In episode 7, present day Tak lies unconscious while Rei heals him. He spends the time reliving his memories of their shared past, so that his brain can try to fit this new development into place. Tak and the audience discover some missing puzzle pieces about present day mysteries as well. None of it is encouraging.
Tak’s voiceover: “The danger of living too many times is you forget to fear death. We dismiss the Grim Reaper as a quaint metaphor. But fearing death- it’s good for you.”
Young Rei sits on the floor in the Kovacs family kitchen on Harlan’s World. Her father tells her to take off her necklace, but she refuses because it was her mother’s. It’s a pendant in the shape of the infinity snake that matches the tattoos Rei and Tak will get on their forearms as adults.
Their father, Jakub, hurls vicious insults at Rei as she and Tak watch him haul her mother’s body to the edge of an industrial coolant pit and thrown it in. The coolant with disintegrate the body and destroy the evidence of her murder.
Before Jakub can do the same thing to Rei, Tak shoots him in the stack from behind, killing their father instantly. Rei is scared that he’ll be arrested and taken away, but Tak asks her to trust him.
The next time we see Tak, he’s in a VR interrogation room with Jaeger, cuffed to the chair he’s sitting in.
Jaeger: Why did you kill your Father? You’re just a kid, and you blew his stack out.
Tak: He deserved it.
Jaeger: Because he beat up your sister?
Tak: He wasn’t going to stop. He killed my mother.
Jaeger: Cops say your mom ran away.
Tak: Cops are stupid. I told them what happened. He dumped them in the coolant pool. There was no body. Nothing left. So they didn’t believe me.
Jaeger: I believe you. The Settled Worlds are full of lawlessness. Killers, rapists, slavers, gangs. They leave behind victims. Innocents. We travel between planets. Protect our citizens.
Tak: Mister, I’ve got nothing left for you to take. They took my body, probably sold it off already. What do you want?
Jaeger: To recruit you. Colonial Tactical Assault Corps.
Tak: You’re CTAC?
Jaeger: Looking at you, I see potential. I can make something out of you son.
Tak: What about my sister? I did what I did because of Rei. I want her safe.
Jaeger: You’ve never been able to trust anyone, have you? Son, We are The Protectorate. We protect. I’ll see to it she’s placed in a good family. That she gets a good life with people who will love her and treat her well. You have my word.
(That first part is a totally strange, manipulative answer. Why on earth would Tak trust him right now? I wish they would’ve had Tak show some hesitation about joining Jaeger, to see what approach Jaeger would’ve taken next. But obviously he wants to convince Tak to think of him as his new father figure.)
Tak: What happens next? Will I get my body back?
Jaeger: I’ll requisition it for the core. You can use it if you ever come back.
Tak: Where am I going?
Jaeger: You’re casting off this planet with me. Train on different worlds, in different sleeves. This time tomorrow, you’ll be in a man’s body, and no one will ever hurt you or yours again.
Tak: Off-planet? What about Rei?
Jaeger: You disconnect from this life. Anyone who knows what you are will be in danger.
Tak: I have to tell her!
Jaeger: If you want her to be safe, you’re never going to be able to see her again. Trust me.
Jaeger just told Tak that no one would ever hurt “you or yours again”, but now Tak can’t be close to anyone. Which is it? Plus, the picture keeps blurring in and out, making it look even more like Tak was drugged into compliance, Then there’s the fact that he’s in a high stress situation in which he feels like he can’t say no, and is a child who isn’t old enough to give clear consent for something like joining the military.
Jaeger must have spies who keep an eye out for violent child criminals with little to no family so he can recruit them into his special ops unit. Once he resleeves them, no one can tell that they started out as child soldiers. He becomes the parent they never had, ensuring their loyalty. That also must make Tak’s betrayal sting all the more, since he’s the father that saved Tak from prison and made him an elite soldier. Jaeger would feel that Tak owes him his life.
Important question: Is Jaeger still alive in the present day? He seemed pretty well set up with the clones and backups. He also doesn’t seem like a guy who’d forget a grudge.
In the present day, Tak is mortally wounded from the fight with Dimi at Fightdrome. Rei has taken him to her house to tend to him. When he comes to, she tells him that his sleeve is going to die. It’s covered in lacerations, bleeding internally, gone septic, and drugged with Reaper, which is counteracting her efforts to save him.
She tries to give him an injection to kill the sleeve, so that she can resleeve him more quickly, but he stops her and insists that she fight to save it. Rei argues with him, but gives in after he passes out again. Odds are good that she was eager to kill the sleeve because it’s Ryker’s, as well as to get Tak back into a sleeve that looks like her brother, her stated motivation.
Being with Rei causes Tak to remember his previous life with her. He dreams of when they were young children playing on Harlan’s World.
When Tak wakes up, his superficial wounds are healed, and he looks much better, though he’s still sick and weak. Rei comes to sit next to him again and they press their matching tattoos against each other, proof that they are who they say they are. The tattoos match the pendant on their mother’s necklace.
Tak says that Rei was supposed to be dead, and she says that it didn’t take. They reminisce about how long it’s been since they were together (Rei says 250 years-shouldn’t it be more?) and how gaijin he looks. (Gaijin is Japanese for foreign and can be used as an insult.)
Tak asks how Rei survived the shuttle explosion that he thought killed her at the end of the battle of Stronghold. She tells him that an archaeology student found her stack and some genetic material among the wreckage, and resleeved her in a synth. She took off with her genetic material, made her fortune and her clones, and has been on her own since then. Tak caresses her face and tells her she’s not alone any more.
Then he passes out again. He dreams about the first time he cast back to Harlan’s World after joining CTAC, about 25 years after he left as a child. He cast into his birthsleeve, now a grown man who had been used by others in his absence.
As Tak looks over his sleeve and gets to know it again, Jaeger describes their mission.
Jaeger: This team has been thrown together from who was available on cast. ReAc for half day, then we stand up at 0300. Kovacs, how does it feel to be back in your original skin?
Kovacs: Lot more mileage than I expected. Reflexes still good.
Jaeger: Thank the Corps for keeping it in shape.
CTAC Grunt: Who is this guy, he gets a retread?
Kovacs: It’s my home world. First time I’ve been back since I joined up.
Jaeger: The target is a yakuza kumicho by the name of Gottfried Saito. Domestic terror, murder, prostitution, and he doesn’t pay his taxes. They need to be taught a very public lesson. The must-kill is Saito. Slag his stack. Everyone else is kill as kill can. Most kills, most days off, most bonus money. Even you guys could figure out how that works.
Once they get to the mission site, Jaeger puts Kovacs on Saito, which means he’s in the lead. Once they’ve shot their way into the building, Tak shoots his way past the worst of the enemy, and makes it into the room where Saito is. He’s approaching Saito when Rei sneaks up behind him and tells him to put his weapon down.
Tak recognizes her necklace as having been his mother’s, and asks where she got it. Then he takes off his mask, and they both realize who they must be looking at. Rei asks where Tak’s been, just as a Praetorian approaches from behind to kill her, and Saito tries to kill Tak. Rei kills Saito, and Tak kills the Praetorian.
They take a long look at each other, decide that they’re in it together again, and start firing at everyone else. They fight throughout the warehouse. When they’re done, only Tak and Rei are left standing.
They go to a bar to discuss their options and catch up. Rei was sold to the yakuza rather than being adopted by a good home, which Jaeger had to know. Now both the yakuza and CTAC will be out to kill both of them. Tak decides they should hide out in the woods they used to frequent.
Rei and Tak hike into the forest where they played as children. Rei says that she used to think that the Patchwork Man lived out there.
They hike for hours, until they are deep in an isolated area. Rei gets worried that they’re lost, but Tak sees Songspire roots growing across a boulder and knows exactly where he is. They will follow the roots east to get to the caves.
Tak admires the way the Songspire roots thread through the boulders. He wonders if the Elders designed it that way, to create underground structures with branches as scaffolding? Rei isn’t impressed with his thought process. He’s barely talked to her for hours, and now he’s talking about rocks.
She wants to keep moving, but Tak insists they stop for the night. They talk about their plan, and Rei says she’d want to find allies, but they just killed everyone they know, so… Tak bursts out laughing and Rei joins him. She tells him how much she missed him. He tells her that he’s sorry for leaving her behind. She asks why he did. They both cry and hug.
Modern Tak’s voiceover: “Death isn’t only about the destruction of the body. Sometimes, just like that, you extinguish one self, and another is born. But every birth is violent and there’s no death without pain.”
Quell and the rebels sneak up on them while they’re sleeping. Rei tells him she doesn’t care if she dies, he should try to escape. But Quell knows that he cares too much about Rei to risk her life. Tak is knocked out.
He wakes up tied alone in the middle of a long foot bridge over a ravine, with guards at either end. DeSoto, one of Quell’s Envoys, wants to kill Tak before they even talk to him. Quell can think of better uses for a former CTAC SpecOps soldier.
She approaches Tak and lets him know that she knows exactly who he is and why he and Rei are on the run. Word has spread all over Harlan’s World. Their faces are all over the wanted beacons with a high bounty attached.
Tak says that he knows who she is, too. She tells him she’d be disappointed if he didn’t. Rei is fine and being given something to eat.
Quell says that between Rei and Tak, they “know the secret workings of crime and government, which are more or less the same.”
Quell: On some level, you know we’re on the same side. The enemy of my enemy–
Tak: Is just one more person who might knife me in my sleep.
Quell: You’re a little cynical, Takeshi Kovacs.
Tak: I’m tied up. I’d say I have reason to be.
Quell: Join us. Make a difference.
Tak: Nothing makes a difference. I’m done fighting in this war.
Quell: War is like any other bad relationship. You want out, but at what price.
Tak: If they knew an Uprising base was on Harlan’s World, they’d tear apart this planet to find you. Aren’t you worried I’ll tell them?
Quell (cuts Tak free): No.
Tak: If I killed you, the Protectorate would forgive everything.
Quell: Do you want their forgiveness? The innocent, the person you were before all this, he’s still there. I see the boy inside the man. Tell me something, Takeshi Kovacs, what did the Protectorate take from you?
Quell: What would you do for revenge?
Quell: That’s a good start. (She begins to walk away.)
Tak: You don’t want me. Don’t you understand what CTAC does to make someone like me? They burn out every evolved violence-limitation instinct in the human psyche. And they replace it with the conscious will to do harm.
Quell: And yet you haven’t hurt me.
Tak: I might still.
Quell (turning back to him): No, you won’t, Kovacs. You’re only pretending to be one of the monsters.
Tak and Rei are taken to Stronghold, the Uprising hideout and base of operations. Rei told Quell she’d stay if Tak stays, but she doesn’t particularly want to stay. Now, she makes Tak promise: From here on out, family, no matter what. He repeats her words- Family, no matter what. The next order of business is finding their weapons.
They’re surprised to discover that Stronghold is more than just a military base. It’s filled with families and children living their daily lives, and a beautiful, tall Songspire tree grows toward the sun in the center of the cave.
Without them having to ask, Quell tells them to see DeSoto about getting their weapons back. They’ll start Envoy training the next day. But despite them living and training side by side with the rebels, it takes a long time for trust to develop.
We’ve seen pieces of Quell’s Envoy training in earlier episodes, always geared toward viewing the mind and other people as the most important tools available, while shunning the material world as unreliable and burdensome. Drugs and physical weapons are useful, but can’t replace the strength and determination of the mind that wields them. Even other people eventually become expendable, and we are reminded of this over and over.
Quell: CTAC troops shoot themselves up with reacclimation drugs to try to make the sleeve obey them. But none of their techniques touch the pure mind, and that is what you must control. Master yourself, and you can ride any skin, anywhere in the galaxy, at a moment’s notice.
The scene switches to the training session in the woods that’s been shown in part in multiple previous episodes. Quell brandishes a handgun and tells her students that they must learn the weakness of weapons. When Tak scoffs at her, she tosses the gun to him, and tells him to shoot her in the stack. When Tak refuses to shoot her, she throws a gun to her righthand man Jimmy DeSoto, and a knife somewhere in the crowd. She tells both men to work together to bring her down. But they hate and would rather shoot each other.
As the two men draw on each other, Quell leaps between them and uses hand to hand skills to disarm them, ending with Tak pinned to the ground. She reminds them that the sleeve and the weapons are tools. They aren’t what gives you power.
As Quell finishes talking, Rei fires on her from behind. Without turning, Quell shoots the gun out of Rei’s hand. Quell tells them all, “You are the weapon. You are the killer and destroyer.” Then she turns to Rei and says, “You had the right idea. But next time, if you wanna save someone you love, move faster.” Rei answers, “I’ll remember that.”
After Quell lets Tak up, she gives the speech about the strength of the wolf being in the pack. She tells them to gain the loyalty of a few capable locals wherever they go, even if the locals will ultimately be expendable. They are Envoys. They take what is offered.
Eventually, Rei and Tak start going on missions with the Envoys.
Tak: These are the access protocols on the CTAC barracks on Taurus 4.
Vidaura: The secure military R&D facility?
Tak: They leave the backdoor open on a squad of combat sleeves, just in case the locals ever breach security and get inside. It’s a fail-safe.
Okuluv: So we’re casting into Protectorate meat primed on the slab?
DeSoto: Or we’re walking into a trap.
Rei: You trying to say something about my brother, DeSoto?
DeSoto: You can’t f*ckin’ trust him. How can you trust him?
Quell: Because he gave us the intel that’s getting us in. We’re going for the site database. Where we’ll download the security specs on the facility listed here. Then we blow the database, make it look like simple sabotage. They won’t even know we took anything.
The team needlecasts out to the facility, then back to base. DeSoto is back first, upset because Tak made him leave first, potentially sacrificing himself to whatever the threat was. After a very long minute, Tak comes back as well. Rei and DeSoto are happy and mad at the same time, but Quell, who’d been staring in silence at Tak’s chamber the whole time, looks shocked at her own actions.
At dinner that night, DeSoto rushes in and sits down next to Tak. He tells Tak that they need to be clear: he could have gotten in and out without Tak’s help. He’ll never need Tak’s help. Are they completely clear on that? Tak doesn’t answer. DeSoto takes a swig from his flask, then hands it to Tak. Tak takes a swallow, too. DeSoto laughs, everyone laughs, and everything is fine. Men. 🤷🏻♀️
Quell and Rei are also at the table. Both watch the interaction, and draw very different conclusions from it. Rei sees her brother being happy and settling in, but won’t stop watching out for his safety. Quell sees a team that has bonded and is ready for the final, and most important, step in her plan.
Tak is unaware of the machinations going on around him.
Tak’s voiceover: I can’t remember all the things Quell taught me. It was like oxygen, soaking into me. She gave me the life I never had.
It’s not long before Quell is ready to make Tak pay for his good times.
Quell: I have lied to you. We cannot win a conventional war against this enemy because it’s not the Protectorate we’re fighting. It’s immortality itself. The creation of stacks was a miracle and the beginning of the destruction of our species. A hundred years from now, a thousand, I can see what we will become. And it’s not human. A new class of people so wealthy and powerful they answer to no one and cannot die. Death was the ultimate safeguard against the darkest angels of our nature. Now, the monsters among us will own everything, consume everything, control everything. They will make themselves gods and us slaves in all but name.
Tak: You see what I see?
Rei: Pretty much never. I hate that intuition shit.
Quell: Civilization is at a tipping point. We are riding the fulcrum between hope and oblivion.
Rei: What do you see?
Quell: If we do not stop the curse of eternal life in our realm, our children will inherit despair. The ebb and flow of life is what makes us all equal in the end. The Uprising must end Immortality.
Vidaura: You’re talking about bringing back real death.
DeSoto: What about you?
Quell: I’m prepared to die to reset the balance. That’s my decision. You have to decide for yourselves. I’ve created a program called Acheron that downloads into DHF and rewrites it, giving every mind exactly 100 years. No matter how rich and powerful you are, death will no longer be optional.
Gomez: But how is that even possible?
Tak: You’d have to download the program into every stack on all the Settled Worlds at the same time.
Quell: I’ll run a DA mission into the on-planet Protectorate garrison here. Steal the casting source codes for the Central Core. Once we bring back the codes…
Tak: You’ll use the codes to cast into the Central Core.
Quell: Full mobilization. The Uprising will fight our way in and spike the Core with Acheron. It will spread into every DHF in every system.
Vidaura: Nobody’s ever come back from the Central Core.
Quell: I’m not planning on coming back.
Rei: You’re asking us to die.
Quell: I’m asking you to embrace being human. We aren’t meant to live forever. It corrupts even the best of us.
The camera looks straight at Rei when Quell says this.
Quell tells the crowd that anyone who wants to leave can go, she won’t stop them. The mission of the people who stay will be to save humanity. She stands and asks if the crowd is with her. In a world where living multiple lifetimes is entirely possible and immortality has been achieved by a few, asking the crowd to agree to limit everyone’s life to 100 years is a radical action. And that’s in addition to the fact that it’s a suicide pact for some of them.
At first, everyone is still and silent. Tak is the first to raise his fist in solidarity, then others from her inner circle join in. After a moment, the rest of the crowd raises their fists as well. Rei is the very, very last, clearly only bowing to peer pressure.
Quell needs a 5 person team for the first stage of the plan, the raid on the garrison on Harlan’s World. Quell’s usual core group, including Tak, Jimmy DeSoto, Vidaura, and Okulov volunteer. Rei tries to stop Tak, but he wants to make a difference.
They break into the garrison at night. Quell is able to upload the data she needs easily. Everything goes smoothly until the last moment, as they are almost past the perimeter on their way out.
Something trips an alarm and a force field goes up between Tak, who was guarding the rear, and everyone else. A squad of Praetorians appears immediately. Quell doesn’t want to leave Tak, but there’s no other choice. As she’s being dragged away, the Praetorians use an energy weapon to knock him out.
When Tak wakes up, he’s back in the same VR program that Jaeger used to recruit him when he was a child. It also looks distorted in exactly the same ways that it did when he was a child. Since Quell is going to tell him in a minute that he’s drugged, it’s safe to say that Jaeger drugged him as a child as well. It’s not like Jaeger plays fair.
Jaeger spends a little time gloating that they’ve captured Tak, and a little time nostalgically marveling that it’s been 28 years since they were last in that “room”. Then he goes for the fatherly neck hold as he asks if the woman with Tak was his sister.
Tak isn’t 12 anymore and Jaeger’s routine doesn’t work on him. He gives sarcastic replies in return. Jaeger repeatedly smashes Tak’s face into the table. Then he manifests a knife and threatens to cut Tak’s nose off. Quell appears and fights Jaeger off. She tells Tak that they can’t pull him out of VR because of the drugs, so he’s going to have to get himself out. She begs and bullies Tak into pulling himself out while she also fights Jaeger. Tak is dazed, but finally manages it.
They wake up in the real with the whole team waiting to help him escape. Jimmy runs over to give him a helping hand.
Back at Stronghold, Tak and Rei play a game while Rei tells Tak off for getting captured and for planning to go through with the next mission. Tak is impressed that the team rescued him. No one has done that before. Rei claims that they only went back for him because Quell ordered them to, so that he wouldn’t give away her plans when tortured. Rei says that everything Quell does is calculated. None of her feelings are real. It’s all move-countermove. Pretty sure Rei’s actually talking about herself here.
Quell is the equivalent of a general fighting a war. Of course every move is calculated. It’s called strategy. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t also have human emotions. Tak tells Rei that she’s exaggerating. Rei says that Tak’s naive.
She asks him to consider that Quell could be wrong. Maybe the Protectorate will find a way around her program, and all of this will have been for nothing. Rei doesn’t want them to die when they’ve had so little time together. Tak says he’s not leaving, no matter what. Rei moves away from him, and he follows. He asks her what they are, and she gives the expected answer when that question is asked between the two of them: We’re family. But Tak corrects her with Quell’s answer: We’re Envoys, and we have a job to do. If he hadn’t lost her already, that exchange just did it.
Tak finds Quell sitting on the beach, writing in the journal that Laurens gave him in episode 1.
Are we ready for this scene, knowing how things end up for them? Get your tissues, or a friend, or whatever you need, because it’s a killer.
He sits down a view feet away from her, giving her a knowing smile. He reminds her that she saved him, when no one else ever has. She tries to keep her walls up, and says, “Why wouldn’t I?” He asks about her journal, and she tries to make it sound impersonal, saying it contains the names of the fallen, and other things she should know by now. Then she reminds him that she plans to be dead the next day.
Tak tries to apologize for bringing their group and her plans to the attention of the Protectorate, but Quell won’t let him. She confesses that everything is her fault. She invented stacks and created the whole mess. Tak is confused, because stacks were invented by a woman named Nadia Makita.
This is why he needs to work with a
smarter more devious partner. Years on the run, and it doesn’t occur to him that someone can change their name.
Quell/Nadia gives him a look and he figures it out.
Nadia: I wanted to be an explorer, see other worlds with my own eyes, but one life wasn’t enough time to see the stars, so I found a way to transfer the human consciousness between bodies, and in that creation, soar. Suddenly anyone could travel distances beyond imagination faster than light, and no one would ever be limited by one lifetime again. (Tak: That’s…That’s beautiful.) Rome was a town of refugee cattle herders, but it became the most powerful empire of ancient earth. Do you know how? Roads. Roads were the technology that let them send their armies all over the world. I thought I was freeing the human spirit, but I was building the roads for Rome. Eternal life for those who can afford it means eternal control over those who can’t. That is the gift I gave humanity. And that is the reason we are all going to die. So stop looking at me like I’m a hero, because I am not.
Tak: I can’t stop looking at you. I won’t.
He goes to her and kisses her. After a moment, she stops and says they can’t. He says, “Forget heroes and monsters. You’re the woman who set me free.”
The kiss is initiated by both of them this time. They spend the night on the beach, making love all night.
When Tak wakes up at dawn, he writes a poem on a page in Quell’s journal, amongst the branches of a drawing of a Sunspire tree.
It’s the poem and the page that he turned to, when Laurens handed him the journal in episode 1, more than 250 years later. This is the stuff epic romances are made of.
Tak puts the book down and turns to embrace Quell as she wakes up. As he does so, Rei appears and sees them together. She realizes that they’ve become even closer, and runs away.
Tak tells Quell that he’ll go talk to Rei. Quell reminds him that their mission to the Central Core begins in less than 5 hours. Then she tells him that their night together wasn’t a mistake. He agrees with her. They kiss one more time, and he leaves to go find Rei.
Meanwhile, people are starting to feel strange back at the base.
In the present day, Tak wakes up. Rei tells him that she saved the sleeve, but he’s still weak. He’ll have to juice up if he wants to get back his fighting capabilities quickly. She offers him Goliath, a CTAC stim that works great if it doesn’t make you stroke out. One last attempt to kill the sleeve? Tak refuses the stim, anyway.
He asks what she’s been doing for the last 250+ years. She tells him that she went back to Harlan’s World, but everything had changed. She’s found the constant change the hardest thing to get used to. Nothing survives. Tak takes Rei’s hand and says, “Nothing but us.” She gives him a faint smile.
In the past, Tak runs through the forest calling for Rei, but she doesn’t answer. Fighter jets fly overhead. Tak runs back to the caves, knowing that Stronghold must be under attack.
When he gets there, almost everyone is already dead and the cave is covered in ash and rubble from CTAC weapons. The Songspire tree is dead.
He sees Vidaura, who is terribly injured, in the back of the cave and goes to her. She rambles incomprehensibly about monsters and enemies, until Okulov, also seriously wounded, wanders near. Then Vidaura jumps up and shoots Okulov in the head. Vidaura says, “It was us. The enemy was us,” and falls down, dead. Tak stands looking at them in shock. How could this have happened so quickly?
Rei shouts at Tak over the coms, trying to find out what’s happening. Tak tells her to get to the shuttle bay. As he’s talking, Jimmy DeSoto grabs his ankle. DeSoto’s left eye is gone. He wrenchingly tells Tak that he did it to himself, but he doesn’t know why.
Just as Tak helps DeSoto stand so that they can get out, Jaeger and a squad of Praetorians enter the cave. Tak and DeSoto hide behind a table, but DeSoto is screaming uncontrollably with pain and madness. He thinks he’s in VR and can’t get to the next screen. Tak has no choice but to shoot DeSoto in the stack, so that the Protectorate can’t capture and torture him and Tak can at least escape.
Tak makes the emotionally devastating shot, grabs the biggest gun he sees, and runs for it. He makes it out to the burning forest (we’ve seen shots of this in previous episodes) and radios Quell and Rei. He tells them that Stronghold has fallen. Quell and Rei have made it to the high footbridge where Tak first woke up after being captured by Quell. From his position on the ground behind a large boulder, he can see Quell on Echo Bridge in the distance.
Quells asks him what happened. He tells her that CTAC were in the caves, but before that there was a viral strike with direct stack download. The virus caused everyone to go crazy and kill each other. Quell recognizes it as Rawling virus, and says that the three of them must have been out of range.
Tak orders the other two to get to the shuttle so that they can still complete the mission. They still have a chance to escape the planet and deploy Acheron. He’ll lead CTAC off so that they have time to escape. Rei and Quell argue with Tak at first, but then accept that he’s right. Before she runs from the bridge, Quell orders Tak to, “Survive!”
Jaeger hears Tak talking with Quell and they exchange fire, then Tak keeps running. He stops to watch the shuttle take off, happy that Jaeger won’t be able to get Rei or Quell. But his happiness is only momentary, because the shuttle is quickly targeted and shot out of the sky. Quell screams for Tak as it explodes. Tak falls to his knees, his world destroyed.
But Quell ordered him to survive, so at some point, he finds a hiding spot, lies flat and still on the ground, and lets himself be covered with falling ash. The ash confuses the Praetorians’ devices, so they can’t find him. Jaeger is furious, yelling to the forest that he’ll find Tak, no matter how far he runs, or how long, or how many sleeves he goes through, or how many planets he casts to, or how many other people Jaeger has to kill in the meantime. He’ll always be there, a few steps behind Tak, hunting him down.
Sorry, got a little carried away with the evil villain references. This part really called for a Jean Valjean/Javert style duet. Maybe when they make Altered Carbon: The Musical. Renée Elise Goldsberry can keep her Fantine-type role when it moves to the stage, and sing a song about the dreams she dreamed when she created stacks.
Anyway, once the Praetorians are gone, Tak rises from the ashes like a very sad phoenix and looks around. Ashes swirl around his head as he turns and walks away.
Present day Tak sits on Rei’s couch and broods. Hallucinatory fireflies swirl like the ashes after Stronghold. Rei is finishing saying something about Dimi: “Apparently, he was a real pain in the ass. Nobody liked him. I heard you decapitated him. I mean, a head’s portable, I guess…”
Tak interrupts her to ask how Quell died when the shuttle exploded. That seems like a question that answers itself, but maybe there’s some nuance that I’m missing. Rei tells him that everything happened fast and she can’t remember, which should be a realistic answer, but maybe stacks don’t have memory lapses the way injured, traumatized brains do.
Tak’s hallucinatory fireflies have been hovering around Rei off and on throughout the episode. His Envoy intuition tells him that it’s time to do some investigating, so he says he’s going to splash his face with some water. He follows the fireflies where they lead him, as he hears Quell’s voice chanting “hallucinations, displacement, retreat” again, the brain’s coping mechanisms when it’s under duress. “You have to fight the despair,” Quell continues.
He’s led into a clone storage room, with three waiting clones: Clarissa, the art and antiquities dealer who convinced Laurens to hire Tak and get him out of prison (who also put a human stack in a snake); Hemingway, the handler for Tanaka, Dimi and Ghostwalker; and the little girl from the Quell-Envoy exhibit at the museum, who told Tak about someone stealing her best friend. Rei has been following Tak around all season, secretly interacting with him. She’s also been the one giving the orders to Dimi and Ghostwalker, and paying Tanaka to look the other way. This is probably the tip of the iceberg, given that Clarissa is the one who said, “Laws don’t apply to people like us.”
Flashback to the shuttle, just before it crashed: As the shuttle leaves its bay in the mountainside, Quell realizes that Rei has programmed in the wrong escape route. Rei pulls out a knife and attacks Quell. They fight. Quell stabs Rei in the stomach. Rei pulls out some kind of device and activates it. Quell asks, “Why?” Rei answers, “They gave me life,” as she triggers the device. Two red streaks of light intersect each other where they hit the shuttle as it explodes. The streaks go through the shuttle, both toward the sky and toward the ground.
Quell says, “Tak!” just before she’s consumed by flames.
It’s not clear whose memory this flashback is. Is it what Tak imagines happened, Rei’s real memory, or the lie she’s pieced together by the time Tak is done questioning her? My current guess is that it’s her current lie, but she does remember the explosion. She’s been lying to him and toying with him for the entire season. Lying is her native language now.
In the present day, Tak says to Rei, “There’s only one reason why you wouldn’t remember what happened. You were backed up before the explosion.” Rei responds, “I never could lie to you.” (Ironic lie about lying.)
Tak: “Why would you do that?”
Rei: “That’s what she asked. I told her it was because they gave me life. But the truth is, Big Brother, I did it all for you.”
I’m not clear on who Rei was working for when she escaped Stronghold- was she a CTAC spy, or was she still in the yakuza? Or both? Is Jaeger in league with the yakuza? Who gave Rei life? I assume that we (and Tak) are supposed to think she meant the yakuza, and that she only turned back to them when Tak started signing up for suicide missions.
It’s clear that nothing Rei says can be trusted to be the truth. She likely sold the Uprising out to Jaeger with the condition she and Tak would live, but when? The most obvious time for her to betray them would be after Tak told her they were Envoys instead of family and refused to leave with her, but that seems too close to the attack for her to have gotten word to Jaeger and him to have planned and executed the attack. But she was never on board with the Uprising and probably always had an escape plan in mind.
Did the red beams of light that were aimed at the shuttle also include transmissions to back up Quell and Rei? Since she probably does remember the explosion, that implies that she was backed up at the last moment. Was it supposed to be Tak in the shuttle with her? Does Rei have clones ready for Tak? It seems like part of her deal to sell out the Uprising would have included backups and clones for him as well.
It seems strange for the show to put so much time into Quell and not back her up. It sounds like stacks have been around for a long, long time, so Quell’s been keeping herself alive for the same amount of time. That would usually mean she would have her own backups, at the very least.
Clarissa’s snake represents Tak, and Rei’s disappointment in him, both when they were reunited on Harlan’s World and on earth.
This brings Dimi’s story about dogs put into human bodies from ep 6 into focus. The dogs are metaphors for people given immortality. We’re not meant for it, or for switching bodies, and can’t handle it long term.
Rei’s three extra clones are her ego, superego and id. Clarissa is the id, who does whatever she wants and fulfills her every desire- the rules don’t apply. The little girl is the conscience, who wonders if she should get over her grudge against the person who stole her best friend. Hemingway is the ego, the administrator who attends to business arrangements and keeps things stable, in control.
Did Rei keep Quell’s journal and get it to Laurens to give to Tak?
Rei must have been the one with the drone that was watching the night Tak spent with Miriam, since Leung was watching the video.
Quell invented stacks for idealistic reasons, but was too idealistic to realize what they could lead to. The Uprising was her way of righting the great wrong she started, but she failed. Neo-Catholicism is trying to right the same wrong, but is being used against its followers.
The implication seems to be that the Elder Civilization died out for the same reason that Quell predicts humans will die out, though we know almost nothing about them.
Tak was taken when he was 12 and turned into an adult soldier. He didn’t have a chance to grow up properly, so he’s wise beyond his years, like the resilient abused child that he is. At the same time, he’s naive and innocent, a person who doesn’t know what normal looks like, and has very little experience with real life as it is for most people. Quell says she sees the boy inside the man, the child who had to grow up too soon. Was that a ploy, as Rei thought, since recruiting child soldiers was probably common in the Protectorate, or was Quell being honest?
Quell gave Tak the normal life that he’d never had, living within a happy community, with friends and loved ones, being a person, rather than an abused child or a child soldier. She taught him how to be a person, and she especially helped him remember how to be a good person again. Then she did the thing no one had ever done for him, and took care of him when she didn’t have to by coming back for him, even going the extra mile to get him out of VR instead of leaving.
So in some ways, Laurens is right, Tak hasn’t put in the physical time that Laurens has. But Tak has made extreme sacrifices, over and over, for the people he cares about. Laurens never, ever chooses to sacrifice for others, even when presented with the option, and he does have options. He could move over and give his very capable son a chance. He could use his wealth to make the world a better place for real. Instead, he clutches everything to himself, as if ostentatious power and wealth are the keys to immortality.
Like Tolkien’s dragons, Meths are natural hoarders of valuable objects, whether they are of any use to the dragon or not. Everything and everyone count as an object to a Meth. And they will defend their useless hoard with possessive fire.
Which brings us back around to Laurens line to Tak in the plague city about hidden power. How much does Rei have, vs Laurens? She paid off Tanaka, controls Ghostwalker, sent the drone Tak’s room, and has had eyes and ears on this whole thing since Tak woke up. As Clarissa, she manipulated Laurens into hiring Tak and waking him up. Did she also shoot Laurens? She must have single cloning ability. All she’d need is a bit of DNA, which wouldn’t be hard to get, since bills are paid with DNA. Is Rei also the one who sold the DNA from Tak’s last sleeve to Carnage?
I forgot to ask again in ep 6- where was Laurens when Isaac was pretending to be him? Did they just drug him unconscious and stash him somewhere in Osaka?
Tak and Quell were close, always on the same wavelength, but they weren’t lovers until the end. She kept her distance because she knew she was working up to a suicide mission and didn’t want to have attachments. He was in love with her, and she likely was with him, but the work was always going to be first for her. He would have happily followed her anywhere, and did plan to follow her into death.
But Rei was jealous. She wanted to be Tak’s first choice the way he was hers. When they were reunited, she thought it would go back to being her and Tak alone, against the world. And she was angry that Tak would choose dying with Quell for what Rei considers a worthless cause, over living with Rei. For Rei, it was another huge betrayal in a life full of betrayal, but she didn’t have to accept this one. She could take control of the situation.
We’ve been seeing a romanticized version of Quell in Tak’s mind, the Quell she let him see during their last night together and who lived in her book. Quell did know how to manipulate people, as Rei suggested. She was working toward getting them all killed. But it also seemed like she really did care about Tak. Or was their last night together simply to keep him motivated to go through with the plan? There’s no doubt that she was self-loathing and didn’t think she deserved love, or a life after the completion of the mission. But was she as much of a calculating user as Rei thought, or was she a naturally charismatic leader who was trying to draw people to her just cause before it was too late? Or both?
In the end, she treated the Envoys like expendable locals. She trained them and cultivated their loyalty. She especially cultivated Tak, who had the specialized knowledge she needed to get to the heart of the Protectorate. When she knew that they had gelled as a group and enough of them would follow her to complete her mission, she presented her real objective. It took her many years to lay the ground work to get there.
But Quell didn’t count on Rei having another agenda and skills of her own, so Quell ignored and underestimated Rei. Quell was sincerely trying to right a terrible wrong that she’d started, and turned that into a cause that other people believed in. But it’s also true that she sprang a fully formed suicide mission on them at the 11th hour instead of working with her team to develop the best possible plan.
She had that plan from day one, and used people in a calculated way, rather than laying out the truth and trusting them to see the importance of stopping immortality. She didn’t give anyone else a crack at the problem. Rei was right about that much. From what we saw, she was the sole leader (“It’s not a democracy.”) and talked in mystical terms much of the time, making herself a mystical figure, basically a cult leader. She got them all to fall in love with her at least a little bit.
Rei recognized this more easily than Tak because the yakuza would have been run in a similar way, based on loyalty to the family-like organization and manipulative rewards for good work as much as it was on punishments. CTAC is much less personal, as we saw when Tak and the strike team cast in and hadn’t even met before.
Quell let Tak in more than anyone else, and he saw a side of her no one else saw. But she was doomed before she met him, from the crushing guilt of what her invention had already done and what she could see it doing in the future. She wasn’t capable of true love at that point, because something so much larger was eating her up. Tak could see that, and love her anyway. Rei could only see Quell’s calculating side, which every good leader and strategist has to have. Rei misinterpreted it as being the same narcissistic use of people that Rei herself indulges in.
Tak might have brought Quell’s softer side out more over time had they both lived, but she was much colder and detached in real life, much more singlemindedly about the mission than she is in his mind. She was also dedicated to her people, as a group, and to her cause, which was ultimately about saving all people.
Rei was an envoy too, so she has all of the skills that Tak does. She just isn’t dedicated to using them for good/honorable purposes. So she can control the construct in VR. She has Envoy intuition. (She denied it to him at Stronghold, but it would be too useful for her not to develop. A person like Rei would develop every skill she could.) She has the ability to quickly acclimate to cultures, languages and sleeves.
But the Envoys’ legendary reputation is strange compared to the reality of a few people living in a cave in the jungle. When were they going and doing all of this blending in? All we saw were guerilla missions to CTAC bases. There may have been other cells on other planets, and Stronghold was one of the last to fall, but the war and the timeline haven’t been shown clearly.
I also suspect that the legend of the Envoys was based mostly on Quell, the genius leader, and Tak, who was a superior soldier that eluded capture for years. Or was it decades, or even a century? That’s also not clear yet. The rest of the Envoys were good, but didn’t seem superhero level great, and seemed to have strengths and weaknesses like anyone else. It’s also possible that Rei purposely exaggerated the Envoy legends over time to raise Tak’s value.
Tak is torn between the three women in his life. Sometimes he’s literally torn and bloody. If he lets go of Quell and the past, he lets go of the best part of himself and his life, and the mission he believed in. He gives up. But if he doesn’t, he’s alone, with nothing and no one to live for.
If he chooses to move forward into the future with Ortega, he chooses rootlessness for himself, but he becomes part of her community, if they’ll ever accept him. He becomes part of her mission for justice, which he believes in. But the option to stay with Ortega might not be open, if they solve this case, since fully solving it should also exonerate Ryker.
If he chooses family and Rei, he’s also choosing the path of corruption and abusive, selfish violence that she chose- essentially following in the footsteps of his father. He’ll become everything he’s always hated, everything he hated about himself when he was with CTAC.
Could Rei be turned back toward the light? Could she ever have, or did she inherit their father’s temperament? And would she even let Tak go a third time? She’s very possessive of him, and just happens to have attacked and nearly killed his closest friend in this time, once again.
Who was Tak’s partner that Jaeger killed before he went to prison? Was it really a nobody? Her fighting style looked like Rei’s did when they fought CTAC and the yakuza together after they first met up again. Was that Rei but she didn’t tell Tak who she was? Did she set Tak up for capture that time? They had sex, so maybe not. Rei acts like an obsessive girlfriend though. Wouldn’t be surprised if sex with Tak would be a fantasy for her, especially since they spent their teenage years apart, with her likely being raped routinely and Tak being the type who would never do that.
I keep wondering about the original mission on Harlan’s World to kill Saito that reunited Tak and Rei. It was a thrown together strike team who didn’t know each other and had little time to acclimate to their sleeves. They had no time to train together. Yet this was a high priority, difficult to catch target. It doesn’t make sense to treat that kind of mission so casually, unless it was actually a set up.
Jaeger had to know that Tak’s sister had been sold to the yakuza. He might have even brokered the deal himself. He probably knew that she was close to Saito. He’d kept Tak off Harlan’s World for 25 years.
Why bring Tak back for a mission that had a high probability of bringing him into contact with his sister? Why put him in his birth sleeve to heighten the feelings of nostalgia, love and loss? Once Tak and Rei ran, why not search the areas that he would have played in when he was growing up?
I think it’s possible Rei was given a similar offer to Tak when she was a child, but she was turned into a CTAC spy placed with the yakusa. When she and Tak were reunited, CTAC wanted her to draw Tak into going AWOL and joining the Uprising. Jaeger knew that Tak was sincere enough to be drawn in by Quell’s cause, and that would get Rei in the door as well. He would act as a red herring to draw the rebels suspicions and attention away from Rei. She’d just be seen as a poorly trained yakuza nobody, compared to the 25 year CTAC vet. In reality, she might be a trained CTAC operative herself with years of experience working undercover alongside the yakuza.
Once Tak and Rei were admitted to the rebel group, they could learn everything about how the Envoys were trained to be such formidable fighters and what the plans for the uprising were. If necessary, Rei could quietly sabotage plans, or pass them on to CTAC to be stopped in a way that wouldn’t blow her cover, like the way Jaeger conveniently showed up at the end of the garrison mission.
Maybe Rei was always going to betray the Uprising when the time came, and was always in touch with the yakusa and CTAC. Tak wasn’t supposed to buy into the rebellion as wholeheartedly as he did. Part of her deal was that Tak get away at the end of the spy mission, and that’s why he got away. But Jaeger never promised he’d let Tak walk free after that. The ease with which Tak walked away from Jaeger’s command after 25 years of fighting together stung. Jaeger has his own personal score to settle.
Rei had enough money to become a Meth because she’d been amassing it from the time she and Tak were separated as children, then made much more for spying on the Uprising. Actually, part of her deal to spy on the uprising was probably that CTAC give him back to her, and having him be unaware of the plan was one less person to blow their cover.
Pages from Quell’s Journal:
Photo Credit: Netflix