By Robert Geoghegan
Altered Carbon is an American science-fiction television series created by Laeta Kalogridis, adapting Richard K. Morgan’s sci-fi novel of the same name from 2002.
The series takes place over 350 years in the future, in the year 2384. In this world, people’s consciousnesses are contained in “stacks”, storage devices attached to the back of a person’s neck. Physical bodies are turned into “sleeves”, mere disposable vessels. Essentially, Altered Carbon is set in a future where a person’s consciousness can live forever.
Mankind has colonised planets beyond our solar system and their advanced technology effectively renders them immortal in theory. In practice, only the wealthiest get to live forever. The sleeve is an engineered human body, a blank slate of sorts. The stack is kind of like a portable hard drive for human personality. Everyone has a stack, and if their body dies, they can just load their stack into a new sleeve.
Takeshi Kovacs, portrayed by Joel Kinnaman, is killed and wakes up 250 years later in the body of Elias Ryker, a former cop who quickly comes in contact with another police officer named Kristin Ortega (played by Martha Higareda).
Kovacs is an ex-Envoy, a military unit formed to cope with the challenge of interstellar warfare. Kovacs, finds himself working for Laurens Bancroft, a so-called “Meth,” or Methuselah, one of the one-percenters that can afford to keep his stack in circulation from now until the end of time.
Bancroft offers Takeshi a small fortune and a full pardon to investigate a murder – his own murder… While police ruled it a suicide, Bancroft is convinced he was murdered and wants Kovacs to find out the truth. Each episode is packed with valuable information that will slowly unravel the complex story. Kovacs also has flashbacks that are interspersed through the story.
Altered Carbon’s main issue is its way of storytelling. It is a Cyberpunk show that alludes to different philosophical concepts. It is an ambitious, convoluted, violent and derivative. It raises provocative questions about the social implications of turning people’s souls into transferable digital files, but piles so much exposition and so many story lines on top of everything that it doesn’t really work.
It wants to tell so many stories, it seems to get lost within its need for action. Altered Carbon goes from one exposition filled scene to another, only solving the problems it raises through action. And perhaps that is the point, the show opens by saying not to believe everything you see. And proceeds to tell us that everyone can be anyone.
The first season consists of ten episodes and premiered on Netflix on February 2, 2018.