Episode two of Altered Carbon begins with a heavy-handed exposition about humanity and our inability to thrive in a peaceful society. “War is the only thing we really understand.” Thus does scifi keep reminding us that our reality is ultimately the product of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a true statement. Humanity can’t thrive without friction. Peace inevitably brings comfort and entropy, neither of which do humanity any benefit in our ceaseless struggle to reach perfection. This is a good example of the class separation within the Altered Carbon universe, the upper class’s seeming stagnation and entropy from their immortal status and the lower class’s constant struggle to achieve (and ultimate resentment of) the heights of their betters. I think this foreshadows a lot of what is to come.
The episode’s story follows Kovacs as he seeks to ferret out who is responsible for Bancroft’s death. He begins his quest at Psychasec where designer sleeves and clones are made “for meths only.”
Meths are how the common people refer to the rich and elite who are essentially immortal. Their immortality comes from their ability to purchase clones as sleeves. This allows them to re-sleeve indefinitely without the danger of a personality frag. A personality frag occurs when a person changes into too many different sleeves. Clones don’t have that problem. Thus the class system is established. The lower class, which has a limited number of lives, and the meths who live indefinitely through cloning. Kovacs gets in a show of flex with both Lt. Ortega (who has been tracking him) and Bancroft (who didn’t like that he was being questioned in his own murder).
The most interesting part of this episode was actually in the scene with the AI innkeeper known as “Poe.” He seeks out some of his fellow AI who have all quit serving humanity and instead have figured out ways to exploit humans for their own gain. They chastise Poe for maintaining his role as a helper and hint to something sinister boiling under the surface with the rogue AI.
Meanwhile, Ortega has to deal with a grieving mother whose daughter’s body hasn’t been recovered. Her daughter recently had the ability to re-sleeve blocked thus making her mortal and dead forever. The young woman’s tragic death opens the episode and is alluded to throughout, mostly during Ortega’s scenes as the story is part of her character’s development.
Kovacs faces the daunting task of sifting through death threats sent to Bancroft in the previous year. He uses his Envoy smarts to narrow the list down to a former Marine medic named Elliot. Kovacs has a flashback of the Falconer on the way to question the Marine. “Violence is almost always personal,” is the nugget of wisdom he pulls from the memory.
Kovacs has a scuffle with the Marine and subdues him. The Envoy then discovers that Elliot kept his daughter’s stack (her digitized soul that gets transferred from one sleeve to the next) which has trapped her in a trauma loop. She is forced to relive the moment of her death over and over. This brings to light the dangers of using technology to indulge the selfishness of grief. The grief-stricken Marine tells Kovacs that his daughter was seeing Bancroft and was with him the night of her murder. Thus, he blamed Bancroft for his child’s death and sent the death threat accordingly. Elliot gives up a tidbit of info referring to “jack” but refused to elaborate. Kovacs leaves him tied up.
After his encounter with the Marine, Kovacs makes a stop at the Protectorate Museum to see their new exhibit “The Battle for Stronghold” which details the extermination of the Envoys. Kovacs gets a firsthand lesson in how the winners rewrite history.
Lt. Ortega has a scene with her mother that delves into the religious implications of being “spun up” (having a stack put in a new body after death). A growing number of the population has coding installed that blocks the capability of having a stack put in another sleeve. This is necessary in order to be allowed to be a part of the Catholic church.
Kovacs figures out that Elliot’s comment about “Jack” was actually referring to a brothel that his daughter (Lizzy) worked at before her untimely death. The lead yields nothing but a minor scuffle with Elliot (who was watching for Kovacs) and the brothel’s bouncers. This gives Ortega the opportunity she needs to arrest Kovacs.
During her interrogation of the Envoy, he reveals that he used to work for the Protectorate as a special forces black ops agent. Kovacs is released by Bancroft’s associate and Ortega is helpless to see him slip through her fingers. She visits the morgue where the missing girl’s body has been stashed in an empty cryogenic chamber and removes the stack from the corpse.
Kovacs finishes the episode by having sex with Mrs. Bancroft in his penthouse room. At the same time, Ortega is in a confession booth giving confession to a priest who is not there. In her hand she grasps the missing dead girl’s stack. After his pheromone induced sexcapades, Kovacs muses about moments of peace really being warfare, neatly tying up the episode.