It turns out that this season of Altered Carbon has been about history in more ways than it initially seemed. The main thrust of the show is that even if we could live forever, and restart again and again, we couldn’t leave history behind. These are characters haunted by past relationships and deeds that define their present actions. And this episode reveals that the narrative of the season has really been about a wrong done hundreds of years ago, when the founders of Harlan’s World destroyed what they found there, defying their own creed. It is not just about history between characters, but the history of colonization, the trauma it causes and the scars that remain.
Before it’s revealed that it wasn’t exactly Quell that used the weapon Angelfire on her enemies, everyone is in full panic mode. There’s a recovery team who finds the charred bodies, including Joshua Kemp, but there’s no sign of the fugitives. They do, however, find the body of Kovacs Prime, who seems suspiciously startled. He’s got to be a mole, right?!? Send the other three — Trepp, Tak, and Quell — ahead and then put KP back in the system to work it from that side. Have these people ever seen a movie before? Do they have movies in the future?
Back at the Nevermore Hotel, Quell is knocked out cold. Dig reveals that she has medical programming and can help save her, but there’s something degenerating in her stack that they’ve never seen before. (Duh.) And Anil, Trepp’s brother, had the same thing, which leads Trepp to volunteer to go into his stack to figure out what happened to him. Maybe the same thing happened to Quell.
Meanwhile, Poe reveals to Tak his mission into the construct in which Konrad Harlan was reportedly hiding out. Across town, Konrad’s daughter wants to know how Quellcrist Falconer, who should be dead, can control something like Angelfire, which shoots deadly blue flame from machines called Orbitals.
While she’s baffled at the latest turn of events to put her legacy in jeopardy, Trepp goes into Anil’s stack and sees his final moments. With another Quellist, they blew up part of a Songspire that held…something. They became infects, Thing-style, and were destroyed by it. And now that same thing is infecting Quell. Poe figures it out first — there’s another consciousness in there, battling with Falconer for dominance. Dig has an idea on how to stop it: build a VR construct, in which they will sort of untwine the two, spinning the real Quell down and facing down whatever demon has possessed her, trapping it in the construct before everyone rides off into the sunset, happily ever after.
Across town, Danica is increasingly worried that the reunion of the leader of the rebellion and the Last Envoy will reignite the actual uprising. She may have been using Kemp and his people to her political advantage, but she was playing with real issues and concerns. Now a real leader could use that against her. There’s something here in the writing that’s smart but a little underdeveloped, about how politicians can sometimes play with fire, starting conversations that they’re not able to control. By playing with people’s needs and desires, Danica could have helped start an actual revolution.
She knows the only person who will help her: Carrera. The mercenary without a cause has something Danica can give him that’s greater than any payment: his old identity. Find out how to use Angelfire like Quell did and Jaeger will be allowed to return. Danica also plays another card as her government kidnaps Trepp’s wife and son.
Back in the lion’s den, Kovacs Prime talks Carrera into trusting him, revealing that he placed a tracker in Dig. If they go back to her, he can lead the troops to their door. And then he reveals that he can see what she’s doing now, building the construct. Um, okay. Altered Carbon is one of those shows that reveals a new technology every episode and viewers just roll with it. So now the enemy and the possible double agent can apparently jump into the same construct as the good guys so we get a final showdown. Sure. Works for me.
Before Takeshi Kovacs jumps into another world to save his love across the generations, he makes them promise not to take him out until the job is done, hinting at a sacrifice to come. In the construct, he sees his child with Quell, who is clearly just manipulating him. Back in the real world, Trepp jumps into Tak’s sleeve — he’s in VR and not using it, after all — so she can go save her son and wife. Cool move.
There’s a bunch of overheated dialogue and eventual combat in the construct until Tak finally figures it out: “You’re not human. You’re an Elder.” Her consciousness was in the Songspire and came out when the rebels blew it up, taking them over and then really doing their work on Quell. It’s an Elder taking vengeance on the Founders who destroyed the world. They knew there was life under Harlan’s World and destroyed it, led by Konrad Harlan, but something survived, and that something has been controlling Quell to get vengeance.
Carrera is pretty quickly injured in the construct, and encourages Tak to go on without him and become the killing machine daddy always wanted him to be. While Takeshi/Trepp kicks some ass to save her wife and kid, Quell is pulled out of the construct, but she’s not too happy about it. It turns out that once you take the demon out of the jar, there needs to be a place to put it. The Elder wasn’t manipulating Quellcrist Falconer, she was keeping the Elder under control (well, other than all the deaths of the Founders and those kids in the market who were murdered, but whatever).
The point is that the ancient, deadly, angry force that was in Quellcrist Falconer needs a new home, and Colonel Carrera is right there.
• Will Edgar Poe the AI ever catch a break with the ladies? Seriously, after the Lizzie drama last year, he basically suffers the same fate this year, finding a connection with Dig, who has to shut herself down to protect them. They’re both good in their heartfelt, emotional scene, but it’s starting to feel like cruelty to this character.
• Speaking of Poe, I miss the dynamic he had with Kinnaman’s Kovacs last year. They worked more as a buddy team than they’ve been given the chance to this year because of the plot. It’s too bad. Bring that back next year.
• And while we’re on that subject, does anyone question if Mackie is trying hard, or at all, to really be playing the same guy that Kinnaman did last year? It could be the fault of the writers, but these two don’t feel completely consistent. Kinnaman’s was more of a Deckard-type, with the occasional bit of deadpan humor. Mackie is more of a traditional action hero.