Another bloody episode of Altered Carbon ends with another cliff-hanger, but little in the way of narrative development. Sure, we learn that Isaac Bancroft (probably) didn’t kill his father, but did anyone think the show’s major mystery would be that easy to solve? Of course not. We also discover that Captain Tanaka is a little corrupt and that Kovacs’s feelings for Ortega may actually be true love. Finally, we meet a new puppeteer, a power player named Hemingway (Arnold Pinnock), who may be pulling all of the strings in Bay City.
First, Ortega is almost dead! Picking up where the last episode ended, “Man With My Face” opens with Kovacs and Ortega racing through the sky like some futuristic version of the opening of Reservoir Dogs. He’s performing CPR on her and driving at the same time. He rushes into the hospital with her, but she’s cast aside because her DNA indicates she can’t afford instant treatment. However, Kovacs spits on the DNA reader, revealing he’s full of that Bancroft money. Now they’ll treat her. Note this connection: It seems like Bancroft had something to do with the framing of Ryker, yet now it’s Bancroft who will indirectly save Ortega’s life by paying for her surgery. Interesting stuff.
While Ortega is getting stitched up and the doctors are offering all kinds of fancy upgrades, Poe is still in VR, trying to save Lizzie Elliot. It’s interesting that this show imagines one of the darker figures from American literature as a savior. At least Poe understands that Lizzie needs to fight through her trauma. He encourages her to punch him, but Vernon jumps in, perhaps setting back his daughter’s recovery.
Meanwhile, Kovacs is having an imaginary chat with his mentor and lover, Falconer. She mentions how expendable people are, but Kovacs has grown attached to Kristin Ortega. He’s not going to let another one die. In a show that’s packed with overheated dialogue, this scene may be the hottest of all. “Stride across the centuries and death follows” is pretty bad, but eyes should really roll at “Love isn’t finite.” While both performers are good in this scene, it’s these emotional moments in which the subpar writing really falters. Altered Carbon looks great, but style can’t overcome truly cheesy dialogue. Anyway, Vernon interrupts Kovacs’s chat with his psyche just in time for Kovacs to go to Isaac’s house to further the investigation into the murder for which he was resleeved in the first place.
Captain Tanaka gets his most development so far this season, starting with a scene with Prescott, the high-powered attorney of the Bancroft family. There’s a bit of a showdown between the two when Prescott wants the clone of Laurens Bancroft taken from Isaac’s apartment. It becomes clear that the captain is a bit powerless, though. We also learn that the Ghost Walker, the crazed assassin who nearly killed Ortega, is on none of the footage of the attack. He’s called the Ghost Walker for a reason. It’s also clear that Dimi is on the run in his new sleeve.
We see Dimi with Hemingway, who tells him not to touch Kovacs. He needs him alive for some reason, and this leaves Dimi as a bit of a loose end, which the angry assassin will figure out a few scenes later, when he flees from the Ghost Walker and needlecasts himself into a new clone: the body of the original Takeshi Kovacs we saw at Fight Drome. Neat.
Over at Isaac’s apartment our heroes “Kovacs” the door open and rough him up a bit, but he has no idea what they’re talking about. Is someone setting up Isaac Bancroft? They go to dear old dad’s to tell the story about Isaac using Laurens’s sleeve in Osaka and play the footage from Fight Drome. Prescott brings in the clone, and daddy is not too happy. However, it seems like Isaac was impersonating his father not to betray him, but to impress him. While Kovacs is having flashbacks to his own abusive past, he realizes that Isaac didn’t do it. The kid just doesn’t have the rage. “I don’t want you dead, dad,” Isaac says. “I want your respect.” Too bad Laurens has some rage of his own, hacking at his own clone like an unhinged serial killer.
In the hospital, Ortega wakes up from her surgery with a wicked new arm. She’s not happy about it, or the death of her buddy Abboud. Kovacs is surprised when Tanaka tells him that the IT guy Mickey hasn’t been fired. Why? And why does it feel like Tanaka wants to be forgiven? They figure out that their boss is a bit of a double agent, and Ortega uses her new arm to put a few dents in the wall with his body. Tanaka admits to just taking a few credits to keep people in the loop. He gets in touch with someone and they meet in VR. Ortega and Kovacs are going to track the contact, and Kovacs looks like Tanaka to do so, but the contact, Hemingway, figures out the ruse immediately.
Suddenly, Ortega pulls Kovacs out of the VR meeting. It’s too quiet. Everyone around them is dead, decapitated. Our heroes are kidnapped, put in chains, and sent into the Fight Drome to battle each other. It’s time for some Thunderdome shit.
The mayhem starts with minotaur-looking creatures going at Ortega and Kovacs. They defeat them, and then are faced by a knife-wielding Dimi/Takeshi. He poisons Kovacs with his blades and promises to cut Ortega apart “piece by piece.” Despite the poisoning, Kovacs stops him. They continue to fight and Dimi stabs Kovacs, but our hero pulls the knife out and hits the assassin in the back of the neck, wrenching free his cortical stack, which Ortega crushes with her new bad-ass appendage. Just as they’re about to be killed by the angry crowd, a shadowy figure jumps in, slicing and shooting and killing everything in sight. It could only be one person. “Hey, big brother,” Reileen says.
• “Man With My Face” is the best title yet for this show, given the climax of this episode.
• The climactic music is a cover of Rob Zombie’s “More Human Than Human” by Sune Rose Wagner, which appears to have been created for the show. Of course, that song title is a reference to the slogan of the Tyrell Corporation from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, which became Blade Runner, easily the greatest influence on Altered Carbon.
• Great to see the face of Dichen Lachman again, who has appeared in flashbacks but could now be a bigger part of the show.
• This was the second episode written by Steve Blackman, an executive producer on the show, and directed by Alex Graves, a vet of Game of Thrones and Homeland.
• This episode’s title references a more obscure noir than some of the others, but one that thematically fits: 1951’s The Man With My Face.
• All of the Fight Drome drama with the screaming crowds and exaggerated character work by Matt Frewer was clearly influenced by the world of George Miller. So, go watch Mad Max: Fury Road again! Trust me, it’s even better than you remember.