In a universe where human consciousness can be stored on a digital “stack” and bodies are interchangeable “sleeves,” Altered Carbon dares to tackle complex questions about identity, morality, and the implications of technological advancements on society.
Based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel, this Netflix original science fiction drama series presents a cyberpunk world that merges the aesthetics of Blade Runner with the dilemmas of Ghost in the Shell, offering a visual spectacle tinged with a philosophical quandary.
What Is Altered Carbon About?
Altered Carbon season 1 begins in 2384. Having been put ‘on ice' for 250 years, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) has been brought back and leased to Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) to help him solve a murder.
Like futuristic Ad Vitam, Netflix's Altered Carbon is set in a time so advanced that every person has a cortical stack implanted into their spine.
This is like a storage device for memories, and the physical bodies that humans inhabit are interchangeable and synthetic “sleeves” which are used as vessels that can accept any stack.
In this case, Kovacs awakes in a sleeve formerly belonging to another person which has been upgraded to enhance his mercenary skills.
Kovacs is the sole survivor of those defeated in an uprising against the new world order 250 years prior. He was an Envoy, part of the resistance, against the Mets who now rule the world and to whom he is beholden.
Caught between his hatred for Mets and his desire to live, Kovacs must solve Bancroft's murder or risk being put back on ice for the rest of eternity.
Along the way he garners a couple of associates who for their own reasons help him out in a quid pro quo sort of way.
Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) is a police detective who has been tracking him for reasons we discover later in the series, Poe is an AI who runs the hotel and Vernon (Ato Essandoh) needs Kovacs to help him save his daughter.
Altered Carbon Official Trailer
Is Altered Carbon Worth Watching?
The great thing about Altered Carbon, aside from the aesthetics of it, is that there are also plenty of sub-plots. The futuristic dystopian view of the world is brutal at times, as are the fight scenes but it is also gripping and addictive
It is a dark, gritty and frequently grim look at life in a world far into the future and you absolutely have to pay attention if you want any chance of figuring out what is going on.
That said, it is worth it for the impressive visual effects, futuristic landscapes, and elaborate set designs that truly bring its cyberpunk world to life.
Joel Kinnaman is excellent as Kovacs, the brooding protagonist with a heart. So too are the morally ambiguous power players in the universe as the series boasts a range of complex characters that keep you invested.
Altered Carbon doesn’t shy away from tackling complex ethical and philosophical questions. What are the implications of eternal life? What are the socioeconomic ramifications of technological advancements? Should we really want to live forever?
What I will say, as you're pondering those questions, is that the series can be difficult to follow, especially for those unfamiliar with the source material.
And while the first season was superb, the second season deviated too far from the original premise and wasn't as engaging.
However, overall the Altered Carbon series is well worth watching for fans of dystopian sci-fi action.
Altered Carbon Season 2
The season opens with Kovacs saving a group of people from a terrorist attack, but it's clear that his primary mission is personal: to find Quellcrist Falconer.
He soon learns that not only is she alive but she's also been on Harlan's World, causing a series of events that endanger the planet. Quellcrist Falconer has become a key figure in a new rebellion against the planet's ruling class.
As the season unfolds, Kovacs must navigate complicated relationships, political intrigue, and an impending war that threatens all of humanity.
There are several key players, including Danica Harlan, the current governor of Harlan’s World, who has her own vested interests in maintaining power and order.
And then there are the “Elder” beings, the original inhabitants of the planet whose ancient technology enabled the creation of “stacks” in the first place.
Besides Anthony Mackie taking over the role of Takeshi Kovacs, season 2 introduces some new characters.
First up is Danica Harlan (Lela Loren) who is the current governor of Harlan’s World.
Then there is Trepp (Simone Missick), a bounty hunter who becomes an unlikely ally to Kovacs.
And lastly, there is Colonel Carrera (Torben Liebrecht), Kovacs’ former commanding officer and a principal antagonist of the season.
Was It Any Good?
The second season received mixed reviews. The action sequences and visuals were widely praised, but the season lost some of the complexity and grittiness that made the first season compelling.
The series also veered away from the source material, particularly in its exploration of the Elders and the overall lore of the series.
Overall, season two of Altered Carbon builds upon the universe introduced in the first season but takes the narrative in a new direction.
It focuses more on the politics of Harlan’s World, the emotional journey of Takeshi Kovacs, and the broader ethical implications of immortality and colonisation.
Altered Carbon Series Cast
Joel Kinnaman (season 1) and Anthony Mackie (season 2) as Takeshi Kovacs, the last Envoy of an elite rebel group defeated 250 years prior to the start of the series.
James Purefoy as Laurens Bancroft, one of the wealthiest men alive, who lives in a skyscraper above the clouds and out of the reach of everyday people.
Martha Higareda as Kristin Ortega, a smart and tough lieutenant in the Bay City Police Department.
Chris Conner as Edgar Poe, an artificial intelligence that takes the likeness of Edgar Allan Poe and runs the hotel in Bay City.
Dichen Lachman as Reileen Kawahara, Kovacs' sister, who joined the Envoys at the same time as he did.
Ato Essandoh (The Diplomat) as Vernon Elliot, a former marine who hires Kovacs to find his daughter.
Kristin Lehman as Miriam Bancroft, Laurens' wife.
Trieu Tran as Mister Leung, a killer and “fixer” who kills and solves problems for a mysterious employer
Renée Elise Goldsberry as Quellcrist Falconer, a master strategist and scientist, the creator of Stacks and leader of the Envoys.
Hayley Law as Lizzie Elliot