Netflix’s Altered Carbon Is a Sci-Fi Rollercoaster

5 months ago
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The new sci-fi thriller series, Altered Carbon, was finally released on Netflix at the beginning of February. For those who haven’t seen it yet, this show is a wild ride through a futuristic society where technology has led to immortality… if you’ve got the cash. The show is pumped full of bullets, nudity, plot twists, technology, and subtle societal satire that’ll leave you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next.

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Based on the book, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, the story centers around Takeshi Kovacs (played by Joel Kinnaman), the last of an elite fighting force who awakens in a new body after his old one was killed 250 years in the past in a police raid.

As an audience, we get to adapt to this new world as Kovacs does. We meet the super-rich pseudo-gods known as “Meths” who are humans at the pinnacle of capitalist civilization, living high up above the clouds in their own manmade heaven. It’s one of these powerful Meths – Laurens Bacroft (played by James Purefoy) – that revives Kovacs for one purpose: to solve his own murder.

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The society below the clouds is full of gang thugs, cops, military veterans, hookers, hackers, mercenaries, religious zealots, VR junkies and AI’s – all struggling to survive in this strange future where money can buy you just about anything, including bodies, weapons, drugs, sex, and even lives.

There’s even a juxtaposition on the religious front. Instead of seeing pro-life abortion protestors, we see anti-immortality protestors, who believe that if you are “spun up” after your first death then your soul cannot go to heaven. Those who “convert” to the religion cannot legally be brought back for any reason, even if they were murdered and could possibly identify the killer.

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While the CGI breathes life into the tech-heavy world of Altered Carbon, by the end of bingeing the series I realized that what I liked even more than the cool graphics and fight scenes was how deep the characters end up being. Strange behaviors that I wrote off as bad acting in the beginning of the series actually make sense by the end, and once you know the twists and turns you may want to go back and revisit an episode with new eyes.

The acting in Altered Carbon is a challenge for a show where people can switch bodies. Kinnaman does a great job at portraying a classic noir Private Investigator with a jaded, sarcastic undertone. There are some characters who end up playing multiple roles depending on who is in their body. For example, in one episode a street thug’s body becomes inhabited by a Latina abuelita. In another, a 7-year-old girl is uploaded into an old woman’s body. “Cross-sleeving” is when someone takes over a body of the opposite sex. When a woman ends up in a man’s body and meets her husband again after years behind bars, gender becomes meaningless as the two of them embrace.

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If you’re looking for a smart, sexy, sci-fi action show then you should really give Altered Carbon a shot. But if you can’t follow dialogue in a show very well, you will probably get lost along the way. This is not something you can just leave on in the background while you’re doing your taxes.

For those like me who loved the show and want more, they do leave it open for a possible new season that will most likely be based on the two other books in the series by Morgan: Broken Angels and Woken Furies.