“You can’t save humans from themselves.” – Dig 301
It’s interesting to reflect on whether Altered Carbon believes this or intends to defy it. It may just be a throwaway line, a reference to the double identities this season, or character development for the A.I.s of Poe and Dig; but it also gives us something to consider regarding what this show says about the human condition. There are a lot of characters on Altered Carbon trying to save people from themselves. Takeshi Kovacs sure is trying to do exactly that by saving Quellcrist Falconer from her dark side. Will he succeed now that he’s basically being chased by, well, himself?
Yes, Altered Carbon gets truly weird this episode as an older version of Takeshi Kovacs, who we will now refer to as “Kovacs Prime” (Will Yun Lee), his name in the show’s subtitles, has been unleashed to hunt the current version of himself. Carrera/Jaeger has double-sleeved his favorite pupil, the version of Kovacs who was still loyal to CTAC and had yet to be turned into a leader of the rebellion alongside Quellcrist Falconer, and he tells him that the new Takeshi Kovacs killed his sister Rei. Imagine if a younger version of yourself was chasing you today to avenge your sister. He would likely be able to know your moves and skill sets better than any possible hunter. Yes, it’s all more than a little Gemini Man.
Before then, Tak and Trepp come home to find Quell in the shower crying, which is just something people do after being possessed enough to kill against their will in all forms of science-fiction. After getting yelled at for deceiving Trepp into helping him, Tak comforts his deeply troubled girlfriend. It seems like Quell’s brain has cracked, possibly because she’s been re-sleeved too many times. How can she be saved? Poe enters a construct to try to find her only remaining target, Konrad Harlan, the last living founder, while Trepp, Tak, and Quell realize that their best shot at safety may be with the rebels across enemy lines — to reunite Quellcrist Falconer with the people who still follow her cause.
Meanwhile, Kovacs Prime is on the hunt for what he considers his evil futuristic alter ego. He hunts down Hideki’s son, really just to use the minor Yakuza player as bait, knowing that he will try to find Tak too. And that’s exactly what happens, although Kovacs Prime is a step or two behind his targets. He uses a twisted form of interrogation on Dig, using commands to force her to reveal some of what she knows, but she’s smart enough to have archived most of the details. Sadly, Prime ends up finding a connection to the Imani family, which is where Trepp is currently, arguing with her father and learning that her brother Anil was a Quellist.
While all this cat-and-mouse is happening on Harlan’s World, Poe is in a utopian construct, searching for Harlan. There, he’s reunited with someone he thought he’d never see again, Lizzie Elliot (Hayley Law), who walks him through this world, and encourages him to stay. It’s a place that’s kind of the opposite of the Circle from episode three, a place that uses your happiest memories to create paradise. But staying there would stop his mission and possibly hurt his best friends back in the real world. Long before he discovers that Harlan isn’t even there, it feels like something is wrong. Lizzie is just trying to lure Poe into a trap, a faux version of a perfect reality that doesn’t exist. He uses his imperfection, his glitch, to destroy it.
As Quell is asking Trepp to be the failsafe and shoot her if she gets out of control again, Kovacs Prime has caught up with Trepp’s father. They kill him, even destroying his stack. Kovacs Prime doesn’t need it. He knows how to find himself. They’re going to go to a place from their youth, and Takeshi has no idea that he’s being hunted by someone who knows him best.
On the journey, Quell has a moment in which it looks like she might go full Mr. Hyde on everyone, but Trepp helps talk her down. After all, she knows how to deal with trauma, as her son has a great deal of it from the war. There’s a whole lot of chatting on this journey/hunt that slows the episode down a bit. It’s clearly designed to be a “bridge episode,” taking us from Harlan’s World in the previous one to the rebels in the next one. And it’s also meant to build up the tension to the inevitable showdown between the two versions of Kovacs. Quell fights against her dark side, Trepp looks concerned they’re going to fail, Kovacs kind of just moves forward, and so on and so on.
Eventually, they find their way under Stronghold, their destination to meet the rebels. Tak goes up to meet with Kemp, the leader of the rebels, and even disarms Trepp before he goes. Bad idea. As Tak struggles to get a signal to Kemp, Quell attacks Trepp below ground. And then Prime finally catches up, but Takeshi gets the jump on him. “Do I know you,” he asks. Do you ever, buddy. Before they can catch up on the insanity of the whole situation, they’re going at it. They fight, and Kovacs Prime tells the future version of himself to say hello to their dead sister as he throws him off a cliff. It turns out that Takeshi Kovacs could not be saved from himself.
• Anyone else a little unsure of Carerra/Jaeger’s purpose? He doesn’t trust or like Danica Harlan. In fact, he realizes that the revolution is probably good for him. So who’s he loyal to? No one? Is he just hoping for chaos to replace the ineffective leadership? Perhaps he’s just a plot device, someone to cause trouble and bring back Kovacs Prime, but he’s a hard character to figure out.
• Good to see Will Yun Lee again. The producers have actually brought back a lot of the supporting cast from season one, at least in minor roles, but it’s nice to see Lee get a bigger arc than most of them. He’s a strong presence and a great actor in terms of physicality. One believes he could easily hold his own against someone who has been on the MCU workout plan like Anthony Mackie.
• I loved the brief message from Kemp and the rebels on the old TV in the hotel. I wish they did more of that this season, which has been a little mediocre in terms or production design and world building compared to the first. Analog equipment in a futuristic world is always a cool look.