Ah, the long-awaited Altered Carbon flashback episode! The common thread, of course, between Kovacs’ delirious present and his troubled past is his sister Rei, whose motives reveal themselves throughout the episode leading up to the shocking conclusion. The mission of the Envoys somehow takes on more historical significance even as it is made more real by seeing how Tak and Rei joined the group. Overall, the back story is effective in creating context for what our protagonist might do now that the full scope of what his sister has done has been revealed.
In retrospect, there were red flags early in the episode indicating we should keep a close eye on Reileen. Her story about her stack being found by an archaeologist and sleeved in a synth seemed plausible enough given what we saw of the museum display about the Battle of Stronghold earlier in the season. If there wasn’t interest in that part of history, Bancroft wouldn’t have quoted Quellcrist Falconer or placed value on her journal. But she kind of glossed over the part where she made some money and created some clones for herself, a nearly impossible task for all but the wealthy Meth class of which she is no doubt a part.
The entire episode then becomes a chronicle not only of what happened to Takeshi but also, in a more muted fashion, what happened to Reileen. Neither of them hesitates to betray their morally questionable companions once they found each other during the Harlan’s World assault on the Yakuza, but whereas Takeshi thought he had joined CTAC to protect his sister, Rei has lived a life of abandonment and servitude. So her time with the Envoys must be looked at differently than Takeshi’s: she does not trust as easily.
Perhaps Quell’s controversial recruitment of Takeshi, a known special operative in the Colonial Tactical Assault Corps, can be explained by her own complicit secret: she is Nadia Makita, the inventor of the stack technology, who considers herself responsible for the cultural shift towards immortality. The growing affection between Tak and Quell frames a powerful message of forgiveness, responsibility, and self-sacrifice for both of them, but it’s not a belief system Rei shares.
The Acheron program seemed like a good idea: make every DHF good for only 100 years so that humanity could benefit from re-sleeving but still have an expiration date, but Rei wants to live “to see a million tomorrows,” a sentiment that at first comes across as familial concern rather than impending betrayal. Perhaps seeing her brother kissing Quell was the last straw for Rei, who wanted nothing more than to keep the family together, following the promise she and Tak made as children.
It was odd to see some of the same dialogue during the training sequences that we already saw in flashbacks, but it served to remind us how it was that Quell was able to manipulate Jaeger’s interrogation VR to free Takeshi (still not quite sure how that works). The community atmosphere of the Envoy colony, including the pastoral setting and the beautiful songspire tree, all bring the audience closer to this band of rebels (yes, even Desoto) in order to make it all that more poignant when the viral strike hits, forcing the inhabitants of Stronghold to kill each other. All of the flashbacks fall into place, and we move forward knowing more fully what makes Kovacs tick.
Of course, we have little idea what truly motivates Reileen 250 years later, but the possibilities are enticing. Kovacs knows his sister must have had a backup causing her to forget the details of Quell’s death the same way Bancroft forgot the details of his supposed murder, but the confusion arising from the discovery of Rei’s sleeves — Hemmingway, the Meth with the rapist-brain snake, the little girl at the museum who warned him about grudges — is enough to make one’s head spin, but pleasantly so. Kovacs, on the other hand, must be horrified!
So is it true what Quell said about Kovacs, that “the innocent, the person you were before all this, is still there… you’re only pretending to be one of the monsters”? His desire to hold onto the Riker sleeve seems to indicate he fears losing Ortega the way he lost Quell. Will Kovacs continue to show his softer side, or will his edge get harder and sharper because of his sister’s betrayal? The true enemies have been revealed in Altered Carbon, and their defeat is far from assured, but “Nora Inu” gives us the seeds of hope.