The Wheels Come Off – Review of “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners” Episodes 5 & 6

Nothing lasts forever, especially in a Cyberpunk dystopia like the one found in Netflix’s Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. After spending the first four episodes establishing the world and setting up the crew of cyberpunks, the 5th and 6th episodes of the series begin the rapid decline of the group. The violent nature of edgerunner life cannot be overstated, particularly when you add in the overreliance on cybernetics, which leads to tragedy by the end of episode six.

Spoilers ahead, so do not read if you have not watched the 5th and 6th episodes of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners.

Episode Five, titled “All Eyez On Me”, picks up a little bit of time after the ending of the last episode. Maine and his crew of edgerunners are looking for a way to kidnap an Arasaka executive named Tanaka (who happens to be the father of Katsuo, David’s old classmate from the Arasaka Academy). It turns out that Tanaka is a patron of an Extreme Brain Dance (or XBD) “artist” JK, aka Jimmy Kurosaki. David’s familiar with JK’s XBDs and suggests using JK as bait to lure out Tanaka, reasoning that the executive wouldn’t want anyone connected to the company to know about him picking up braindances of a questionable nature. It goes to show that David’s starting to learn his trade and contribute to the team’s success, which is continuing his growth as a cyberpunk.

As is the case with jobs in Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, things go pear-shaped rather quickly, with Jimmy Kurosaki not being your average braindance peddler. Using an EMP device (as well as having several disturbing eyes literally implanted in the back of his head), Kurosaki manages to disable Maine, Dorio, and David, kidnapping Martinez and making his getaway. Once he’s back at his studio, Kurosaki proceeds to subject David to an extreme braindance of a cyberpsycho going on a full rampage, similar to what we saw in the first episode of the series. The idea is that Kurosaki intends to drive David insane from too much sensory overload, something that can happen with braindances in the Cyberpunk: Edgerunners universe. Only the timely intervention of Lucy and Dorio prevent David from losing his mind and they manage to capture Kurosaki in the process.

There’s a poignant moment between Kurosaki and David while they wait for Tanaka Sr. to arrive. JK points out, rightly so, that David’s using the Sandevistan is going to be the end of him, even with David’s noted tolerance for cybernetics. JK illustrates, in his own incredibly creepy way, that the more cyberware a person installs, the greater the chance is of them losing their connection to reality. Cyberware is treated like a drug addiction in this series, which is apt given the source material in R. Talsorian Games Cyberpunk TTRPG. Given that this advice is coming from JK, David ignores it, claiming that he can handle it. As JK points out, many have said the same thing and still lost themselves. This dire prediction comes into play in the next episode but the crew’s ruse works and they manage to get a hold of Tanaka Sr., losing JK in the process.

The following episode of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, titled “Girl on Fire”, starts with a flashback to Maine before his extensive augmentations as he runs in the desert outside Night City. The rapid decline into cyberpsychosis is startling to watch, particularly in how the series shows what happens. It starts off with Maine losing his grip on reality as he delves into hallucinations of his past and entering a fugue state where he unwittingly knocks out Kiwi (the crew’s main hacker) just because Kiwi ran into an issue hacking into Tanaka Sr.’s cyberware. The look on Maine’s face when he comes out of it after disabling Kiwi says volumes about how far down the rabbit hole he’s gone. We see it later on in the episode as well when Dorio suggests after the job that Maine downgrades some of his cybernetics in order to stave off cyberpsychosis, which the big man says in no uncertain terms is not an option.

Due to Maine’s screwup, David and Lucy are called in to plumb the depths of Tanaka Sr.’s cyberware, something Lucy is dead set against. We get brief glimpses of Lucy’s past, including a split-second scene of a group of people connected to a data terminal, no doubt used for deep-dive netrunner. We soon see that Lucy has a deep-dive port in the back of her skull, which is not the type of cyberaugmentation that a normal edgerunner should have. David starts to ask about it but thinks twice, since it becomes readily apparent that Lucy isn’t going to talk about it. In the short time the pair have been together, it’s clear that both Lucy and David have fallen hard for one another, especially given the scene in the hallway where Lucy demands David tell her to work Tanaka Sr. despite her reservations.

The episode jumps between Lucy’s deep-dive in to Tanaka Sr.’s cyberware with Maine’s inevitable crash into cyberpsychosis. Dorio does what she can to keep him stable but the clock is counting down to the inevitable. Meanwhile, Tanaka comes to and manages to have a conversation with David, outlining how he was the one responsible for getting David back into the Arasaka Academy due to David’s natural tolerance for augmentations. Tanaka Sr. rightly points out that his life is over the second the crew gets what they want out of him, since he’s seen their faces and the crew knows that Arasaka does not forget a slight against the company. It’s around this time that Lucy discovers Tanaka Sr.’s plans for David, which disturb the netrunner enough that she fries Tanaka Sr.’s cyberware, killing him in the process, which also destroys the jammer the group had in place to keep Trauma Team from locating Tanaka Sr.

With Trauma Team and the Night City Police Department on the way, the crew tries desperately to get away but fails to do so, with Dorio and Maine surrounded by the cops and Trauma Team. The added stress of a gunfight proves too much for Maine and he finally succumbs to cyberpsychosis, getting Dorio killed in the process. Seeing Maine, who had been such a stalwart character up to this point, completely lose touch with reality is heartbreaking to watch. Studio Trigger does an excellent job of showing just how terrifying someone like Maine would be to deal with if he lost control. In the end, Maine uses gas canisters to give himself, Dorio, and MaxTec (the SWAT team NCPD calls in to deal with cyberpsychos) a proper Viking funeral. The episode ends without any bluster as David and Lucy drive away from the scene, David clutching the Maine’s cyberarm with the grenade launcher and letting go of a single tear.

These two episodes hit home for me, both as a viewer and as a writer. The inevitable fall from grace for David and the crew was coming sooner rather than later and Studio Trigger handled that fall exceptionally well. No character is safe in this kind of story and I commend Trigger for committing to that ideal, since it is a large part of the Cyberpunk TTRPG’s ethos. Tanaka Sr. puts it best during his brief conversation with David in the 6th episode: no matter how strong or chromed out a cyberpunk thinks they are, they still live and operate in the shadows of megacorporations like Arasaka, who have all the real power in Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. The death of Maine and Dorio means that David has to step up to become the leader of the crew, which is what Lucy feared would happen in the previous episodes. Given what I know of Cyberpunk as a genre, this is not going to end well for David.

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