This Altered Carbon review contains spoilers.
Altered Carbon Episode 9
With a show like Altered Carbon, which centers itself around the concept of being able to switch bodies as necessary, playing with misdirection and mistaken identity is a no-brainer. In “Rage in Heaven,” the use of sleeves to deceive is both demoralizing and inspiring, showing that anyone can use the technology to their advantage. The caper style antics are both fun and dangerous, but the reminder of the violence and degradation that’s at the core of Head in the Clouds establishment (and by extension Reileen herself) is chilling.
The combination of horrifying and glorifying is a magical recipe for an episode. For example, we’re initially happy to see Ortega enter the Raven having last seen her in the company of Reileen’s young girl sleeve, but when she pressures Kovacs to say whether or not he loves her and admires her own borrowed, curvaceous sleeve, it’s a bit creepy as a brother-sister moment. Slight nitpick: How did Reileen speak with Ortega’s voice whereas Dimi the Twin and Ortega’s abuela retained their accents across sleeves?
Reileen’s whole strategy is based on an idea that the audience has to take at face value: that long life begets a disregard for rules and a disdain for human connection. She thinks that burning off Takeshi’s “fireflies” as she calls them will result in her brother coming around to her way of thinking. It’s like she’s forgotten his loyalty to the Envoy cause over the years. A more accurate picture of her sense of family comes from her mother’s phrase, “I love you so much I could eat you up.” In fact, her story of eating the threads of his shirt when the Yakuza took it from her as a child shows how obsessive she is about maintaining a connection with Takeshi. Wonderful imagery!
Kovacs’ execution of the double sleeve caper was masterful, and once again the whole team got to be in on it. Earlier predictions that his lack of caring for the assets he cultivated was a smokescreen proved accurate, and it was a joy to see Ava, Vernon, Poe, and now Mickey insist on joining the mission. Bringing in the Rawling-infected sleeves from Stronghold was a nice callback to a detail from an earlier episode, and the rock-paper-scissors stalemate added just the right touch of humor as always. In fact, callbacks and subtle comedy have been skillfully handled throughout Altered Carbon’s run.
Despite the tight timeline they were working with in trying to upload the virus just after Reileen completed her backup, the decision to slow things down once Vernon (a.k.a. General Foley) got to his murder suite was a good one since it allowed the viewer to encompass the full horror of what was going on at Head in the Clouds: real death where the victim didn’t know what was in store. As the father of a sex worker, Vernon’s guilt, anger, and disgust were palpable, magnifying the feelings the viewer must be feeling as well.
Reileen’s confession provided just the right cap to the episode, especially since an explanation was needed for the viewer to make the connections that Kovacs clearly already had. The realization that the 653 law allowing victims to testify about their murders would ruin Reileen’s business was the final piece of the puzzle, although Miriam Bancroft’s complicity may require further elaboration in the finale. Ava’s celebration over her success in corrupting Rei’s backups combined with Kovacs’ jibe, “Jimmy Desoto says hello,” would have been more triumphant had they had an extraction plan.
And, of course, there’s still the matter of Ortega, who we’re almost glad is still in VR despite whatever torture she might be undergoing because not much could be worse than what she’s about to wake up to: the murder of her entire family by the zealot, Leung. Reileen characterizes it as the removal of emotional encumbrances less important than their sibling connection, but these killings alone doom her to failure in bringing Takeshi on board, and she doesn’t even know it. It almost stretches the bounds of credibility how villainous Rei has become.
All in all, “Rage in Heaven” was a satisfying lead-in to the finale. The enjoyable infiltration caper counteracted the more violent aspects of the episode, especially the massacre of Ortega’s family, which even caused Tanaka to vomit with guilt and despair. Somehow Team Kovacs was able to achieve some measure of victory to balance out the losses despite being cornered at the end of the episode. Altered Carbon will hopefully capitalize on this rising action and the revelations in this penultimate episode to deliver an explosive finale.