The big question of the first season of Altered Carbon is: Who killed Laurens Bancroft?
In this fist season many supposedly unconnected storylines are all coming together at the end. There’s the murder of Laurens Bancroft to begin with. A girl named Mary Lou Henchy fell from the sky to her death. A girl named Lizzie Elliot is found dead in an alley and her Stack is corrupted so she’s driven insane. The story of Takeshi Kovacs and his new sleeve that belonged to Elias Ryker, a cop and partner of Kristin Ortega who was either a corrupt cop or framed. To answer the main question and at the same time solve all the other deaths, we have to go back to the beginning.
Takeshi Kovacs’ story, Quell and the Envoys
Takeshi Kovacs and his sister Reileen grew up in an abusive home. Their father killed their mother and out of self defense Tak killed his father. He then was recruited by Jaeger from CTAC a ruthless military corps, and his sister was placed in foster care. But years later when Tak was to take out a Yakuza boss he came across Rei, who was sold to the Yakuza by the orphanage. They decided to team up and fled to Harlan’s World.
In the forest they meet the rebellion leader Quellcrist Falconer and her team, the Envoys. Tak joins them and shares their beliefs to eradicate the Stacks, who Quell herself had invented in order to be able to travel long distances. But just like any other invention it can be corrupted and used for evil. Rei is reluctant and only wants to be with Tak.
When they are planning to destroy all Stacks, their encampment Stronghold is attacked and everybody dies, except for Tak.
Recruited to solve a murder
Years later, Tak is found and caught by Jaeger from CTAC. His Stack is put in store for 250 years. But when Laurens Bancroft is murdered Tak is put in another sleeve/body commissioned by Laurens Bancroft himself, to solve his murder.
Bancroft is a Meth, humans so rich they can afford to back up their Stacks, clone themselves, grow other bodies to use and be like gods and live forever, while they control more then they should. But just before his Stack made a backup he and his Stack were killed and he has therefore no recollection of the previous 48 hours.
Tak uses his Envoy skills to gather a pack, Poe the AI hotel, Vernon Elliot, whose daughter Lizzie was murdered, and Kristin Ortega whose partner Elias Ryker was framed, after investigation the death of Mary-Lou his childhood friend. To make it more complicated it is Ryker’s sleeve Tak is now wearing.
Who killed Laurens Bancroft, Lizzie Elliot and Mary-Lou Henchy?
It turns out that Rei is the big villain in the story. Back in Stronghold it was she who betrayed them, for money, clones and backup Stacks. She claims she did it all for Tak. She didn’t die in the explosion of the ship, at least not a Real Death (RD), for her Stack had been backed-up. And her Stack was put in a cloned sleeve.
She then built her own empire of the flesh, torturing people for information, extreme prostitution, all services provided for the Meths and became a Meth herself. She owned the Wei Clinic where Lizzie was tortured in VR and a clinic where Tak was tortured in VR. But she also owned Head in the Clouds a place/brothel where the Meths can fulfill their wildest sex fantasies, to torture, maim, beat and even kill a prostitute. While the prostitutes thought they would get a new sleeve after their birth sleeve had died, Rei illegally used a code to rewrite their Stacks.
The Neo Catholics are against bringing people back to life by their Stacks and only believe in just one life and one death, Real Death, instead of just sleeve death, where the sleeve/body gets destroyed but the consciousness in the Stack stays alive. So they put a religious code into their Stacks preventing the authorities to bring them back. Like a codicil.
But in order to be able to question dead victims to find their killers, the Protectorate made Resolution 653 allowing even coded religious people to be questioned after they had died, to reveal their killer.
It meant a real threat to Rei’s empire. Her dead prostitutes could be brought back to expose her and her clients. So she decided to blackmail Bancroft who could influence the votes of the UN Court concerning the Resolution. She gave him a drug called Stallion to aggravate his temper, when he went to Head in the Clouds to fulfill his urge to rape and kill.
This drugs was given to him by his wife Miriam who owed Rei a favor. Bancroft impregnated Lizzie in a brothel Jack It Off. Lizzie wanted to tell Bancroft, but was met by Miriam. She got so enraged that she beat and kicked Lizzie causing a miscarriage and Lizzie almost died. She then called Rei who took Lizzie and tortured and killed her in the Wei Clinic, leaving her Stack traumatized and her sleeve dead in an alley.
Back to Bancroft. Under the influence of Stallion he accidentally destroyed the Stack of the prostitute. The other prostitute who was present was Mary-Lou and she fled, throwing herself off the Head in the Clouds, thinking her Stack would survive, not knowing she was secretly coded by Rei.
Now Rei could blackmail Bancroft and he influenced the UN Court to vote against Resolution 653. Ashamed of his behavior he killed himself before his backup so he could forget the whole thing. But after his own suicide he was so arrogant that he was convinced somebody murdered him and he couldn’t have possibly killed himself. Rei in the sleeve of a Meth Clarissa convinced him to bring back an Envoy to solve his murder. So Rei killed two birds with one stone and Tak was brought back, but without Rei’s knowledge, in Ryker’s body. Bancroft did this to punish Ortega, because she couldn’t solve his murder.
Elias Ryker who was Mary-Lou’s childhood friend didn’t believe she had coded herself and wouldn’t let the case go. So he interrogated a CTAC officer, but was stopped by Kristin. Dimi the twins then killed the CTAC to frame Ryker, whose Stack and sleeve were stored as punishment.
When Rei (as Hemingway) ordered Dimi 2 to pick up Tak, just after he was brought back, she didn’t know he was wearing Ryker’s sleeve, so Dimi 2 thought that Ryker had come back to take revenge. Tak killed him in a fight and was later tortured by Dimi who also thought he was Ryker.
The Ghost Walker and secret sleeves
The Ghost Walker, Mr Leung was Rei’s henchman. And it was Rei who contracted Dimi the twins to collect Tak, posing as a crime lord called Hemingway. As Hemingway she also had control over the chief of police Captain Tanaka. It was also her in a child’s sleeve in the museum, and as Clarissa another Meth.
The ultimate villain
So it turns out that Rei is the ultimate villain, and was responsible for a lot of killing for over more than 250 years. Being able to live forever corrupts the mind. Although Bancroft didn’t want to cross a line, by RD-ing someone he still was a megalomaniac man who was involved in lots of shady businesses. As for his wife Miriam, she was crazy and jealous in spite of their arrangements in marriage. Laurens could do everything with anybody as he please, but giving him children was her job. Being able to live forever doesn’t mean you’ll find enlightenment, but rather quite the opposite.