TV Review – Altered Carbon: Season One

TL;DR – Imagine if Westworld and Blade Runner had a baby with Ghost in the Shell as the midwife.

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

Altered Carbon

What do we do as a society when the body is no longer the final resting place of the mind, or maybe even our souls? Well you get a world where you can wake up the dead and get them to tell you who killed them, where a child in a hit and run can get a second chance at life, where the rich can live forever jumping from one cloned body to the other, and where jail terms can last hundreds of years and you will wake up in a different body than the one you came in on. It is a world of great possibility but also a world of great sadness and inequality. So today we will be unpacking the first season of Altered Carbon an interesting show with highs and lows. However, quickly before we start, I have not read the books this show is based off, as such, I won’t be able to tell you how the show works as an adaptation on the source material. As well as this, because we are looking at the season as a whole, there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.

So to set the scene, in the future humans expanded across the solar system and into the universe. It is here that they came across the remnants of the ‘Elder Race’. Using the technology found in the ruins they were able to fit every human in the universe with a ‘stack’ which stores memories. This means even if you die as long as your stack is intact you have the chance to be wound back up in a new body or as they are called ‘sleeves’. Now with any new technology that reshapes the way we interact with our bodies it is both accepted and actively opposed across different sectors of society. For some, it is a multi-sleeve, unlimited cloning, free-for-all. However, for the Neo-C’s they believe you have only one life and if you get spun back up you lose your soul.

Altered Carbon creates a world that is both instantly familiar, yet apart from what we have seen before
Altered Carbon creates a world that is both instantly familiar, yet apart from what we have seen before Image Credit: Netflix

Within this world we open on Takeshi Kovacs (Byron Mann, Morgan Gao, Will Yun Lee & Joel Kinnaman) as he is brutally killed by UN Officers, only to wake up 250 years later on Earth in a new body. Everyone he knows is dead and he is now in the body of a white dude with a nicotine addiction. However, Tak is not free as his parole has been bought by Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) one of the richest men in the universe. Laurens is in need of someone with Tak’s specific skill set because he needs something investigates … his death. Someone just pulse rifled Laurens melting his head and destroying his stack, for anyone else this would be real-death but Laurens is rich enough to be able to afford an off-site backup. The police investigation led by Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) concluded that he committed suicide, but Bancroft’s don’t commit suicide. So soon Tak is stuck between powerful forces across the planet and his past trying to stop his investigation.

One of the areas where Altered Carbon excels is in its setting. So in Season One, we spend most of our time split between Bay City on Earth, the megapolis that built up around old San Francisco, and flashbacks to Tak and his sister Reileen Kawahara’s (Riley Lai Nelet & Dichen Lachman) childhood on Harlan’s World. This creates an interesting juxtaposition between the built world of Bay City and the natural world of Harlan’s. Though on the fun side of things Altered Carbon was one of those series that shows that I have watched a lot of sci-fi in my time, because in the first 30 seconds of the show I knew like the mountain of sci-fi before it such as Stargate and The 4400 that it was filmed in Vancouver, making use of its eclectic architecture. Now a show in this style is always going to be compared to films like Blade Runner or shows like Ghost in the Shell, and from a visual perspective, I think it did a good job of replicating that feel on a smaller budget, like the film Mute (see review) that came out recently.

While it gets better towards the end of the season, I wish they had given Joel Kinnaman more of a range. Though, he does get some of the more iconic fight scenes that I have seen in a while.
While it gets better towards the end of the season, I wish they had given Joel Kinnaman more of a range. Though, he does get some of the more iconic fight scenes that I have seen in a while. Image Credit: Netflix

There are some wonderful sets in Altered Carbon, you see it in the grimy streets of Bay City, to the hallow halls of The Aerium. I think my favourite set was The Raven Hotel, the hotel run by the AI Poe (Chris Conner). The macabre yet inviting hotel is an embodiment of its proprietor and the story he is going to tell over the season. You see this throughout the season, and it really helps create the world and the characters and bring them to life. Also, this setting allows for some truly weird and wonderful things, like the same actor Matt Biedel playing a street thug, an Abuela, and a Russian mobster.

Now the setting might be good, but that is only the foundation that you use to build a story on and this is another of Altered Carbon’s strengths. At the heart of this crazy world of body jumpings, AIs, and casting your subconscious from one planet to another in a second, is a good old-fashioned murder mystery. This adds to the setting by providing that neo-noir feels with a twist, because the murder victim is still alive. Because of this, it is not as simple as first appears as different facets of Tak and Laurens’ lives start to unravel around them. This means that we have multiple mysteries to unwrap, who killed Laurens, who left Lizzie (Hayley Law) to die in an alley, and who or what betrayed the envoys. It is the mystery that will draw you through the season and as each piece is unveiled you can’t wait to see all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

In many respects Altered Carbon is worth watching for Edgar Allen Poe alone
In many respects Altered Carbon is worth watching for Edgar Allen Poe alone Image Credit: Netflix

However, it is far from the perfect show with a couple of issues holding it back somewhat. The first is the way they have personified the leading character, Tak. Here, they have him playing this dower, single-toned character with very little range and while it is much better than say Suicide Squad (see review) it just stands out with all the other fascinating performances going on. From a story perspective, I think they foreshadowed a little bit too much, so, for example, there was no great surprise when a character that should have been dead turned out to be alive. As well as this, some, though not all, of the sex and violence, felt more there for the sake of being there than in service of the story.

In the end, do we recommend Altered Carbon? Yes, well at least a conditional yes. You should know going in that there will be a lot of violence, sex, and nudity and if you don’t like those things then you will not enjoy your time here. However, for me it was on the whole well-acted, it was telling an interesting story, and mused on the ramifications of a world where death might not actually mean that you are dead. It is also an interesting dive into the power structure that is not all that far removed from the world we live in. Hell, I’d watch it for the absurdness of AI Poe alone.

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you seen Altered Carbon yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Altered Carbon
Directed by
– Miguel Sapochnik, Nick Hurran, Alex Graves, Uta Briesewitz, Andy Goddard & Peter Hoar
Written by – Laeta Kalogridis, Steve Blackman, Brian Nelson, Russel Friend, Garrett Lerner, Nevin Densham, Steve Blackman, Casey Fisher & Laeta Kalogridis
Based offAltered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
Created by – Laeta Kalogridis
Starring in Season One – Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Chris Conner, Dichen Lachman, Ato Essandoh, Kristin Lehman, Trieu Tran & Renée Elise Goldsberry with Will Yun Lee, Morgan Gao, Byron Mann, Riley Lai Nelet, Hayley Law, Marlene Forte, Tamara Taylor, Adam Busch, Hiro Kanagawa, Matt Frewer, Tahmoh Penikett, Michael Eklund & Matt Biedel


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