Review: Netflix’s Altered Carbon

While most people were interested in Netflix’s sci-fi movie “The Cloverfield Paradox,” which was supposed to linked to the original movie somehow, a lot may have missed a dazzling and maybe mind-bending sci-fi mini-series in Altered Carbon.

Whedonopolis got through the ten-part series last week. While the hook may be a guy in a new body being hired by a wealthy man to find out who killed his previous body, it really deals with the question is “who wants to live forever (and is it worth it)?”

SPOILERS BELOW

In San Francisco in the distant future, people can change bodies, called “sleeves”, as if they’re changing pants. Their consciousnesses are put in a “stack”, and it’s possible to live for hundreds of years, even clone or duplicate yourself through “double-sleeving”. That is, if you’re rich enough. Those who live a very long time are called “Meths” for “Methuselah“.

The series is seen through the eyes of Takeshi Kovacs, played by Joel Kinneman. When he is “born” with a new sleeve, it takes a quite a while for him to get used to his new world after being “dead” for decades. He soon meets his employer, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), who wants him to solve his “murder”. He is also assisted by a lawyer named Prescott (Tamara Taylor) who acts as if she’s above the law and everything else. That feeling lasts as long as her support from Bancroft.


Kovacs stays in a seedy AI hotel run by a guy who looks like Edgar Allen Poe (Chris Conner). He is one of the best things about this show, especially when he’s ready with a rifle
Kovacs also has a difficult relationship with police officer Kristen Ortega (Martha Higareda), who doesn’t like him because he was an Envoy, a terrorist against the Protectorate. Actually, there’s another reason that puts them in a strange position.


Aside from the murder, Kovacs looks into the death of a woman who literally drops from the sky, and a teenager who may be a drug addict. There’s also a guy named Leung (Trieu Tran) who asks people if they are “a believer” before killing them. It turns out he does worship a god, but not the one you’d think. He’s also literally tough to find because he can hide from cameras.

Again, the real issue is whether death should be conquered in the future though disposable bodies. Some people, called Neo-Catholics, hate the idea. Ortega’s mom is one of them, especially when her mom is “spun up” or resurrected temporarily in a new body for a Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Some episodes concentrate on a certain plot point. The third episode shows Laurens Bancroft holding a party to determine who may have killed him. Another episode shows Kovacs put in virtual torture by a Russia who mistakes him for someone else. The weird thing is, Kovacs is wearing the sleeve of a guy who wasn’t popular with a lot of people.
The most important episode is the seventh, where Kovacs’ past is explored. Here, he is played by Wil Yun Lee, and he does a fine job as the CTAC officer turned Envoy. It also shows how he embraces the philosophy of Quellcrist Falconer (Renee Elise Goldsberry), who is against “resleeving”. She also teaches him how to be stronger and withstand virtual torture. Kovacs sees her a lot in his mind throughout the series.


Dichen Lachman, who plays his sister Reileen, also does a fine job here. She starts out as a loving sister, together dealing with an abusive parent. She’s with him when he gets training as an Envoy. However, he is stunned to see her decades later saving him from a battle in a fight club. It’s revealed she was able to resurrect herself again and again just like a Meth. She claims she came back for him, and is determined to stick with him. However, the need to live forever, which is against Quell’s beliefs, has overcome her. It makes her a major villain in the final episodes, especially when it’s revealed she has literally taken many roles right under her brother’s nose.
The scene that everyone will be talking about, though, is Reileen fighting Ortega while nude…or rather, Reileen’s clones. While Oretga is armed, she is really powerless because Reileen can afford to make many versions of her.

Netflix has put in a lot of money into this series. The scene design is amazing, right out of Blade Runner with a heavy dash of a futuristic Dynasty. It shows a sharp contrast between rich and poor. The “ground” is dark and moody, while the Bancrofts’ home is bright and heavenly even though the family is clearly a group of demons. The special effects are also pretty  good.

There’s also a few detective story tropes sprinkled here and there. Kovacs gives his impressions about his new world in voiceover after the first episode, but it’s not too intrusive. Miriam Bancroft has a very personal relationship with Kovacs (then again, her husband isn’t exacty faithful either). She even wants him to drop the case, but so does someone else.
By the way, if you look closely at Carnage, who runs an underground fight club, it’s Matt Frewer, Mr. Max Headroom.

If you can get past the nudity, Altered Carbon is a mind-blowing mystery that also gives some good commentary on how using tech to conquer death doesn’t make people better.

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Post Author: David Mello

Worked nearly eleven years at a radio station as a board operator, news reader, and assistant producer for baseball broadcasts. Have been a staff writer for Whedonopolis since July 2008