This week our Netflix pick is the new sci-fi series Altered Carbon. Aesthetically pleasing and as true to cyperpunk as you can possibly wish for. This 10-episode gem gives an excessive observation of technology’s impact on society. It is certainly worthy of its own standing, mixing fresh ideas with previously explored suggestions of what the future may hold.
Altered Carbon doesn’t take long for the action to start, already set in the distant future, protagonist Takeshi Kovacs is involved in a shoot-out. Despite putting up a valiant fight, this eventually leads to his demise. It is later confirmed that Kovacs was part of a group of future elite interstellar warriors who fought against an uprising for a new world order. Fast forward 250 years and Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) wakes up. His mind was imprisoned until incredibly wealthy businessman Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) gives him the chance to live again.
It’s explained that society has been transformed by new technology, leading to human bodies being interchangeable and death no longer being permanent. Consciousness is fully digitized and kept in stacks, futuristic storage devices that hold everything from mannerisms to memories. If your body dies, your stack (assuming it hasn’t been destroyed) can easily be moved over to a different body – which are now known as ‘sleeves’. Immortality is essentially an option for everyone, however wealthy people can choose their own sleeves, paying for upgrades if they wish. Whereas the poor get sleeves they’re given. There is a potent scene in which a 7-year-old girl who was killed in a hit and run, only to be brought back and forced to live in the body of an old woman. Being reunited with her parents, dazed and confused as she struggles to comprehend what has happened. Her parents are simply told that if they don’t like it their only option is paying for an upgrade they can’t afford.
The rich, known as meths, live in skyscrapers high above the San Francisco clouds away from the dark and rainy streets that have been left to the poor. Kovacs is taken to meet Bancroft who in turn explains why he has given him this new lease of life. Due to Bancroft’s wealth he has lived for hundreds of years, never having to change his appearance as his stack just continues to get moved to new sleeves that are cloned from his original body. Bancroft has acquired Kovacs to help solve a murder – that of Bancroft’s himself. Unable to remember any of the events 48 hours prior to his execution, Bancroft feels Kovacs is the right man to help find answers. Despite the mysterious murder being temporary due to his stack being moved to a new clone, Bancroft is sure that whoever tried to kill him, will try again. Kovacs has one choice, he either does the job he has been brought back to life to do, or he goes back in to storage, or ‘on ice’ as they call it.
You really start to get an understanding of what Kovacs is up against as early as episode 2. After making the decision to take the offer given to him, Kovacs sets out looking for answers. As the story develops we are introduced to some intriguing sub-plots. Most notably the chemistry that Kovacs builds with detective Kristen Ortega (Martha Higareda) and flashbacks to his warrior life before he was put ‘on ice’. We also begin to realise what effects having interchangeable identities has. Kovacs soon realising that the previous proprietor of his ‘sleeve’ had enemies of his own. Each episode is packed with valuable information that will slowly unravel the complex story.
Sure, Altered Carbon has its faults, the vague description of time simply states that this all takes place over 300 years in to the future. Despite this we are led to believe that bicycles are still something that are used, tattoo parlours resemble that of the present-day and there is no development in fashion – honestly if you went there in today’s attire you would fit right in. It is a safe assumption that these things are put alongside the bleak streets, unsightly holographic signs and grimy urban architecture to really show the complete divide between the rich and the poor. We are introduced to technology that shows leaflets that automatically change their images and adverts to suit your needs, Black Mirror style eye implants all the way to flying cars. Yet all this advancement in technology and somehow Altered Carbon’s far future still feels inexplicably near.
That’s all minor stuff for me though, as what you are getting is something visually stunning, with a story that is laid out extremely well. There’s some truly thrilling as well as violent scenes that will certainly keep you entertained. There is a whole load of nudity and some nicely timed humour. Ultimately though you just need to sit back and enjoy, you’re guaranteed to have fun.
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