Imagine living in a world where your body was just a vessel and anytime you died if you had the funds and the means, you could upload yourself into another (different) body? It an incredibly unique premise and one that is easy to get pulled into because we are at a point, technologically speaking, where it almost seems possible. A world without end. The life, immortal. An endless life would be a curse to many, but in the same breath, many in our world aspire towards it.
Altered Carbon is a new show on Netflix that plays with that very premise, while also dropping us into a visually stunning world (Blade Runner-esque) with unique characters who actually have character arcs and interesting stories themselves. It also plays with Cyberpunk themes better than most MOVIES have attempted up to now. It is ALSO a detective noir story focusing on one man’s quest to “find the truth” (which s what all noir stories are about and that’s okay cuz noir is an awesome genre filled with pathos and ennui).
Honestly, Netflix has some fantastic original shows (um, Stranger Things much?) but I want to go out on a limb and say Altered Carbon is to adults what Stranger Things is to nostalgia heads. A perfect piece of fiction for us to lose ourselves in while our literal world goes to hell outside our windows. With its neon-based aesthetic and retro soundtrack, it hits all the right notes and plays them sublimely.
Now rather than tell you too much in the intro, let’s get right into our Altered Carbon Review/examination and get the rest of you watching this fantastic show so it NEVER ENDS!
It’s Based on a Book
I will say it right now, the show has made some major changes from the Altered Carbon book. Some fans have been upset with that, but from Game of Thrones to Walking Dead, all good TV right now that is based off books tend to deliberately take different paths so that those very fans can also have a unique experience. It is called throwing a curveball. There are moments in the book where VERY different things happen with very different outcomes, but am I supposed to spoil those for you?
You either read the Altered Carbon book first and watch the show, or you watch the show and then read the book (which is what I did) and take them as two different versions of the same play. I will tell you this, both the book and the show are fantastic in their own rights, and if you can separate the two yet take them each as individual pieces of fiction that connect, it works on every level.
That said, even with some of the major changes between the two formats, they are both wickedly entertaining and both of them work perfectly for their respective mediums.
Now let’s get into some of the shows bad-ass aspects, shall we?
The Cortical Stack
The year is 2384. It is a world drenched in neon and lies. All human beings have their memories recorded onto cortical stacks (placed in the back of the neck, connecting skull to spine) and when they die, they can take that cortical stack (as long as it is not compromised or destroyed) and put you into another sleeve (which is what they call the bodies they jump into after body death). The cortical stack is also the ONLY way you can cause perma-death (A.K.A death) in anyone, so if you destroy the cortical stack, that’s it. Game over. I will let you see how that plays out and not spoil any more than that here.
Our hero, Takeshi Kovacs wakes up 250 years after his last sleeve was killed, and he is given the option of going to jail for life (not telling you why – watch the show) or helping a very wealthy man figure out who killed him and having himself essentially pardoned. As much as he doesn’t want to deal with some other person’s personal bullshit, he knows that is better than spending eternity in jail so he takes the job.
The problem is, the man whose death he is trying to solve is pretty much hated by everyone and there are about 300 people who have viable motivation to kill the man, making Takeshi’s job seemingly impossible.
Luckily, he is damn good at what he does: brooding and being bad-ass.
Deus Bioshock Ex: The TV Show
If you have played the Deus Ex games then you have a pretty good idea of where this Altered Carbon review is going to go. Brooding man who is now part synthetic trying to get answers and being stuck between basically being a human and a God, unwillingly. Very similar themes run through both, so much so, there were moments I believe there are moments in those games that show that the creators of Bioshock must have taken some inspiration from the book, and I mean that as a compliment.
Also, another aspect. Think Blade Runner meets Bioshock. A beautiful looking world that is simply and essentially a mirage to trick people into thinking a dystonia future is a utopia. Takeshi is definitely like the protagonist from those games. A man who found himself in a very dire situation that he must understand and become part of to escape it.
So if you are a fan of cyberpunk in general, Deus Ex games and Bioshock games, there is NO REASON you should not watch and love this show.
Altered Carbon Will Do For Sci-Fi What Game of Thrones Did For Fantasy
Yes, you just read that correctly. After just one season, I am going to say that this show is Game of Thrones levels of good (and also, you can tell it has about the same budget because most of the effects in this show are done better than they are done in most feature films, real talk). It also takes something that many have seen as somewhat childish (ooooh, science fiction) and has actually made it COOL (which it always was by the way).
I mean, that is one thing I really have to express here. This show oozes cool. It just has so much style and edge and attitude, and usually, all that stuff seems forced. But they nail it all here, so perfectly. The premise may sound silly to some, but you don’t understand, the show is truly captivating. Outside of Black Mirror, I cannot recall a show I binged that quickly until now. I must have finished this show in two days, which is both a testimony to my commitment and an indictment of how sad my life is.
Angry Altered Carbon Book Fans
Game of Thrones book fans did the same thing. They bitch. The whine and cry that THEIR story (which is not theirs, by the way) is different than how it is SUPPOSED to be. Hey geeks, get off your high horses, please. You cried about the end of Mass Effect 3 because it did not meet YOUR needs (laughing at you) and then you cried when Game of Thrones did some different things with their show. I think it is time we all agree that every geek who reads something first then complains is the WORST PERSON EVER. If you don’t like something, that is on you, shut it off. Don’t take to Twitter everyday saying how Netflix “raped” your favorite thing. You just come across as childish and overly self important.
IT IS NOT YOUR FICTION!
When will you all understand, if something doesn’t meet YOUR needs, that is on YOU, not the creators. The creators OWN the content and can do whatever they want with it. Tyrion Lannister could grow wings next season on GOT and you’d HAVE TO JUST DEAL WITH IT.
I think the nerd demo needs to chill on that. We have become the whiniest brats ever, and we need to step up and stop whining about EVERYTHING.
Wah, they changed Luke in The Last Jedi.
Wah, there were no gay people in Black Panther.
Wah, the Red Wedding didn’t happen that way in the book!
Okay, stop crying over fiction, you are (most likely) adults so just shut off whatever it is not pleasing you and find something that does without needing to incessantly announce it to the whole world.
You are making people hate our demographic, justifiably I might add.
We Need To Talk About Poe
If I had to vote on who is my favorite TV character of all the news shows I have watched over the last few years, I will tell you, Poe is my favorite, easily.
So who is Poe? Why, Edgar Allen, of course. He runs an establishment called The Raven Hotel (it is like a holodeck where all your wildest fantasies can come true) and he is based on the likeness, both mentally and physically, of Edgar Allen Poe. His place is called The Raven as an obvious shout out to the story of the same name, and it has a very gothic looking feel, which is a nice juxtaposition between the electric-neon feel of everything else.
Takeshi ends up being the first visitor to the hotel in fifty years (it kind of becomes his home base), which absolutely delights Poe, and thus begins a relationship and dynamic that was my favorite on that show. There is a Shakespearean heir to Poe in how he speaks and presents himself, but when the shit hits the fan, Poe doesn’t crawl off into that cold night to hide in its underbelly.
No, this Poe wields shotguns and has rail guns he can summon with his mind that drop from the ceiling. And one final note without saying too much, at one very crucial moment he recites a very powerful passage from Poe’s best piece of work – Annabel Lee.
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreamsOf the beautiful Annabel Lee;And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyesOf the beautiful Annabel Lee;And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the sideOf my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,In her sepulchre there by the sea—In her tomb by the sounding sea.”
It really doesn’t get much more powerful than that. You will love Poe and much as I do. He is a breath of fresh air in a TV landscape filled with cliches and normally very one dimensional characters. If you’ve seen the show you know why that last sentence works on at least two levels.
Final Thoughts on Altered Carbon
My suggestion personally would be to watch the show BEFORE you read the Altered Carbon book because the book will open that world up more for you and show you some potential directions this show may go in its next few seasons. Remember, they are the same entity in different forms, and by taking in both, you are getting the true Altered Carbon experience.
In closing this Altered Carbon review/examination, I just want to truly express how grateful I am this show exists. It is a lush and beautiful show to look at, and outside of a little whitewashing (which Hollywood LOVES) the cast are great, and the best part about it is it takes you out of the shit storm that is 2018 and places you somewhere else to forget about the madness happening here right now with mass shootings and an orange president who talks about how big his d*ck is on social media.
That, my friends, is pretty much the best thing any piece of fiction in any genre can give to us right now: