Altered Carbon is the latest Netflix series and it takes us over 300 years into the future where death is no longer permanent and bodies become interchangeable.
Based on the classic cyberpunk noir novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is an intriguing story of murder, love, sex, and betrayal, set more than 300 years in the future. Humans can now store their consciousness on downloadable disks and then be “spun up” into a new body, or “sleeve.” The technology springs from alien advancements, was perfected by a 21st-century revolutionary, and, in the 24th century, is taken to violent and disturbing extremes.
Takeshi Kovacs showed promise as a young boy and was recruited to be a Black Ops fighter, which resulted in his younger sister Reileen to be sent to an orphanage. In the 22nd century, he was recruited by a group of freedom fighters called Envoys where he trained with the Envoys’ leader, a brave rebel leader and inventor named Quellcrist Falconer (Renee Elise Goldsberry) who Kovacs fell in love with. Unfortunately, Kovacs ends up as the lone surviving soldier of the elite interstellar warriors who were defeated in an uprising against the new world order.
As a result of this uprising, his mind was imprisoned – on ice – for centuries until Laurens Bancroft, an impossibly wealthy, long-lived man, offers Kovacs the chance to live again. In exchange, Kovacs has to solve a murder … that of Bancroft himself. Since Bancroft falls into the wealthy ruling class, their consciousness is saved every 48 hours and they can then be put into “designer” sleeves or into clones of their former bodies and allows them to literally live forever.
Hunting the killer of the man standing in front of him could be Kovacs’ way out. With the help of Detective Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), a tough cop working in the Bay City Police Department’s Organic Damage Division who has an unexpected connection to both Kovacs and Bancroft, he accepts the assignment. But what’s in Kovacs’ future and what comes out of the past is unimaginable.
As Kovacs moves through the violent Earth locale known as Bay City, he discovers more questions than answers. Whose body was he placed into? What’s become of the woman he loved long ago? Why is Detective Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) so invested in Kovacs? And can Kovacs trust the former military officer Elliott (Ato Essandoh) and the AI entity known as Poe (Chris Conner), who inhabits the rundown Raven hotel?
And just who is Poe? Poe is a highly evolved AI system operating inside of the gorgeously retro Raven Hotel, where Kovacs lives in grungy Bay City. Self-aware as an operating system, Poe nonetheless manifests as a digital avatar of the famous writer, helping Kovacs straighten out his thoughts and providing insight as the Bancroft case leads down morally murky avenues.
Transporting the novel off the page, however, has proven elusive. It wasn’t until series creator and executive producer Laeta Kalogridis teamed with Skydance Television, and Netflix to launch Altered Carbon with a revolutionary, narratively expansive 10 episodes that Morgan’s epic was able to leap between mediums. With that leap came eye-popping production values, elaborate action sequences, and an elegant structure that allows for the kind of character development the story needs.
Like the best sci-fi, Altered Carbon maps out moral or sociological issues for audiences to consider. It’s something the genre can do in a way that engages our hopes, our dears, our dreams, and our expectations of what’s to come.
The series stars Joel Kinnaman (The Killing), Hiro Kanagawa (The Man In The High Castle), Will Yun Lee (Hawaii Five-O), Jame Purefoy (The Following), Kristin Lehman (The Killing), Renee Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton the Musical), Dichen Lachman (The 100), Martha Higareda (Royal Pains), Tamara Taylor (Bones), Ato Essandoh (Chicago Med) and Chris Conner (American Crime Story).