This episode is huge. In it, we find out that Reileen, the badass ninja from the end of the last episode, is not only an Envoy but also Kovacs’s little sister. If this was hinted at or alluded to in earlier episodes, I totally missed it. We also finally learn Quell Falconer’s dark secret: she was the one who created stack technology.
Let’s jump back to Kovacs and Reileen. Early in the episode Kovacs as a child witnesses his father beating his sister. He shoots his father through the stack. Later in custody, the young Kovacs explains to the interrogating CTEC officer that his father deserved to die and that he actually killed his mother and dissolved her body in acid. The CTEC officer offers the young boy a spot in his Spec Ops program. He ensures Kovacs that his sister will be well taken care of but that from that moment forward he can have no contact with her. He accepts.
Fast forward to a grown Takeshi Kovacs returning to his homeworld for a mission. The mission itself is pretty standard “go in and kill the target” type of thing. The target is a Yakuza boss. Kovacs and his Protectorate buddies storm the Yakuza boss’s hideout. Kovacs, being the baddest mofo on the team gets the privilege of going for the target. He gets the target in his sights and is stopped by a mysterious woman. “Where did you get that necklace?” he asks her, “It belonged to my mother.” Realization hits them both at the same time. In an odd twist of fate, Kovacs ends up killing his entire team and Reileen wipes out the Yakuza family she was sold to shortly after Kovacs left for training.
“He said you’d be safe,” Kovacs complained afterward. “He said to trust him.”
“And you believed him?” came Reileens dry reply.
They made a vow then and there to always have each other’s back. From then on they were family above all.
With their faces on wanted screens across the Protectorate, Kovacs and Reileen flee into the lush forest of Harlan’s World where they encounter Quell Falconer and the Envoys. Falconer offers them a place among the Envoys and they accept. We really get to see the extent of the Envoy camp, Stronghold, and find out that it was the original home of the Songspire in Bancroft’s house.
Kovacs and Reileen train alongside the Envoys and are eventually accepted as one of them. Throughout it all, Falconer preaches to them about the dangers of stacks and the horrors that will be born when a certain few people become gods. All of her fears, by the way, are realized 250 years later. Bancroft and the other meths are exactly the monsters Quell warned of if the Envoys lost. And they did lose. Oh they put up a fight, broke into a few secure facilities, stole some data, blew things up. Overall they really made a go at the resistance thing. They even came up with a plan to infect everyone with a virus that would limit their lives to 100 years and force them to die Real Death.
“Death is the great equalizer.”—Quell Falconer.
Naturally, this unsettles most of the Envoys. Because even though they are fighting an evil made possible by stack technology, they are also using that very same technology to live indefinitely. Quell warns them that eventually even the best of them would be corrupted by immortality. During a mission preparing for the final assault where the Envoys will release their virus on everyone, Kovacs is captured in VR by the Protectorate. His old boss is there to interrogate him. Quell goes back for him and manages to free Kovacs in the nick of time. Unfortunately, the Protectorate managed to get the location of the Envoy stronghold on Harlan’s World. Which puts the Envoys up against the clock to get their final mission accomplished to save humanity from itself. Reileen tries to convince Kovacs that Quell is using them and that they should leave.
Kovacs asks Reileen “What are we?”
She replies, “Family.”
“No,” he corrects her, “We are Envoys.”
I think Reileen took this as an act of betrayal because of the oath they swore to each other earlier to always “be family above all.”
During this brief interlude, Quell and Kovacs’s love matures into a poignant love scene and afterwards, Kovacs flips through her journal (the same one Bancroft gave him in an earlier episode) and inscribes a love poem for her.
Reileen stumbles on the two lovers and flees after. Kovacs chases her and that’s when the attack on Stronghold occurs. It’s during this encounter that Quell admits she is the one who created stack technology because she wanted to see the stars and couldn’t do it in a single life. She equates the technology to the Roman roads which allowed the Roman Empire to conquer the known world. She laid the foundation for the meths and felt obligated to correct that.
“There are some arenas so corrupt that the only clear acts possible are nihilistic.”—Falconer’s Diary
The Protectorate downloads a virus into the stacks of all of the Envoys in the camp causing them to kill each other and themselves. They never had to fire a shot. Just came in after everything had burned to ash and cleaned up the mess. This is where Kovacs gets captured because he helped one of his fellow Envoys kill himself rather than let him suffer from the insanity wrought by the virus.
Meanwhile, Reileen and Quell make it to the shuttle bay and hop a transport off-world.
Kovacs watches them take off, satisfied that the women he loved would be safe. His joy turns to horror when a laser cuts through the shuttle and it explodes.
And so the story would seem to end there. But there is one more juicy secret revealed. As we know, Reileen came in and saved Kovacs and Ortega at the end of episode 6. She rushes Kovacs off to a private apartment where she nurses his sleeve back to health. As he is in recovery they rehash old times, thus the flashbacks. Reileen tells Kovacs that a grad student sifted through the shuttle wreckage and found her stack and DNA sample. She woke in low-res VR and escaped into the real world where she grew a clone of her old body. She has been surviving and staying off the radar ever since.
“That’s the hardest thing to get used to. Nothing survives.” –Reileen
When she heard of an Envoy in Bay City she had to come investigate for herself. Kovacs takes her at her word like a good brother would. Then he goes to splash some water on his face and move around a bit. He wanders around Reileen’s apartment, which is very swank. She even has the painting “Saturn Devouring his Son” hanging on the wall in her living room.
More allusions to mythology and gods. But more interesting are the cryo chambers in her hallway each containing a sleeve. The first is of Clarissa Severin. She was the guest at Bancroft’s party in episode 3 who brought the python. And was also responsible for finding Kovacs’s stack. The next is of the enigmatic character Hemingway from last episode. The third is of the little girl Kovacs encountered in the Stronghold museum in episode 2. Realization washes over Kovacs and we cut back to the shuttle escape scene.
Quell and Reileen are taking off and appear to be making a clean getaway when Reileen attacks Quell.
“Why?” asks Quell after she subdues Reileen.
“Because they offered me life,” answers the woman and then transfers out of her stack moments before the shuttle is blown up.
Reileen was the one who sabotaged their final mission. She was the one who betrayed the location of the Stronghold. She betrayed the Envoys.
“I told her I did it because they gave me life. But really I did it all for you, big brother” she tells Kovacs at the end of the episode.
Kovacs crumbles and lots of firefly looking things surround him.
Wow. That’s all I can say about this episode. The story is top notch. The twists, the turns, the truth, all kept me glued to the screen. I am very happy with the way the show is developing. It’s great cyberpunk, it’s a great crime drama with a noir feel, it’s even awesome scifi. I said in my first episode review that it seemed as if Altered Carbon didn’t know which kind of show it wanted to be. Well, the truth is, it’s all of them and none of them at the same time. It’s something unique unto itself that can’t be simply categorized into a neat little subgenre. And that’s really what makes a great story.