[The following essay contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
The narrative structure of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is unconventional, to say the least. The plot rarely follows the most logical, linear path; obvious story threads are often abandoned in favor of more tangential developments. The earliest conflict, for example, revolves around representatives of the nefarious Arasaka Corporation conspiring to lure protagonist David Martinez into a trap... until their would-be victim thwarts their schemes by ignoring their incessant phone calls, at which point they are promptly forgotten (though they eventually return to play a prominent role in the climax).
This apparent lack of focus isn’t a bug, but rather an intentional feature; Studio Trigger’s disjointed episodic format broadens the audience’s frame of reference, allowing us to more easily perceive the repercussions of each character’s actions. Which, naturally, invites us to meditate on a more profound question:
When, exactly, does the show’s tragic conclusion become inevitable?
Is it when David’s mother pressures him into attending a prestigious prep school in the hopes that an education will allow him to escape poverty? After all, had she simply left her son to his own devices, she wouldn’t have been forced to sell scavenged cyberware on the black market in order to pay his tuition. Consequently, David would never have taken those first steps into the world of transhumanism—nor would he have encountered his mother’s buyers, beginning his ill-fated career as a mercenary.
Or perhaps it’s when Maine encourages David to cybernetically modify his body to an extent that borders on self-mutilation. Despite his benevolence and generosity, the veteran Edgerunner is far too damaged to serve as an adequate mentor: his obsession with technological enhancement and addiction to immunosuppressants strain his mind to the breaking point, putting both his sanity and the safety of his team at risk. Unfortunately, his loyal protégé inherits all of his vices—and repeats every one of his mistakes.
Or are Lucy’s overzealous efforts to protect her lover to blame? While this seems to be the consensus among fans on the internet, the reality is significantly more complex; indeed, because Arasaka’s hackers were already actively working to decrypt the corrupted data that would have exposed David’s remarkable resilience against cyberpsychosis, it was just a matter of time until he ended up on the company’s radar. Still, Lucy’s careless lack of concern with covering her tracks (i.e., the literal trail of corpses that she leaves in her wake) essentially leads the villains directly to her doorstep, setting the stage for the very confrontation that she struggled so desperately to avoid.
Ultimately, the emotionally devastating finale isn’t the “fault” of any single character; rather, it is the culmination of a tangled web of bad decisions born of good intentions. And the series’ innovative style of presentation lays the sad tale out like a tapestry depicting the road to Hell.