Altered Carbon – Episode 4: “Force of Evil”
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Will Yun lee, Martha Higareda, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Ato Essandoh and Chris Conner
Director: Alex Graves
Writers: Russel Friend, Garrett Lerner
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review contains spoilers.
This is the most self-contained episode we’ve seen so far. There was no progress on the Laurens Bancroft murder investigation. In fact, Bancroft, or anyone from his entourage, doesn’t feature in the episode at all. Even Vernon and Poe barely make an appearance, although Poe does get to disguise himself in honour of the day of the dead. In line with his study of humans, he tells Vernon he’s a fan of all these holidays. He really is one of the best characters in the show. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t have a bigger role.
There are two main stories in Force of Evil. The first revolves around Kovacs, who, if you remember, was abducted at the end of the last episode. He’s brought to some laboratory that specializes in virtual interrogation. Can you imagine having the ability to question someone, using whatever means necessary, without causing any physical damage? And what if the interrogator is a sadistic killer? The result is an ultra-violent interrogation for Kovacs. Oh, and though physically there’s no damage, this type of torture can psychologically destroy the victim.
By receiving a TV-MA (or R) rating, Altered Carbon got a wide berth. Violence is clearly not a problem. In this future version of Earth, the fear of death has more or less been eliminated thanks to the existence of sleeve technology, as long as one has the resources to acquire a new one. However, virtual torture brings violence to a whole new level. Not only is one’s imagination the limit to what can be done to hurt another, but if it doesn’t work, simply hit the reset button (literally) and begin anew. Just like in The Matrix, when Neo was told that the mind makes any pain suffered inside the matrix real, the pain felt while being tortured inside the stack is very real. And for any normal person, it would ‘crack them like a nut.’ But Kovacs isn’t a normal person, is he?
In this episode, we finally have a significant flashback to Kovacs’ training as an Envoy. Conveniently, it’s about how to survive and get out of virtual torture. And not only is there some revelation about his allegiance prior to being an envoy, but we also find out that there was a special bond between him and Falconer. How deep the relationship went, we don’t yet fully know. However, during his torturous ordeal, he literally rips his heart out and hands it over to a vision of Falconer. It will be interesting to witness how the relationship played itself out between the two characters.
There’s a lighter storyline that takes place concurrent to Kovacs’, where Ortega spins her dead grandmother into the sleeve of a recently arrested man, and brings her to her family’s Día de Muertos (the day of the dead) celebration. Opposing views about spinning back the dead are examined and discussed, with Ortega’s mom continuing to argue that it is against God’s will and that death should be final. Part of her struggle is that stack technology is actually alien, and she wonders if using it has made humans lose the meaning of being God’s gift.
There’s also a new mystery introduced in this episode. While Kovacs was being questioned, his torturer Dimi (Tahmoh Penikett and Michael Eklund) kept referring to him as Ryker. Kovacs has no idea who that is and says so, but Dimi isn’t convinced. It doesn’t take Kovacs long to realize that the sleeve he’s been spun into is this Ryker. He wonders if it has anything to do with Ortega’s obsession with him. Going on a hunch, he sets her up. She finally admits that she does know who Ryker is and promises to tell Kovacs everything. And teasingly, that’s where the episode ends.
Up until now, Kovacs has been broody and hesitant. Though he’s begun his investigation, he always seems to be a step behind everyone else, especially Bancroft and Ortega. However, something happened in the virtual torture program which made him far more determined and dangerous. When he finally breaks out of the program, he looks at his kidnappers and threatens to kill everything they love down to their goldfish and then proceeds to kill every single one of them. Gone is the hesitation. Given the flashbacks and stories about how dangerous Envoys were, it’s nice to see Kovacs act like the trained killing machine he’s supposed to be. He’s clearly tired of being in the dark. He’s taking action. Let’s hope that this new determined Kovacs is the one that will appear in the next episodes.
Verdict: A strong continue to watch. There is still so much to learn about Kovacs, the Envoy, but add this Ryker character, and that’s reason enough to select the next episode and hear what Ortega has been hiding. Of course, if that isn’t enough, there’s still the Bancroft murder to solve.