Altered Carbon Season 1's Ending & Twists Explained

Altered Carbon is a twisty sci-fi mystery with plenty of surprises along the way. Here's our breakdown of the show's season 1 finale.

Dichen Lachman as Rei in Altered Carbon

Warning: Major SPOILERS ahead for Altered Carbon season 1


Altered Carbon, the twisty new sci-fi thriller series starring Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad) as a rebel fighter brought back from the dead, has now arrived on Netflix. The show is set hundreds of years in the future, in a society where people's minds are stored on disks at the top of their spines (called "stacks") and can be easily transferred from one body (or "sleeve") to another - allowing the very wealthy to effectively become immortal by keeping a stash of clones and remote back-ups of their minds. Kinnaman's character, Takeshi Kovacs, was killed and had his stack put "on ice" as punishment for his role in an uprising, but has his mind placed in a new body by the obscenely wealthy and influential Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy).

Bancroft was found in his study, shot through the neck (thereby destroying his stack) in an apparent attempt at killing him off for good. He survived, however, thanks to a back-up of his mind stored on a satellite - which unfortunately has no memory of the two days preceding the shooting. Bancroft charges Takeshi with finding his would-be killer, with the promise of an official pardon and a massive payout if he succeeds, and Takeshi reluctantly accepts.

Related: An Easy Guide to Altered Carbon’s Confusing Terminology

Over the course of the show, Takeshi tangles with ghosts from his past, Russian twins, virtual torture chambers, underground fighting rings and deadly assassins in his efforts to solve the mystery. Naturally, things get a bit complicated, and the final reveal of how and why Bancroft was killed can be a little hard to follow. Here's a breakdown of Altered Carbon season 1's ending - and what it means for the future of the series.

Laurens Bancroft Shot Himself

Joel Kinnaman and James Purefoy in Altered Carbon

One of the sticking points of the mystery was the fact that Bancroft was killed with a gun that only himself and his wife, Miriam Bancroft (Kristin Lehman) had access to - leading some to dismiss the death as an attempted suicide. Bancroft, in his arrogance, didn't think it possible that he would ever commit suicide, and in a way he was right. The shooting was not an attempt at real death, but instead merely a way of wiping his memory of a horrible crime, so that he wouldn't have to live with the guilt.

The crime in question was the brutal murder - real murder, not just "sleeve death" - of a sex worker in the extremely exclusive, extremely horrifying "Head in the Clouds" brothel. Though Laurens is certainly guilty of the murder, he was set up by two people: Takeshi Kovacs' sister, Reileen, and Laurens' own wife, Miriam. Miriam was furious when she found out that her husband had gotten Lizzie Elliot (Hayley Law) pregnant, and Reileen gave her a male aggression enhancement drug that Miriam dosed Laurens with transdermally (via a kiss). It was this drug that made Laurens lose control and kill the sex worker, and when he recovered he decided to destroy his stack before it could back up his memories of the murder - giving himself a fresh start.

Miriam Bancroft Murdered Lizzie Elliot

Altered Carbon - Hayley Law as Lizzie

A side-mystery that ran throughout Altered Carbon season 1 was the murder of Lizzie Elliot, another sex worker whom Laurens had visited, and the daughter of Takeshi's ally, Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh). In the final episode of the series it's revealed that Lizzie visited Aerium, planning to tell Laurens about the pregnancy, but was instead confronted by Miriam. Upon finding out that Lizzie was pregnant with Laurens' child, Miriam flew into a rage and kicked the poor girl to death, killing both her and her baby.

Lizzie's consciousness was severely damaged by the trauma, and she spends much of the series receiving psychosurgery from Poe (Chris Conner) in the form of a virtual environment where she trains in combat - finding her way back to an empowered place. When Poe's hotel is attacked by Reileen's goons, the AI agrees to send Lizzie's DHF up into the data cloud so that she can survive. Lizzie finds her way into one of the synth bodies in Head in the Clouds, transforms the synth to look like her original body, and uses her newfound fighting skills to take out the goons holding Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) and Lizzie's parents captive. In the aftermath, Lizzie decides to keep her synth body and returns to a relatively normal home life with her parents.

Mary Lou Henchy Killed Herself

Altered Carbon – Mary Lou Henchy

In another "suicide - but it's complicated" solution to a murder, it's revealed that Mary Lou Henchy - whose body and suspiciously Neo-C coded stack were a recurring plot point throughout the series - actually killed herself. She did so with the belief that her body would be recovered and she would be able to tell the world about the murder that Laurens Bancroft had committed. Mary Lou fled the scene of the murder and was backed up to the edge of the aircraft by Rei, ultimately choosing to jump to her death rather than trust the wicked Meth who had hired her. However, part of the grim appeal of Head in the Clouds is the fact that the sex workers have religious code added to their DHF, so that once they're killed, they're killed for good.

Thanks to Ortega's decision to rescue Mary Lou's stack, and Rei's confession that the Neo-C coding was faked, Mary Lou is ultimately able to be brought back so that she can testify against Laurens Bancroft. As a murder victim she would also be entitled to a new sleeve, which means that she presumably returned to her mother wearing a different body.

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