After Altered Carbon turned heads with its biggest easter egg of Season 1 — a sneaky seven-pointed star from Game of Thrones — the production had to get a little craftier with the things it hides in plain sight. Although the Netflix show has retained the convention of naming episodes after classic 1930s and ‘40s movies — some of which directly reference the plot — Episode 8, “Broken Angels,” actually refers to the second book in author Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs series, on which Altered Carbon is based. Accordingly, there are more than a few nods to the books, including easter eggs, callbacks, and notes — let’s start with those.
If you ever thought that the A.I. character Poe was the best part of Altered Carbon — the TARDIS to Tak’s Doctor Who, the Al/Ziggy to Tak’s Sam Beckett — pay attention to his sticky notes. As his memory deteriorates, Poe starts leaving little self-reminders all over the bar and monitor console.
Some are mundane to-do tasks, needed to keep the hotel operational (“Sanitize carpet,” “Place rat traps,” “Restock angostura bitters”), and some are necessary to provide more protection (“Review trusted networks,” “Script new hacker defenses,” “Restock first aid kit,” “Buy actual first aid kit”). Others are memory joggers about his longtime “guest” — details about Tak’s new combat sleeve (“Metabolic filter,” “Hyper mobility,” “Transgene splicing”), Tak’s mission to find Quellcrist Falconer (“It’s been 30 years,” “War = Harlans vs Quellist Uprising”), and Poe’s own mission to remember someone (“Lizzie”).
As Poe becomes ever more dependent on external cues (“Check supply of sticky notes,” “Buy more sticky notes”), he grapples with the serious consequences of failing to share the info on the “Biotracker” sticky note in time (“Mr. Kovacs to be killed tonight”), but he still finds time to be silly (“New handwriting fonts?”, “Are balloons a hoax?”). This is why we love this guy, right?
POETRY IN MOTION
Poe — or Eddie, as we like to call him — is of course modeled on Edgar Allan Poe, which is pretty clear from his reciting of the original Poe’s “Evening Star” in Episode 1 and “The Fall of the House of Usher” in Episode 4. His fellow A.I., Dig 301, has adopted the more poetic moniker Annabel, after the writer’s love interest.
Poe’s hotel in Season 1 was called the Raven, but since he’s glitching in Season 2, his new hotel is not an exact replica of that prior establishment.
“It’s off-kilter,” showrunner Alison Schapker explains to SYFY WIRE. “It’s as if the Raven collapsed in on itself, so it becomes the Nevermore. It has a different footprint. The bar is in the lobby now.”
One signature touch from the original Raven was carried over to the Nevermore — the shower drains, which always seem to run with blood in Altered Carbon. In the showers of Season 1, the drain featured a figure/ground optical illusion — Poe’s face and shoulders in the middle of two focal ravens. In Season 2’s Nevermore showers, the drain bears a new image between the two ravens (Episode 5).
“The blood goes down the drain, and the tile has changed,” Schapker says. “It’s now a skull.” Ominous!
Tak’s time in the Circle in Episode 3 — in which he’s forced to fight synth replicas of people extracted from his memory — is a major callback in itself. In his dazed state, Tak has to confront what happened with Kristin Ortega, Vernon Elliot, and Reileen in Season 1. But during the tech prep, Tak got in a little jab at his tormentor, when the extraction team could only find one visual to pull from his mind — an image of a naked Carrera riding a rather cute unicorn.
“We did a Hello Unicorn shout-out,” Schapker says, referring to the logo on Tak’s ubiquitous child-sized pink backpack from Season 1, now a must-have cosplay item. On the show, Tak was given the satchel to store drugs, but he started using it to hold weapons, and ultimately used it as a weapon itself. There’s something pretty funny about this combination of innocence and brutality, so go ahead, laugh if you want. But given the rather sexual nature of the Season 2 image, Hello Unicorn is probably not on track to replace Hello Kitty anytime soon.
Some of Altered Carbon’s dialogue is taken straight out of the books, but some of it has been ... altered. Character names, like Jack Soul Brasil, have now been put in new contexts. In the book, Jack is a rebel and a surfer who argued against the Renouncers living in a dream world, who argued for living in the real world; in the show, he’s the leader of the Renouncers. Thought leaders like Wycinski now get props for different theories. In the book, Wycinski is connected to hub theory, a complicated concept regarding astronavigation; in the show, to a hypothesis that there were Elder guardians, when Trepp’s wife Myka tries to decipher the Elder nursery rune. Hey, at least they get shout-outs!
Vintage battles are cited, too — Millsport’s “violent Quellist attack” from 300 years ago gets a mention as a historical footnote, although in the books this was notable as the event in which Quellcrist Falconer disappeared (not Stronghold, as in the show). Carrera claims to be “the man who burned Innenin,” which is the battle that haunts Tak in the books (again, not Stronghold, as in the show). It was a battle that the Protectorate lost, when the Rawling Virus was unleashed on them. So it seems a little odd to hear Carrera claim responsibility for, essentially, killing his own men. But then again, the idea of the Envoys has been swapped from the books as well. Instead of an elite Protectorate force, they’re Quellists in the show, so why couldn’t Innenin now be a battle that the Protectorate won?
The biggest book namecheck was supposed to have been Micky Nozawa — an action star of the 25th century, famous for such films as Siren Fist Demons and The Fist of the Fleet. (His flying kicks are said to be pure poetry.) But he’s also more than a movie star — he’s the inspiration for Tak’s "Micky" nickname in Woken Furies. Schapker had originally planned a little nod to that factoid in Episode 1, where the trailer of Micky’s new film Fists of Fate plays in Harlan’s Plaza, but it wasn’t executed to her liking.
“I wanted a shout-out,” she says, “but I messed up. I forgot to put his name on the screen. I didn’t use the piece that had his name on the screen, so it might not have come across!”