Altered Carbon – Episode 10: The Killers
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Dichen Lachman, Martha Higareda, James Purefoy, Tamara Taylor, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Ato Essandoh and Chris Conner
Director: Peter Hoar
Writers: Nevin Densham, Laeta Kalogridis
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
Just like it was inevitable there would be a final confrontation between Luke and Vader, or Neo and Smith, undeniable signs were pointing to one between Rei and Kovacs. And for the most part, it’s a great battle. There’s the typical spaghetti western stare down. The desperate side glances to identify anything that could be used as a weapon. The great samurai-like choreography, the occasional landed hit and of course, the regret over having killed. It’s particularly poignant as Kovacs and Rei are brother and sister, though only Rei is wearing her original sleeve. But for all its spectacle, two things were bothersome.
As the central character and being in almost every scene, attention is paid to Kovacs’ behaviours, actions, and motivations. Who is this man? This Envoy? And why is he the way he is? To answer these questions, some screen time was dedicated to explore his relationships, both past, and present. There’s Quell, a woman he loved and admired. She mentored him, and he would have spent the rest of his life with her. There are the Envoys and his mother. There’s also Ortega, Vernon, and even Poe. They all shaped who he is.
However, with Rei, in what should have been his most (if not his second most important relationship), there’s a lack of visible emotional depth. Sure there was some exploration about their childhood and subsequent separation, but something was missing. So when they fight at the end, it doesn’t have the same impact as Luke and Vader for example. Kovacs could have been fighting just about anyone, and it would have felt almost the same.
The second issue with this episode is the information overload. Resolution episodes have a tendency to offer up quite a bit of information, often resulting in contrived situations. Altered Carbon presents a complex world in which complex stories that were developed over seven or eight episodes take place. However, in this last one, the writers tried to not only tie up any lose ends, answering questions and resolving ongoing mysteries, but they also wanted to plant the seeds for a (or many) subsequent seasons. The result is mixed at best as some of the characters simply behave in ways that didn’t match what had been seen so far. And for what? The sake of narrative resolution? Frustrating.
Though the main storyline in this episode is the confrontation between Rei and Kovacs, the director and writer still had a few surprises up their sleeves. Storylines that seemed over and done with the return for a few additional tidbits. The Bancrofts make an appearance to finally clear up what happened the night Laurens’ sleeve was killed. There’s also a nice twist involving Ortega and Kovacs, one that is both touching and frustrating, which raises questions about what it means to love someone. The answer could have an impact on subsequent seasons, were they to happen. As would the biggest reveal of the episode (**SPOILER ALERT**), that Rei backed up Quell just before her death on that fateful day. However, Rei refuses to divulge the location of the backup, sending Kovacs on a search. Then again, there’s always the possibility that Rei was lying.
As with other entries, The Killers once again shares its name with a film noir released in 1946. It’s primarily about a man only known as the Swede (Burt Lancaster) whose career as a boxer is ruined after breaking his hand. Refusing to join the police force, he’s convinced by Kitty (Ava Gardner), the movie’s femme fatale, to work for bad people.
Like the Swede, Kovacs never wanted this life but was forced into it because of circumstances. Like Kitty, both Quell and Rei try to convince Kovacs about what to do. Quell pushes for him to work against the protectorate, while Rei pushes him to remain with her, using his skills for their benefit. In the end, it is Kovacs (the Swede) that asks for forgiveness and is exonerated, not Rei (Kitty). As a final note, it’s incredibly impressive that the showrunners were able to find film noirs with matching plot lines for each episode. It’s a nice and appreciated addition, showing the care put into the development of the series.
The Killers is an excellent episode, providing a fitting end to the overall narrative arc of Altered Carbon. Filled with action, sadness, redemption and a few twists, it is attention-grabbing until the credits roll. And as satisfying the end is, I only hope there will be a second season to explore this world further.
Adapting a science-fiction story, especially one set in a far future, is always a challenge. The producers of Altered Carbon took it on and succeeded in creating an excellent and exciting show. The complexity and differences of this world are grounded in the familiar, which includes the fallible and imperfect human. Set 250 years in the future, Kovacs, Quell, Ortega, Vernon, and everyone else, deal with stack technology, augmented reality displays, off-world traveling and flying cars and much more, but also face the same issues as we do today. Love. Loss. Hurt. Hate. Greed. Technology. Religion. All these issues exist in Altered Carbon. Their effects are no different from how they are in the world today. The sea of morality is never calm. It is turbulent and stormy. The people populating this world sail through it to survive, as we do.
The Killers – a must watch. Altered Carbon – a definitive watch.
Altered Carbon is an excellent science-fiction show. A feast for the eyes. Its depth will likely lead you to watch it again, whether it be to pay attention to some of the social issues, to catch some of the signs and clues of the mystery, to pay attention to all of the new technology or even just to be entertained again. There are quite a few changes from the novel, some minor and some major, but the Netflix series is solid on its own and merits a second season.
As of this final review, Altered Carbon has not been renewed for a second season.