Spoilers can be found in all Stacks!
The show is based on the first book of the same name in a series, by Richard K. Morgan. Set far in the future, the show informs us that technology exists that allows us to back up our very essence, in theory our soul, into a thing the show simply calls a Stack.
And so long as our Stack still exists, even if the body we wear is killed, we live on. We have to be loaded into a new body, usually called a Sleeve, or adversely can be loaded into VR – Virtual Reality of course – and spun back up to be conversed with once again, and many nasty lines can be crossed in VR, to many characters’ chagrin.
What you have to accept, right off the bat accept as fact, is that this nonsense is considered normal for them. These concepts, of immortality, of the soul, of what it means to be human, while they are all presented and certainly discussed to some degree, are available to us the audience only from afar, whereas these characters, they are actually living in it. Prepare yourself for spinup in VR, I’m about to spoil a great deal of the plot, but then there’s no real way to talk about the delight that is ‘Altered Carbon’ otherwise.
The Protectorate is basically exactly what it sounds like, a collective of staggeringly rich like-minded high society types who rule several planets together, policed by guardians called C-TAC Agents, and occupied by nobles who are generally referred to as Meths. (The word apparently refers to Methuselah, oldest living descendant of Noah and thought to be the longest-lived person ever.) The lesser dregs of Bay City, the criminals and the poor, just trying to get by, have to contend with the likes of a murdered 8-year-old daughter being spun up into an inappropriate Sleeve and humiliations even more severe, causing a clear rift in general society.
On the other side, we have the church freaks and true believers, fanatics who refuse to get a cortical Stack implanted on religious grounds, so when they die out here in the Real, it’s forever. Like for really-reals. The subject is hotly debated and in theory religious freedom still exists out here in the future, but as with today, often causes a lot of headaches for law enforcement trying to crack cases and you know, solve murders. Thus we are introduced to Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), that bulldog of a cop who can take a beating and still curse you out in loud Spanish, with her large extended family who celebrate Dia De Los Muertos, which is now a more or less official holiday as far as everyone’s concerned, rather like you’d expect, only now the ghosts show up in the Sleeve of a large tattooed and creatively pierced white man. The debate of spirit versus Sleeve is clearly demonstrated in Ortega’s large family, how she loves them all in unique quiet and happy ways. Until the Kovacs case really begins to heat up, that is.
And we come full circle, welcome back to the world Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), some specially and mystically trained operative known as an Envoy, from more than two hundred and fifty freaking years ago, the last known Envoy in the whole world. One of the richest and oldest Meths of Bay City, well not technically the city, no, he built a white tower into the sky, calls it the Eyrie and everything, meet Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). It was he who had the temerity, the balls and oh gods yes the money, to raise Takeshi Kovacs himself in this ridiculous new body, to solve a murder. Specifically, Laurens Bancrofts own murder, as he points to a bloody swatch on the stone wall to demonstrate where his mind and Stack where erased in a former body. Kovacs new Sleeve comes with its own set of inherent problems, hailing from prison and formerly somehow of the police force too, as Elias Ryker does.
Finding out what happened to Bancroft was never going to be easy, but then Bancroft didn’t shunt out and re-Sleeve Kovacs for anything other than the truth to the one question – who killed Laurens Bancroft? The search for the answer mows through a very bad idea of a fling with Miriam Bancroft (Kristi Lehman), a pants-wetting confrontation with one of Bancroft’s sons Isaac (Antonio Marziale), and what sure looked like yet another Laurens Bancroft murder, but literally by his own hand this time.
But all of this is little compared to memories Takeshi Konvacs visits whenever he can, dreams of unpleasant life with his tiny sister and abusive father, having to make hard choices and living with the consequences, and his training as an Envoy, specially at the hands of Quell (Renee Elise Goldsberry), their leader. Her charisma is a thing to behold, her training is absolute, and her attraction to Takeshi in particular is undeniable. Even Tak’s sister, older now but still together fighting as one like the dragon with no end, can’t help but notice the formidable team Tak and Quell make. Jealousy is an ugly and, sad to say, long-lasting emotion.
So when Takeshi’s sister Reileen (Dichen Lachman) shows up in a proper Sleeve to attempt to save him from himself, Kovacs is beyond taken aback and understandably reluctant to accept damn near any kind of help. Based on his Envoy training, Takeshi has already managed to surround himself with loyal minions, and he began in the most unlikely place possible, a near-defunct AI hotel that no-one uses anymore, the House of the Raven. Poe (Chris Conner), the AI construct that runs the hotel, is far from the emo goth poetry writer his model is based on, but rather, a fiercely loyal and surprisingly gentle construction that can both lower machine guns from the ceiling to take on all comers, but also tend softly to the damaged psyche of the daughter of Takeshi’s next minion, Vernon (Ato Essandoh). Vern’s daughter Lizzie (Hayley Law) was severely damaged and her father could only spin her Stack back up in VR, where she’s apparently stuck reliving her attack, over and over. No-one would ever think the king of beating hearts under the floorboards would bring a damaged girl back from the brink and teach her to kick so much ass, but there you have it. Even Lizzie’s mom, who shows up in an unusual Sleeve, while she may not entirely approve of the methods Poe uses, cannot argue with the results. Armed with these unique helpers, Takeshi Kovacs will use any and all methods at his disposal to discover the real truth behind the murder of Laurens Bancroft, no matter who it hurts, no matter what else his investigation might uncover, and then finally, finally, he might get to go back on ice and just rest.
Like the future existence of Bladerunner crossed with the culturisms and snark of The Fifth Element, Altered Carbon is a world rife with intrigue, mystery, twisted love and rueful pain, and never-ending possibilities. Altered Carbon season two, based on the second book Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan, is already slated for production, though rumor has it Kinnaman won’t be returning for the lead role of Takeshi Kovacs. Given the Sleeving abilities of the world, the show can certainly do that and even get away with it, but without Kinnaman’s brooding twinkles it may be slightly less enjoyable.
Download a Sleeve and jack in to Altered Carbon on Netflix now!
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.