Altered Carbon: Shot to the Stack

362069.jpgI originally wrote this review after watching the first episode and about half of the second episode. My initial reaction was if you are a fan of quality science fiction, cyberpunk, who-done-it drama, or simply just like to see awesome special effects; stop whatever you were doing NOW, and watch the Altered Carbon. Visually, the show is aggressively addictive. Indeed, the first way you experience the new Netflix’s new series is through its visuals. It is one of the most stunning television shows in recent memory. Truly, almost every scene is a graphic smorgasbord of optical stimulation. For instance, in the first few minutes of the first episode, the main protagonist Takeshi Kovacs, gazes out of a window at the city below, and the detail of the landscape, just pop into your optical stream making it seem more real than reality. Needless to say, in my first draft of this review, I came to the conclusion that from a purely visual experience, Altered Carbon is one of the year's "must see" television programs.

However, after I finished writing the draft, I felt that a review, simply based on the "look" of the series would not necessarily be useful to watchers looking for more, and it should be noted, Altered Carbon does indeed have much to offer other than its optics. So I decided to watch the rest of the series, an episode a day and reflect for a while on what I had watched. Accordingly, rather than write a review for each episode, this is a review of the full series. After completing this process; while I still highly recommend watching the series; my recommendation is a little more nuanced than what I first wrote. While the following might contain some early spoilers, the story is so complex (and that is a good thing) unless you are told the actual ending, you probably would appreciate some minor spoilers now and then, to keep you from constantly rewinding to figure out what exactly you just watched. Accordingly, the points I will bring up should be considered annotations that are useful in guiding your understanding of the backstory so you won't get lost in the later and more important episodes.

The story takes place hundreds of years in the future. While humans can still die, physically, they can nevertheless live indefinitely due to a new technology that allows people to, in essence, upload their brain and consciousness into the future version of a USB, known as a "stack." Consequently, when the physical body dies or is murdered, all a person has to do to "live" again, is retrieve his/her stack and pop it into a "sleeve." A sleeve is another physical body, which is absent the original owners' own stack. That is everyone's physical body is nothing more than what the late Carrie Fisher called, "a brain bag that hauls people" around. Indeed, if someone wants to have the body of a model, all they need to do is eject the current stack and replace it with their own. One issue with stack-sleeve exchanges, though: every time a stack is put into a new sleeve there is some dissonance between the stack and the sleeve, as a person's mind tries to meld with its new body. This causes the stack to degrade a bit. Accordingly, if a stack is continually uploaded into different sleeves, the consciousness in the stack is affected and can become a bit schizophrenic. A stack without a sleeve, is in essence, dead but can always be brought back by inserting the stack into a new sleeve. The only way to absolutely end a person's life is to destroy their stack, which is known as "the real death."

Tekeshi Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman, is several hundred years old --his stack that is. Over his lifetime, he has been many things including an agent for the state, a soldier, and a rebel. After his last sleeve was killed, his stack was "put on ice" or kept out of a sleeve and under the watchful eyes of the state in a storage center -- this is what the future of prisons is to be. However, Kovacs is pulled out of storage and put in the sleeve of Elias Ryker, a former police officer, by billionaire industrialist, Laurens Bancroft, played by James Purefoy, a super-rich titan of industry who was killed (shot in the stack). Bancroft is what is know as a Meth, or a person so rich that he has the resources to keep multiple versions of his stack saved to databases around the world, that are backed up in real time. However, his stack was destroyed before it could be uploaded to storage, so while he is able to live again from one of his back-up stacks, he does not remember how he was killed. Accordingly, Bancroft hired Kovacs, because of his combat and military background, to find out who murdered him. In exchange for finding his killer, Bancroft promises that he will get Kovacs released from prison and given a top-grade sleeve to carry on his life. Thus begins Kovacs' adventure to find Bancroft's killer and gain his freedom. Naturally, this adventure includes a number of smaller subplots such as his quest, along with Bay City Police Lieutenant Kristin Ortega, played by Martha Higareda, to find out what happened to Ryker, the sleeve he now inhabits. There's also his partnership with ex-Marine Vernon Elliot, played by Ato Essandoh, to help his daughter, whose consciousness has been trapped in a form of the internet.

Again, this review is simply to say that Altered Carbon is well worth your time, give you a taste of the story, and some necessary background. The rest is up to you, but I believe you will not be disappointed. Altered Carbon is a beautiful and complicated story that more than likely will require several viewings to really understand all the details. Fortunately, rumor has it that Netflix has renewed Altered Carbon for a second season, which means you have at least a year to watch, ruminate, and watch the series again to ready yourself for what most likely will be another mind-blowing second edition.

What do you think? But don't blow your stack thinking about it.

Written by lao.san on Feb 11, 2018


SREagle posted 8 months ago

Having read the novel mere months ago, I never expected to get a tv series to compare it to so soon. But both the book and the tv adaptation captivated me and made me consume them as fast as humanly possible. Since I always treat the iterations of the same story in different media as kind of parallel universes, I'm eagerly awaiting the continuation on tv to compare it to the following books.

markus posted 8 months ago

I guess not having read the novel lets you enjoy it more.

beachman1066 posted 9 months ago

I thought that Altered Carbon was an Awesome T.V. series, and I am so looking forward to season 2. I found it to be a thought provoking, and realistic version of the continuing divide between the super-rich and ' the man on the street'.

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