Altered Carbon: Death is but a Distant Dream (Season 1)
A review of the Netflix cyber-punk series "Altered Carbon"
Cyber-punk shows have never been done quite like this, and the justice that Altered Carbon delivers to the Sci-fi and cyber punk genres is nothing far from amazing. Through beautiful cinematography, strong performances, engaging fight sequences, and an emotionally compelling story, Altered Carbon has become a big steppingstone for future works of the like. Hold on tight, for every episode will have you pondering over the meaning of life, the unpredictability of the future, and will induce the occasional existential crisis. Not to worry though, for this is only science fiction (Or is it?).
The show is based on a series of books written by Richard K. Morgan, bringing to life his writings and imagination in such a fashion that leaves viewers in a state of awe. One too many times have we experienced how the transition of novels into movies or shows end up being a huge disappointment, but Altered Carbon has the grace to be exempt from such a tragedy. At the core of the series, the manifestation of immortality is what guides and builds the story: It is what constructs the world in which the characters live in, the source of internal and external conflict, and the force that pushes this show beyond just being a simple science fiction series. Altered Carbon invents a future in which humanity no longer flinches at the idea of death, for technology has reached levels beyond human comprehension. Death becomes a distant dream. Bodies are easily interchangeable because of the creation of what the show calls “stacks”: small, round devices that digitize and store the human consciousness within them, allowing an individual to be transferred to any one body. Tricking your friends, family, and society (let’s not forget death, of course) just became that much easier. Just imagine the myriad of possibilities, all because of a little device that allows for humans to quite literally, live for as long as they please. With immortality being granted to humanity, eternal life becomes the center of conflict for many of the societal issues presented in this cyber punk noir.
The first scene of the show features our protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs (played by Joel Kinnaman in current-time and flashbacks by both Will Yun Lee and Byron Mann, with Yun Lee holding more screen time because of him representing the original body of the character), floating freely in what seems to be a cryosleep chamber, a common sci-fi trope. You can never go wrong with the classics, though. The shot in itself is beautiful, the mystery of the show accentuated even more by the stillness of Kovacs gently floating through the bright blue water, all while the somber music and opening dialogue send goosebumps crawling through the skin, to the point where you yourself feel suspended in air. Curiosity marauds the mind and instantly you find yourself asking for more. We find that our protagonist has been frozen for about 250 years in prison, only to be awakened for the sole purpose of aiding an incredibly wealthy blue blood, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), in solving his own murder. But seriously, this character is FILTHY rich (characters that are extremely wealthy in this show are called “Meths”), and the way the show presents this character, his social circle, and life, gives the viewer a better idea of how immortality can be more detrimental rather than helpful. But we’ll get to that in a minute. The twist in this murder mystery is that Bancroft cannot remember who killed him, and Kovacs, being part of an uprising group named “Envoys” that in the past challenged the new world order, is the perfect individual for the job. Having the skills, strength, intelligence, and history to back their reputation, Envoys are of natural fascination to Bancroft, and Kovacs, being the last of them, becomes Bancroft’s immediate choice in solving his own murder.
The acting in this show is by no means subpar, every performance had something to offer and the actors and actresses’ portrayal of each character was something that truly amazed me throughout the show. Yet, without a doubt, Joel Kinnaman’s acting was by far the most compelling performance of the show. His appearance on Suicide Squad (directed by David Ayer) had already caught my attention, even if the movie itself did not exceed my expectations. Kinnaman caught me by surprise, truly embracing the dark and mysterious nature of Kovacs, displaying the very aggressive external side of the character yet able to embellish all of the hurt, pain, and emotion reflected through his dialogue and behavior. In certain scenes we can see an outstanding performance where we can sympathize for the character, understanding the depth of his chaotic traumas and his everlasting desire to be back with the loved ones who he lost along the way. Kudos to Kinnaman, seriously. It’s as if in certain melo-dramatic scenes his eyes just…speak. However, it is not to say that Kinammans performance outweighs that of the rest of the cast. Each actor and actress deliver an outstanding performance and can be seen through the chemistry and interaction of each character, making the story much more emotionally appealing. It really hits pathos in all the right ways. It is very refreshing and entertaining to see.
The one thing that seems to tie most of the characters together in this chaotic world dominated by an elite rich in power and money, is the desire for truth and justice. Truth and justice almost seem nonexistent, when only the powerful seem to be enjoying all of life’s luxuries. Forever. Superficiality opaque’s the truth. With that being said, an interesting point that most cyberpunk shows and movies bring up can now be addressed, and that’s how technology can have the potential of stripping us from our humanity. In this case, technology grants humanity immortality, but with it, it takes the cost of true freedom and equity among society. While some benefit greatly, others lose at an even greater degree. Life is a disparity, and true justice will never be granted when tyranny has no end date in sight. What the show communicates is that death is as much a part of life, and the eradication of death may bring with it demons that haunt the very fabric of society. Bancroft is such a demon, manipulating society with the power of wealth and influence, being able to attain and spoil every whim and wildest desire he’s ever had, sometimes to a gruesome fault. Selfishness and egocentrism dictate the lives of the Meths, evident through their choices in entertainment, superficial lifestyles, and materialistic desires; everything that Kovacs stands against. To even further accentuate this disparity among the rich and the poor, the show does an amazing job in creating a world full of vibrant colors and dark hues, where the over saturation of technology comes to life in crowded cities in which middle and lower class people live, in contrast to the ecclesiastic nature of the homes of the rich, where the grandeur of their lavish lifestyle is presented through complex architecture, beautiful gardens, and large mansions that are miles away from the clutter of the world below. Did I mention that the rich actually live in the skies? Oh yeah, talk about having your head in the clouds. The series seems to borrow a lot of elements from movies such as Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, but it does so in the best possible manner, still being able to be very refreshing through stunning visuals and an aesthetically pleasing setting. However, not everything about the show might be pleasing to the viewer.
Altered Carbon can be crude and raw from time to time, engaging in scenes of violence that may prove to be a little too much for the faint hearted. It displays instances of domestic violence, violence against women, torture scenes, etc. It also contains highly sexual material, with some scenes showing the actors and actresses in the nude. With this being said, the viewer should definitely take precautions if too sensitive to this type of material.
Despite it’s frequent crude nature, Altered Carbon does an amazing job of delivering a true worth-watching Netflix original. It builds a world of its own and will definitely leave the viewer with enough curiosity to delve deeper into every aspect of the series. Altered Carbon truly delivers justice to this type of genre, and we can already see other shows that share a similar atmosphere to it, such as Love Death Robots, an animated anthology of beautifully curated episodes that also seem to borrow from cyberpunk elements, yet uses them to make a truly original show, mesmerizing in its storytelling and visuals, delivering quite the jaw dropping experience; But that discussion is for another time. For now, Altered Carbon is definitely worth you heating up some food, getting comfortable, and sitting down to watch an immersive world that will have you binging for hours.