Netflix’s Altered Carbon
Season 1, Episode 7: “Nora Inu”
Directed by Andy Goddard
Written by Nevin Densham & Casey Fisher
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Man with My Face” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Clash by Night” – click here
So fitting, this episode’s title is derived from Akira Kurosawa’s film Nora Inu, a.k.a Stray Dog, starring frequent collaborator Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura.
Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is saved by his sister, Reileen (Dichen Lachman), after the incident at Fightdrome. Simultaneously, we see young Tak save his sister from their abusive father when they were children, blowing the old man’s stack out before he can get any more violent.
We go deeper. We see Tak interrogated about the murder. He told the cops his mother was dumped in a “coolant pool” by his father, leaving no body. He’s being drafted into the Protectorate, while little Rei is being fostered to a supposedly good family. This is the beginning of the history between Kovacs and the Protectorate. He was, in fact, to be resleeved, trained in different worlds. Almost like they were weaponising him.
Soon, Takeshi comes to and Rei tells him she can’t save this sleeve, he has internal damage. She thinks nothing of him switching sleeves, though he wants her to save this body because of Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda). She agrees to try, despite the rough condition. Later on he wakes, feeling rough but better. He asks about Stronhold, how she survived. Her stack survived, some “genetic material,” as well. She managed to lie about her Envoy history, get herself out, then began the clone growing process.
Go back to a grown Kovacs (Will Yun Lee), he’s a fighter, a soldier for the Interstellar Protectorate. He was a Praetorian himself (origin of the name comes from the Praetorian Guard; read more here). During an operation he comes face to face with his sister unexpectedly. This sets in motion Takeshi’s rebellion against the Protectorate, unwilling to kill his own flesh and blood. Brother and sister make a pretty damn good team, too. Surviving their father was a brutal yet ultimately preparatory battleground.
Note: The Tak-Rei fight sequence taking on the other Praetorians is another excellent scene. Altered Carbon‘s been delivering on action; even if you don’t dig it as much as others, you’ve got to give it the due of admitting there’s some killer fights.
The brother-sister duo talk briefly about something they found when they were kids. This takes them to a forest at the base of a mountain. Rei says this is where she believed “the Patchwork Man” lived when she was young. It’s a bittersweet reunion; they’re upset, and at the same time so happy to be together after all this time.
Rei and Takeshi are found in the forest, by none other than Quell (Renée Elise Goldsberry) and her men. Quell takes them captive. Tak wakes up on a long bridge across two mountain peaks, hands tied together. The Envoy leader questions him about his connection to the Protectorate, including him killing a bunch of Praetorians and his sister killing lots of Yakuza. Eventually Quell releases him, she sees “the boy inside the man” and believes he can find himself again, after all Protectorate took by turning him into a relentless killing machine.
“You‘re only pretending to be one of the monsters”
We’re at the beginning of Tak and Rei’s involvement with the Envoys. Nevertheless, they choose family above all else. They’re taken back to the big camp where all the rebels live, underneath the massive songspire tree we’ve seen, the one appropriated into Suntouch House as a sad relic of the natural world. This rebel camp of the Envoys IS the natural world, a place relatively untouched by the futuristic dystopia of the new world order. Now we start to see Takeshi and Rei begin their training under Quell. It’s actually a reworking of a scene we saw episodes ago, in which Quell gives everybody a valuable lesson about the concept of the sleeve: “You are the weapon, you are the killer and destroyer.”
After they were trained, Tak and Rei started going on missions with the other Envoys. War, particularly guerrilla style, is interesting when it involves a “needlecast” into other “meat,” as part of a lead up to an attack. When a body’s just a sleeve and the consciousness is everything, the digital satellite can send people anywhere. But things go wrong, Tak almost gets left behind. Yet he manages to save the day, like the bad motherfucker he proves himself to be, time and time again.
Quell worried, in a Marxist sense, about the use of stacks, the immortality which would eliminate “real death,” in turn creating a class of people who will literally own everything. They will buy and sell humanity. Of course, we know this to be true. Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) is living proof of that, in all his hideous glory. This is why Quell was one of those rebel prophet-type figures as the head of the Envoys, not to mention she was ready to “embrace being human” and go on a likely suicide mission for the cause. As were many of the rest.
The Envoys are ready to attack the Protectorate’s garrison. Tak is one of the five-person team volunteering to go on the assault. Quell leads the group inside. Out of nowhere, an alarm goes off. Tak is trapped by the Praetorians and the rest must leave him behind. He’s taken alive to one of their virtual interrogations, back with his old friend who originally recruited him for a beating. Except Quell knows how to manipulate the construct. She gets in to tell Tak he has to fight his way out of the virtual, back to the Real. And he does, taking them back to relative safety. However, Rei wants to leave, she sees the risk as too great. Despite her worries she’s talked into staying by her Envoy-dedicated brother; he wants to change the world. All the while he’s getting so much closer to Quell personally, as well. We further find out that Quell is actually a woman named Nadia, the very woman who created the stacks used in the sleeve technology. WHOA. Her creation was Frankensteined into something she didn’t intend, for which she eternally blames herself; all a part of her Envoy rebellion.
“I thought I was freeing the human spirit, but I was building the roads for Rome. Eternal life for those who can afford it means eternal control over those who can‘t. That is the gift I gave humanity.”
After a while, Takeshi wakes up in their current timeline with Rei. She was able to save the Ryker sleeve. She came to Bay City because she heard there was a surviving Envoy somewhere, after going back to Harlan’s World, decimated compared to her memories. “Nothing survives,” she says.
Takeshi remembers the big attack on the Envoy camp. First, a bunch of people begin acting strange, followed by bombs dropping. Underneath the songspire tree Tak finds piles of bodies. A couple remaining Envoys show that they were hacked, it was an unknowing, unwilling inside job. Rei’s alive out there, but everyone else is dead, or dying. On top of that, the Praetorians show up. Rei and Quell are already out. But Tak is left in a burning, ashy forest, urging them to leave. When Rei and Quell get a shuttle off the ground Tak watches it blown out of the sky in a cloud of fire. The Praetorians keep hunting on the ground. Tak uses the fallout ash to hide, getting away in the fog.
So, how did Rei survive to be there with Tak two hundred(+) years later? This puts the brother on edge, in his shaky state. Couldn’t it be someone else altogether behind his sister’s sleeve? Hard to trust anybody nowadays. Yes, there are scary things happening. Either way, Rei’s using a bunch of sleeves to infiltrate Takeshi’s life, from the little boy in the store episodes ago to Hemmingway and others.
Back to the shuttle explosion. Rei attacked Quell as they took off, purposefully blowing them up. Back to the current moment, where Tak’s coming to see his sister isn’t herself. Well, she is, but man, she’s changed. Perhaps she felt betrayed believing he chose something other than family after their pact.
What I loved about this episode is how we’re seeing full-length scenes that were once fragments of Takeshi’s mind, only briefly alluded to much earlier in the season. I was hoping we’d get more of the original Kovacs, et cetera, because it would’ve been a shame to waste such great physical and acting talent like Lee, Goldsberry, and Lachman. All of whom are impressive. Maybe my favourite episode of Season 1.
“Clash by Night” is the next instalment.