Netflix’s ‘Altered Carbon’: It’ll Blow Your Mind and Then Some
Based on the cyberpunk graphic novel of the same name by Richard K. Morgan, Netflix’s Altered Carbon depicts a dystopian future where people live on by transferring their consciousness to different bodies. Set centuries into the future, mankind has advanced to a level where they can digitise their memories, download them in a ‘stack’ (that is stored at the stem of the brain), and place these stacks into new bodies called sleeves.
When Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), the richest man in the galaxy is murdered, he brings back an elite interstellar warrior, the Envoy soldier, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), to probe his murder. In exchange, Bancroft offers Kovacs the chance to live in a world where Kovacs is a free man, no more condemned for his bloody past. The plot delves into Kovacs’ present, where he must find out who tried to kill Bancroft, and is interspersed with Kovacs’ past where he fought in a war to end this very idea of immortality. In a way, the two versions of Kovacs differ, and this is superbly enacted by Joel Kinnaman - Takeshi Kovacs, and Will Yun Lee - Birth Kovacs.
The world of Altered Carbon is a bit confusing at the very beginning, however, we’re quickly brought up to speed by the way the episodes develop. We are thrown into a world where the personality and memories of a dead person can be kept on hold and can be transported into a new body. The new body could either be a clone of the deceased or it could be a cheap knock-off of anyone. This is where we begin to see differences between the rich and the poor. The rich, like Bancroft, can afford state-of-the-art clones of themselves or any body they desire. The poor often get a random body - a 7-year-old can end up in the body of a 40-year-old who died in a hit-and-run. These nuggets of information are valuable in case you’re unfamiliar with the book.
Kovacs is haunted by thoughts of his dead sister who fought by his side in the uprising, and his former lover - the face of the revolution - Quellcrist Falconer. This is not in vain though, as his past is what makes this everlasting present of the rich and powerful clearer. Uncovering one murky detail after another, Kovacs is aided by unlikely allies - a computer program that runs a brothel and takes the human form of Edgar Allen Poe, and Vernon Elliot, a former soldier who has been wronged by Bancroft. Poe is almost a comic relief and Elliot offers Kovacs assistance. As Kovacs starts solving the mystery of the central crime - Bancroft’s death - the mercenary shows shades of humanity towards the lower life forms.
The series deals with a schism, which does not strike as unfamiliar even in our day and age.
Is God real? - A question as old as the concept of God itself is at the centre of the dilemma of the world of Altered Carbon: one where the dead can be brought back to life. The series, just like the book, keeps making references to the Bible in this regard. The ones who’ve lived the longest and amassed massive wealth are called Meths, circling back to Methuselah - a biblical figure who is said to have lived for over 900 years. This eventually ties up with the quest for everlasting life, going back to the theological philosophy of unending life that Adam and Eve would have enjoyed, if they had not sinned.
And, of course, there is sin. Sins are altered in nature, where people sell their deaths for the entertainment of others. Is it really a sin to kill someone if you have their consent, knowing that they will be brought back to life? Catholics don’t believe in the idea of being re-sleeved and thus become the perfect targets for murder as they cannot come back. A deus ex machina too many in the show, again going back to the literal meaning - Gods from machines, as plot devices have been used to perfection, and don’t come across as cliches.
These existential and moral debates are worded eloquently in the opening monologue of each episode. With warped ideologies, extreme religious views and deviant politics, Altered Carbon seems just like the series we require in the noir drama genre. The visceral violence and gore (beware, flesh will be gutted) will literally keep you on the edge of your seat. A certain recklessness and cynicism,makes Kovacs a badass sci-fi protagonist. With a blend of edgy writing and cyberpunk subversion, Altered Carbon makes for a hell of a show.
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