Live forever in the world of ‘Altered Carbon’



Takeshi Kovacs takes in the sight of Bay City, where he finds himself brought back to life 250 years after dying. Netflix’s science fiction series “Altered Carbon” presents a fantastic world where the human mind can be transferred from body to body with ease.

Ian Fertig, Staff Writer

If the new Netflix original series “Altered Carbon” is another work of art from a streaming company known for critically-acclaimed successes, it is a mosaic composed of the best aspects of science fiction, along with no shortage of violence, sex, and death.

The victim, Bancroft himself, may be guilty of far more than his own killer.”

— Staff Writer Ian Fertig

In the distant future, long after humanity has colonized the stars, a discovery is made that allows the human consciousness to be saved like a computer file and uploaded into other human bodies. Memory chips called “stacks” are surgically implanted into the spine of the human body, which has been coined a “sleeve.” Bodies age, but the mind does not, so immortality becomes possible as people jump from sleeve to sleeve. Of course, only the wealthy can afford to do so forever.

The show stars Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs, a mercenary who is re-sleeved into a criminal’s body 250 years after his death. Employed by Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), a man of seemingly endless wealth and influence, Takeshi must solve a puzzling murder to earn his freedom.

Of course, this is no ordinary ‘whodunit’ storyline. The victim, Bancroft himself, may be guilty of far more than his own killer.

This series, based on the Richard K. Morgan novel of the same name, presents an intriguing premise with some serious implications. Viewers, be prepared for a world where the dead can walk again, children inhabit the bodies of adults and vice versa, cloning is easily possible, and humans may exchange bodies as easily as worn-out boots.

All of this is set in a futuristic universe of advanced technology where humanity lives on planets across the galaxy. The world of “Altered Carbon” draws inspiration from great works of science fiction, resulting in a wonderful blend that’s somewhere between “Star Wars,” “Black Mirror,” “The Matrix,” “Back to the Future” (the future part, anyway), and “Blade Runner.”

People have stopped treating human bodies as part of who they are and now treat them as a vessel, no more important or meaningful than a change of clothes.”

— Staff Writer Ian Fertig

“Altered Carbon” explores questions about the human soul, love, pain, religion, the value of life, and what we lose if we cannot fear death. All the while, the show makes the best use of its premise, resulting in situations as interesting and hilarious as an elderly woman in the body of a young, muscular, male ex-con. The actors and actresses involved often play different people in the same body over the course of the season.

The show’s biggest problem is a total lack of restraint regarding violence, language, or nudity. When watching the show, there is no warning in advance that nearly every episode is packed to the brim with R-rated material. In context of the show, it makes a strange sort of sense. People have stopped treating human bodies as part of who they are and now treat them as a vessel, no more important or meaningful than a change of clothes. With this being the state of the world, why would anyone have qualms against being naked, getting injured, or doing drugs? Regardless, it would be nice if the creators of “Altered Carbon” had shown more restraint than the characters featured in the show.

One of the best themes of “Altered Carbon” is the vast divide seen between the rich and powerful and the average person. In the world of “Altered Carbon,” the puppet masters of society live above the slums and cities occupied by the lower class in beautiful golden towers, basking in the sun while the rest of humanity crawls in the mud. The scenes of drug use, sexuality, and incredible violence only help drive this message home. Every dark and twisted action that happens in the city is in stark contrast to the glamour and purity of the world above.

This concept of a utopia occupied by the rich existing alongside a garbage heap where the rest of humanity resides is not a new one. Similar worlds can be found in Neill Blomkamp’s film “Elysium,” “The Hunger Games” book series, and Len Wiseman’s remake of “Total Recall.” The twist in “Altered Carbon” is the ability for anyone to live eternally, so long as they have the means to do so. This takes an already thought-provoking concept and scales it up by making the corrupt 1% immortal. Not only do the economically weak have no chance of controlling their lives or the world around them, but the men and women in control will outlive everyone who opposes them. It’s a theme that resonates heavily with viewers today.

If things weren’t dark enough, take the character of Takeshi Kovacs: an elite mercenary-turned-freedom-fighter who is brought back into life 250 years after he and his anti-immortality movement are crushed entirely. Takeshi fought to prevent this social and economic divide from existing, but he is awakened to discover everything he fought for is gone and that the world is what he once tried to prevent. Through his eyes, we as viewers feel ever more hopeless about the situation. The good guys lost. The corrupt rule the world and all other worlds, and now Takeshi is only alive to do the bidding of one wealthy man. It’s all very bleak, and intentionally so.

Now of course, this is not where the story ends, but where it begins. Takeshi’s search for answers leads him through Bay City, where he meets supporting characters just as interesting as himself — Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), a fierce and intelligent cop who has personal reasons for hating Laurens Bancroft; Poe (Chris Conner), an artificially intelligent hotel manager inspired by Edgar Allan Poe; and Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh), who uses his military training to help Kovacs while protecting his daughter’s shattered mind. These characters, despite not being the story’s hero, are all given a chance to shine and develop over the course of the ten-episode first season. Flashbacks to Takeshi’s past life, where Takeshi is played by Will Yun Lee, are abundant, so be prepared for dramatic backstory and a lot of it.

Netflix is not holding back with this one, so accept this as an invitation and a warning. “Altered Carbon” is made for viewers who are ready to throw caution to the wind and enjoy a dark, bloody, and gritty spectacle.

Your sleeve could use a break, so treat your mind to a world where your body is replaceable.