This past Friday, February 2nd, Netflix released their latest sci-fi series, Altered Carbon. From the moment I saw the trailer and heard the premise, I was interested, though maintained a healthy level of skepticism. With Netflix being particularly hit and miss with their more lofty properties (with Stranger Things being an absolute knockout, but most of their Marvel series losing traction with each new release, save for The Punisher), Altered Carbon had the makings of both an iconic sci-fi franchise, or an absolute disaster. With the scope of what this series was setting itself up for, there was no telling which way it could go.
Set in a far distant future, Altered Carbon features a world where people’s minds are uploaded into small devices (called Stacks) in the backs of their necks, so when they die, they can be transferred into new bodies, or Sleeves, for a price. Naturally, this has led to a class system, where the rich are far more capable of living forever, in the bodies they wish to have, whereas the poor must take what they can get, or worse, suffer Real Death.
In the opening episode, we are introduced to Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), who has been hired by Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) to investigate his attempted murder. Laurens, one of the wealthy elite, known as Meths (short for Methuselah, oldest known individual from The Bible), who is able to back up his consciousness to a satellite every 48 hours, so that, if his Stack gets destroyed (resulting in Real Death for most), he is still able to be uploaded into one of his clone sleeves, and the most he may lose is the last 48 hours of his life, making him virtually immortal. However, his latest sleeve was murdered, and his Stack destroyed, and there was also an attempt to hack and intercept his backup, causing him to fear that someone is trying to permanently kill him. Promised a full pardon for solving Laurens’ murder, Takeshi, who has quite the record as a war criminal, hits the streets of Bay City, working with his trusty sidekick and hotel, Poe, and others along the way, to investigate the murder of one of the wealthiest men in the world.
While the story is nothing to scoff at, what really stands out about Altered Carbon is the world that has been created. Every scene of this series bleeds with information to absorb about what the world has become as society has progressed and technology advanced. I found myself as fascinated by the intricate design of Bay City and its inhabitants as I was by the central characters and story. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Fifth Element (one of my absolute favorite sci-fi movies), where the world was so organically presented, requiring little introduction, but constantly running in the background. It’s a world that provides so much depth within the story, which is possibly what allows the series to dedicate so much more time to the incredibly tangled plotlines.
Another quality that Altered Carbon champions, which I’ve personally found to be lacking in TV series in past years, is the return to the episodic format. While Altered Carbon has the typical trajectory, following an overarching plot from start to finish, that does not stop the series from successfully breaking itself down into separate episodes, each with their own relatively self contained plot, as well as an intertwining underarch, which develops below the surface, and comes together in the end. It is this format that, in my opinion, can solidify the longevity of a series such as this, that can otherwise be overwhelming.
By the end of the season, I found myself both satisfied with the closure of the main plot, but also desperate to know more about the many other threads left unpulled. There is clearly so much more to the origin of Takeshi Kovecs, and the history of how Stack technology came to be. The realization that space exploration has seemingly been perfected, yet the majority of the series is contained within one city, indicates that there is almost no limit to where this series can go in future seasons, and I certainly hope that Altered Carbon gets the opportunity.
Have you checked out Altered Carbon yet? How did it compare to your expectations, either before watching, or in where you expected the story to go? Where would you like to see the series go in the future?