recoded religiously in a way that means she can’t be spun up to solve her own death, but Ryker thinks that’s suspicious, and he’s going to get some answers with some good old-fashioned torture. Ortega comes in and stops the insanity, telling Ryker that there’s no conspiracy and insisting he’s losing his mind.
Meanwhile, back in the future, Kovacs comes back to the Raven Hotel more than a little aggro. (Guess VR torture will do that to you.) He snaps at Vernon and Poe, both of whom basically take a backseat in this episode. It’s one of the first scenes in “The Wrong Man” — and there will be a couple — that feels overwritten. It’s almost as if the writers knew we were in the sag of midseason and decided to “tough-guy up” their dialogue to compensate.
Speaking of tough guys, Kovacs beats up a few on his way to talk to Miriam Bancroft, who wants him to give up the case. She’ll double what her husband is paying and buy him a new identity. She notes that if Kovacs concludes that Laurens Bancroft committed suicide, then he will likely take out his anger on Kovacs himself. She’s offering Kovacs a way out, and it’s a way that appears to include a whole bunch of Miriam clones for him to have his way with.
In a brief scene in the street, we finally meet the character played by Trieu Tran, who’s been in every credits sequence so far but not yet appeared. His first appearance is mysterious, but his second reveals why he’s a major character on Altered Carbon — he’s a crazy, killing machine! More on that later.
Before then, Kovacs has a pretty poorly written scene with Laurens Bancroft in a biohazard of a slum. The powerful man is handing out supplies and speaking to his people like a politician, or more accurately, a god. Kovacs points out, “This isn’t sacrifice, it’s theater.” Bancroft certainly has a flair for the dramatic, knowing he can get ill and just replace his sleeve with one of his clones.
While Ortega plans to spin up Kovacs’s torturer to see why he did it, her partner Abboud has some fatherly words for Kovacs. It’s a bit of the old-fashioned “hurt her and I’ll kill you” stuff. Kovacs points out that he’s not here to save anyone. Back at the Raven, Poe puts them on the trail of some footage taken where Bancroft was the night he was murdered, a place called the Fight Drone.
After Ortega gets a quick shower — people love to shower in the future — she heads out to the scene with Kovacs. And we get a cameo from the one and only Matt Frewer, who used to play Max Headroom a couple decades ago! The great character actor plays the head of the entertainment complex that Bancroft visited the night he died. After a neat scene in which Kovacs sees a clone of his original body waiting to fight, we see the footage from that fateful night. It turns out that Laurens Bancroft was viciously beating on his son Isaac, shouting, “You’re not me, you never will be.” They go to Isaac’s house and the case appears to be coming together. Isaac pretended to be his dad, even doing the Osaka Deal in his place, and Laurens caught him. Did the son kill the father that he could never replace? Here’s a crazy thought — what if he already has? What if someone took the place of the real Laurens Bancroft? How would people know in this world? My head hurts thinking about it.
Kovacs goes back to the place that Ryker shared with Ortega, and the officer stitches up some of his wounds, explaining his scars in a scene that reminded me of Lethal Weapon 3. It’s all extended flirtation that leads to a pretty graphic sex scene — Netflix really isn’t kidding about that R rating. The next morning, Ortega wakes up Kovacs, handing him the stack for the girl who fell to Earth. And we see a flashback to the day they came to arrest Ryker, after he was framed for the murder of the guy he was interrogating in the first scene. Ryker seems stunned that anyone thinks he murdered a guy we saw him about to murder, but whatever. More importantly, someone named the “Ghost Walker” is killing people and recoding them religiously so they can’t be spun up to point the finger. Ryker and Ortega caught on and someone framed Ryker to stop their investigation.
After a scene in which the Chief yells at Ortega for spinning up Kovacs’s torturer, all hell breaks loose. She’s getting in the elevator with the re-sleeved baddie and her partner when Kovacs realize that the Ghost Walker is in there too. The guy goes nuts, slicing and dicing and kicking. Ortega is bleeding badly and she’s about to get shot when Abboud jumps in front of the blast, sacrificing himself and his stack. Ortega is about to get a bullet anyway, but the Ghost Walker assailant is out of ammo. The elevator doors open, as Kovacs lifts her body and rushes her to safety, yelling, “Get out of the way!”
• Did the Matt Frewer scene remind anyone else of Borderlands? A lot of the locations in Altered Carbon feel inspired by the cartoonish vision of sci-fi in that award-winning game. By the way, I’d pay good money for a Borderlands show, if any Netflix execs are reading.
• In case you didn’t notice, every episode is named after a classic noir. This one is the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Henry Fonda and Vera Miles.
• This episode was written by Nevin Densham, a veteran of Grimm and Heroes Reborn, and directed by Uta Briesewitz, a Netflix collaborator on Jessica Jones, The Defenders, Iron Fist, and Orange Is the New Black.
• This episode’s sci-fi recommendation goes back to Tom Cruise, with a great action genre piece about trying again and again to get something right, which the world of Altered Carbon seems to understand: Edge of Tomorrow.