As has been mentioned in various other questions, nomenclature within the Altered Carbon Netflix series has been changed to some extent compared to the original novels.

In the books, the especially trained operatives of the Protectorate who would be sent to other worlds to suppress uprisings were called "Envoys" (apparently because, well, they are sent to other places to represent the Protectorate, somewhat reminiscent of what diplomatic envoys might do in real life, though used somewhat euphemistically by the protectorate).

In the series, however, it's the followers of Quellcrist Falconer who are called "Envoys". Is this term somehow explained? Was the name picked because Falconer expected to send them to places while they were still training, even though that never happened?

  • @Valorum: I read that before posting, hoping it would contain an answer, but it didn't. The closest that article comes is in mentioning "the consequential ability to needlecast to off-world destinations often without the experience of Sleeve Sickness", though it is left rather sketchy what that ragtag group of forest-dwellers was supposed to do in the end, because all we see is the planning phase for a singular large-scale attack that is prevented before it really starts. Apr 30 '20 at 21:41
  • related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/180778/…
    – Harabeck
    Apr 30 '20 at 22:14

EDIT: The term is not explained in the show and in my opinion the reason it is put to new use is to omit a dimension of Takeshi's back story while maintaining a major theme (what being an Envoy says about who Tak is) as well as provide a platform to develop the plot in a direction where he has a sister who spent time serving under Quell with him.

(Original response)

The use of the term in the show is inconsistent with the novels. In the show Tak turns on the Wedge when he reunites with his sister during a Yakuza bust. They are captured by the Quellists while they are laying low in the woods and after being accepted into that group they train to be Envoys under Quell.

In the book Takeshi is an Envoy before he becomes a Quellist, and the Quellists are wary of him at first because of how dangerous being an Envoy makes him. The character of Tak's sister Rei also does not exist in the book so the whole storyline here is a little different.

The show muddles things even further by maintaining the perception of an Envoy as a highly lethal agent who is trained to manipulate and kill which is the persona Tak actually moved away from during his time with the Resistance.

  • 1
    And while none of this is untrue, what you've written doesn't address why the terms are used differently in the show, which is what the question is asking.
    – Valorum
    May 3 '20 at 11:32
  • 1
    Thank you @Valorum; I edited.
    – AmishNick
    May 3 '20 at 11:38
  • It's better with the edit but it's still entirely opinion-based.
    – Valorum
    May 3 '20 at 11:42
  • Yes, as stated. I did watch the first season four times and read the novels two or three times each so I think I have a qualified opinion as to the reasons for the show's reappropriation of the term.
    – AmishNick
    May 3 '20 at 11:46
  • @Valorum is the implication that I should be supporting my argument with examples from the media? That would be tedious... The "truth" probably will never be public knowledge unless they do a "Making Altered Carbon" or some other project that includes interviews with the writers.
    – AmishNick
    May 3 '20 at 11:57

Is it explained directly in the show? Not to my recollection. But here's what I think is a plausible in-universe explanation.

The simplest definition of envoy is "messenger". And that's what the rebels and their activities are: a message to the Protectorate and the meths that they are not supreme, not untouchable, and not everlasting. Their precision strikes are visible and unmistakable statements. We are told by Kovacs and others that indulgent, all-powerful meths are the very things they fought to eliminate. In Quell's mind, she might also think of them as a message that eternal life, and all it has wrought, is a plague to eliminate, not a gift to revel in. But it is not until near the end that she reveals this to anyone, so Kovacs is likely the only one that may have opted into that perception.

The Envoy training scenes, reinforced by other dialogue from Kovacs, tells us that they are trained to attract and inspire locals to their aid and cause. Ultimately they are schooled to do this in a ruthless, utilitarian way: that these people are tools to an end, to be discarded, allowed to die, and/or abandoned the instant the situation warrants it. But any of those who do survive will have been naturally brought into the orbit of the rebellion, and may continue to spread their ideas and support for them. The Envoys in this way are something of an elite tactical (terrorist?) team who do the flashy heavy lifting, but the people left in their wake become the seeds for building a wide ranging and enduring counter-culture. In this way the message of the rebellion is carried across the settled worlds. Except they end up failing at that.

In the books the Rebellion never really dies, as it was always spread far and wide, both before and after Stronghold. In the adaptation the Rebellion is evidently snuffed out after the fall of Stronghold. So the message in the adaptation was, apparently, not delivered as well or as enduringly. Perhaps they should have paid a little more attention to actually cultivating the sympathetic locals? A habit of ruthless exploitation for the sake of the mission would just make it easier for the Protectorate to demonize them and change the perception of what their goals were, which is exactly what we see happen.

The reason for that difference would seem to be Quellcrist Falconer herself. In the books she is a mythical figure who might not have actually existed even before Kovacs was born. But in the adaptation she is alive and well and focused more on the singular goal of imposing finite lifespans on everyone with a single act that can be carried out by just a few people, rather than on the goal of maintaining and sustaining a growing swell of discontent and rebellion that could eventually topple things. This is at least well-explained within the adaptation, I think.

In the adaptation, Quell is a scientist who regrets what has been made of her work, and has an eternity to ruminate on it. She places all the blame and responsibility for it on herself. She wants to involve as few people as possible as a result, an imperative she imparts on others in the Envoy teachings mentioned above. But she was not a tactician, or a political scientist, or a selfless guru, or any other thing that would put enacting and sustaining a long-term cultural revolution in her wheelhouse. A precision, technological strike on an achilles heel that makes use of her particular skills and only drags in a small number of people to complete, however, is exactly her wheelhouse. The whole rebellion is really just about her in the adaptation. It lived with her and died with her, because it was a cult of personality that she never gave any real life to beyond herself and her personal demons.

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