For those of you who aren't familiar with Netflix's science fiction series Altered Carbon I'll give you a brief overview. That said, I'm counting on YOU to watch the show and revel in its sci-fi glory.
Altered Carbon takes place far into the future. Naturally, humanity has devolved into a cyber-punk quasi-dystopian world where technology has vastly improved and simultaneously ruined our way of life. In Altered Carbon, human memories are kept on digital stacks that were reverse engineered from alien technology. The cool part is those memories can be transferred to a new "sleeve."
That's when things get a bit strange.
Sleeves are essentially are extra bodies. So when a person dies their memory stack, called a cortical stack, gets jammed into the vertebrae of the new host. The host is picked out from a storage baggie full of vaseline.
They look a little like this:
Nummers right? I've seen these at HomeGoods. Says made in Italy on the package.
Well, if don't die from severe head trauma (like a gunshot wound, baseball bat or a cartoon frying pan) then the aforementioned cortical stack is put into that body. Eureka! You're alive and well. Maybe not in the best body though. As with most things in life, the rich get richer. The rich get some pretty sweet sleeves. The usual fare of models or athletes. The poor are given government issue. A varied mix of "whatever was available." You can imagine what that means in a world where government cheese is a thing.
For example, a kid that was a victim of a drive by was given a second chance through the miracle of victim restitution. Except it was an old woman's body and she used to be Asian. Her parents are Asian and their now sweet little girl was a confused old woman.
It's pretty trippy stuff.
The story follows a man by the name of Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) who was put into a new sleeve by the ultra wealthy Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) to solve his own murder. Kovacs is from in the distant past and is loaded to bear with military skills and a killer body.
I bet his dick has a six pack.
This is all done much to the chagrin of Detective Kristen Ortega (Martha Higareda) who vows to figure out what Kovacs deal is and what problems he gets into for the Bancrofts. Ortega uses a workable combination of her female intuition and Latina bravado to get into more trouble than any other cop in the program. The one spoiler I'll give is that Ortega and Kovacs grow to like each other. That shouldn't come as a surprise.
Now onto the first season review
The great thing about Netflix is that you can watch the entire series in a matter of days. The science fiction behind the show is fantastic. The technology is highlighted by the superior integrated CGI into the series. Now, the first thing I noticed was how much the universe resembled Blade Runner. That's a pretty common point of view and it isn't much of a stretch.
But is that a bad thing?
No. No it isn't. Unless of course you didn't like Blade Runner or haven't had a chance to partake. Altered Carbon manages to bring the viewer into the world. The skyscrapers, the flying cars and the building sized digital ads all felt realistic. For a fleeting moment I felt sad I wouldn't live to see the year 2384. Then I remembered that the sun was non-existent in the show. Now, I'm a pale man, but even I like the sun.
If you like the city then your going to love it here. So quaint.
One of the hallmarks of the cyberpunk genre is the T&V. Tits and violence which Altered Carbon does not skimp on. In the age of Game of Thrones, viewers want their rationed share of sex and blood. The biggest problem with the show in this regard is what a person might define as gratuitous. For me, a child of the age of DOOM and Internet porn, the show doesn't come close to what might be over the top. One of the earlier fight scenes depicted the man character, Takeshi Kovacs (used to be Asian, but his sleeve is white), battling it out in the hotel he was staying in. Like something out of a Steven Seagal movie (he beat a guy with a salami in Out for Justice for God's sake), Kovacs broke some arms, shot some bad guys and took a beating. The coup de gras were the emergence of twin chain guns that used a laser guidance system to carve up the remaining bad guys and splatter their entrails.
The fight scenes are well choreographed and range from shoot outs to sword fights. The weapons are of course futuristic. One of Kovacs weapons is a gun that fires bolts and with a simple push of the button they return to the barrel. This leads to a few creative head shots and dead bad guys. What's really amazing though are
Not pictured, the piles of empty casings (bullets not sausages), pools of blood and stains in those lobby chairs. We'll leave the light on for you.
Let us not forget the sex either...merrrrow
Doesn't take too many episodes to see Kovac taking the first exit to Bone City with Bancroft's wife, Miriam (Kristin Lehman). The scene is driven by lust that both Kinnaman and Lehman do a great job with. I've read enough articles to know that actors struggle with sex scenes so when Kinnaman's character Kovac went downtown the whole room probably felt awkward. Despite my assumed reservations, it was a staple of the episode and helped launch Altered Carbon into the new age of edgy TV series.
How many of us haven't ended up head to toe post coitus?
I think you get the point. It's awesome and if you are into the human body then there's at least that going for you with Altered Carbon.
Oh and there's a naked sword fight. Combining our love of naked bodies and violence into a symphony of depravity rarely seen by the American viewing public. Well, at the people with a Netflix account or their friends.
Chick fights are supposed to be hot, right? Even with the gaping wound in the side and the dead bodies strewn about....oh
Let's talk about what is most important (besides full frontage nudity), the story. The plot is lifted mostly from the novel and that is a good thing. As I noted earlier I haven't read the book so this is going off of what I know about the show. The show jumps from unfrozen caveman murder detective to cyberpunk personal revelation in a few episodes. The show does a good job of letting the viewer get acclimated to the world at large and the roles each character plays. There are several ancillary characters that play important roles throughout the first season and for a viewer that might be overwhelmed with the environment, the writers do a good job of easing them into the scene.
Kovacs is an easy to hate character because he's a bit of an asshole, but his story engrosses you as he pieces together his pass. It's more than enough to get you to like him. The whole "remember my past" trope is played thin, but that doesn't mean it can't be interesting. Just depends on who's past were looking for. Considering he went from Asian to Anglican there's quite a past to dig up. Plus you know, he used to be a terrorist or freedom fighter. You know the adage.
Yellow on the outside....White on the outside?
Through a series of gruesome interrogation sequences the viewer is treated to bits and pieces of the mystery and Kovacs past. Each piece intertwining with another characters which is done to move the show along. The show's pacing keeps the series interesting and minimizes those pesky slow episodes that often plague shows. I have no doubt that as the seasons progress there will be slow downs.
The story doesn't just follow the typical cyber-punk stories, but it includes a plague. There aren't any zombies a la Walking Dead, but it is deadly nonetheless. In one particularly poignant scene Bancroft (the rich guy) goes into a quarantined camp and plays the role of Mother Teresa. He contracts the plague and dies, but as discussed the rich don't just die in Altered Carbon.
What makes Altered Carbon so fantastic is the rich world, involved characters and the engaging story line. If you like plot twists, enjoy surprises and loathe knowing what's going to happen next then Altered Carbon is for you.
Bottom line: A highly recommended science fiction series that will appeal to die hards and Blade Runner fans. The casual fan will need a little time to get into the show, but ultimately will grow to love it.
*Photos courtesy of Netflix