All right – if you’ve just seen ep 7, I’ll do you a favour and keep this brief (both because ep 7 was the longest of the whole season – clocking in at 66 minutes – but also with that ending I know you need to get straight to ep 8).
In line with Netflix fave Stranger Things, ep 7 takes us into an extended diversion from our central narrative – this time in flashbacks, starting way, way back with Kovacs’ childhood trauma of protecting his sister from his abusive father. And when I say ‘protecting’, I mean it the only way Kovacs knows how: by killing. Gruesomely. Unrepentantly. ‘He deserved it. He wasn’t going to stop,’ he says. A brutal beginning that explains why Kovacs is so ready to accuse Bancroft Jr of patricide.
He’s in virtual, an interrogation room, with a CTAC recruiter. CTAC, we learn, is the Colonial Tactical Assault Corps, the Protectorate’s best of the best. ‘You’ve never been able to trust anyone, have you? We are the protectorate. We protect.’ Well, Kovacs will fit in perfectly. CTAC recruits angry boys, barely adolescents, and sleeves them in enhanced adult bodies built for destruction. Just a bit creepy.
Image credit: Vulture.com
We’ve just met Kovacs’ badass sister, Rei, back in the present. She saves his sleeve in her purple-disco-light, white-leather couch–styled home, and recounts of how she survived stronghold. And we flashback again.
Now Kovacs is a battle-hardened CTAC officer, resleeved in his original skin that the government has been keeping on ice for him. They’re off to kill some Yakuza. ‘Most kills, most days off, most bonus money.’ So you can tell they’re in it for the good of mankind.
But he’s in for a surprise. When he joined up, they promised his sister would be placed with a good home. Turns out she was sold to the Yakuza, where we encounter her now, with bonus face tattoo (think Seven of Nine’s facial hardware). With a shared look, the bond is reformed – both so willing to turn on their compatriots – and we see some of the beautifully-shot action that we’ve come to love in this show.
What now? On the run from the government and the underworld, they escape into the forest and come across a third dangerous group – the Envoys. For a while we get an extended training montage. The leader of the Envoys, Quellcrist Falconer, builds on Kovacs’ military training, but teaches him other interesting things about breaking out of VR (can you guess that this will come into play later?).
As we move through the past at a cracking pace, we learn that Quell is actually Nadia, the original creator of stack technology. And she wants to undo what has been done, to limit the stack to 100 years of life. There’s a mission to achieve this goal through a vague plot to upload a virus to all stacks to implement this limit – Kovacs is captured. He is rescued.
‘I want us to see a million tomorrows,’ says Rei, back in Stronghold. She wants to uphold the promise that she and Kovacs made as children. ‘Family, no matter what.’ She is all about the two of them, but our next scene shows the culmination of the very fight-based flirting that’s been going on between Quell and Kovacs. He is all about a different twosome. Which Rei sees, oh dear.
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But (and how many times have I said ‘but’ so far…) tragedy is about to fall, the protectorate release a viral strike on Stronghold which causes them to kill themselves and each other. ‘Good talk.’ Heartbreaking stuff.
Only our love triangle survive. Rei and Quell board a ship and Kovacs watches them take off – smiling just a little, knowing his family have made it out… until laser-induced explosion. Their ship is destroyed. Here we are treated to an absolutely gorgeous shot – Kovacs slowly falling to the ground, ash swirling around him, the world on fire – it feels a bit like a Final Fantasy cut scene, but maybe that’s why I love it so hard.
The score for this ep is gorgeous, particularly in the quieter, more emotional scenes where Kovacs is remembering what it is like to have friends, find a family, fall in love. And although I was keen to get back to our present-day comrades (or, really, just Poe), this ep did a lot of work. We’ve seen Kovacs softer side, and we’ve seen the lifetime of hurt that has made him hard. We know a lot more about him, and the world we’re in. And that’s why the final revelation packs such a punch.
What has Rei been up to these last two and a half centuries? Well, she’s gone from troubled woman who killed her brother’s girlfriend to full-on monster. She’s what Quell was trying to destroy: the meth who lives so long and so outside of the law that they become a sociopath. She’s been watching Kovacs this whole time in various sleeves: Hemmingway, the meth with the man-snake, the little girl at the museum. ‘I did it all for you.’ I mean, jeez, cut the guy a break.
Can’t wait to see if ep 8 is any kinder to him. (I bet it isn’t.)
The wrap up of episode seven ends with a couple of bombshells and it’s safe to say that episode eight only accelerates on this trajectory with a category five hurricane of revelations that expose who the mastermind behind almost all the show’s heinous deeds is.
The opening scene continues where episode seven left off. We know that Reileen (aka Rei) has been secretly following Kovacs around in different sleeves like a big old stalker – the school kid at the Envoy museum, the snake woman at the Bancroft party and Hemingway. But even worse than this, Kovacs is devastated to realise she was also responsible for the death of the envoys, including his great love, Quellcrist.
Image credit: IMDB.com
Rei claims the envoys were only soldiers, the Uprising would never happen and Quellcrist would get him killed. So some evil deeds have been committed, but she did it all for the love of her brother, to start over again together – so that’s ok, right? Sounds a bit loopy to me, and clearly also to Kovacs, who, in a mix of rage and heartbreak takes a sword to her throat. But pulls it away when she says he can kill her but she’ll just come back for him. Always.
We move to post-Fight-Drome Ortega who arrives at the police station. Her return to work is an emotional one, she furiously confronts her boss Tanaka with a thousand and one questions some of which include; Who caused the real-death loss of her work partner Abboud in the station attack? What happened to the missing Kovacs? Why did they frame her ex-boyfriend, Ryker? The conversation does not go well... she threatens to reveal Tanaka is taking kickbacks and he suspends her with the parting words, ‘I won’t let you take me down with you.’
Back to Rei and Kovacs where we find out even more CRAZY that she’s up to. She asks Kovacs to close Bancroft’s case, even if it takes throwing someone innocent under the bus. Aha! She was involved in Bancroft’s death, although she says she didn’t directly kill him. But the conversation tells us she did cover up a huge piece of evidence in the post-mortem, erasing the fact the drug ‘Stallion’ was in Bancroft’s blood at the time of death — a drug she dosed him with.
Obviously Kovacs isn’t too inclined to be doing his sister any favours right now, and tests a refusal by asking what she would do if he said no. Her response leaves you reeling at the extent of her malevolence. She threatens to extinguish the lives of the people Kovacs holds dear — Vernon and Ortega — by way of the Wei Clinic (Kovacs’ recent torture chamber) which it turns out, she owns. As she’s telling this horrible truth to her brother, Dimmi enters the room and you realise she has him working for her too.
Meanwhile, Ortega bullies a rubber-armed colleague into running a facial recognition search for Kovacs and a gene-mat typing of the blood on her fist from the Fight Drome (which we know to be Rei’s). Kovacs pops up on the radar and she’s off to find him! In a dingy alley we find that Kovacs has united with the dipper (a stack hacker) he requested to get the Bancroft job done. It turns out to be Vernon’s wife, Ava, who is horrified to find she’s been re-sleeved into a man’s body. Rei’s henchman Dimmi is keeping a close eye on the two of them, and when Ortega arrives on the scene he commands Kovacs to get rid of her — the alternative being a shot to the head for Ava. What follows is a difficult to watch ice-cold scene where Kovacs cruelly turns on one of the very few people that cares for him in this desolate future.
Ava and Vernon’s story picks up from here as they re-unite in a slightly awkward but touching scene at The Raven. Their encounter touches on the idea of love and identity – whether love can transcend physicality. In this case, it seems that love will conquer all as we see Vernon immediately softening to Ava in her new skin and Lizzie’s recognition of her mother, as if the sleeve didn’t exist at all, when they pay a visit to her virtual rehab space. The family are finally reunited after Lizzie’s breakthrough, but they are concerned that Poe, who is treating her trauma by beaponising her, is changing who she is. To which Kovacs answers – whoever she was has died already.
And finally – the big plot on how to dupe Bancroft into believing a bogus murder scenario is unveiled! It starts with Kovacs giving Ava the envoy blasted stacks – all infected with Rawling, a virus that destroys stacks and corrupts all electronic data. Ava is given the stacks to recreate the malware, which Poe then uses on the AI of a sleazy hotel called the Prick Up. Elliot and Ava team up to find and doctor footage files and Kovacs now has the story.
As Kovacs enters Bancroft’s den for the big reveal, Miriam pushes again for Kovacs to walk away from the case, an almost certain sign she is implicated in the event. Will she be found guilty? There is a gathering of various suspects, some more obvious than others; Miriam and Isaac Bancroft, Captain Tanaka, Oumou Prescott and Rei in the sleeve of Clarissa, who convinced Bancroft to take Kovacs off ice in the first place.
From the demise of Prick Up to the thrilling final charge, Kovacs spins a convincing tale that Bancroft’s long-time attorney Prescott was responsible for his death. Bancroft believes it. Prescott helplessly tries to defend herself but in the end is stripped of everything that is important to her. With this event comes the question how much of this allegation could be the truth, and what really happened?
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The episode ends with a face-off between Rei’s clones and Ortega. Ortega, in her relentless quest for the truth discovers the location of the DNA she ran a gene-mat on. She blackmails a staffer to get her in. What ensues is a bloody battle between Ortega and about 10 naked Rei clones who keep springing to life as the others daie. Ortega takes victory in the end, her super arm coming in handy many a time. The episode ends with a door opening to what appears to be a little girl captive in a room. Ortega leans down to give her a hug, but we’ve all seen that little girl before — we know there’s a Rei in that little body
Production Editor for Hachette Australia. Raised on acronyms such as TNG, SG1, BtVS, MtG and DnD, I have a particular fondness for short stories, gruff space cowboys, time travel and word play. Injuries resulting from my architecturally unsound TBR pile are a statistical certainty.