Altered Carbon: Some Thoughts

I was planning to watch Altered Carbon over the course of a couple of weeks. An episode here, one there, and a couple of days off between them. Somehow, I managed to watch all ten episodes over the course of three days. I just found it that captivating.

The series follows the story of Takeshi Kovacs, an Envoy, who has been tasked with finding the killer of Laurens Bancroft. Everyone believes Bancroft committed suicide, but Laurens himself believes he was murdered.

And now, for the science part. Our consciousness has been digitised, and stored in something called a stack, which is housed in the nape of the neck. This makes our bodies, or sleeves, as they are named, disposable. Functional immortality is possible as long as you are rich enough to buy new sleeves, and have a good backup of your stack. Death only really occurs with the destruction of your stack, and it’s data.

The Laurens Bancroft that tasks Kovacs with finding out how he died is from a backup taken forty eight hours before his death. Still with me?

It main story feels like someone grabbed an Agatha Christie murder mystery and placed it in a cyber punk world. There is something old fashioned about the structure of the story. You even have the clichéd scene of the protagonist getting all of the suspects in a room before revealing who the murderer is.

It doesn’t make it boring though, as you are rewarded for watching carefully. Those first few episodes can feel a little slow, but there is plenty of world building going on which becomes important later on. Each turn in the plot makes sense, as you realise that it was possible from what is shown beforehand.

We live in an era where television seasons end with a promise of what is going to come next. The final episode of Altered Carbon finishes in a satisfying way. A second season isn’t necessary, and if there were one, the setting would have to be very different.

My main criticism of the series is that it seems to be the embodiment of Chekov’s Gun. You have this rich world around the characters, but it never felt explored. Everything was too neat plot wise. It doesn’t breathe enough for me to think about the setting. It’s probably a consequence of the limits of adapting a book to ten hours.

There a couple of other niggles, but generally, I enjoyed Altered Carbon. It is a good story, even if some scenes are a bit more adult than I’m used to. You can see where the money has been spent, as Bay City looks beautiful, and the effects are good.

Oh and one last thing. There is a sword fight. Of course, it isn’t up to the standards of Samurai Cop, but nothing is up to that standard.

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