Episode 4: “Force of Evil”
This episode was all about torture. Physical torture, mental torture, emotional torture and most importantly, virtual torture.
Kovacs finds himself inside a data extraction facility where people are tortured by being placed into a virtual reality simulation. This practice has been going on since Kovacs’s day and his flashbacks this episode all take him to Envoy training where Falconer teaches the Envoys how to beat virtual torture. His torturer, Dmitri, is the brother of a man killed by someone named Riker. Dmitri mistakes Kovacs for Riker and sets to extracting information via inflicting virtual pain. Only problem is Kovacs doesn’t break and it is soon unclear who is in control of the situation: Kovacs or Dmitri.During the flashbacks Falconer explains that the mind treats virtual pain the same way it does physical pain. What makes virtual torture so brutal is that pain can be inflicted continuously since there is no physical body to break. If the torture kills the victim the program is reloaded and they start all over again. This cycle continues until they break or go insane. Usually both. Falconer loads the Envoys into a virtual torture program and instructs them on how to escape.
“They control the construct. Wait. Find the weakness in your enemy and then get to the next screen.” Falconer
This is the first lesson. ‘They’ in this case is the Protectorate, the evil organization that lords over all of humanity. They pioneered virtual torture and built it on a foundation of fear. Falconer says that the program builds on subliminal memories from a time the victim felt trapped. Kovacs finds himself chained to the wall of his childhood home with protectorate soldiers leveling guns on him. Falconer explains they always start with the victim’s deepest fears and build on that. There is no way around that, it simply is what it is and must be dealt with. She leads him through the process of taking control of the world that was built by others to control him. There is a definite undercurrent of freeing one’s mind to escape oppression throughout this training session. “You have to beat the player not the game.” Falconer tells Kovacs that he isn’t a trapped animal. He is an Envoy and he is waiting for his time to strike. This episode really gives us some insight into what the Envoys endured in order to develop their preternatural abilities. And we also discover that Kovacs loved Falconer as his “most precious memory, the thing he loves most in the world” is her.
There is a rather touching and/or disturbing scene when he finally breaks free of Dmitri’s torture and falls to his knees in the virtual world. Falconer appears to him and he reaches inside his chest and pulls out his beating heart, offering it up to her with assurances of love and adoration.
Once Kovacs breaks free of the virtual torture and wakes up in his physical body, he wastes no time in gunning down everyone in the data clinic and leaving with Dmitri’s severed head.
Meanwhile, Ortega’s focus this episode is back on her family. The episode takes place on “All Hallows” which is a holiday celebrating the dead that incorporates Halloween, All Hallows Eve and Dia de los Muertos. The lieutenant spins up her grandmother into the sleeve of a tattooed thug. This has been the All Hallows tradition since she died. The family gets together to eat and share in All Hallows cheer with dear departed abuela attending in the body of a bearded, tattooed miscreant. Ortega’s mother is incensed by this as her Catholic faith doesn’t allow for people to be spun back up after they die. Doing so damns their soul. There is a lot of debate about this throughout All Hallows dinner. The discussion raises some good points. Such as the sanctity of life or how a life with no end can have any meaning. Living eventually takes its toll and even those who could live forever choose to die. We saw the opposite side of this with the meth culture in the previous episode.
After dinner, Ortega takes her grandmother back to the morgue and smoke a joint with her, reminiscing about old times. Abuela asks not to be spun back up next year.
“You have to learn to let the world continue,” is her sage advice to her granddaughter.
Afterward, Ortega gets called to the scene of the data clinic massacre. She correctly assumes that Kovacs was responsible for this and storms to the AI hotel in which he’s staying to confront him. During this encounter Kovacs discovers that Riker occupied his sleeve before Kovacs did. He was Ortega’s partner and lover and the reason for her obsession with Kovacs is finally revealed.
That was all there was to the story this episode. The depth lies in Falconer and Kovacs’s flashbacks and the discussion around Ortega’s family dinner. It was very much a character development episode and did a great job exploring the deeper themes behind the story.