Altered Carbon

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Drew Russom


My best friend and I have differing opinions on episodic shows. I believe that a truly great show should hook you, the viewer, in the first episode whether it be the characters, the story, the setting, or even the art style. My buddy sticks to the rule of three. His view is predicated on you viewing the first three episodes before making a judgment on whether you should continue with the series. I will attempt to apply this to a fairly new Netflix original series, ALTERED CARBON.

Altered Carbon is a sci-fi neo-noir series based upon books of the same name, and is a genre piece of sci-fi and cyber punk. Set in the far, far distant future where death is a temporary inconvenience and the body you possess is interchangeable, hence why they call them sleeves. With death practically a non-issue, humanity has created a united world government, has explored the galaxy, and has colonized the milky way. With all of that left behind us, what is left for our species?

Just like most sci-fi dystopian settings, while the rich bask in the utopian side of the future, the poor are left with the scraps. The monetarily inclined have access to literal immortality in the form of cloned sleeves which they can transfer their consciousness without any negative repercussions during the process. The poor, if in a situation where they are in need of a new sleeve like an accidental death, are given whatever is made available, and must pay for a new one. The rich live like gods above the clouds, while everybody else squats in a Blade Runner style cityscape of neon, metal, sex, and ill-repute. By now you should have noticed I have compared Altered Carbon to other sci-fi properties, and with respect to the series creators, I feel that Altered Carbon doesn’t have enough originality in the first three episodes to keep attached to the series.

My taste in sci-fi is not unique. Firefly, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Terminator, Ghost In The Shell are just a few that are ingrained with genre that are all known to the masses, but I do feel that I know how each one distinguishes itself amongst the others. While I do feel that Altered Carbon has an interesting setup, I found myself getting bored with the series at multiple instances. I can barely remember the names of the key characters. This is such a sad statement to me, because there are interesting individuals within the story.

Poe, an A.I owner of a macabre themed hotel, is such an interesting character. He has a love for Edgar Allen Poe and anything dark and eccentric. By episode two, we see some of the inner thoughts of the local A.I.s. Most despise humanity and feel that the species that created them are below them. Poe is fascinated by humans, entranced by them, so much so that he reveres them. This singular moment is why I like Poe, the main protagonist on the other hand is a stock standard character of the noir genre of the post-war 1940s.

Takeshi Kovacs was once a solider that fought against the oppressive Protectorate, the world government, and after going on ice for 300 years, Takeshi wakes up in a new body and tasked by a wealthy elite to solve a murder in which the employer is the victim. Despite the slight sci-fi twist on the scenario, Takashi is a veteran of war that he lost, is disillusioned about the world he is forced to live in, and claims to care nothing about the people in need, but clearly he still has enough of a conscious to help them out. The show even has narration at the beginning of the episode, and littered though out episode three paying homage to the genre that utilized the trope. By episode three, I feel like they were committing to the thought of having narration instead of trying to have philosophical haikus at the beginning of the first two episodes, which would have been welcome in my mind. However, the issues that irritated me the most was the use of the shows profanity and nudity.

Now I am not a prude, but the cursing and the nudity just got on my nerves. Let me explain this point in more detail; within the first episode of a show is the setup phase. This is where the shows presents the viewer with an expectation of how the world works, the rules of this created universe. I think this is also true for the aforementioned contents of nudity and profanity. How much you hear the F-bomb, how it is integrated into the dialogue, and the same goes for nudity in terms what is seen or not seen by the viewer is entirely the job of the first episode to given me a foot hold in what to expect from the other 9 episodes of the series.

The first episode seemed very careful about hiding the male anatomy. Yet it seemed very okay with exposing all of the female form, which to be fair, most of Hollywood is comfortable with doing these days. However, a good way into the second episode, we see a male character’s member in a toe to head crane shot. This took me by surprise, not because of the content, but because the show itself gave me that impression. Let us move on to the profanity, and how cringe worthy is was at points.

The profanity was contrived at times, and really felt forced even more times. I made the comparison to Firefly earlier, not just because of the oppressive world government, but because of the cursing in different language to show the diversity of this universe. However, I think that that was the intentions of having multiple languages strewn through the three episodes was to ham fist the “diversity” of the characters when in actuality, as mentioned earlier, the characters have little to distinguish themselves.

In conclusion, I don’t hate the series, I just don’t care to continue past episode three. The series on multiple occasions presents story threads that could contain so much promise: the child who died at the beginning, and was given the sleeve of an elderly woman, the existential conversations of A.I.s about humans, the religious battle against being re-sleeved after death, the married couple who fight in public gladiatorial death matches for prize money, and for more upgraded sleeves; all of these stories I found myself more curious about than the main characters’ journey.

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