Welcome to Role Call, where we call up TV’s leading ladies to talk about their most vital, memorable, and feminist episodes.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Altered Carbon season 1.
Netflix has officially thrown its hat into the ring of gargantuan sci-fi epics à la Westworld and its fantasy blockbuster cousin Game Of Thrones with futuristic odyssey Altered Carbon. With the dystopian steampunk drama comes the kinds of characters you expect to see in the genre, like a handsome, brave, impossibly ab-ed hero, this time erstwhile super soldier Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), and his trusty sidekick Poe (Chris Conner), because every Jon Snow needs his Samwell Tarly.
Yet, among tough guys like Kovacs and his reluctant ally Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh), women of color reign supreme in Carbon’s 2300s world. There’s long-dead freedom fighter Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry), kick-ass, genius villain Reileen Kawahara (Dichen Lachman), and unstoppable detective Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda). But, amid all these indomitable ladies, one stands apart as the unexpected breakout: murdered sex worker turned veritable vengeance goddess Lizzie Elliot (Riverdale’s Hayley Law).
To understand why the young woman of color is so inspirational, all you need to do is to look at her journey through Carbon season 1, which was crafted by female showrunner Laeta Kalogridis. When we first meet Lizzie she’s “sleeve-dead,” meaning her body has died, but her father Vernon trapped her “stack” disk, or consciousness, in virtual reality. While Vernon convinces himself this is what’s best for his daughter, she’s actually trapped in a trauma loop after she was driven mad and subsequently murdered in a wide-reaching conspiracy scheme.
“She really starts off in a really scarred almost unconscious place, but overcomes a trauma that is indescribable,” Lizzie’s portrayer Hayley Law told Refinery29 over the phone about her character. “She becomes this badass chick who really — I don’t want to say owns the show — but owns it at the end.”
If Law won’t say Lizzie owns the show, I will. In season finale “The Killers,” Lizzie, who triumphs over her trauma by learning how to hit bad men hard and shoot guns better than than a pissed off John Wick, puts her newfound talents to go use. Poe, who walked the young woman through her avant-garde therapy, sends her consciousness to Head In The Clouds, a floating sex crimes place at the heart of Lizzie’s murder. There, she takes over an empty sleeve, reclaims her sexuality by donning a dominatrix’s vinyl catsuit, and kills every lackey “monster,” as she calls them, she comes across.
By the end, Lizzie brings Clouds, which caters to the unimaginably depraved and deadly sexual whims of society's ultra-rich, literally crashing down to the ground with her newfound abilities. All together, it’s the ultimate comeuppance for the most marginalized woman in Carbon. “I’m glad they made all the killing revenge. It wasn’t about just being a crazy assassin. It was about proving a point and justice and vengeance,” Law, who trained intensely to jump into her action heroine role, said.
Although the Netflix sci-fi series takes place hundreds of years in the future, it’s easy to see where Lizzie’s story fits in with the tapestry of revelations born from the #MeToo movement. The Carbon character is also a woman whose story of sexual manipulation and physical brutality was ignored and covered up simply because she is a woman. Law appreciates the fact she was able to explore the fantasy response to such degradation.
“I know a lot of people will say, ‘Don’t take the violence route,’ and I’m not saying, 'Take the violence route.’ But it’s nice to see someone take their power and own it,” she admitted of the cathartic sequence. “A lot of the time in movies or shows, in situations like this, [a victim] will start doing yoga or something [to heal], which is cool, too, but it’s nice to see someone be like, ‘You know what? I’m getting back at people.”
So much of what grounds Lizzie’s transformation into Latex-sporting, kick-flipping, neck-breaking heroine is the emotion coursing beneath all the action. Once you talk to Law, it becomes obvious how much she felt during filming — “It made me so upset, and it felt like I was personally going through it as I was doing it as Lizzie,” she said — which translated to the screen.
“There are things in the show that are so dark and so real and shocking to people … It’s really hard to get out of it. Sometimes I was just crying in my car after [filming] just because I was still messed up from it. But I think that means I’m telling a story right,” the Netflix-slash-CW actress admitted. “It’s definitely different from Riverdale.”
While the subject matter between Law’s two leading television projects couldn’t be more different, they do have one thing in common: the possibility for a huge teen audience. Law agrees Carbon isn’t “a kids show,” but it is very likely young people will still check out the buzzy series. And, that means lot of kids of color will be able to see a mixed-race heroine take down an entire institution of villainy.
“On the note of being an actress of color … you know teens with hair like mine, a similar unibrow,” Law jokes, “are going to watch it and feel good and like they can do it. I know everyone says, ‘If I can do it.’ But I really think anyone can do it.”
Hopefully, this leads to a pack of Altered Carbon viewers who leave the show ready to conquer the world. “I think it’s a good time for this character to come along,” Law said. “For people to relate and feel strong from Lizzie and hopefully be inspired to friggin' do jujitsu or do whatever you need to do to feel confident about yourself.”
The dominatrix suit is optional.
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