Altered Carbon Season 1 Overall Review

Altered Carbon S1

Altered Carbon is a great blend of many sci-fi tropes and ideas, beautifully brought to life with a high budget and a great cast. End of review… No, seriously, I loved it, and I knew nothing about it before it was suddenly advertised by Netflix. I mean, it was kind of funny that this month I’ve reviewed the two Blade Runner films and a bunch of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and this series has strong beats from both (although I will point out that the book “Altered Carbon” came out before the new BSG, so I’m not saying the similarities to resurrection technology was this show copying that!) So with that all said, let’s take a closer look!

Synopsis:

In the future, a person’s memories have been decanted into “cortical stacks”, storage devices of alien design which have been reverse engineered, duplicated en masse, and surgically inserted into the vertebrae at the back of the neck. Physical bodies, called “sleeves”, are disposable vessels that can accept any “stack”. Takeshi Kovacs, a political operative with mercenary skills, wakes up 250 years after his previous sleeve is terminated. He is given the choice to either spend the rest of time in prison for his crimes, or to help solve the murder of Laurens Bancroft, one of the wealthiest men in the settled worlds…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

Altered Carbon S1 2

Our lead duo… sort of. Takeshi on the left looks quite a bit different for most of the series…

Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnamna / Will Yun Lee / Byron Mann) – Takeshi has had a complicated life. An abusive father, a sister he had to protect, time served in the Protectorate army and time as part of a rebellion fighting against it. Now 250 years after his previous death, Kovacs finds himself in a strange body in a strange world, having to help the kind of all-powerful rich person he was trying to prevent from existing…

Reileen Kawahara (Dichen Lachman) – Reileen is Takeshi’s sister. She felt abandoned by him when she was sold into the Yakuza after he joined the Protectorate, but they soon mended their fences, and joined Quellcrist’s rebellion. After that? Things didn’t quite go as smoothly…

Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) – Kristin, a lieutenant in the police force, has a bone to pick with Laurens Bancroft, but his wealth and status prevents her from pursuing anything to do with it, even if it’s tied into the framing of her former lover…

Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) – Bancroft has been alive for many hundreds of years, using clone sleeves to remain in the same body for all this time. He is wealthy, powerful and thanks to regularly timed back-ups, practically immortal. So how is it that he was killed in a room with a weapon only he or his wife could reach? His back-up mind lacking the relevant information, Laurens takes extreme measures to find out…

Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh) – Elliot has hit on hard times, alone and with his daughter’s corrupted stack, he has very little to live for. That’s why when someone barges in and eventually gives him everything he wants, he’ll be loyal to that person!

Edgar Poe (Chris Conner) – Poe is an A.I. construct that runs its own hotel. A.I. hotels and brothels have a poor reputation, so when Takeshi Kovacs enters and requests a room, Poe is more than eager to make sure he gets all the help he needs…

Lizzie Elliot (Hayley Law) – Lizzie is Vernon’s daughter, and a horrible experience in death has lead her stack to be corrupt. Only a very expensive and slow procedure can help her, but how can Vernon provide that…?

Miriam Bancroft (Kristin Lehman) – Miriam is Laurens’ wife, and after several hundred years of marriage, is prone to trying out some new experiences…

Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry) – Quell was the leader of the anti-Protectorate force and totally against the use of stack technology to make the rich and powerful immortal, for… various reasons…

Plus many more!

The Good:

Altered Carbon S1 1

Just a small taster of how great the show looks…

Where to start with this… Let’s go with the story, and the world building. Central character Takeshi Kovacs is a fun “anti-hero”, although in flashbacks we see he was the more traditional hero earlier in his life. He has that … “bad ass”, “doesn’t give a shit even though he often blatantly does” quality that makes him very fun to watch, and the flashback scenes just add some extra layers to him as the series progresses. The idea of someone hiring somebody to solve their own murder is fun, and the general use of transporting someone’s essence into a new body, or sleeve, and how its effected the world is great. It’s one of those shows that doesn’t sit you down and explain everything, it lets the visuals and dialogue fill it in instead. I honestly can’t say enough about the visuals as well… I mean, The Expanse has shown how good TV sci-fi can look nowadays, but this blows that out of the water. Properly stunning, from the Blade Runner-esque filthy neo-noir streets to the flying club and skyscrapers in the clouds, it looks amazing.

Then we get to some of the other cast. Ortega is again, a pretty standard caricature of a fiery Latino cop who doesn’t play by the rules, but it’s written and performed so well that you don’t even think about it. Her family being religious and some being of the opinion that re-sleeving is against the will of God is a good side-story, and indeed the eventual revelation that the sleeve Takeshi is wearing being the body of her old boyfriend who was framed was a nice, and wonderfully weird, storyline. Tak’s other allies are all good fun too. I loved Poe, the hotel A.I. made up to resemble Edgar Alan Poe and his period and style; he often had some of the best lines and I was genuinely annoyed when he was offed in the final episode. The Elliots, which end up being Vernon, standard gun-totting ally, Lizzie the arse-kicking bad-ass, and Vernon’s wife / Lizzie’s mother Ava, a good hacker who was put into a male sleeve on the cheap, are a great set of storylines woven into the over-all arc. Lizzie going from mentally abused and terrified to bad-ass in the real world was good fun, especially her relationship with Poe.

Then we get to the big revelation, the real threat being Takeshi’s sister Rei, who betrayed him and Quell during the rebellion’s end and has since lived the high life as a rich woman with clones and back ups, the kind of life Tak, Quell and the rest were supposed to be fighting against. Can’t praise the finale enough, the confrontation between Ortega and the creepy killer who worships Reileen, and the fight between Tak and Rei, which eventually leads to the two dying together (although Takeshi had “double sleeved” himself, so he’s still going post ending…) The final shots of Kovacs cradling his sister while remembering Quell telling a story, all which the sky club they were in plummets into the ocean… just brilliant stuff.

Then we get the Bancrofts getting their comeuppance, though Laurens ends up being one of those detestable rich guys who still have a sense of honour about them… it just makes him not the very worst kind of villain, but Miriam was fun to see go down for being an unpleasant slag.

There is so much to talk about here I’ve only scratched the surface. There are weird scenes of virtual torture, the same body being used to sleeve a thug, Ortega’s kind and gentle grandmother and a hired assassin within a few episodes, Takeshi having to fight his previous sleeve in a fight club, some great scenes set in the past with the frankly cool looking Protectorate troops fighting the resistance… Just so many more weird and brilliant sci-fi action and / or drama. The series is properly top-class.

The Bad:

Altered Carbon S1 3

Why do the bad guys always get the cool armour?

I’m honestly struggling. Some have complained the pace is too slow at the start, and maybe that’s true for some, but for me I watched two episodes a night and never felt anything other than wanting to watch the next one right away. I have all my fingers crossed that it gets a Season 2, especially knowing Altered Carbon is book one of three…

Overall Thoughts:

Altered Carbon S1 4

Probably not the kind of image you’d associate with a top-class sci-fi series…

Altered Carbon is a frankly amazing Sci-fi series, full of great twists, characters and stunning imagery. Give it a chance and you’ll find yourself binge-watching it as quickly as possible, and as a reward you’re given a satisfying conclusion, that will hopefully lead into a second go around…

5 Star Watch

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