Naked swordfighting! You can’t do that on Fox. Altered Carbon has really embraced the lack of censorship afforded by Netflix, but perhaps no more so than during the climax of the eighth episode, during which a half dozen or so naked clones of Dichen Lachman attack Officer Kristin Ortega. It’s a bloody, startling battle, and this entertaining, plot-packed episode untangled a lot of this season’s mysteries leading up to the nude showdown. Basically, we learned that Takeshi Kovacs’s sister, Reileen, has been behind almost everything.
Remember the clones that Kovacs found at the end of last episode before his sister revealed she killed Quellcrist Falconer? It turns out that Reileen has been using those at will — which means she was the socialite at the party who put a cortical stack in a snake; she was the kid at the Envoy Massacre exhibit; and, most important, she was Hemingway, the mysterious figure that we know has been orchestrating action throughout the city, including getting information from Tanaka and controlling the assassin, Dimi.
Joel Kinnaman sells the slack-jawed shock at all of these revelations, including the one that Reileen killed their mentor and his girlfriend, Quellcrist Falconer. Kovacs is devastated, and understandably can’t quite accept his sister’s assertion that she did this all for him. While Kovacs wanted to join the Envoys and fight the man, Reileen was concerned that they would get them both killed, and so she acted first. She also lays out an interesting dynamic of this future — he could be so angry that he kills his sister, but her backup would only return her to a new clone. Enemies could be immortal in this world — so could supposed allies.
While Kovacs is having his mind blown, Ortega is coming back to work, bloodied and emotional. First, she has a showdown with Prescott, the mischievous Bancroft attorney, and then she gets into it with her boss at the station. There’s no missing person report on Kovacs, even though he disappeared after the showdown at Fight Drome. Tanaka points out that he can do what he wants, but Ortega is worried about him and wants to know why Ryker, his former identity, was framed. There’s some tough-talk cop-show stuff like “I can’t protect you anymore,” and Tanaka orders her to leave.
Back to Rei and Tak. He can be angry at her forever, but she needs his help right now. She wants him to close the Bancroft case — find a patsy if he has to, but get it done. And then she reveals that the assassin known as the Ghost Walker works for her too, which means she was at least partially responsible for the attack on Ortega. And it gets worse. Rei runs the Wei Clinic, where her brother was tortured. She has really been behind everything. She claims that Kovacs’s allies like Ortega and Vernon are worthless to them and that she’ll put them in the Wei Clinic if her bro doesn’t close the Bancroft case.
While Ortega is convincing Mickey to help her again, Kovacs puts a plan in motion that involves Vernon’s dead wife Ava. They need her technical expertise as a “dipper,” and so she’s re-sleeved … into a guy. There’s some interesting, progressive commentary here about how the external gender identity means nothing to the internal character. Lizzie, still healing from her trauma, even recognizes her mother in the male sleeve. It’s about connection, even if the physical being is different. And it’s an interesting contrast to the lack of connection between Kovacs and his sister, whom he theoretically “saw” several times in different skins, but didn’t recognize. Kovacs needs all of them to close the Bancroft case, and he forces himself to be cruel to Ortega to try and get her off the trail.
It starts with Poe back in his AI world, poisoning a fellow AI who runs a sleazy joint called the Prick Up. It’s part of a plan that will culminate in a very end-of-Columbo-esque whodunit reveal at the Bancrofts. Kovacs gets everyone together there, including Laurens, Miriam, Isaac, and Prescott, and he lays out his theory of the case. Even Rei is there in the form of Clarissa, the soulless partygoer. Kovacs claims that Bancroft was high on something called Stallion and went to Prick Up, where he was infected. And he frames Prescott as being behind all of it, including helping Bancroft to blow his own brains out. Miriam and Laurens buy it, Tanaka even goes to arrest her — but her boss is going to destroy her life in far more malicious ways.
How much of the Prescott frame job might have been true? In one of those moments where Kovacs talks to his dead girlfriend, she claims that he weaved the truth into the lie. In an interesting scene, he looks into the telescope at exactly where it would have been at the time of Bancroft’s death and sees what Poe called “the satellite of sin in the clouds.” We then have an end-of–Usual Suspects moment in which it feels like Kovacs is having a Keyser Soze revelation made up of spinning cameras and beats we’ve seen all season, mostly about male aggression and temptation. What exactly is the truth? And what is Miriam still hiding? (She was WAY too eager to close the case.) It doesn’t feel like this arc is truly over quite yet.
Time for the showdown! Ortega essentially blackmails a guy into letting her into Rei’s chamber, where he sees a clone of her behind glass. The doors close, Rei wakes up, and she bursts through the glass of her chamber. She monologues a bit, naked and bloodied, holding a piece of glass. And she notes how her brother has the same taste in women no matter the sleeve, as Falconer and Ortega are both “earnest and heroic and not very smart.” Rei hides behind a pole, and the fight begins! Rei slices Ortega with a piece of broken glass, and Ortega shoots her … twice. But Rei backs herself up before she dies … and another clone bursts from a chamber. Ortega keeps shooting — they keep coming, sometimes more than one at a time. As Ortega is bleeding out, the surviving clone gets her hands on a sword, and Ortega has to use her cyberarm to fend her off. They fight, but Ortega ultimately wins, super-punching Rei in the chest. A door opens, and Ortega sees the little girl from the Envoy exhibit. We know this is another Rei clone and a trap. Ortega doesn’t. She hugs the girl.
• There are so many conversations and showdowns in elevators on this show. The future will be full of elevators and showers.
• Question: If Rei is basically the most powerful person in Bay City, would she really risk going to Fight Drome on her own? Why not send the Ghost Walker and a couple hundred soldier clones?
• The titles of this episode refers to a 1952 Fritz Lang film that’s about, you guessed it, a reuniting brother and sister.
• This episode’s sci-fi recommendation is for a movie with a very different tone than Clash by Night but that also hinges on clones: Duncan Jones’s great Moon. (Note: Jones’s Mute premieres on Netflix February 23, so this will help you prepare for that as well.)