Netflix’s Altered Carbon
Season 1, Episode 4: “Force of Evil”
Directed by Alex Graves
Written by Russel Friend & Garrett Lerner
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “In a Lonely Place” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Wrong Man” – click here
This episode title comes from Abraham Polonsky’s 1948 noir Force of Evil.
Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is about to be cracked “like a walnut.” He’s at the mercy of some geeky dudes in a laboratory. They go in to have a peek at his consciousness. He walks through wreckage, and soon appears the mysterious stranger (Michael Eklund) with a chain to beat him brutally.
Meanwhile, at the Raven, Vernon (Ato Essandoh) is stressing over the state of his daughter Lizzie (Hayley Law). But Poe (Chris Conner) assures him the young woman is getting better. The hotel’s proprietor is doing an All Hallow’s Eve celebration, Mexican Day of the Dead style. Neither of them know where Kovacs has gone; well, Poe does, even if he shouldn’t know.
The man interrogates Takeshi after a nasty beating, as the ex-Envoy remembers Quell (Renée Elise Goldsberry) and their various training. “To the mind, pain is pain,” she tells them when warning about torture, rape, et cetera; all the things others will do to them because they’re terrorists. Problem is the guy torturing Takeshi has access to his mind, too, as well as the tracker that was on him. A tough situation.
At the department, Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) and Abboud (Waleed Zuaiter) are dealing with a suspect who’s a “ghost walker,” he’s hacked the system so that he’s invisible to cameras, he disappears into the midst of the city. She also ends up kicking the shit out of a perp. After that, she decides to use the sleeve for something. Such as putting a family member in there – like her abuela – take her home for the Day of the Dead with mom and the rest of the family. Lord, it’s so weird. At the Mexican family celebration we get a good discussion pitting Catholicism against the extent technology has gone in prolonging life/death.
While the man torturing Kovacs believes he’s someone called Ryker, a cop, Takeshi lies and says he’s Ava Elliot. Doesn’t stop the fingernails from getting pulled. We watch the torturer morph into Dimitri Kadmin (Tahmoh Penikett). Between the pain, Takeshi keeps remembering the best lessons handed down by Quell, how to “manipulate virtual.” They used a sort of old VR to train – “the Pipe” – where they connected together.
Eventually Dimitri sets Takeshi on fire, strapped to the table. One brutal motherfucker. But it’s all over. Then, it begins again, as the Russian lights a blowtorch. Takeshi keeps going back to Quell, her training. He sees himself trying to escape “the construct,” yet he’s forever stuck in a loop: “There are some things you can‘t kill your way out of.” This is a truly disturbing sequence, seeing how the various tortures available to mankind can be used to a terrifying existential length.
“The dead should not speak”
When Takeshi won’t break, his torturer complains to the people providing service to him. He wants something better to break his victim. The boss says they can use “helmuth code,” which could do the trick and finally render Kovacs a psychological wreck. Dimitri has another go at his prey on the table. This involves putting a hideous little creature into an incision on his body. One slips inside, crawling around, then another’s about ready to go in, too.
Except Takeshi has been using the training Quell gave him a couple centuries before, to reel in his torturer, and get himself in the right position to make the necessary move. That’s when he gets “to the next screen” of the virtual, stopping his own heart, and forcing himself back out into the real world. He’s the one who has the upper hand after everything they put him through. He lights the place up after getting hold of a gun, zips up his little pink backpack of weaponry, then he’s back in business. Not before a bit of a killing spree. He also takes the torturer’s head. Just as Vernon was about to come to his rescue.
Yes, Ortega’s the one left with Abboud to find the crime scene, an impressive mess of blood and bodies scattered all over the facility, the headless corpse of the torturer. However, she also discovers that the tracer has been placed in the wreckage, so she knows just who did it all. The woman’s not happy, to say the least. She goes straight to the Raven, finding Takeshi freshly showered, his head trophy on ice. Still, the ex-Envoy has questions, wondering why she was tracking him, why she was there before he’d been needled in. These two have got some issues to sort out. The sleeve Takeshi is in is Ryker – he and Ortega had an intimate past, it seems.
Beautiful, intense, emotional episode. I get that people have issues with the violence, particularly some of the stuff involving women. Now, I get that, absolutely. My thoughts are that, eventually, we’re going to get more commentary on this whole futuristic, dystopian universe. There are many things going on re: race, gender, social class, et cetera. Maybe Season 1 has too much going on to give a balanced take on each of those things. We’ll see. So far, this is sci-fi up my alley, and personally I don’t any of this as too exploitative. Then again, I’m a straight white male, so I’ve got blindspots when it comes to these issues at times.
“The Wrong Man” is our next chapter.