Spoiler Warning for Season One of ‘Altered Carbon’
“Disorienting” is probably the first word that comes to mind when trying to describe Netflix’s newest series, Altered Carbon.
Altered Carbon is about a future where a person’s consciousness can be saved onto a storage device, and then transferred into new bodies (aka “sleeves”). This allows those who can afford it to virtually live forever by hopping from body to body. Our hero, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is former rebel super-soldier who fought against a tyrannic governing body that would abuse this system, only to be arrested and frozen for 250 years. The show starts with the protagonist being “resleeved” into a new body when he’s recruited to solve a wealthy influencer’s murder.
This show is sci-fi AF. It somehow packs every sci-fi trope that I can think of. Consciousness transfer, immortality, AI, flying cars, space travel, clones, cybernetic enhancements, plasma guns; list goes on. It’s also a mix of familiar sci-fi stories of the past, like Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, and Bladerunner. Once you start learning how a lot of these technologies and concepts come together though, you realize that it actually sort of makes sense that all these things can exist in the same world. Watching a few more episodes after that thought, you then realize that maybe it hasn’t been done before because it’s too ambitious an endeavor for one show. All of this is done while exploring themes of class warfare, inequality, defining humanity, and the corrupting influence of power.
That’s not to say that Altered Carbon isn’t good; despite its flaws, it’s a really good time. It’s just that the overload of concepts makes for a fun but rather bloated story. Right off the bat, the show immediately starts throwing made-up terms around left and right and expect the audience to catch on or follow. There is a TON of exposition, and even a sloppy and unevenly spread narration throughout the show. Yet, somehow it does very little to make whats going on easier to follow.
Great supporting characters…for the most part
Some of the supporting characters were phenomenal. Others, I didn’t feel needed to be there. Poe, the hotel A.I.-sidekick who just wanted to be a human; he was hands down the best support for Tak. He was funny, he was badass, and he was extremely likable. I would have loved to learn more about A.I. in this universe, and the extent to which they can actually think for themselves. Or why they weren’t more powerful in this society, instead of business owners.
Ortega, the detective, I found annoying at first; inserting herself into Tak’s life and getting in the way constantly. Even after we discover that she is sticking around because Tak is sleeved inside Ortega’s boyfriend’s body, the explanation didn’t make her feel any more integral. It was only after she go that video-game type modded arm that she sort of started to stand out. Even then, her love story with Tak makes no sense. Ortega’s significant other, Ryker, was taken out of his body and put into storage as punishment after being framed for a crime. But she spends the majority of episodes falling in love with a stranger in her boyfriend’s body? And why does Tak reciprocate this? Aren’t Envoys trained to not make connections with the local populations that they infiltrate? And there’s no real payoff at the end either, since he gives up the body back to Ryker and disappears on his own journey.
Romance didn’t need to be there; especially when we’re shown flashbacks of a much more interesting romance between Takeshi and Quellcrist Falconer that I hope we explore in the future seasons.
I also really liked the Elliot family. Lizzie’s story was tragic, but the empowerment payoff at the end was great. Vernon was a great sidekick character until he was reunited with the rest of his family. That’s when he finally got depth as a character. Being reunited with his wife Lizzie, who ended up being transferred into a man’s body was a very interesting aspect to this story, and the idea of love and identity.
At the end, Tak ends up doing everything he can to protect his friends. But honestly. he doesn’t ever really convince me that he actually likes his friends. His support team have his back all the way through the show, while Tak just begrudgingly let’s them tag along while he smokes his cigarette. But then we hop forward like an episode, and now he’s willing to sacrifice everything for them. Again, this wasn’t convincing and also didn’t go in line with what we know about the Envoys.
Some of the story arcs could have been cut
Every random character that Tak runs into is somehow connected to the main story. And each part of it is intricate for things to fall into place. This was poorly executed and made the grand plan feel convoluted. The Elliot family was relevant because the daughter Lizzie was killed by Bancroft’s wife, who then owed a favor to Rei, who then used the favor to ruin Bancroft, because then she could convince him to unfreeze Rei’s brother…who is Tak. Oh, and Tak was given Ryker’s sleeve because he wanted to get back at Ortega? This was such a convoluted murder mystery. And not in a good way. This of course culminates to a scene in the end of the series where every member of the cast comes out one at a time to point their finger at Laurens Bancroft. I think this coda was a way of catching viewers up and filling them in on what they may have missed due to the convoluted plot.
Lots of unanswered questions
So much world building. Shame it had to all revolve around one murder mystery on Earth. This was an ambitious show. I wish the ambition was focused elsewhere. Because Altered Carbon wanted to fit so many sci-fi concepts into one show, they need to just define things and move on without fully fleshing out the implications, or even taking a breather and considering the ramifications or exploring those concepts on a deeper level. Questions like, do stacks really contain the essence of someone? Seems like what they wanted to imply, but if you could create copies of people by double sleeving and backing up their info, then isn’t every new reboot just a different being with the same memories?
Where do the bodies come from? Are there any new grown bodies, or are they all bodies that are out for rent when someone else gets arrested and frozen?