Crossing the Stream: Part 6 - "Altered Carbon" Sn 1, Eps 3-4

The questionable mental health day has receded, but only to be displaced by the questionable physical health day. Sitting in a temperature-controlled office suite, wearing multiple layers of clothes and multiple layers of my own personal fat insulation, I found myself freezing all day. My nose was running. It was like being outside for eight hours in mid-October. My toes were about to fall off. What the hell is this? I never read or hear about this part of weight loss, if this is indeed connected.

I have lost weight. More weight. About 15 pounds total in the last week. That's a drop in the bucket for a guy my size, and a large portion of it might just be the water weight that dropped off instantly, but it's nice to see progress. I hope I can still see the number fall regularly as I adjust to this new way of living life, when I no longer see it as a project or a goal but simply just a routine.

I tried my hand (or rather, feet) at a recumbent-style stationary bike, hoping it would be better on my back. Turns out it was, and I even pushed myself harder while watching a more demanding show. Maybe there's something to this idea that if my brain is in TV-Land, my body will be more willing to go the extra mile. A mild, buzzy feeling in my head actually followed me all the way home. Though, that might just have been a woozy need to snack.

I snacked. I snacked like the wind. But I was snacking on more mushrooms, so no big deal. That Easter chocolate has got to go away, though. I ended up having another piece of that after a nice sensible dinner, and I felt instant regret. That bugs me. I don't want to be a person who has to worry and wring my hands over a little square of chocolate. But then again, I've gotten to eat chocolate and ice cream and donuts and all sorts of sugar for 30 years without worrying, and it got me to the point where I'm writing out my day-to-day feelings about food in order to avoid eating pounds of it later. So, you take the good, you take the bad, you take 'em both and there you have...the Fats of Life.

"Altered Carbon" Season 1, Episodes 3-4

Advanced AI butlers should always come with literary affectations.

"In a Lonely Place"

I was seriously worried when I first saw the ads for this show, that it would be the kind of show that tries to say something deep about the human condition or the philosophy of the mind without the real bona fides to back up the pretension. Luckily, it appears to be leaning heavily into the pulpy sci-fi fun instead of reaching for "prestige television," like something along the lines of "Westworld" over on HBO. Case in point, Episode 3 is an honest-to-goodness fancy party full of potential suspects in the murder of their host, Bancroft. This leads to a few important developments in the show's ongoing themes of classicism and casual violence, but it also just serves as a kind of low-key caper that conveniently places Kovacs and Ortega into a cartoonishly hedonistic Methuselah party thrown by living murder victim Bancroft. Even more surprising, the chilly antihero uses his special Envoy training to recruit grief-stricken father Elliot as his backup. With dear AI Poe acting as further support structure, it's almost as if the former guerrilla revolutionary is putting together a little squad of his own. Much like Batman, Takeshi Kovacs works alone...except for the five to ten people who do all the other stuff for him.

Ortega's mysterious dead body case from Episode 2 finally gets some explanation: the young girl without stack technology in her head was likely tossed out of an extremely wealthy person's aircar. Now, exactly how the deaths of Mary Lou Henchy, Elliot's daughter Lizzie, and Bancroft are linked is not completely clear, but that's the point. The show, and I assume the novel, are showing off some tried and true detective fiction tradecraft, weaving seemingly unrelated cases into each other, while exploring the psyche of the detective himself through free association with his past.

That opening prologue scene featuring a young Kovacs in what must be his original body, with his very close sister Rei, must be leading to something fundamental about this mysterious gunslinger who has breezed into town, but for now it just looks needlessly elaborate (a full animated segment that feels like the Deathly Hallows scene from Harry Potter 7?) and largely unconnected.

Let's talk about the goofus and gallant of illustrations of decadent wealth that appear at this party: the entertainment is both a parlor game of show-and-tell with the expensive and often psychotic rarities the upper crust take pride in, and a brutal, blood-soaked fight to the (sleeve) death between a loving couple who have two little kids at home. That would be the gallant. This explains so much about this wealthy, ancient society of (ninety percent white) blue bloods and their Roman Empire levels of casual objectification of human life, without explicitly spelling it out. To wit, Kovacs himself is Bancroft's show-and-tell entry. The poor couple tearing each other to shreds, enduring savage pain from their partner in all things, are a dark futuristic look at the "gig" economy now growing in prominence through Uber and other such endless side hustles that middle and lower class people are resigned to require. Cool idea.

The goofus, surely, is the comic book imagery of these high society immortals literally flaying a Bengal tiger and eating it. It's at once horrifying and ridiculous in its cartoonish evil, like a parody of the eerily powerful tone being aimed at.

Maybe it's the fun episode premise, the expensive-looking null gravity gladiator arena fight, or the weird additional strange experimentation with sleeving that gives this episode a lot of charm. Joel Kinnaman is growing on me, either by virtue of his character's more talkative, more acerbic demeanor or by the little snippets of backstory that are starting to humanize him.

"Force of Evil"

After the relatively light caper at the fancy pants party, we are whiplashed back in the other direction with a very unhinged episode centering on the abduction of Kovacs by enemies of the cop who used to occupy his sleeve. Envoy Training Alert: Kovacs was trained by his famous revolutionary commander and possible past love affair, Quell, to not just resist digital torture programs like the one in which he is trapped, but to transcend the artificial pain and literally pull his mind out of it and back into his body. But not after an endlessly perverse laundry list of torture methods at the disposal of Dimi, the whack-job who got smeared all over the floor of the Raven Hotel back in "Out of the Future."

That's a grisly premise, but luckily it's balanced with the humanizing B-plot of Lt. Ortega's family of Neo-Catholics gathering for Dia de los Muertos. A surprisingly emotional premise, considering that Abuelita, whose body died some time ago, has been spun back up and downloaded into a rented sleeve of a colossal, white, male skinhead for the holiday. It's funny, but also heartbreaking. And, combined with the previous episode's reveal of Naomi Bancroft having sex while downloaded into a clone body of her mother, there's ample opportunity for the cast of the show to display some range.

My only complaint is that while this is a great way to provide some backstory and weight to the main two protagonists, we've essentially just sat through two full hours that did not advance the murder mystery one iota. This proves, once again, that a Netflix Original series will always have a little extra padding through the middle. Much like your humble reviewer!

Rating: A-

Some random notes:

-Poe has become my favorite character, if anything just because of his boundless enthusiasm and desire to help.
-The Golden Gate bridge has become a shanty town
-The show's lack of pretension reminds me of '90s sci-fi action like Total Recall or Demolition Man, which were not afrad to wallow in tastelessness.
-Ortega's palpable disdain for the Meths may end up being the uniting force that brings her and Kovacs together as allies, depending on what she's about to tell him about his sleeve.

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