Altered Carbon is a beautifully crafted stylish cyberpunk detective noir series that lives up to its ambitions.
Altered Carbon is a Netflix Original that mixes a detective noir story in a cyberpunk environment with a big mystery that has to be solved. While the mystery is the foundation of the story, it involves much more than that. Social, religious, philosophical and moral issues all play a big role in this highly ambitious science fiction story. It’s beautifully crafted and contains a well told story arc, fleshed out characters, great cinematography, fantastic looking art design, great world building, sex, nudity and full frontal nakedness of both men and women, violence, great fighting scenes, cynicism and a lot of (dry) humor. It’s a very rich series that is extremely addictive that won’t disappoint you.
This first season consists of 10 episodes with each a duration of 46-67 minutes. It’s a series with a continuous story that combines multiple storylines, which all come together after a big twist in the plot.
After 250 years being on ice Takeshi Kovacs’ Stack/consciousness is put in another sleeve/body hired by an extremely rich tycoon Laurens Bancroft, to solve his murder. Bancroft has a backup Stack, but just before the last backup he was killed, so he has no memory of his murder. All the evidence suggests suicide, but he doesn’t believe that. Tak being an Envoy with the best skills, has to solve this conundrum.
But he then discovers there’s more to all of this. There’s the unsolved death of Mary-Lou Henchy who fell from the sky, a framed or corrupt cop Elias Ryker whose sleeve Tak is now wearing, the strange death of prostitute Lizzie Elliot, and Tak’s personal story about the rebel leader Quellcrist Falconer and the Envoys.
He gathers a pack to help him. AI Hotel called Poe, former military man Vernon Elliot, father of Lizzie. Kristin Ortega former partner and lover of Ryker who doesn’t believe he’s guilty and couldn’t solve Bancroft’s murder. And a dipper/hacker Ava Elliot, Lizzie’s mother.
Although everything seems unconnected, it’s one big plot from the mind of an evil villain.
Why you should watch it
This series is almost perfectly made. The art designs, the world building, not only visual, but also the futuristic ideas, are well crafted into a unique told story. Different storylines all come together at the end and tell a touching but violent story. The characters are very well crafted as well, as they develop through time. They have great depth which is intertwined with the plot and the overall storyline. Everything is connected and forms one big story.
The cinematography, the visuals in VR, the lighting and editing are fantastic and add to both the futuristic vibe and the story. The world building is so artfully made, yet simple and believable. The contrast between the people on the ground who live in darkness, with continuous rain, a bleak atmosphere and between the Meths above in the sky, where everything is shiny and beautiful and sunny is as symbolic as it is realistic.
Poe’s hotel The Raven is art deco heaven and Poe brings in some fun dry humor and is a delightful AI figure who loves humans. But he’s not the only one who brings a lot of diversity to the series. Kristin is Spanish and speaks Spanish with her family, who are Neo Catholics. Her new partner Samir Abboud is moslim. Vernon is a black angry military vet who wants revenge. His wife Ava is brought back in a man’s sleeve. But not only their skins, their religions and believes differ, but also their characters are very different, from peaceful to hot-headed and from impulsive to rational. Still they manage to care about each other very much and work as a team because of their different characters and abilities.
It’s also a series with female empowerment, not by its themes, but by showing that the women are as badass as the men and evenly skilled in everything, from hacking to fighting. There’s no distinction made between men and women. Even the nudity and sex scenes have full frontal naked women and men.
It’s a raw violent series, but poetic and moving and beautiful as well. It’s sometimes almost dreamlike and surreal and sometimes it horribly real. It’s wonderfully told and the way Tak’s personal story unfolds through the series and how it’s connected with what is happening now is well thought out and comes together perfectly.
My favorite part
I really liked Poe. He’s a great character. He has the best oneliners, although Tak is very good at it too and provides for a lot of humorous situations (his pink Hello Unicorn backpack), and dry humor. But the way all characters interact with each other especially Tak’s pack is a delight to watch. It’s fun and shows some playfulness. It’s in contrast with some other characters, like the ultimate villain who is exposed later on, whose storyline has a very serious tone. The way this series combines different atmospheres, tones, storylines, characters and issues and then binds them together is an epic effort.
Another great example of this playfulness is when Kristin takes her dead abuela’s Stack home for Día de los Muertos in the sleeve of a tattooed criminal. It’s a fun, weird and touching experience.
But also Lizzie who brings in girlpower and at the same time some VR surrealism is a great character who definitely adds empowerment to the story. Her story is heartbreaking and makes you angry, but feels epic and heroic as well.
That’s what this series does, it brings out feelings ranging from anger, laughs, joy, heroism, touchy feelings, epic feelings, and everything in between.
Epic factor: ★★★★☆
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Gruesome factor: ★★★★☆
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
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Cast and crew
Altered Carbon is based on the novel of the same name written by Richard K. Morgan. It’s created by Laeta Kalogridis. It stars Joel Kinnaman (Takeshi), Will Yun Lee (original Takeshi), Martha Higareda (Kristin), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Quellcrist), Ato Essandoh (Vernon), James Purefoy (Laurens Bancroft), Dichen Lachman (Rei), Chris Conner (Poe), Kristin Lehman (Miriam Bancroft), Trieu Tran (Mr Lueng), Waleed Zuaiter (Samir), Hayley Law (Lizzie), Cliff Chamberlain (Ava), Tamara Taylor (Oumu Prescott) and Adam Bush (Mickey).
Music: Jeff Russo. Cinematography: Martin Ahlgren, Neville Kidd. Production companies: Mythology Entertainment, Skydance Television. Original network: Netflix.