Altered Carbon: Season 1 – Review

Altered Carbon is streaming on Netflix starting February 2nd.

By John Baker

In the future, humans have explored space, made incredible advances in medicine and technology, and in the process turned the human body into a disposable piece of equipment.

That’s the world Takeshi Kovacs has been re-introduced to after a 250-year absence.

In the new Netflix sci-fi offering Altered Carbon, the human consciousness, its essence, is no longer contained in the body, but in a technological marvel called a “cortical stack” that attaches to the base of the neck. With the “stack,” people can change bodies regularly and live for decades, even centuries. The human body, called a “sleeve” can be changed as often as one can afford on this futuristic earth that Kovacs has been recalled to.

Altered Carbon offers a sci-fi vibe that is part Blade Runner, part Killjoys, The Expanse, and Firefly, with a tautly conceived mystery tossed right in the middle to stir up the action.

Kovacs possesses the enhanced mental and physical skills of a trained soldier, mercenary and all-around fighting type, which are tools that one Laurens Bancroft has a particular interest in. Kovacs had his “stack” in storage while serving a long-term prison sentence for multiple acts of murder and terrorism, but Bancroft has need of man of his skill set. So, with his prodigious wealth and influence, Bancroft arranges for Kovacs’ stack to be implanted in a new “sleeve,” and the the game is afoot.

What we have is the ultimate mystery. Bancroft was murdered some time ago, but thanks to the ability to upload his stack regularly, he’s been reborn in a new sleeve. Unfortunately, he can’t remember anything during that period. Kovacs, he hopes, will find out who killed him.

It’s under this guise that Altered Carbon takes us on quite the wild ride during its 10 episode maiden voyage. There are twists and turns aplenty in this new show. Very few things are as they appear to be and Kovacs, who comes with plenty of demons from his past, is tasked with trying to sort through the lies, misdirections, clones, and assorted changing “sleeves” that often take him, and the clues he finds, down interesting and unexpected directions.

Kovacs’ hunt for the truth about what befell the earlier Bancroft iteration reveals family secrets, the struggles of seeming immortality (yeah, you can get pretty bored), and the painful realization that there are others involved in the story — and some of them want to share the delights of virtual torture, underground fight clubs, or a simple beating with him. Through it all, Kovacs receives visits from faces of the past, recalls stories of his youth, and starts to gather an eclectic collection of “associates” under his banner.

One of the more interesting is a fun AI character called Poe. Poe runs the hotel that Kovacs winds up lodging in and proves himself not only useful, but witty as the day is long. He’s a fun addition and every scene he’s in is a worthwhile watch. Kovacs also draws the attention of police detective Kristin Ortega, who has a Jones for the Bancroft family and becomes obsessed with Kovacs and why he’s been put on the job. At odds early, the pair find a nice piece of common ground as the investigation progesses.

The future is a place of wonder, but also comes with its fair share of grittiness. I admit, after the first episode I wasn’t sure of this show, but as I got into it I found it addicting. There’s a lot going on and plenty to keep track of, but the show does a great job of bringing me along on the ride and I was hooked.

Joel Kinnaman does a tremendous job as the burnt out Kovacs, who has plenty of demons to contend with as he tries to work his way through the muck and mire of a mystery that adds unique elements with each episode.

James Purefoy (Bancroft), Chris Conner (Poe), Hiro Kanagawa (Captain Tanaka), Kristin Lehman (Miriam Bancroft) and Martha Higareda (Kristin Ortega) are a stellar cast that delivers plenty of bang for the acting buck. It’s sci-fi with the kind of intriguing twists that will make you want to watch the next episode and imagine what the future might truly hold for humanity.

I give Altered Carbon an B+.