Altered Carbon is rated TV-MA and may not be suitable for everyone. Please listen to this episode with discretion.
Netflix’s new show, Altered Carbon, is based on a 2002 book by Richard Morgan. This is the first book in the Takeshi Kovacs series. The other two novels are Broken Angels and Woken Furies. Fun fact, Richard Morgan wrote two Black Widow graphic novels – Homecoming (2005) and The Things They Say About Her (2006), wrote for the video games Crysis 2 and Syndicate. So he has a little nerd cred in addition to these sci-fi books.
The story is set in a dystopian world that felt similar to the cyberpunk style we see in Blade Runner. It’s very easy to see that Morgan’s vision in this show pulls heavily from what we get from Philip K Dick and Ridley Scott. At least that’s what we get on-screen. I can’t attest to what the books are like, but I would imagine something similar.
The first episode, titled “Out of the Past” starts with a body floating naked in a vast ocean and quickly cuts to someone in the shower. The fact that there is nudity – although at this point barely any – isn’t surprising given the rating.
What we realize eventually as the story is played out is that the body floating in the ocean and the man in the shower are the same person, Takeshi “Tak” Kovacs, even though they physically are not the same. This is due to an advancement in technology that makes the body what it really is: a shell. People are “re-sleeved” – given new bodies when they die unless their “stack” is destroyed. The “stack” is basically a chip attached to the top of a person’s spine. We see Tak get killed, along with his partner in a raid by a group of military sentries.
250 years later, that floating body is pulled into a medical bay and unzipped from a bag filled with some sort of goop that I suppose is a holding tank for an unused body. This one, though, happens to be the new sleeve for Tak, as well as the former body of a convict.
As Tak is essentially reborn and given the rundown of his current circumstance here, we get to get some flashbacks and not-so subtle exposition about the world Altered Carbon is set in:
Tak is a highly-deadly, highly-skilled, and highly regarded assassin known as an Envoy.
To truly kill someone, you have to destroy their stack.
When it comes to religion, sleeving is, as you would imagine, frowned upon. (It’s essentially reincarnation, but with someone else’s body.) The idea of sleeving being a bad thing is shown when a 7-year old girl comes out to see her parents, but she’s in the sleeve (body) of a middle-aged woman. The parents, of course, are unhappy and are told that if they want a better sleeve they’ll have to pay for it instead of getting it for free from the government.
We also find out the reason Tak has been re-sleeved: a rich man by the name of Laurens Bancroft wants him to solve his (Bancroft’s) murder because he doesn’t remember what happened. The explanation here was interesting to me. As we’ve watched Tak make his way through this new-to-us world, it’s shown that just because you’re re-sleeved, it doesn’t mean you lose any memories. Tak has flashbacks over and over again, as well as hallucinations. Bancroft explains that his stack was destroyed, but he has a backup copy uploaded to a satellite every 48 hours. This enabled him to not just be re-sleeved, but essentially reborn from true death.
Tak isn’t interested in helping Bancroft, even though the man has promised him everything from unlimited money to a new sleeve of his choice. Instead, he decides he would rather “go back on ice”. This leads him to buying a ton of drugs from a guy on the street, getting high, hallucinating, and then encountering the cop that escorted him from the place where he was re-sleeved at the beginning of the episode, Officer Ortega.
Ortega comes off as a no-nonsense cop, even though she doesn’t always follow the rules. In fact, the first time we meet her, we find out that she wasn’t the one who was supposed to pick Tak up, it was supposed to be Bancroft’s son, who was caught (I assume thanks to Ortega) drinking and driving.
Ortega meets Tak hallucinating in an alley and the two end up – of all things – going to a strip club to talk about his job, solving Bancroft’s murder. They leave and Tak decides it’s time to wind down for the night at the Raven, which we see an advertisement for when Tak was hallucinating in the alley. It’s essentially a brothel with every fantasy imaginable. (Did I mention this show is rated TV-MA?)
At the Raven we meet one of my favorite characters of the episode, an AI named Poe – as in Edgar Allen Poe. Poe runs the Raven and entices Tak with “every amenity”, which includes private entertainment, a great room and “no fantasy beyond reach.”
Before he has the chance to pay for his stay, a gun is placed right on the back of his neck by a Russian hitman. Given that Tak is a trained assassin, there is a huge brawl. What was great about this was that it wasn’t just one guy kicking the whole room’s butt. No, at the Raven, when they say “every amenity,” that goes so far as to have turret guns drop from the ceiling and take the baddies out. Also, Poe goes old school at uses his bartender shotgun to finish off a few baddies before Tak has a chance to find out who hired them.
Ortega shows up after the bloodbath and, with her partner, explains that the guy who held the gun to Tak’s head was a double-sleeved twin. Double-sleeving is where someone duplicates their consciousness and places it in a sleeve, which creates a duplicate of a person. It’s incredibly illegal and is punishable by real death.
The whole fight brings up the question of why someone else would want Tak Kovacs dead and does it involve Laurens Bancroft’s murder? We end with Tak’s former partner, Quell, telling him to finish the mission.
Overall, I enjoyed Altered Carbon. To be honest, I think I like this first episode more since I’ve had a chance to mull over it and not get totally wrapped up in what is happening on the screen.
Like I said before, this show feels like it could very well be a spin-off of Blade Runner. The world feels very much the same and that’s something very hard to get away from while you’re watching it.
When it comes to characters, I feel like there is more that we need to learn about Takeshi Kovacs. He seems very onenote and constantly angry. This first episode doesn’t give him any time to breathe or make him relatable. He is interesting, so the writers have done a good job of making me want to watch the next episode and I hope that continues through the rest of the season. I want to see Ortega grow more, too. She has the same problem Takeshi has: no depth, but intrigue to find out more.
I’ll continue to watch season one of Altered Carbon, but how about you? Did this episode pique your interest in the show? Have you already watched it?
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