This Altered Carbon review contains spoilers.
Altered Carbon Episode 10
It’s a shame that a series that took the seemingly un-adaptable Altered Carbon and brought the cyberpunk vision so beautifully to life ended with so many clichés and a drawn out conclusion. Although the open-ended nature of Kovacs’ next quest and Ortega’s impending reunion with Riker was a nice touch for those wanting to draw their own conclusions (or those hoping for a season two), the pat ending for the Elliots was only halfway satisfying, and the comeuppance for the Bancrofts deserves a golf clap at best.
When a villain makes threat after threat while supposedly trying to persuade her target to join her side, the impact of those threats becomes less and less over time. They become gimmicks. Yes, it was deviously cruel to line up Ortega, Ava, and Elliot and tell Kovacs to choose which one to kill with the one bullet in the gun, but when he threatens to blow out his own stack and fails, Rei merely saves them for him to kill later. Referring to her Ouroboros necklace as a reminder not to be weak like her mother was an interesting bit of psychological insight, but these glimmers of depth were far and few between.
Poe’s slow demise had much more impact, oddly enough. Given how much he has done for Kovacs and for Lizzie, his sacrifice held more nobility than anything the humans did. Did he even know what his time-dilated training would do for Lizzie beyond empowering her to live in the real world again? Her strange prophetic talk in the previous episode didn’t exactly play out as mystically as expected, but her kicking ass in the synth was extremely satisfying nonetheless.
Unfortunately, Lizzie also participated in the biggest Bond movie trope this side of Rei’s long-winded speeches: the bringing down of the Head in the Clouds. It wasn’t enough to defeat Rei and all of her guards; Lizzie and her parents had to disable the whole airship, trusting somehow that their team would escape the crash and that it would hit the water and not take out the shanty village on the Golden Gate bridge. Talk about spectacle for spectacle’s sake!
Another couple of puzzling narrative choices appear in the ongoing conflict between Ortega and Leung, the first of which is his decision to wipe the lieutenant’s memory each time he runs her through the repeated discovery of her massacred family. Isn’t the whole point of breaking down someone’s mind in VR is that they remember each time they die? But the real eye-roller was Ortega’s final line as she took out Leung in full view of the BCPD: “Are you a believer, mother fucker?” Really? When did Altered Carbon turn into an 80’s action film filled with cheesy one-liners?
It wasn’t until Quell showed up that the episode started turning around. Rei desperately throwing in the possibility of a last-minute backup of Quell not only shook the audience’s conviction that Kovacs could resist his sister’s threats; it also explained why Kovacs has been haunted by the vision of his former lover and mentor. Deep down, with his Envoy intuition, he always knew she wasn’t gone. As a result, a continuing quest for the protagonist provides a riding-off-into-the-sunset ending as well as a possible jumping off point for a second season. Altered Carbon 2: The Search for Quell.
The removal of the extra Kovacs sleeve is of little consequence other than to reprise of the rock-paper-scissors joke, but the confrontation with the Bancrofts almost plays like an epilogue with the elite family being brought down by the real deaths of their victims even though there were many RD’s throughout the series that went unpunished. Somehow their elite status and influence have evaporated in the face of the passing of 653, which allows victims to testify against their killers even if their stacks have religious coding. It was a bland wrap-up to a mystery that was infinitely more interesting before it was solved. Even Laurens passing the torch to his son, Isaac, elicits little more than a “So what?”
And so Altered Carbon ends with notes of disappointment, but the overall experience was so magnificent that the focus ultimately lies on Kovacs and his impending quest. He didn’t get the girl, but Ortega will be getting Riker (and his sleeve) back, which was honestly the right way to end their story. As the first real attempt at hardcore cyberpunk on television, Altered Carbon was an unmitigated success despite the unfortunate clichés in its finale. This single season could stand on its own with Netflix calling it a win, but the possibilities for more story to be told could pull in fans long after the initial binge.