Altered Carbon Drama

TV Review: The Future is Binge-Worthy in Netflix's 'Altered Carbon'

January 23, 2018Ben MK

When Takeshi Kovacs (Byron Mann) died, he didn't expect to be awoken again 250 years later on another world. Still, that's exactly what happened. Resurrected into the body of another man (Joel Kinnaman), Kovacs must now help solve a crime made more difficult by the fact that nothing — or no one — is as it seems.

Based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Philip K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is a new sci-fi series set 300 years into the future, where interplanetary travel has become commonplace, wars rage on distant planets and biological death has been defeated. It has become possible to digitize the human consciousness into a cortical "stack" and then implant it into any human "sleeve," effectively making immortality a reality for anyone with the financial means, and even allowing murder victims to testify on their own behalf.

Kovacs isn't one of society's elite, but he was an elite soldier trained in the rigors of intergalactic combat. And as the last of his kind, he's now the only man capable of solving the murder of Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). A man who has lived for over 360 years, Bancroft, along with his wife, Miriam (Kristen Lehman), and their nearly two dozen children, are some of Earth's wealthiest citizens — so wealthy, in fact, that they can afford to live high above the neon-lit alleyways of Bay City. But when Bancroft becomes the apparent victim of a targeted hit, he pulls Kovacs' stack out of cold storage and enlists the reluctant soldier's help in tracking down the killer.

The show's other characters include Bay City police detective Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) and Poe (Chris Conner), the synthetic proprietor of an A.I. hotel called The Raven, both of whom help to illustrate the complexity of Altered Carbon's world. It’s a place where Neo-Catholics reject the notion of "re-sleeving," because they believe it prevents the soul from going to Heaven, and where artificial intelligence lifeforms have tired of serving humans and have gotten into the business of "serving up humans."

Of course, you can't have a show about a Japanese — or, to be more accurate, a Japanese-Slavic — character who's trapped in the body of a Caucasian person without the issue of whitewashing rearing its head. But unlike the comparable Ghost in the Shell live-action remake that recast its Japanese main character as a Caucasian heroine for the purposes of what could be argued as little more than box office receipts, with Altered Carbon, Kovacs' situation is a built-in element of the plot.

It all adds up to one of television's most conceptually and visually intriguing shows, and it's yet another example of Netflix's commitment to creating daring original content. With the recent success of Blade Runner 2049 reminding audiences of just how philosophically potent and thought-provoking the sci-fi genre can be, Altered Carbon is like the more violent, more risqué sibling to Denis Villeneuve's masterpiece, and it's a show worth binging on.

Altered Carbon begins streaming February 2nd on Netflix.

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