‘Altered Carbon’ Season 1 Review


Altered Carbon is an action sci-fi thriller television series created by Laeta Kalogridis and based on the 2002 novel of the same title by English author Richard K. Morgan. The series stars Joel Kinnaman, Martha Higareda, James Purefoy, Chris Conner, Ato Essandoh, and Kristin Lehman, with Dichen Lachman and Renée Elise Goldsberry in recurring roles. The series takes place in the year 2384 in a world where the human race has discovered a form of immortality. Each person has a “cortical stack” surgically inserted into their vertebrae at the back of the neck shortly after they are born. The “stacks” are storage devices of alien design which have been reverse engineered and duplicated en masse. They contain a back-up of a person’s memories, emotions and thought process up until the moment their body dies. In essence, the “stack” contains a person’s soul. Physical bodies are called “sleeves” and are seen as disposable vessels. Any “sleeve” can accept any “stack” as long as it has not been damaged. Only when a stack is destroyed does a person truly die. This is called “real-death” and is feared by most of the population. Takeshi Kovacs, an Envoy (a political operative with mercenary skills), is woken up by Laurens Bancroft 250 years after his original sleeve is terminated and is given the choice to either spend the rest of time in prison for his crimes, or to help solve the murder of Bancroft’s previous sleeve thus gaining a full pardon for his crimes. I have to say that I really enjoyed watching this show. From the first episode, I was hooked and wanted to know more about this world and how the events of the story would unfold. The writers do a great job at unveiling new information little by little to span the storyline over an entire season. The show is CGI heavy with very few actual sets used. This helps establish the futuristic-looking society while at the same time avoiding the need for location scouts. The entire show looks as if it was filmed on a large set with most scenes taking place within Poe’s hotel, Bay City Police Department, or Bancroft’s home. Joel Kinnaman and Will Yun Lee do a great job of portraying Takeshi Kovacs. Kinnaman portrays Kovacs in his present-day “sleeve” while Lee portrays him in his original “sleeve” during flashbacks. They both show Kovacs as cocky and mostly uncaring about others. Though he does have a strong sense of honor and doesn’t like when innocents are harmed. Martha Higareda is great as Det. Kristin Ortega. Like Kovacs, she has a strong sense of honor and tries to do her job by the book. She struggles with what it means to technically have immortality since she comes from a very religious background. On a different note, she does bear a strange resemblance to actress Noomi Rapace. Dichen Lachman turns in a stunning performance as Takeshi’s younger sister Reileen. We see her first in flashbacks, but when she appears in modern times, the show gets turned up a notch. Once you find out her motives for coming back into the picture you can empathize with the questionable decisions she has made during Takeshi’s time away. Renée Elise Goldsberry role as Quellcrist Falconer is interesting, to say the least, and offers great detail into the state of Takeshi’s psyche. Chris Conner and Ato Essandoh are also decent as Edgar Poe and Vernon Elliot respectively.  What’s truly great about this show is how the characters transcend race, gender, and even age. The “stack” is who the person is — not the “sleeve” they are in. Therefore, race is barely mentioned at all in the show with the only example being Takeshi Kovacs’ Slavic and Asian heritage. The show does, however, deal with classism and religion. The immortality bestowed by the “stacks” has made classism worse since the rich can afford to live forever. The rich look down upon the poorer citizens and treat them as lower beings. Some groups worship the wealthy as modern-day gods since they have the ability and funds to answer their needs and prayers as well as never die. Other groups have it coded into their stacks to not be able to be brought back once their body dies as they believe only God should be able to grant eternal life. I give Altered Carbon Season 1 a Good 4.3/5. It’s an intriguing sci-fi epic that achieved what Blade Runner 2049 could not: an interesting character with an interesting story. If necessary, the show can be binged in one day. Hopefully, the show is renewed for a second season!

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