Altered Carbon is a show that I didn’t know I needed. Based on the science fiction novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon follows the futuristic lives of people that have the ability to store a copy of their consciousness inside discs called “stacks”. In the case of death they are able to reinsert their stack inside another body, called “sleeves.” The use of this technology quickly creates an even larger divide among the wealthy and poor as the rich have the ability to choose which sleeve they can be brought back in while the poor take whatever is available at the time.
Many of the wealthy choose to clone their likenesses and instead be “spun up” or reanimated into them whenever their current sleeves begin to deteriorate. Enter Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), an extremely wealthy Meth, short for Methuselah, the Biblical character who lived to be over 900 years old, who enlists the aid of a long-deceased soldier, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), to solve his own murder. Throughout the show, Kovacs embarks on a mystery that opens up to a larger web of deception that by the show’s end reveals the supposed heroes to be not as innocent as they first appeared.
What made Altered Carbon work as well as it did was it’s immense attention to detail in creating a world that felt very reminiscent to Blade Runner while still being able to carve its own niche in the sci-fi genre. The high production values are noticeable from the very first scene and the show’s depiction of a futuristic world just outside our reach draws you in almost immediately before the story ever unfolds.
The unsolved murder of Bancroft sets the stage for an interesting narrative across the season, but it quickly fades into the background as more and more interesting plot lines become present that grab the viewer’s attention more effectively. On several occasions, it felt that some of the characters were forced to remind the Kovacs that there was still a murder to solve. It just seemed as if the show was on the verge of going away from the initial story.
The odd thing was that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bancroft was the instrument to bring Takeshi into this version of the future and once there, characters from his past began to find their way back into his life which became far more intriguing than the murder of Bancroft, however, as the story progresses the show does a solid job of bringing back the central focus towards the murder and Bancroft’s killer in what provides for an exciting finale.
Despite its short episode count, Altered Carbon does not seem to utilize several episodes in the middle of the season to the best of their ability. The narratives almost stall in order to introduce more characters and more conflict that feel unnecessary or distracting. Eventually, these plot lines settle into their own though you occasionally can’t help but wonder if it could actually balance all of these story lines adequately and tie up all of these loose ends in a timely fashion.
This doubt was snuffed out by having one of the best episodes of the entire season in its seventh entry entitled, “Nora Inu” which focuses solely on Kovacs’ past as a soldier and how the people he called family came to meet their end. However, even as the story lines began to reach their conclusion, Altered Carbon occasionally suffers from a lack of character development. The most notable victim of this was Kovacs’ sister, Reileen Kawahara (Dichen Lachman), who was longed believed dead by Kovacs. Upon her reemergence, she was simply a one-note character that seemed to repeat the same line over and over to Kovacs just in various ways to the point where their conversations quickly became redundant. Thankfully, this only occurs until the resolution of their story which was something that actually felt just and earned.
Altered Carbon is not a show for everyone. Its depiction of a futuristic world in which body swapping is a way of life and the concept of immortality is commonplace is something that demands a lot from the viewer in order to invest in the show, but if you are patient with all of the peripheral aspects of the show and focus on the story you will be rewarded with an exciting murder mystery that evolves into so much more.
It’s ten episodes that are easy to binge. That aside, Altered Carbon was a pleasant surprise and an enjoyable show overall. The characters and narratives were interesting and at times frustrating. The production value, special effects and action sequences were gorgeous and draw you in almost immediately and the finale was satisfying as the credits rolled.