Altered Carbon season two spoilers follow.
The Altered Carbon books draw upon a huge range of sci-fi influences, so it's no wonder that Netflix's version is mostly a carbon copy of stories we've heard before.
From big releases like The Matrix to more obscure fare such as Dollhouse, both seasons of Altered Carbon are an entertaining but often erratic jumble of inspirations — and this means the plot itself can be tricky to follow too.
That's where we come in. Join us as we slice through the confusion faster than Rei's sword and unpack how season two's finale sets up season three.
It's Harlan's World, and we're just living in it
As you might imagine, a lot happens in just eight episodes, but to summarise, season two kicks off thirty years after we last saw Joel Kinnaman in the role of Takeshi Kovacs. This time round, our intrepid hero ends up wearing an Anthony Mackie 'sleeve' which boasts impressive guns in more ways than one.
Upon returning to his home planet, Harlan's World, Kovacs is quickly caught up in a quest to find Quellcrist Falconer, a former love interest who's seemingly gone mad and started killing the Founders of this society.
Related: Altered Carbon season two review
By the end of episode six, Kovacs catches up with her just as she calls down angel fire from an orbital satellite above, killing multiple government operatives in the process. It should be impossible for humans to control Elder (alien) technology in this way, but it soon turns out that Falconer is more than just human.
Respect your Elders
In the following episode, Kovacs discovers there are actually two minds operating inside of Falconer's stack, which would explain why she's behaved out of character. Again, this should be impossible, so Takeshi ventures into her stack to figure out how this happened, only to discover that the second Falconer is in fact an Elder.
We then learn that the Founders killed the other native Elders centuries earlier in order to take over the planet, including this particular Elder's children. That's why Falconer's been offing them one by one in an act of vengeance.
By the end of the episode, the Elder in question takes over Jaeger's body instead to complete its quest for revenge. For those not in the know, Jaeger is an old foe of Takeshi's. Suffice to say, him wielding the Elder's power is bad news. As Falconer puts it, "Now we'll all burn." Cue the final episode.
Surprise surprise, the greedy Governor Danica Harlan wants to claim the angel fire's power for herself, so she calls a temporary truce with Takeshi to help him stop Jaeger.
Right after that, Falconer and Kovacs finally have a long overdue catch-up, but it's not good news for the 'happy' couple. Falconer plans to kill Jaeger, force the Elder back into herself, and then use the orbital's power to bring angel fire down, simultaneously destroying both her and the Elder.
Kovacs then echoes what we've been thinking all along, asking "Why is your solution always fix it and die?"
Meanwhile, Poe has been steadily losing his mind throughout the season and is long overdue a reboot, which would fix his glitches but wipe out his memory for good. More on that later.
Burn baby, burn
Skip forward to the climactic fight scene and surprise surprise, Harlan betrays everyone by shooting Jaeger and ruining the plan. The joke's on her though, because the Elder then infects Harlan, knocking her out of the action entirely.
Desperate to stop Jaeger/The Elder, Kovacs and Falconer then team up to kick his ass, but our hero can't shoot him because the Mackie sleeve is hardwired to prevent him from hurting government officers (*cough* Robocop). Luckily, a younger version of Kovacs in the Will Yun Lee sleeve joins in, weakening Jaeger long enough for Mackie's character to overpower his enemy, and pull the trigger of Jaeger's gun using his own fingers against him.
With Jaeger dead, Mackie's Kovacs pulls the Elder into himself and calls down the angel fire, incinerating his stack in the process. If it's any consolation, this heroic sacrifice is accompanied by some lovely music and a voiceover from Poe's bestie, Dig, who brings some poetic gravitas to the proceedings.
"They say hope begins in the dark. That faith is the bird which feels light when the sky is still dim, but with every tomorrow, we carry our past. It echoes beneath our feet."
In a government debrief meeting, Lee's version of Kovacs confirms the original version of him is now dead, and therefore, he shouldn't be punished for the crime of "double stacking."
Soon after, Kovacs meets Falconer in secret, revealing that the government have asked him to protect Harlan's World. Unfortunately, Falconer can't stay, because the government kind of want her dead still, so she decides to head off-world to destinations unknown: "This is a goodbye."
Mackie's original Kovacs then appears in her mind, flipping the dynamic which was first introduced way back in season two's first episode. He's still dead, but that doesn't stop imaginary Takeshi from saying, "There's nowhere you can go that I won't be with you." Adorable.
Meanwhile, Poe has been absent for months following his reboot, but on screen, he actually returns very quickly, surprising Dig, aka Annabel Lee, who has been searching the array for signs of him this whole time.
It turns out that Poe has been entangled in fragmented data that needed to be whole... whatever that means. Upon his return to the hotel, we learn that Poe left himself two clues to help restore his memory. One was the hotel's address and the other was a bit of code which needs decrypting. Annabel gets to work, and before long, we discover that the code in question is actually a raw human DHF.
"Better get the good whiskey ready."
Sit back and take a sip of that sweet, sweet whiskey as we unpack what that cliffhanger ending means for season three.
Obviously, Mackie's Kovacs will soon be back in a new sleeve, but it seems unlikely that Mackie himself will return. The show's entire premise revolves around how people can transfer their consciousness into new bodies, and given that Mackie's sleeve was destroyed, it seems likely that Kovacs will be played by a new actor moving forward.
Whether Mackie reappears or not, there will now be two versions of Kovacs running around, and this could become the main focus of season three. After all, it would be pretty repetitive to watch him chase Falconer around the galaxy again.
Instead, it will be far more interesting to see how these two versions of Takeshi interact in the future. How can they both co-exist in a universe which outlaws their very existence?
Double stacking might be a crime, but to be honest, it would be a crime not to follow this line of thinking in season three, expanding the show's philosophical exploration of consciousness and what it means to be human.
Don't be surprised if Poe continues to play a big role in season three too. With a new companion by his side, the fan-favourite AI will likely be on a quest of his own to restore those lost memories and remember his love for Annabel. In a world where humanity continues to evolve in new and unexpected ways, it's rather fitting that this romance between two artificial beings is rapidly becoming the beating heart of the show.
The first two seasons of Altered Carbon are now available to watch on Netflix.
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