In this dystopian future death is avoidable. At the point of death a person's consciousness is downloaded into their "stack" - a microchip built into the vertebrae at the base of the neck - which can then be inserted into a new body or "sleeve". 250 years after his death, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) - a man who fought a rebellion against this very way of life - is awoken into Bay City (present day San Francisco) by Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). Bancroft is one of the oldest and richest men on the planet and he wants Kovacs to investigate a murder, his own. Throughout the course of the investigation, Kovacs will come to blows with the police and the criminal underworld, some of whom may have more of an issue with the sleeve than the man who's occupying it!
Altered Carbon is like Blade Runner meets The 6th Day - that Schwarzenegger movie about cloning. It's got the cyberpunk grittiness of Blade Runner, a noir, mystery thriller and the loner investigator. While the technology used to avoid death is very similar to that seen in The 6th Day. For the rich this means cloned sleeves allowing them to retain the same appearance. Whereas the rest of us have to make do with what bodies are available, which makes for some horrifying and hilarious moments throughout.
As Kovacs emerges from his 250 year nap we are introduced to a cyberpunk, dystopian future you'd be forgiven for thinking was the Los Angeles seen in Blade Runner. It's a world filled with stunning visuals, everything from the massive cityscapes of Bay City to the gloomy neon-lit streets and the Edgar Allen Poe themed Raven Hotel. Whereas regular people exist at ground level on gloomy, overpopulated streets, those wealthy enough live a life of beauty and excess in skyscrapers that tower above the clouds.
For the most part, we experience this world through Kovacs, either through the course of his investigation or through flashbacks into his life before he was put on ice. While he explores this new world, he manages to get himself into a lot of trouble, although it's not always his fault. It seems that the previous occupant of his sleeve had just as much talent for pissing people of as he does. Which does mean that at times the murder investigation takes a back seat. However, this isn't to the detriment of the overall narrative, in fact it makes sense that Kovacs would need to make a few friends in order to complete his investigation. Friends like Police Lieutenant Kristen Ortega (Martha Higareda), former soldier Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh) and The Raven Hotel Manager Poe (Chris Conner) - Conner delivers a show-stealing performance as the A.I. hotel manager based on the writer, Edgar Allen Poe.
The show has received criticism for its graphic violence and nudity, of which there is plenty, much like the source novel. However, the fight/action scenes are masterfully shot and well choreographed and the higher age rating means the wounds received are more accurately depicted. In fact it stands to reason - to me anyway - that given the current state of our society, the one we see in Altered Carbon is an accurate prediction of our future. In a world where death doesn't matter and people are living to be hundreds of years old, it's more than believable that we would develop a "seen it all, done it all" type of attitude and gradually sink to more depraved levels to get our jollies!
My one complaint about the show - without giving too much away - would be that it gets rather predictable towards the end. The mystery that envelops the story dissipates a little too quickly, and the reveal of the villain doesn't really surprise, from that point on the story gets fairly generic. That's not to say the ending isn't both exciting and action-packed, because it is. It is a shame however, when all the creativity that goes into building a world like this and the story surrounding it, gets lost when it comes to the villain.
With Altered Carbon, Netflix have created another compelling and easily binge-able show. I personally got through all ten episodes in two sittings, and it only took two sittings because life got in the way. Altered Carbon is filled with excellent performances, intense action scenes and stunning visuals, not to mention an intriguing mystery. The first season ends in such a way that provides the audience with enough closure whilst also leaving things open enough to keep us guessing about a second season. Although the graphic violence and nudity may put some people off, I highly recommend you check this one out, especially if you're a fan of Blade Runner and/or noir mystery/detective thrillers...especially those set in a dystopian future.
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