Crossing the Stream: Part 9 - "Altered Carbon" Sn 1, Eps 9-10

I must have overdone it on the exercise yesterday, because I passed out before 10:00 pm and woke up with my legs absolutely dead. I had to take the elevator. I didn't choose to take the elevator. I had to. But on the plus side to all of this, I managed to push through my afternoon cardio pretty well. Finished strong, and all that.

A note: the gym equipment in my gym has a measurement of "Distance" on it. Anybody know if there's even a unit of measurement to that? Is that just some arbitrary number? I've gone 7.62, not necessarily miles, kilometers, inches, parsecs, what? There's a huge difference. And since my time duration isn't that impressive, and the calorie number is both totally inaccurate and not too impressive, that distance is all I've got, man! I can tell folks, "I did seven kilometers today," that sounds good. It's an achievement. It sounds better than "I got my heart rate up to 140! I'm nearly dead!"

Food-wise, I went and overdid it last night. My first full-on food crime since starting this whole thing, I got a $5 meal deal at a fast-casual restaurant corporation whose name has been redacted.

Redacted.

This meal from Redacted was not huge, but it had the trifecta of mistakes: lots of oil, a sugary treat component, and a massive mound of salt. Of all the places, why did I choose Redacted?! Anyway, so there was a little bit of guilt attached to that. But it was a Thursday. I'm very fragile on Thursdays. No idea why.


"Altered Carbon" - Season 1, Episodes 9-10



"Rage in Heaven"

Very late in the game, this show is beginning to rely on some pretty hammy narrative tricks. The structure of this episode pulls flash-forward maneuvers several times. The opening scene showing Ortega to arrive at the Raven, with no mention of the little girl sleeve she found after fighting Rei. She's acting weird. And quickly the gap in time is filled in, and it isn't pleasant. Rei, sleeved in Ortega's body, implies that her new hostage's family has already been slaughtered, and leaves. Then we have to go back and see Leung, the Ghostwalker, rampage through the family apartment, killing three generations.

The fate of all these lives, and indeed all the lives lost in the raid on Stronghold and all the lives Rei has cruelly sold into real-death since, all break down to family estrangement. When Rei and Tak were reunited after his 28 years with CTAC, they disappointed each other with the resulting growth. Tak, of course, has become disappointed with the wealthy, immortal monster his sister has become. But Rei merely became disappointed that her undying devotion to their bond could be superceded by anything or anyone. Them standing together as family is her only dream, and the idea that her brother could have independent goals or relationships that don't involve her has caused everything up to now. It's a study in extreme codependency.

In her new role as the Loki of her brother's hero's journey, Rei assumes Takeshi's lack of care for anybody, which has been hammered into us since we met him, will help him accept her Meth worldview, that everyone beneath them are mere fleeting beauties, fireflies who aren't meant to be kept. Evidently, Ortega and the Bancroft case have changed him, as now the decimation of Ortega's entire family (all real-death due to their Neo-Catholicism) will serve as his motivation for burning down his sister's entire empire in retribution. Rei has brought about her own demise, as we've at this point moved past the detective who just wants payment. Now, we have the broken man who is willing to die, as long as he gets to take his enemies with him.

And then we get another flash-forward involving Kovacs taking up Miriam on her sexy island vacation invitation. Or did he? Title card: 18 HOURS EARLIER. Boo. Boooo. I hate this device.
Kovacs' doofy plan to double-sleeve into a hastily made clone of himself (using Isaac Bancroft's previously impounded cloning machine) seems designed to not work at all, unless his friends help. So his insistence on his friends fleeing the city and letting him do it himself seems half-hearted at best. Their stubborn insistence on helping him makes narrative sense, but still feels a little too "We are family!" for all of them...except Poe, of course, who is elated just to be counted as a friend.

Once the abbreviated caper of infiltrating Rei's floating brother ship goes sour--and man that was quick--I had trouble buying that Kovacs wasn't going to sprint in like Galahad and ruin the entire stealth aspect. It works out fine, as the final act just becomes the final cutscenes of Knights of the Old Republic II, a videogame that ends in two characters just discussing the entire plot of the show to summarize it for an audience.

Ironically, the previously mentioned Resolution 653 would have allowed police to re-sleeve any murder victim regardless of their religion in order to gain their testimony. Folks like Mary Lou Henchy, for instance. This would have ruined Rei's monstrous Iridium Experience at Head in the Clouds. Meth degenerates can torture and kill their hookers permanently, without consent, thanks to bogus coding like the type found on Mary Lou's stack. Not only did Laurens Bancroft make a great customer, he also opened himself up to blackmail. The Bancroft murder really was Occam's Razor, and Laurens really did blow his own stack as the evidence suggested. But he did it so he would forget his heinous crimes...just another selfish act, only possible because of his endless fortune and ability to needlecast directly into his own clone.

Random Notes:

-The Ortega kids are playing a video game as CTAC agents, so the ra-ra military porn of Call of Duty has survived a few thousand years.

-Miriam Bancroft must not own any nipple-covering wardrobe whatsoever.

-The two Kovacs chatting, drinking, and playing Rock, Paper, Scissors is adorable, but also a clever writing device so that we can have Kovacs say out loud a few of the things he's thinking to himself without it feeling hacky.


"The Killers"

The mysteries are solved. The chips are down. Now all that is left is the fallout. In the closing moments of "Rage in Heaven" Ava Elliot was able to seriously threaten Rei's immortality. I mean, her stack is intact, she's just lost her ability to back up her DHF and cast into any clones, thanks to the same Rawling virus used on Stronghold. Her status as a Meth is likely tied to those abilities more than her actual longevity, and now it's gone. She's got one stack and one copy of her birth body left. But she's going to use it, now that she's given up on recruiting her brother to her side and has just decided to make him suffer. Because, well, we only have 47 minutes and we need a cut that is over 50 minutes.

The needlessness of the "one bullet, three friends, you choose who dies" routine only intensifies when Kovacs takes the obvious Option D and turns the gun on himself. But hey, the gun is empty. "Do you think I'd let you have a loaded gun?" Rei mocks. Well...yeah. Because you said you did. You gave him the gun. Who cares? This is a series of filler scenarios in the final episode right where it shouldn't be.

A lot of important things are compressed into a bare few minutes in the middle of the finale. Poe, who was just too good of a guy to be human, is sadistically erased by Leung. But while we lose our faithful AI, we gain Lizzie, who is ready to step back into the world with what might be called a terrifying assertiveness. She ends up helping her parents to crash the ship and take down the murderous enterprise with everyone on board. That's pretty fun, especially with Lizzie flinging knives and snapping necks all the way. I like that Prescott and Tanaka, who both seemed to exist out of narrative convenience the entire series, are attempting to earn back their souls by aiding Team Kovacs, but their arrival on the brothel ship to arrest all the right people seemed too instantaneous.

Then there are the big two fights. Ortega versus Leung is oddly a more interesting fight than Takeshi versus Rei. For one thing, it seems more passionate, with the tortured cop swinging her super-arm at the wretched psycho who killed her family. It's an unfettered brawl, with straightforward choreography and it's shot from a decent wide angle. The sword fight between the two Envoys, in contrast, is a mess of dyslexic edits and way too confined framing. I assume that's because sword fights are way harder to film in interesting ways, but that's no excuse for the strobe lighting giving me a migraine just to cover a couple of stunt performers up.

The resolution to the fraternal vendetta can't help but feel a little lackluster after so much build-up. But it's worth paying attention that when Tak finally decided to kill his sister, despite her offer to produce a still-intact Quell who supposedly has been hidden as DHF for a quarter a millennium, he decides to make it permanent and blows her stack out, despite his many intentions to put her on ice and try to rehabilitate her.

The dramatic destruction of the ship, while Kovacs cradles Rei one last time and his hallucination of Quell tells him a little story, is digging for a certain amount of emotional weight, but I couldn't muster much since I already know he's double-sleeved. It doesn't matter. If he dies, there's another Kovacs laying on a beach somewhere. So when his stack is retrieved from the wreck, it just felt so unsatisfying and neat. It does lead to two Kovacs making a decision together, though. And I'd watch that premise all day if I could.

Bancroft's final comeuppance is satisfying at the very least. Indignity and imprisonment are the better punishment for immortals. And thank goodness, finally Lizzie and Miriam are connected into the story. Lizzie's death (and that of her child) is the catalyst for Miriam drugging Laurens with Stallion, which led to everything. The death of two more girls (including Mary Lou), the blackmail, the scuttling of Resolution 653, the framing of Ryker, and the recruitment of Kovacs. It's a satisfying enough connection to make all the time spent with both characters worth it, but as a final twist? Hardly relevant when everything else was laid out in the previous episode. Still good to see everyone call Bancroft out and not let him claw back any ground, and Miriam is also taken out of the equation as a bonus. She didn't amount to much, anyhow.

It's all downhill from there. The revived 653 passes, the Elliots live happily ever after once Ava is given back her birth-sleeve, and Ryker is cleared of the phony charges and released. I wonder how many of them will return for a second season, if one is granted. I have no idea exactly how well the show did; I saw no word of mouth and Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about their ratings. If you ask them, every single piece of content has been a huge hit with them.

The novel has sequels, so what could we expect for a Season 2? Well, for one thing, Joel Kinnaman is bound to be replaced as the sleeve worn by Kovacs. The final image is that of a winged warrior kneeling with a sword...an archangel? Or perhaps one of the alien Elders whose technology fueled Quell's miracle tech. That's an interesting possibility. The less interesting is the notion that Kovacs will scour the galaxy looking for Quell. For one thing, her powerful beliefs would not take kindly to being brought back. For another, Rei's desperate promise that Quell's DHF was backed up felt transparently false to me. Also, I don't particularly like Quell anyway.

A friend of mine stated to me this week that he liked roughly ninety percent of this show, and I couldn't agree more. The thick plotting and rich characters are able to carry the clunkier mystery elements, and it's undeniably a visual feast from the action sequences to the blockbuster effects. This might be the most impressive technical achievement ever for Netflix. I don't know how many of the overly used television tropes that I didn't like were from the novel or new for the show, but they do drag down the inventive premise, and I think I've made it quite clear that most of the grasps at philosophy or greater themes couldn't find purchase. There are a great many things this show is trying to say about society, but it fails to engage with them substantially. That's perfectly fine, though, because it's still just a really fun action sci-fi binge.

Thanks so much for hanging with me through this entire series in just one week! Tune in Monday for something entirely different, where I don't need to start speaking Future-Slang for five straight days.

Rating: B+


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