Altered Carbon fed off the idea of eternal life, of a future where humans had the capability to transfer their consciousness from a dying body–or as the characters in the show call them, sleeve–to a new one. When humans stumbled upon an alien technology, they were able to develop the technology for stacks, the “hard drive” that held their souls. Being able to die without experiencing a “real death” revealed the parallels the cyberpunk universe within Altered Carbon had with ours: the evolution of humanity took the route where the lavish nature of their ways dictated who was wealthy, and who wasn’t.
Altered Carbon’s–and the book’s of the same name by Richard K. Morgan–main character, Takeshi Kovacs, showed you through the most subtle of gestures how he felt about the wasteful nature of the society he woke up in. 250 years had passed since Kovacs was killed by his former allies and employers, the Protectorate. He woke to a world that he had fought to prevent from happening back when he betrayed the Protectorate to join the Envoys, an organized rebellion led by the charismatic, Quellcrist Falconer. So, naturally, when Tak was stuck in a random person’s body to solve a Meth’s (the wealthiest citizens) murder… Let’s just say he wasn’t happy about it. He fought to stop people like the Meths from coming into existence, yet there he was working for one.
Tak made a rather conclusive statement throughout the first season of Altered Carbon: “It’s in the details.” Envoys were graced with a weird clairvoyance which allowed them to see forthcoming events before they happened, and Tak maintained that the tiny details were what helped him into the cracks of those hidden paths. In that statement, though, you were given more than just an explanation, you were also given a method for understanding an underlying theme running through the entire series. Enter the protagonist of this article: the one, the only, Hello Unicorn backpack.
You’re probably asking: What could be so important about that Hello Unicorn backpack? Or, more likely, what is Hello Unicorn? Believe me, I have no idea either. The Hello Kitty of the future, I imagine. Either way, the backpack made an appearance in almost every single episode that had a serious firefight. You were first introduced to the colorful pack in the first episode, “Out of the Past”, when Tak decided to reject Laurens Bancroft’s offer and get wasted, have an abnormal amount of sex, and eventually go back on ice (be sleeveless, but remain alive within one’s stack). Tak saw a man standing under a tattoo sign with the Hello Unicorn backpack, who said that he had a lot of drugs. How convenient for a man looking to find exactly that.
Tak would later reconsider Laurens’ offer to help solve his murder. In the third episode, “In a Lonely Place”, he realized he would need enough firepower to help protect himself and his newly recruited “partner”, Vernon Elliot, from the various forces that they may face as they unraveled the mystery surrounding the crime. From that point on, The Hello Unicorn backpack made further appearances as a satchel for Tak’s weapons. Never in the show does he switch to a different bag; it was always the Hello Unicorn backpack. When a firefight broke out where Tak was prepared, he could be seen shouldering the weight of his weapons inside the strange, pink bag, as if a mysterious force had bonded the two together for the sake of providing the audience with an essential detail.
In the same episode, Laurens Bancroft invited Tak to his party in the clouds, where all the Meths made their home. Tak was tasked with investigating the various patrons in hopes that the festivities would reveal Laurens’ true killer. Unawares to Tak, his host was waiting until the grand finale to spring a trap upon his investigator, because, a couple nights before the party, Tak slept with his employer’s wife, Miriam. Knowing that he had been betrayed, Laurens pushed Tak into the fighting pit and forced him to fight. Just when Tak thought he had lost, Vernon showed up with the Hello Unicorn backpack and pulled out a weapon, which Kristin Ortega took and shot to stop the madness.
In the next episode, “Force of Evil”, a man named Dimi captured Tak, mistakenly thinking that he was Rycroft, the person whose body Tak had taken over. As a result, Kovacs was tortured in an endless cycle of death and pain; and, in the process, Altered Carbon showed you a terrible consequence of a world where Virtual Reality was a dominant aspect of its culture. But when Tak was able to escape the VR monstrosities, there was his Hello Unicorn backpack waiting for him, weapons cocked and loaded inside. What ensued after was a bloody mess of confused sleeves begging for the man with the Hello Unicorn backpack to spare them.
Then, in the second to last episode, “Rage in Heaven”, Tak found himself in a tight spot when his and his “friends'” plan to infiltrate Head in the Clouds didn’t go as planned. He was forced to use a small dose of a strong, dangerous drug called Reaper in order to trick a pair of guards that were about to search the car’s truck in which he was hiding. Tak’s escape allowed him the opportunity to take one of the guards out while the other pranced around with the Hello Unicorn backpack he found in the trunk. During that scene, you saw the backpack used for more than just a bag to hold weapons, but as a weapon itself. As the fight reached its climax, Tak forced the last guard off the roof along with all the weapons inside his pack.
I’ve skipped the majority of the first season of Altered Carbon to get to that episode because I wanted to explore the important aspects of the Hello Unicorn’s journey as the show progressed. So far, you should notice the pattern as to when the backpack made important appearances in Altered Carbon: when Tak needed it most. In the chaos of the world around him, and in a time that was as foreign to him as the body he inhabited, Tak faced an almost impossible feat: to break the future of their wasteful nature by implementing the ideals he learned from Quell, his one true love. His past of being an Envoy meant everything to him, so he naturally couldn’t shake the feeling that the people, objects, and places in the period where he awoke were slowly growing on him.
The Hello Unicorn backpack represented a culture completely opposite of the one depicted in Altered Carbon. It was a shining example of how Tak–and the other Envoys–felt about wasting the things that needn’t be wasted. The bag was originally used to carry that weird dude’s drugs, but Tak reformatted it to carry his weapons. The wasteful nature of that world surrounded its citizens like a cloud of decay creeping upon the horizon. In that small detail, though, you saw the importance of not taking the objects and people around you for granted.
Tak consistently stated that he didn’t care for Vernon or Kristin or any of the people he had helped and was given help by. Here’s an example of the dialogue in which I refer. Vernon: “You don’t care about Lizzie.” Takeshi: “Don’t take this personally…But… I don’t care about anyone. If it gets me what I want, I’ll still help her.”
He may have been using Vernon, Poe, Ava, and Kristin to get what he wanted, but, by the end of the season, you saw the impact each of those characters had on him. He couldn’t just toss them to the trash to be forgotten, literally or figuratively. It’s like the Hello Unicorn backpack: he may have been using the bag for a means to an end, but, as the first season of Altered Carbon came to a close, you saw that he actually depended on it, as strange as it looked unfolding on the screen. A grown man capable of snapping your neck in an instant depending on a pink backpack with a rainbow and unicorn on it… Hilarious to imagine but true nonetheless.
Instead of throwing an object out that you may deem useless, try to reformat it until it has a meaningful purpose. Because you never know, the dang thing could end up saving your life.