After a crowded premiere bridging a gap between seasons that not only spanned two years, but saw the series’ leading man turn from Joel Kinnaman into Anthony Mackie, Altered Carbon should settle into more of what it’s going to be this season in its second episode. So why does it still feel like a show trying to push its way through a bit of an identity crisis? It’s more chaotic than engaging at this point, and the stakes don’t feel quite there because we’re so occupied with new characters and threats. Bluntly, it’s hard to care yet, and one hopes that the show finds some urgency soon, not just in its quick plotting, but also the characters and their world.
First up, we meet Colonel Carrera (Torben Liebrecht), Protector of Special Forces. He’s kind of a monster. He comes in with his fancy soldiers to take over the Axley crime scene, and the inevitable bloodbath is pretty obvious to everyone but the victims. A bit of talk reveals that Kovacs’s new sleeve is part canine — possibly dog, or maybe even wolf — and a highly priced asset. And then the colonel goes rogue on the investigators to close any loops in intelligence, shooting the lead officer as his team goes slo-mo gun fu on everyone in the room. There’s a lot of wall-jumping, sliding, and other things that don’t really seem logical (a back flip?) but make for a cool-looking scene.
Meanwhile, Kovacs and Poe talk about what he now remembers. What was Quell doing there, and is it just a coincidence that Kovacs got in her way? And if it is, why didn’t she kill him? Poe’s suggestion that it was someone using Quell’s sleeve — which is illegal — doesn’t fit with the fact that she left him alive. She knew it was Kovacs. Poe does suggest that there’s one living connection to Axley who may know more about what happened to him: Trepp, the woman who shot Kovacs in the back on Maghda Prime.
Carrera reveals to Danica Harlan that Axley’s death was a real one, wiping all of his back-ups, and it appears that he’s blaming the Quellists (which could be accurate, given we know Falconer was there). Is Axley’s death part of a plan to spark a more intense war? Carrera and Harlan bicker — he clearly wants war; she just wants him gone.
Kovacs tracks down Trepp in the middle of a bounty hunt, which allows for a fun little shootout and the revelation that Kovacs actually completed the five highest bounties before finding her like they were nothing. They catch up, and it’s nice to see Simone Missick bite into a part she seems to be having fun with. Trepp doesn’t know much — Axley paid her a lot to find Kovacs, and that’s it. Well, she did overhear something about blackmail and an illegal sleeve just before she was hired. Maybe that means something? She suggests they partner up to find Axley’s business associates.
It’s also revealed that Harlan’s father is completely missing, gone and not responding to contacts, but Danica might have the courage to make a move that would make him proud, and erase her greatest challenger in Carrera to boot.
Kovacs’ quest takes him to a place called the Soul Market, searching for Axley’s buddies. He’s pointed there by his pal Hideki in a major exposition dump scene, one that also reveals that Axley’s death was a real one. Kovacs tells him that he’s worried someone has taken Quell’s sleeve, and that he will destroy whoever dares do so. Again, if the person in Quell’s sleeve who saw him right after he sleeved isn’t Falconer, why did that person leave him alive? Just to frame him for Axley’s murder? Then who’s in Quell’s sleeve?
His journey leads him to a man who can harvest memories from stacks, selling them to others. It’s a clever idea — experiencing someone else’s most pleasurable memories, at a cost — but the writers don’t really make the most of it. When Kovacs signs in, it creates a hit on the sleeve that Carerra is so eager to get his hands on. So as he’s learning that Axley was afraid that Quellcrist Falconer was coming for him, the authorities are coming for him. Axley’s buddies reveal to Kovacs a “patch,” or memory, of Quell slicing and dicing her way through a market, even slitting the throat of a child. “It’s not her,” he says.
And then chaos erupts outside as Falconer is in the club, slitting throats. She fights with Kovacs. Well, she kicks him through a glass door and then kills Axley’s colleagues in a gruesome fashion. She’s crazed. “Do you hear the screams?” she asks. Kovacs gets his guns back and the two shoot at each other across a bar, allowing for some classic glass-shattering sound design. They fight, he throws a knife, they yell, and then she suddenly seems to break, recognizing him and becoming herself again. Is she fighting for control of the sleeve? Has she gone mad and is now being brought back from insanity by the only person who can do so? Just as Carrera gets there, she flees, and Kovacs learns that this Wedge Tech sleeve won’t allow him to shoot at the Protectorate. Carrera knocks him to the ground.
So where are we? We have a new villain (Carrera) and a new ally (Trepp), which should help expand the narrative this season. And we have even more questions about what is going on with Quellcrist Falconer than we did before. After all, the bridge between seasons was all about Takeshi Kovacs finding his long-lost love, but he never asked himself if she wanted to be found.
All of this is well-paced — it’s a show that’s easy to binge — but feels a little thin compared to last season, which took its time with characters, mystery, and the building of its world. There’s a lot of hyper action so far this season, and even Mackie seems to be getting lost in the constant exposition about who needs to go where and get what and talk to whoever and do what when they get there and so on and so on. Given the sag that comes in the middle of most Netflix seasons, it’s hard to say that this show should slow down, but maybe that trend will be a good thing in this case.
• It’s important that when Trepp goes to cash in the top five bounties, we learn that she’s looking for someone named Anil Imani. She raises the bounty to find him.
• Don’t think I missed that Poe’s memory is still glitching. I’m just waiting to see what it’s going to mean. Is Kovacs right that it will put his safety in jeopardy?
• The scene in which Kovacs learns he has higher tolerance settings in this sleeve that are hurting his ability to get drunk is pretty clever.
• Did anyone else start singing They Might Be Giants when Carrera went on his villainous rant about the fall of Constantinople? Just me. Never mind then.