Altered Carbon is a new scifi series on Netflix. It follows Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a criminal and a mysterious “Envoy” who has been imprisoned for 250 years. He is revived and given a new body called a “sleeve” and set to the task of solving the rich, powerful and ultimately immortal, Laurens Bancroft’s (James Purefoy) murder. I’m coming at this fresh. I haven’t read the book by Richard Morgan that the series is based on and my exposure to it leading up to the release has been limited to the trailer on Netflix. My first impression is that I like the premise. Back in the hoary days of cyberpunk, there wasn’t a lot of solid material going around in the genre. I came to love it through the table top roleplaying game Shadowrun. From there I went into the wonderful high tech dystopias of William Gibson, Walter John Willaims and inevitably into the worlds of Philip K. Dick. Altered Carbon fits well within the genre and pulled me right in.
The show doesn’t want for action as danger seems to follow Kovacs like a lost puppy giving him ample opportunity to showcase his awesome Envoy abilities. What exactly being an Envoy entails is left intentionally occluded in this episode. Some other interesting plot points to watch are:
The Uprising: This references a revolution in the distant past. Kovacs was a part of this revolution which was waged in order to keep the rich from obtaining immortality. It ultimately failed.
The Falconer: She’s a mysterious leader figure of the Uprising. Kovacs gets an old notebook of hers and it stirs some painful emotions in him that are only glimpsed at right now.
Songspires: These look like alien trees that the importance of is only alluded to during Kovacs’s encounter with it inside Bancroft’s house. The sight of it stirs his memory yet again.
The world it is set in: Though the initial vibe of Altered Carbon was steeped in Cyber Punk, there were several mentions of other planets and the Songspires hints to a deeper spacefaring scifi element.
I couldn’t help but feel that Altered Carbon did have a problem deciding what kind of show it wanted to be. Some scenes were rife with cyber punk dystopia with all the Bladerunner-esque trappings. Others had a space crime noir feel to it like the first season of The Expanse. Kovacs’s flashbacks are straight out of an action movie. And there is enough sex and nudity to make HBO proud.
The characters are solid, if not a bit cliché and their stories are all set up well in the first episode. Kovacs is an envoy and former revolutionary revived to solve Bancroft’s murder. Kristen Ortega (Martha Higareda) is a futuristic cop who investigates Kovacs trying to figure out why someone with his troubled past would be chosen to solve a case she couldn’t.
The show definitely hits the ground running and takes you on a weird and wild ride through an intriguing world rife with action, conspiracy and scifi goodness. Overall, Altered Carbon promises to be a show worth watching.