This Altered Carbon review contains spoilers.
Altered Carbon Episode 2
With more details pouring in about the seedier aspects of life in Bay City and the shadier corners of Bancroft’s existence, Altered Carbon has taken a darker turn without dimming the neon lights. Ortega is also rounded out as a character in this installment, but she’s not without a dark side either. As the investigation commences, we get more questions than answers, but the deepening picture of the characters and their surroundings makes this a successful follow-up to an excellent premiere.
Much of the information we learn about the privileges of the Meth class is not all the surprising. The fact that the Bancrofts have a vault at Psychasec that contains empty-minded cloned sleeves that they can needlecast into at a moment’s notice sounds about right for the wealthy, long-lived members of society. They don’t even experience the personality fragmentation or hallucinations that the re-sleeved are subject to, which is a nuance that will no doubt come into play at some point.
Although no footage from the vault was available for Kovacs to sort through, the mention of “dippers” that could steal choice memories from the needlecasts of the rich was one of many clues that pointed the Envoy in the direction of Vernon Elliot, besides of course the serial number on the gun carelessly recorded in his death threat message. The drama that unfolds surrounding his dipper wife, Ava, and their bodiless daughter, Lizzie, led to all sorts of sordid realizations, both about the sexual indulgences prevalent in this society and about Bancroft’s own predilections.
So is Bancroft’s fondness for choking those he pays for sexual favors relevant to his death? It’s as good a first step as any in Kovacs’ investigation, although it seems suspicious that part of the 48 hours that the victim can’t remember includes a multi-billion dollar deal with the Japanese; Bancroft even mentions the deal came together suspiciously quickly. The curious thing is that Bancroft insists Kovacs solve his murder quickly or be put back on ice. Is that really why the Envoy was brought back, or does his Meth benefactor have an ulterior motive in mind?
Another curious occurrence happens at a museum display of the Battle of Stronghold, which Kovacs stumbles upon after spotting flyers and posters floating around in the city. His nightmare of members of an uprising buried in ash doesn’t quite fit with the terrorist killings memorialized in the display; the victors obviously wrote their version of history. The insight actually comes from the young girl on a field trip, whose mother warns, appropriately enough to Kovacs’ situation, that grudges will kill your soul. It’s a wonderfully telling dialogue that ends with Kovacs counter-warning against making friends who just get shot in the stack, as his was in the flashback in the premiere.
Ortega also deepens as a character in this episode, showing us through subtle visuals that her family is among those devout Neo-Catholics who do not believe in re-sleeving, and her father — also a cop — is likely permanently dead as a result. What are we to make, though, of her comforting a mother whose daughter’s body is missing one moment and her revealing the body hidden in the morgue in the next? Mary Lou Henchy was the body we saw falling from the sky in the opening sequence, too, so there are plenty of mysteries to wonder about here, not just about Ortega.
Perhaps the most intriguing vignette surrounds Poe, the hotel A.I. who has become a sort of personal assistant to Kovacs as displayed by the winnowing of the death threat videos. His visit to the virtual poker game reveals that his reverence for humans is not shared among other artificial intelligences. Clearly, Poe, who was returning to his acquaintances after decades of absence, wanted to brag that he had a guest, but instead he (and the audience) was advised that, now that hotels like the Raven have fallen out of favor, they shouldn’t be serving humans but rather “serving up humans.” A chilling admission!
But of all the scenes that carry a load of consequences, nothing can top Kovacs falling prey to Miriam Bancroft’s Merge-9-laced seduction. Is someone trying to gain leverage over Kovacs or perhaps the Bancrofts by filming the tryst with an insectoid drone? The stakes have been raised very early in Altered Carbon’s run, but in the process, it becomes very difficult not to allow Netflix to move right onto the next episode to see how it all plays out. If Kovacs succumbs to temptation, why shouldn’t we?