Ain’t no party like a futuristic rich people’s party. The third episode of Altered Carbon focuses tightly on such an event, raising even further questions about morality in a world in which human bodies are completely disposable and replaceable. If cost isn’t a concern, what would we do as a species to bodies that can always be upgraded or replaced? The central mystery of the show spins its wheels a bit, but the design and direction of the party/fight sequence keeps things interesting, and it’s nice to see our hero branch out from the loner model to the leader of a pack of justice-seeking misfits.
We open with a flashback to a young Takeshi Kovacs with his sister, reading a story that’s basically a riff on Frankenstein. A villain named Mad Mikola stole children and cut them up, turning them into a creature called the Patchwork Man, which then killed his creator, wandering the streets looking for new bodies to keep himself from falling apart. Who is the Patchwork Man of this story? Is it Kovacs himself, a medical marvel who has little more than his memories to hold onto? We also learn how badly his father beat his mother, and there’s a line that feels key to the narrative development this episode: “Never face the monsters alone.”
Back to the future. Kovacs gets an invitation to a fancy party at the Bancroft mansion in the sky, and learns from Poe that his privacy has been compromised. So, Kovacs knows there’s footage out there of him having sex with Miriam Bancroft. We also learn that Poe can’t really leave the hotel, being that he’s an A.I. creation, but he can travel technologically. That ability leads to an interesting partnership with Vernon Elliot, the father of the murdered Lizzie, whose consciousness is now trapped reliving her torturous demise. Poe can virtually help bring her back to sanity, and this connection unites Poe, Vernon, and Kovacs as a new team. Vernon will help be Tak’s right-hand man and Poe is his VR guide to this strange future.
Of course, Officer Ortega has to be at the party too! She gets assigned the “Extreme Organic Damage” duty because Bancroft wants to stage a fight for his rich guests. So she has to be the legal monitor. Naturally, she’s more interested in solving the case of the girl who fell from the sky last episode, who was likely tossed from one of the mansions above the clouds.
As any good partygoer needs to do, Kovacs and Vernon buy some badass weapons. They find an arms dealer in a bazaar and we get a nifty scene of futuristic firepower, including a gun that shoots a projectile and then reloads itself back into the same chamber. Imagine that: You could shoot someone with the same bullet over and over again. There’s also a flashback to some nifty combat training from Kovacs’s early envoy days and we hear a key line for this episode: “Build a pack.” That’s exactly what Kovacs is doing with Vernon, Poe, and even Ortega.
After a poignant scene in which Vernon can see his daughter healing a bit in VR style on a TV monitor, it’s time for the party! We learn that Kovacs wasn’t told it was a theme party — everybody was supposed to bring something unique. Upon arriving, he tells Miriam about the spybot in their room, but she doesn’t seem to care much. It’s possible she even planted it herself. Ortega spots Kovacs and we learn that the fight she’s there to monitor is between a married couple. They fight to the sleeve death and then both have their bodies replaced. It’s like pitting slaves against each other in the old days, with a total lack of concern or moral question about the actual damage being done to human bodies. It’s fascinating to consider morally and philosophically — and a reminder that rich people will always be weird.
Kovacs and Bancroft talk about lines that can’t be crossed — there doesn’t seem to be many in this future — and we’re reminded that his son Isaac is an obnoxious drunk. Here, Altered Carbon takes another fascinating philosophical turn: Have these spoiled rich kids been spoiled rich kids for centuries? This new form of immortality has destroyed the natural course of maturity and progression. The son will never take over for the father. Will Isaac be a bad boy forever? No wonder he’s losing his mind. And no wonder everyone is fascinated by the new face of Kovacs. They rarely see one anymore.
Speaking of new faces, Ortega spots someone who isn’t on the invite list. Things are getting suspicious. And kinky: Kovacs goes upstairs to find Miriam mid-coitus, but it’s not Miriam. It’s actually her daughter using one of Mom’s sleeves for a little fun. Yikes. While this concept is racy enough, it does add a layer to the mystery of who killed Laurens Bancroft. Someone could have done so while “wearing” a Miriam or Laurens sleeve to get past bio-coded security. And so, Kovacs starts to suspect that perhaps Laurens’s killer is one of his kids. He grabs Isaac to get a read on him, but doesn’t learn much.
As with all parties, this one gets weirder as it goes along. First, we learn that one of the female guest’s unique items is a snake that contains the cortical stack of a human. Eeeeek. Altered Carbon gives us another moral conundrum to consider: You could put someone into a sleeve that isn’t mobile (echoes of “Black Museum” in Black Mirror, for sure). While she’s talking, Vernon breaks into security and downloads surveillance data from the night Lizzie was killed. We also learn that the reason Kovacs wasn’t told to bring a unique item is because he is the unique item: He’s Laurens Bancroft’s “Last Envoy.”
It’s fight time! We watch the male fighter brutally beating his wife until Kovacs reaches in to stop the brawl. Suddenly, he’s thrown into the zero-gravity ring with them and it’s time for some Mad Max mayhem. Ortega demands the fight be stopped as it wasn’t approved to include Kovacs, but Bancroft tosses in a throwing star just to make it crazier. Ortega shoots the gravity shield, plummeting the fighters to the ground and breaking the leg of the male fighter. Kovacs puts him out of his misery so they both can get a new sleeve.
After the party, Kovacs goes back to see Alice, his hooker contact who worked with Lizzie. She drops to her knees, severely beaten. “I’m sorry,” she says. “They made me do it.” And she stabs him with a syringe. He crashes through a glass door as the wrestler dude with the metal spine comes into view, killing Alice. Kovacs wakes up in something that looks like a clinic and we flash back to his youth again with a key line: “Never face the monsters alone.”
• This show really likes to use music over closing scenes, and this episode includes “Death, Have Mercy” by Vera Hall.
• I loved the animated rendering of the story that young Takeshi was reading with his sister. I hope to see more like it.
• This episode was written by Brian Nelson, the screenwriter behind 30 Days of Night and Hard Candy, and the second in a row directed by Nick Hurran.
• This episode’s sci-fi movie recommendation is another cyberpunk fighter: the underrated Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale and Sean Bean.