Netflix has another engaging sci-fi series in Altered Carbon.
The streaming giant broke down the show’s origin story in a press statement.
Based on the classic cyberpunk noir novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is an intriguing story of murder, love, sex, and betrayal, set more than 300 years in the future. Society has been transformed by new technology: consciousness can be digitized; human bodies are interchangeable; death is no longer permanent. Takeshi Kovacs is the lone surviving soldier in a group of elite interstellar warriors who were defeated in an uprising against the new world order. His mind was imprisoned – on ice – for centuries until Laurens Bancroft, an impossibly wealthy, long-lived man, offers Kovacs the chance to live again. In exchange, Kovacs has to solve a murder … that of Bancroft himself.
After experiencing the first two episodes, the biggest takeaway is that the primary character, Takeshi Kovacs, confused but highly intrigued.
Episode One: “Out of the Past”
The world of Altered Carbon is rich with neon lights, holograms, flying cars and a dense story. This episode with is ripe with flashbacks that set up the main protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) an Envoy that is military trained and very deadly.
Envoys have super-human strength and enhanced senses. Because Envoys are essentially walking weapons, they die repeatedly which cause them to need new “Sleeves.”
Sleeves are new bodies that can basically allow anyone to transfer their conscience into another body through the way of a disk implanted behind the head known as a “Stack.” These Stack mechanisms download a person’s soul basically and when a new Sleeve is made its implanted given the person essentially a new life.
Sleeving too much for any ordinary person is said to cause insanity or could permanently damage someone’s psyche. Not so for Envoys, however. Envoys had developed an immunity to the multiple sleeve issues that would cause mental instability with the only drawback being they lose any sense of remorse, fear, or natural human reaction.
Great for a battlefield, not so much for everyday life. Japanese-American Envoy, Takeshi Kovacs, awakens from a 250 years digital stasis as the result of a prison sentence due to a mission that went horribly wrong. Kovacs awakens in the body of a Caucasian man and sees a world caught up in technology but still a slave to wealth.
Despite being brought back from death, people still have to pay better bodies and numerous upgrades. There is always the option of being put back on “ice” as they so crudely call it until a more desirable sleeve becomes available. It is not long after his resurrection that Takeshi becomes the highly sought after commodity of the wealthy and powerful.
Laurens Brancroft (James Purefoy) is a part of the super elite. His extensive amount of wealth affords him to live forever by switching sleeves at a moments notice instead of having to wait for the body to become withered and weak like the rest of the populace. These type of people are known as “Meths.” Derived from the name Methusela from the Bible who lived to be 969 years old. But all the money in the world can’t buy you insight into your own mysterious murder.
This is the basis for Brancroft hiring Kovacs. In a future where people’s memories are uploaded into stacks, victims last recounts help authorities find their murderers. Something that would have been helpful had Brancroft’s memories not been erased 48 hours before his death. The authorities had ruled it a suicide in a lazy attempt at closing a case with more holes in it than Brancroft’s dead body.
Refusing to be a lap dog for Meth, Kovacs decides to go on an extravagant bender and becomes awash in a sea of light and spectacle in the city. He is saved by tough-as-nails police officer Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda).
Officer Ortega has a past with Brancroft and tries to pump Kovacs for Intel over drinks. Kovacs who just wants to be left to his own devices shrugs her off and ends up at an old world looking establishment known as The Raven.
Dressed as the poet Edgar Allen Poe, the host vamps for Kovacs describing The Raven as the best A.I. establishment in town. Before Kovacs can pay for a room, Poe and Kovacs are besieged by armed assailants. When Kovacs pays for his stay at The Raven, that also includes the protection of The Raven.
Two large gun turrets drop from the ceiling as Poe reaches for his shotgun behind the bar as the assailant’s blood and guts are splattered over the walls of The Raven.
When the authorities arrive, Lt. Ortega is on the scene and recognizes one of the dead assailants. Dimi The Twin, who had resleeved into twin bodies. Dimi is a collaborator of the Yakuza.
Episode Two: “Fallen Angel”
As Kovacs begins his investigation into the mysterious murder of Laurens Brancroft he starts to realize one of his prime suspects might be the victim himself. Amidst the investigation, flashes of Kovacs former life are on display. The existence of all of the Envoys was destroyed by well trained and heavily armored soldiers.
When Kovacs meets Brancroft’s attorney Prescott (Tamara Taylor) its time to begin the first part of the investigation. More is learned about Lt. Ortega and her obsessive nature.
She unlawfully put a tracker on Kovacs and her father was murdered and due to his religious beliefs refused to be resleeved into another body.
Elsewhere, Poe visits a virtual poker game where he is mocked for hosting humans in a hotel setting. When Poe enlightens them to the fact that he does so to study human emotion he is mocked until he leaves the game.
Meanwhile, Kovacs learns that just before Brancroft’s death, he made a lucrative business deal he doesn’t remember. When Kovacs confronts Brancroft about this revelation Kovacs lets Brancroft know he will do whatever it takes to solve this case even if it means exposing secrets Brancroft would rather keep hidden.
Kovacs pours over a series of video death threats posed at Brancroft searching for clues. He comes across one with a military grade gun he recognizes and traces it down to the slums of the city. There we meet former Marine medic, Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh) whose daughter Lizzie was caught up in “dealings” with Brancroft. Dealings that led to her brutal beating. Despite motive, Kovacs concludes Vernon is not the killer.
When Kovacs goes to clear his head at a VR Sim it opens up old wounds from his days of being an Envoy. “The Battle of Stronghold” the simulation is called. It was a battle that had killed everyone in his past life. A battle that portrayed his side as evil and bloodthirsty soldiers who murdered women and children without hesitation.
Kovacs goes to the scene of Lizzie’s murder, a grimy joint called “Jack It Off.” When he interviews a worker there he finds out that Brancroft had a history of frequenting the establishment.
He had an obsession with choking out some of the women sometimes but always promised to buy them new sleeves if he did any “permanent” damage.
When Kovacs leaves he runs into Vernon and the two tussle before both get jumped by two unknown assailants. One of which has a mechanical spine. Lt. Ortega arrives on the scene and busts them up temporarily arresting Kovacs until Prescott arrives to free him from jail.
When Kovacs arrives back at the Raven he is met by Miriam Brancroft, Laurens wife. She throws herself at him and the two have sex. However, the room is bugged as its seen that someone is recording the act as the episode fades to black.
Altered Carbon manages to easily maintain attention right out of the gate. Kinnaman is likable and Netflix might have another hit on their hands.
Watch: Altered Carbon Featurette