Altered Carbon Recap: One Life to Live

Altered Carbon

Rage in Heaven
Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Katie Yu / Netflix

It’s time for a heist! That’s essentially the climax of the penultimate episode of Netflix’s Altered Carbon, which features Takashi Kovacs and his buddies breaking into Head in the Clouds, the “satellite of sin” at which Reileen Kawahara is holding Kristin Ortega. In an action-packed episode we get double the Joel Kinnaman, the truth behind the deaths of the girl who fell from the sky and the bajillionaire Laurens Bancroft, and some excellent action. We may even get glimpses of what this show could look like in future seasons. But, most of all, we set the stage for what promises to be an explosive climax.

Kovacs says he knows what happened to Bancroft. He may have figured it out, but Poe is annoyed that they framed someone last episode and doesn’t really want to hear it. “I think your relationship with honesty is passing at best,” he says. (The dialogue this episode is sharper than usual.) Kovacs is trying to get a hold of Ortega and his buddy Vernon — neither are picking up. And then Ortega walks in, bloodied and battered. She tells Kovacs she’s been killing his sister … a bunch.

But something’s not right about Ortega. What first feels like inconsistent writing is actually a twist. That’s not Kristin Ortega. It’s Rei, using Ortega’s body to get secrets out of Kovacs and play with his mind a little further. She even shows off Ortega’s naked body — which could be considered a bit kinky given that’s really Kovacs’s sister in that body. She tells her brother that she’s going to destroy everything he cares about. “Blood was taken from me,” she says. “Blood is owed.”

Rei is going to take that blood payment from everyone related to Kristin Ortega. We see the Ghost Walker go to their house, killing everyone, including Ortega’s mother and children who live in the home. Kovacs gets there too late to save everyone. It’s brutal, and shows you how far Rei is willing to go when she feels wronged. She’s a true villain.

Said villain is back in her sleeve in an excellent scene between Kinnaman and Lachman, both of whom have been really good the last few episodes. Kovacs has a surprise for his sister — he has the stack from Mary Lou, the girl who fell from the sky. She’s the missing piece in this entire puzzle of what happened to Bancroft and why Ryker was framed. Rei is surprised that Kovacs has her stack. It’s clear now that Rei found a way to experiment on prostitutes, changing their religious coding in a way that would basically allow people to get away with murder like they haven’t since re-sleeving was invented. We learn more about Rei’s motivations — she was stolen from her brother and became obsessed with getting him back. He leaves the conversation and gets in a car with Miriam, and we see that they’re being watched … by Kovacs!

It’s time for double the Kinnaman! First, we flash back 18 hours earlier to a conversation between the Elliots about Lizzie’s progression. Earlier in the episode, we saw that Poe may have fed Lizzie’s dark side a little too much, turning her into a killing machine. This is an interesting development in that it feels like people who were betrayed like Rei and Lizzie were then made too powerful by this modern society and never taught enough empathy and kindness. Anyone else think Lizzie could be a major season two character? Maybe even a villain?

The bulk of “Rage in Heaven” consists of Kovacs’s plan to free Ortega and coerce a confession out of his sister. At first, he thinks he can do it alone, but he’ll give in and utilize Ava, Vernon, Poe, and even Mickey to help with the plan. It involves a double sleeve — two Kovacs at once. They even try to play rock-paper-scissors to see who stays behind and who goes to Head in the Clouds, but apparently you can’t play that kind of game with your clone. They always throw the same thing.

The key to the assault on the Clouds is in stopping Rei’s backup, essentially taking away her immortality. It involves Vernon masquerading as a general visiting the house of sin. He goes into a room where he meets a sex worker who’s basically offering herself up for anything. Someone refers to the workers there as “snuff whores.” Gross. Vernon is kind to her, giving her a drink and making her lie down. He claims he’s gonna shut down all of this hellhole. He goes to the access panel across the corridor, getting instructions from Ava, while Kovacs is forced to subdue some guards. The line of the week may be Ava’s about Kovacs: “He’s a suicidal idiot who never gives up.”

Vernon is offered another woman/man/child to do with whatever he pleases and Vernon’s had enough. He kills a few people who probably deserve killin’ and goes to help Kovacs, who has lowered his body temperature to avoid being caught by poisoning himself. The pair get into the room with Rei just as she’s about to back herself up. They fry it the second before it hits 100 percent. Rei is annoyed. Kovacs sees Ortega but can’t pull her out of VR torture yet or risk setting off alarms. Rei does get a truly malevolent line in “I’m gonna watch Ortega eat her own fucking eyeballs.” Kovacs breaks it to her: She didn’t back up. This is her only life and she’s wearing it.

“Start with the night Bancroft got torched,” Takeshi Kovacs says. And we get a confessional. Reileen needed an angry Bancroft to go one step further. She wanted to blackmail him into stopping the 653, the group protesting re-sleeving. They were getting in the way of Rei’s re-coding plans. So, she drugged Bancroft with something called Stallion through a kiss from Miriam, who owed Rei. Bancroft went to his house of sin in the clouds and the drug pushed him overboard. He “real-deathed” the first girl, and then Mary Lou panicked, hurling herself from the sky. She assumed her stack would be found and she would be spun up and everything would be fine, but she didn’t know Rei controlled the police in Bay City.

So, what happened to Laurens Bancroft? He really did kill himself. He wanted to forget the horror of what he had done to the girl at Head in the Clouds and to derail 653. “His arrogance wouldn’t let him believe he killed himself,” Rei says. It’s interesting that we wouldn’t be here without that arrogance. Suddenly, Vernon is attacked. Guards come in. Kovacs forgot the number-one lesson of action movies: Never let the villain monologue for too long!

Other Notes

• Ato Essandoh, who plays Vernon, has his best episode this chapter. He would make an interesting lead in an action show.

• Some of the noir movie titles stolen for Altered Carbon have had similar plots to this show, but this one feels cribbed because of how it literally reflects the action in the skies: Rage in Heaven is a 1941 film starring Robert Montgomery and Ingrid Bergman, for the record.

• When Kovacs discovers Ortega’s murdered family, there’s a great cover of a classic folk song alternately known as “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and “Run On.” This version is by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

• Only two sci-fi recommendations left so I’m going to use them for two of my favorites. Go watch Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, another examination of identity and family. It’s a masterpiece.

Altered Carbon Recap: One Life to Live