We begin with a little trip back in time to Kovacs’ early years – sitting with his sister in the shadows poring over bedtime story about an evil man who creates a grotesque monster, which appears to hint at a family horror of their own. This is confirmed by the arrival of their parents, as the kids hide in a cupboard their abusive father lets loose on their powerless mother. Ending with an oath between brother and sister that they will always face the monsters together, this flashback adds a sympathetic dimension to Kovacs’ defiant, lone wolf ways and you start to recognise where the fierce loyalty to family and loved ones originates.
Flash forward to the present where Kovacs’ wannabe AI wingman, Poe, passes on an invitation to a rather fancy soiree at the Bancroft’s house in the sky… along with a small bombshell the that the steamy night between him and Miriam Bancroft was a little less discrete than originally thought after the hotel was hacked and footage was taken. On speaking to Laurens Bancroft we find out the party is a front for a further investigation of potential perpetrators of his killing but Kovacs suspects the event might also be related to his little tryst with Miriam – he begrudgingly accepts the invite.
In another part of the city, Detective Ortega is also reluctantly accepting an invitation to the same party. Specially requested by Bancroft to patrol what is called an ‘extreme organic damage event’ (essentially, grievous bodily harm or death) – you are again reminded of a world where bodies are no longer sacred but a disposable commodity – destroyed and replaced at the drop of a rich man’s dollar. Although Ortega shows some initial resistance to attending she recognises the unique opportunity the party provides in allowing her to further investigate the case of the girl who ‘fell from the sky’. In this scene her partner, Sammir, reiterates that it isn’t her case, making me wonder whether her agenda is genuine or something more sinister.
Image source: denofgeek.com
Kovacs isn’t naïve to the potential risks the night could bring, so he pays a visit to Vernon Elliot, one of his initial suspects in Bancroft’s murder. Initially unwelcome, he finally strikes a deal with Vernon – offering a psychosurgery treatment for his daughter, whose consciousness is caught in an endless loop of trauma of re-living the moments before her murder, and also the opportunity to kill Bancroft himself if it turns out he is responsible for her death. With this promise, Vernon joins Kovacs as his back up for the party and off they go to do a little spot of ‘hardware’ shopping at the local gun dealer.
A couple of little outtakes show us how Poe is coming along with his treatment of Lizzie – who says something for the first time since her death, albeit very ominous and cryptic. Another little flashback shows us Kovac in his previous life, training with his team of envoys – the leader reinforces what appears to one of the overarching sentiments of the episode – ‘Build a pack. Inspire loyalty’.
And so the party begins. What we get is a vivid picture of what it’s like to be a Meth and there’s excess and hedonism aplenty – from the extravagant evening wear, to a full tiger as the banquet’s centerpiece, to a show and tell where a human stack has been inserted into the body of a snake, to the night’s main attraction, a husband, and wife fighting to the death for payment and an upgrade on their combat sleeve – a grotesque wonderland that shows the complete absence of humanity of the people in this world’s high society.
Whilst Kovacs and Ortega are doing their own investigations, Vernon goes against Kovacs wishes and breaks into the security to download footage from the night of his daughter’s death. Meanwhile, Kovacs catches Miriam having a little ‘playdate’ with one of the guests at the party, we soon discover this isn’t Miriam, but actually Naomi, the Bancroft’s 12th daughter taking her mum’s sleeve for a ride. This adds a new layer to the murder mystery as the gun used in Bancroft’s killing was in a safe only accessible with the biometrics of Mr and Mrs Bancroft and, of course, anyone who was using their sleeve. Ortega spots an unidentifiable guest at the party… very suss.
The husband vs. wife main event begins and a conversation between Miriam and Laurens as the fight opens suggests he just might know what has been going on between her and Kovacs. At one point in the fight, the gratuitous violence becomes too much for Kovacs and he falls into the ring as he tries to stop it. Bancroft ups the stakes and tells the two in the ring to destroy Kovacs for an upgrade to both of their sleeves. And it’s on – an anti-gravity kung-fu extravaganza with Kovacs holding his ground pretty well until Bancroft throws a weapon into the ring and Kovacs is slashed with it.
Image source: metawitches.com
Enter Vernon, almost too late but just in-the-nick-of-time, as he’s been busy with his own personal mission, he runs into Ortega who uses his gun that he’s gotten past security to blast the anti-gravity shield and end the fight. Party over. The evening ends with Bancroft telling Kovacs to stay away from his wife – and you wonder how much of the night’s proceedings were dedicated to exacting some strange revenge. As Vernon, Kovacs and Ortega farewell each other for the night there is a sense of shared disgust for the Meth lifestyle and, through that, the beginnings of a comradery, echoing back to one of the key messages in this episode – build a pack.
The episode ends with a cliffhanger as Kovacs visits Alice, the hooker who worked with Lizzie. She is severely beaten and struggling to control her breath. She apologises to Kovacs explaining ‘they made me do it,’ before she stabs him with a syringe and he blacks out. Two men enter a room and slash Alice’s neck and the next minute we find Kovacs being wheeled into some sort of clinic. As one of the men looks over him his face transforms into ‘The Patchwork Man,’ the storybook monster from the beginning of the episode, followed by a flash of memory of his childhood self saying to his sister ‘we’ll never face the monsters alone,’ echoing into the closing credits.
Episode four is one of the more disturbing installments as part of the storyline is about the repeated torturing of Takeshi Kovacs. In a world where your physical body is redundant, you can be tortured in a virtual world. It will still feel real to you so it is hard to imagine the mental damage it could be doing.
The episode starts in the oddly named Wei Clinic, where seemingly happy technicians claim they’re going to crack Kovacs like a walnut. Kovacs is strapped down and you see Alice’s body, naked and bruised, in the background about to be dissected. Kovacs’s kidnapper is the ‘twin’ (insert cloned sleeve with a backup stack) of the assassin gunned down in the Raven Hotel lobby in episode one and he is torturing Kovacs to find out why his brother was killed. He keeps referring to Kovac as Ryker and believes he murdered his brother.
In Virtual Reality, they have taken away all of Kovacs skills so he more easily subdued. They start by beating him with a chain, move onto pulling fingernails and from there the torture techniques get more and more violent using a blow torch to burn off his legs. To help him survive the torture, Kovacs flashes back to his envoy training with Quellcrist Falconer.
Image source: metawitches.com
In the flashbacks, you start to find out more about Kovacs past and his relationship with Quell. She also teaches him how to resist torture in VR, which is handy considering the situation he finds himself in.
While this story arc is happening the episode starts another narrative whereby Ortega temporarily re-sleeves her own grandmother into the body of a recently arrested convict so that she can attend a family party. This creates some tension between Ortega and her mother as she believes when you die you should stay dead. Ortega argues that they are celebrating Día de Muertos (Halloween), a holiday meant to remember lost loved ones so it is appropriate that her grandmother attend. It is a lighter plotline which offsets the violence of the Kovacs storyline.
When Kovacs seems to be resisting the torture they up the ante and introduce a lizard-like creature into a cut in his body and another one down his throat. While this is happening we flashback to Quell teaching Kovacs how to escape VR. We jump back to the present and Kovacs breaks his straps, reaches into his own chest and pulls out his beating heart. Quell is also there and he offers it to her as he says take it, it’s yours. Hat dedicated love right there folks. Tearing your own heart out of your chest and offering it to the one you love. He then disappears from the VR.
Back in the real world, he sees the torn apart body of Alice and he goes back to be being badass Kovacs and proceeds to kill everyone. Everyone in the room, everyone in the torture clinic and when leaving he bumps into Vernon with the big guy with the metal spine from the Jack-It Off and he kills him as well. Basically killings on a large scale.
Now back at the precinct, Ortega is called to the massacre and quickly realises that Kovacs must have been the shooter. He has taken out the tracker she had in him and left it at the scene on the middle finger of the headless torturer Dimi.
She goes straight to the hotel to confront him. In his rooms, she finds Dimi’s head in an ice bucket. Kovacs questions her about who Ryker is and when she doesn’t answer he starts to cut his own body until she capitulates and says she will tell him everything.
Image source: metawitches.com
Episode 4 was disturbing at best. The violence, albeit in VR, was extreme and the emotional damage that sort of abuse would cause would be upsetting for those with a softer heart. It did also, however, show a softer side with Ortega’s family life. Perhaps not an episode to watch right after dinner though as some of the scenes may have you needing a bucket.
Head of Sales Operations at Hachette Australia. I have been reading books and selling books for most of my life. I love sci-fi fantasy and crime but will read anything that is well written. My favourite book as a child was The Magic Faraway Tree. I read my copy so many times it fell apart. I love to cook and I think Chili should be added to everything. Even cereal.
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. - WILFRED OWEN, DULCE ET DECORUM EST My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity. - WILFRED OWEN