Altered Carbon Recap: I Wake Up Screaming

Altered Carbon

Fallen Angel
Season 1 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Katie Yu / Netflix

The second episode of Altered Carbon connects a few more dots in the mystery surrounding the murder of the ultrawealthy Laurens Bancroft, tying his death (and resurrection) to the killing of a prostitute named Lizzie Elliot. It wasn’t quite as much a breakthrough as the premiere, but it still moves along at a nice clip, avoiding the bloat that comes with some Netflix shows (looking at you, Marvel). It may not quite be at the top of the TV mountain yet, but it feels like Altered Carbon is climbing in the right direction.

“Fallen Angel” focuses on two murdered girls, the first of whom we see literally dropped into a lake. She’s dead and barely clothed. A kid, fishing nearby with his father, wants to bring her in. Dad doesn’t want to get involved.

Meanwhile, Takeshi Kovacs is having hallucinations about his past lives, seeing ash in his lovely hotel room. We learn more about Kovacs’s background this episode, and how his life was first destroyed as a part of an expunging of envoys by a team of killers. No wonder he’s haunted. He wakes up in his room and there’s a raven there — is that his wake-up call? Cool. Anyway, Poe is there with an attorney named Prescott, played by the great Tamara Taylor. She’s an employee of Laurens Bancroft. It’s time to get investigating!

First, there’s a refreshing turn of events narratively. In the show’s first scene without Kovacs, we see Officer Ortega wake up, sparring with her partner and revealing she’s got a tracker on Kovacs. This is a nice development because it means Altered Carbon will present a world outside of that known only by its protagonist, and it’s a pattern that continues with a Poe-only scene not that much later, in which everyone’s favorite A.I. goes to a virtual poker game.

Before then, Prescott takes Kovacs to a company that sells high-end sleeves to the one percent. The richest people in the world can now be immortal; just get a younger sleeve when you tire of the one you’re in now. And you can even sleeve into your own clone, basically meaning you can live forever. We learn that Bancroft traveled just before his murder, closing a big deal that he has no memory of doing. Kovacs reveals he’s not exactly going to be an ally or employee of Bancroft, and if the investigation reveals some of his skeletons, then so be it. He runs into Ortega in the lobby, and she’s surprised he took the case.

Ortega and Kovacs soon spin off into separate cases involving the murdered girls. She’s forced to speak to the mother of the girl in the lake, confused over why she hasn’t been given her daughter’s body. Meanwhile, Kovacs is breaking down death threats received by Bancroft, Minority Report–style, on screens in front of him. He finds one of interest and traces the weapon in it to a man named Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh), who’s grieving the loss of his daughter. Kovacs jacks into a VR loop to see Vernon’s daughter, Lizzie (Hayley Law), who’s basically stuck there in a moment of anguish — it’s all very Black Mirror. She told her dad that she was seeing Bancroft. The two fight, but Kovacs handles himself, and jets off to a VR simulation of his past — the “Battle of Stronghold” that wiped out someone essential from his life. There’s a good line here: “When the victors rewrite history, it’s just another kind of war.” Kovacs takes the time to traumatize a child, telling her, “You’re better off alone.”

Meanwhile, Ortega finds her mother in her house, castigating her for renouncing her religious coding. In the future, you need to make clear that you won’t be re-sleeved, much like a DNR or organ donor program in today’s world, and it seems like Ortega hasn’t done that.

While she’s having a religious crisis, Kovacs goes to a place called “Jack It Off” — real subtle name — which is near the alley where he saw Lizzie in that trauma loop. He starts an encounter with a hooker, only to ask her about Lizzie. By convincing her that he’s actually a re-sleeved version of Lizzie’s mom, she reveals that some of the johns, including maybe Bancroft, like to choke woman. Think about the disposability of the human body in this world: If someone rich enough goes too far, they can just pay to re-sleeve their victim in an a new model. Eww. Murder can be erased by the all-powerful. It’s these moral dilemmas in the world of Altered Carbon that are really keeping it narratively and philosophically interesting.

On his way out, Kovacs runs into Lizzie’s dad and another fight ensues, this one joined by a couple of other tough guys, one of whom has an enhanced spine — basically an excuse for cooler fighting styles. Neat. Kovacs jacks his power box, though, and then Ortega shows up in her floating cop car. They’re under arrest for “organic damage,” but Kovacs isn’t in custody long. Prescott busts him out. He’s got some powerful friends now.

While Ortega is looking at the body of the girl in the lake, held in a chamber that says “empty” for some reason, Kovacs comes home to find Poe applying for the job as his gumshoe private-dick partner. While Kovacs declines, Poe does tell him that someone is waiting in his penthouse. It’s Miriam Bancroft, and she’s feeling frisky. She says she’s fascinated by a man who comes from a purer time, and she throws her genetically enhanced self at him. Meanwhile, Ortega is in confession talking about lustful thoughts (everyone wants the new guy, it seems) and we see the missing body on the slab, her cortical stack gone and in Ortega’s hand. As if that’s not strange enough, there’s a really interesting edit to a shot in Bancroft’s library, where he’s pointing at the blood stain left by his own brain matter as Ortega says, “Please forgive me.” Did she kill Bancroft? And who is videotaping Kovacs and Miriam?

Other Notes

• Wondering what movie Poe was watching to learn his noir duties? It’s I Wake Up Screaming, starring Betty Grable and Victor Mature.

• It was interesting to see more daylight in this episode when Kovacs tracked down his first suspect. The buildings and universe are more colorful than I expected.

• Why the rushed credits? I like the mood set by the longer ones in the premiere.

• I loved when Poe mentioned, “There were no rats feasting on the corpses,” given how much his namesake loved utilizing the vicious vermin in his short stories.

• This episode was written by Steve Blackman, a veteran of FX’s Fargo, and directed by Nick Hurran of Sherlock and Doctor Who.

• This episode’s sci-fi movie companion: Minority Report, another investigation into a futuristic murder and a movie that’s even better than you remember.

Altered Carbon Recap: I Wake Up Screaming