Cyberpunk: Edgerunners Has Heart, but it’s Missing a Heartbeat

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners understands cyberpunk, but fundamental storytelling methods hold its potential back.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners official Poster | Netflix | Trigger

*Light Spoilers*

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a ten episode Netflix exclusive miniseries by Trigger Studios. It follows David, a young street-smart kid who wants to become an Edgerunner, or a tech-riddled mercenary to make the most of himself.

Those familiar with the video game developed by CD Projekt RED and the tabletop game of the same name published by R. Talsorian Games will recognize the all-familiar Night City and have a fun time being back in that setting. Though the fun slowly wears off as the series has trouble developing its characters and giving the audience a reason to care about them.

However, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners does a lot very well. Yes, it has all the cool aesthetics with the giant holograms and neon signs. It has the funky hair, cool outfits, insane drugs and unique gadgets that are fun to watch play out on screen. But what Cyberpunk: Edgerunners does really well is understanding the philosophical foundations of what cyberpunk is. Though I suppose that is easy when the groundwork has already been done for you. Twice.

The low-life and high-technology are baked into the setting. The critiques of unfettered capitalism creating a corporatocracy and increasingly oppressive society are all present in the show, but not intricately explored. Movies like Ghost in the Shell and Bladerunner use the setting to ask ‘what does it mean to be human?’ while video games like Deus Ex and books like William Gibson’s Neuromancer ponder the consequences of rapid technological growth. What happens when someone uses the technology for malice instead of equality? Cyberpunk Edgerunners asks ‘what if you can never truly escape yourself, your origins and your death?’ The problem is its answer is a little murky and it’s not displayed in an interesting or exciting enough way to really care. It has the structure of a heart, but fundamental storytelling mistakes make it lack a heartbeat.

David, is a down-on-his-luck street smart kid who after coming to his wits’ end, decides to ‘chrome up,’ or surrender himself to body augmentations. He’s sick of living a life at the bottom, Night City’s boot on his neck, and with his new augments, begins working for Maine and his crew of edgerunners, using their criminal skills and ‘chrome’ to make money and survive.

The story slowly starts to shift away from the internal turmoil created by Night City that drives David’s decisions in favor of a boiler-plate sci-fi plot. Some of the plot intertwines with David’s internal turmoil of wanting to pry the world’s boot off his neck. Maine expresses that the life of an Edgerunner is a fast collision course to repeat the same mistakes as every Edgerunner before them. All of it leading to an early death with nothing to show for it.

Still from Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

Faraday, who Maine’s crew gets their jobs from, represents — and sometimes very openly states — influence and power in Night City comes from money and class. He is the antithesis of David’s internal turmoil and a living representation of what Night City perpetuates. He is among the weight in the boot on David’s neck.

During the bulk middle-section of the series, the crew is dealing with tasks Faraday has given them. The show is nearly 90% plot during this time with only a little of it being interesting. The remaining 10% are the slow moments where some actual character development and reflection happens between David and Lucy, the attempted heart and soul of the show. David and Lucy are really the only ones who matter and the show has no problem letting every other character be severely undeveloped and defined by a single character trait.

The show also makes the mistake of splitting David and Lucy up after a time skip in the middle of the series. Because the plot was so thick and the show was so eager to display the cool aesthetics of the cyberpunk genre, it never created a blossoming relationship between the two leads. “My dream is for you to live your dream,” David says to Lucy. But why?

David’s motivation is thin and not ironed out. In the execution — or lack of — David becomes a boring protagonist that is hard to care about. Just like the rest of his crew.

Rebecca is a League of Legends/Arcane archetype of Jinx without the layers and complexity. She’s a small girl with a big attitude and even bigger guns. It’s her single defining character trait. The same goes for the crew’s driver, Falco or ‘Stache. He’s exactly that and nothing more — their driver with a mustache. And Kiwi may be the worst of them. Outside of Maine, David and Lucy, Kiwi is the only other member which is attempted to be developed. Her philosophy is that in Night City, you should trust no one as trust will get you killed. She became a Cyberpunk for money and for herself. She will always do what is best for her and no one else. However, she conveniently doesn’t listen to her own established philosophy because the consequences of not doing so were convenient to get the plot to the next point.

Its finale delivers on the promise of David’s collision course, but lacks the emotional resonance to make it satisfying. The presentation, score, choreography and animation (if you are okay with Trigger’s over stylized animation — which may fit the setting) are all great. Combining all of those elements with the groundwork of Night City and the philosophy of Cyberpunk as a genre make it enjoyable enough to watch. But without a heartbeat to give it life, you’ll be asking your own ‘what if’ questions and wishing the show could be more.

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Writer and screenwriter based in the Boston area. I write film analysis, reviews and commentary and engage in leftist politics. Twitter@FilmEnjoyer93

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Cameron Craig

Writer and screenwriter based in the Boston area. I write film analysis, reviews and commentary and engage in leftist politics. Twitter@FilmEnjoyer93