Takeshi Kovacs (Anthony Mackie) and Quellcrist Falconer (Rene Elise Goldsberry) share an intimate moment. Image: Netflix
In the world of cyberpunk fiction, is there such a thing as a truly happy ending? For the second season of Altered Carbon, the answer is: kind of. As the series moves from explorations of identity to interpersonal relationships, every character is trying to figure out the role of love in their complicated and sometimes immortal lives.
Sometimes we do want a happy ending. Sometimes we want to see a functional relationship survive, Simone Missick told io9.
When we spoke with some of the cast of Altered Carbon season two at a recent press junket, there was one phrase on everybodys lips: This is a love story. That statement largely points to the relationship between Takeshi Kovacs (Anthony Mackie) and Quellcrist Falconer (Rene Elise Goldsberry), as this season is about Takeshis search for his long-lost love. But its not just a single love story, its everyones. Keep in mind: This post contains spoilers through the end of season two.
Every main character is exploring what love means to them in a world where people can live forever through a digital consciousnessif theyre even alive at all, as is the case with Poe (Chris Conner) and fellow AI Dig 301 (Dina Shihabi), who develop a relationship built on their intellectual connection. In the case of humans who strive so hard to live forever, accumulating power and wealth to serve those ends, what space is there to open up to others or earn their affection in return? Thats the big question behind Danica Harlan (Lela Loren) and her father, who she had killed so she could take over.
Her father, Konrad, has been a leader for 300 years. He has raised her and reared her to be entirely in his image, to be geared for his positionand yet he wont ever step down, Loren said. Its almost like she has no other choice but to kill him, because you have this whole generation of children with these parents that never move on. In a weird way, I do think she loves her father, but she loves herself more.
Danica really loves autonomy and freedom, she added. She wants to lead by herself. Does she love people? Mmm, not that much.
The main love story of the season is between Takeshi and Quellcrist, but not in the way you might think. During season one, Takeshi (then played by Joel Kinnaman) had visions of his girlfriend guiding him along his pathbut that wasnt the real Quellcrist, nor was it an accurate portrayal of their relationship. The real Quellcrist is a tragic hero, bent but not broken from years of being trapped in a cave with nothing but her guilty conscience to keep her company (not to mention shes sharing her stack with an alien getting revenge over the colonization of Harlans World). Shes determined to right the wrongs of her past by destroying the technology shed invented. Takeshis goal may have been Quellcrist, but he was not hers. He is a distraction. Even their major sex scene revealed that, as explained by Goldsberry.
The love moment that they have in season two is really her when she is weak, when she needs help. But when she comes to herself in full strength, she doesnt allow herself a moment with him before she moves back on task and back on mission. I thought that was surprising to me that she would be that strong, Goldsberry told io9. I mean, she didnt really have much time, she didnt really have much choice. But probably the romantic in Rene wanted her to take a minute and just tell him that she loved him.
Taskeshi does have other people he cares about in his lifelike Poe, whos become his companion in the second season. Carrera described them as having a bromance, saying their dynamic in season two is that of an old married couple. But there are some uncomfortable, unsettling ways Takeshi treats his friend. Poe spends most of the season struggling with system degradation that risks compromising Takeshis mission, so he continually admonishes the AI to reboot. Poe doesnt want to because it would mean losing his memories, but that doesnt stop Takeshi from lashing out at him about it, over and over. We asked Carrera whether he would describe their relationship as healthy.
Codependency is something that we all struggle with, so there is definitely some codependency in this relationship. But as he says, Youre gonna get me killed and youre gonna get us killed, he told us. And its a struggle for both to figure out where to go next because theres no answer when youre looking for love.
However, the bigger non-Quellcrist relationship for Takeshi was with, surprisingly, Colonel Ivan Carrera (Torben Liebrecht). Carrera is the latest incarnation of Jaeger, the man who recruited Takeshi into CTAC to become a super-soldier, and he illegally re-sleeved a younger, OG version of Takeshi (Will Yun Lee) into a recreation of his original body. Even though Carrera is objectively a terrible persona warmonger who tries to keep the rebellion on Harlans World alive just so hes not put back on icehe sees himself as a father and loves Takeshi like a son. This explains his need to recreate the Takeshi he knew and cared about, and makes it hard for him to recognize the true Takeshi whod long moved beyond him.
If there is a point where he has to stay on ice forever, what will remain? Whats the footprint that he has left on this Earth? You want to have something that other people inherit from you. Even if its only the positive memory that they have of you, Liebrecht said. He saw Takeshi Kovacs as the person he could call in and raise in a way within the set of values that he believes in. And it hurts him all the more to see that everything that he has to offer is not enough for Kovacs.
Carreras love story with Takeshi isnt one that ends happily. He dies having lost not just one, but two surrogate sons (in the form of old and new Takeshi). But in a show like Altered Carbon, death is not the end. Theres still a place for Carrera to come back in the future, something Liebrecht said hed love to do if given the opportunity (though considering how easily the show moves characters from body to body, that isnt a guarantee).
In the end, Quellcrist chooses her mission over her relationship and Takeshi dies in her place to destroy the Elder technology threatening Harlans World. It gives her the space to go forward and become the rebellions leader once again. While its not a true, Disney fairy-tale ending, it is happy-ish if you look at it from a certain point of view. Takeshi loved Quellcrist so much he sacrificed himself for herand now hes serving the same role she did in the first season, an invisible presence guiding her on her quest. His love is still with her.
However, one happy endingone no one expected, including Missick herselfwas the one with Trepp and her family. During most of the season, Trepp is in conflict with her wife, Myka (Sharon Taylor), who lost her career as an archaelogue and got a job in a bar to support their family. Their son is on his second sleeve after stepping on a landmine and the lease payments are piling up. Mykas made sacrifices but cant understand why Trepp, whos spending a lot of their money searching for her brother, wont do the same.
Eventually, things come to a head when Myka and their son are kidnapped. Myka is doing some archaeological work for Danica to keep them alive, but Trepp is determined to come in guns blazing and save them. Trepps father and brother didnt make it, meaning her wife and son are all she has left. The whole confrontation is tense and comes across like Trepp is going to perform the ultimate sacrifice and die to save her family. This was something Missick was afraid of the whole timeespecially given the history of the Bury Your Gays trope, or the tendency to kill off characters in non-cishet relationships. Luckily, that didnt happen.
I kept asking, I was like: Do I die? No youre not going to die. Im like, Are you sure Im not going to die? Because of that same thought [the Bury Your Gays trope], Missick said. Altered Carbon season two is so much about a love story, and its the main love story of Takeshi and Quell. But then you also see this love story between Trepp and her wife and her family and her son...The fact that that love story is to remain intact is, in a way, a beautiful thing.
Youd be hard-pressed to find a lot of hope at the end of the season, as most of the characters are killed, but looking forward theres a lot of it to be found, even through the smoky veneer of the cyberpunk genre. Trepp has her family and is working out of her fathers augmentation shop, Poe and Dig 301 are running their hotel, OG Takeshi is staying on Harlans World to help the cause, and Quellcrist has her memories of Takeshi to keep her company on her journey. The story even ends with a hint that Takeshi isnt gone for good, as Poe had saved a back-up of his stack before rebooting.
Happy endings in cyberpunk arent an easy thing, because the nature of the genre is to serve as a warning for the future. But if theres one thing Altered Carbon has wanted to teach us, its that love will prevaileven across galaxies and centuries. Its no surprise the season ends in sunshine, signifying a bright future for the people whove lived in the shadows of gods.
For more, make sure youre following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.
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