Hi. My name’s Claudia and I’ve just binge watched Netflix’s new sci-fi mind-fuck of a show, Altered Carbon. Twice.
Truth time. When first seeing the trailer for this show, I was left slightly unimpressed. The premise sounded odd. The set reminded me a bit too much like Blade Runner (hello, perpetual rain, transparent umbrellas, neon lights and ever-intrusive holo-ads!). Oh, and the lead character, Takeshi Kovacs, was played by this guy who I was 100% sure rather belonged on a runway or in a glossy magazine cover shoot instead of playing the main in what Netflix appeared to be promoting as its next hit show.
But what’s a nerdy girl to do on a weekend when the flu is rearing its ugly head? I caved and clicked on the play button; and boy, was I not disappointed! Enthralled is the word.
I hadn’t read up about the source material for the show beforehand and I’m glad about that because it allowed me to go in with the same view as the philosophy the Envoys talk about so reverently – without preconception or assumption (well, sort of anyway). With each new episode, I found myself thinking (or sometimes exclaiming out loud) what a bad-ass and complete mind-fuck of a show this was.
Truth #2. Joel Kinnaman has got some serious acting chops! Still think he’s major eye-candy, so I’m pretty sure he can make a living out of modelling if this whole Hollywood acting thing doesn’t pan out as expected. As for his owning the thoroughly complex character that is Takeshi Kovacs while still pulling off the cynical, ‘I don’t care about anybody’ shtick – you can colour me impressed. This role truly showed the kind of acting range the guy can master, so I’m hoping I’ll see him in roles that do him the same kind of justice in the near future.
Truth #3. This is not a show for the faint of heart. That it’s on the pulpy side might be an uderstatement – large amounts of violence, nudity and sex. But that’s sort of the point of it, seeing as it’s built around the idea that the human consciousness can be stored on alien technology-inspired external hard-drives (stacks, as they’re called), while the body is nothing more than an expendable sleeve. Death is no longer something permanent, especially for the highly affluent members of society, who can afford to re-sleeve themselves in ever-young, ever-healthy, ever-attractive clones of their original bodies. Unless, of course, you suffer the kind of organic damage which will essentially leave your stack fried and your consciousness unrecoverable. That’s real death.
The showrunners did not shy away from showing us exactly the kind of dark pits of despair and lack of empathy the human soul can fall to when faced with the possibility of escaping death forever. There was one line delivered by Dimi the Twin when he gets sleeved into the body of a street gang member which illustrates how far from the aspirations of the early days of the technology humanity has fallen: “Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh? The vision that said we would be angels?”
Truth #4. I had to watch the show twice to grasp all the minute references, hints and gestures. Altered Carbon builds on a high minded premise from beginning to end, it’s multi-layered and makes sure to remind you of this fact in precisely those moments you would discard as non-significant. While it can at times feel like the characters can only speak in exposition (what’s happened to the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule?), what I appreciated about the show was the fact that it did not insist too much on explaining the inner workings of the world it was building. Sure, there’s a dictionary-sized list of specific jargon that can be utterly confusing in the beginning, but it also means to say the showrunners trusted their audience enough to just run with it, knowing it will all make sense at the right moment, as well as making the viewers feel like they’re in on a secret code of their very own.
The lingering questions remain, as well as the controversies, which means I might revisit the subject matter at a later date (maybe after I’ve also read the source novel). There’s no news yet as to when/whether a second season will be picked up by Netflix (although I think they would be fools not to). And there’s only speculations as to how a second run might look like, based on the source material in Richard K. Morgan’s Broken Angels. If they do stick very strictly to the content of the novel, this means Joel Kinnaman is out, which to me is a huge shame given the exceptional way that he’s carried the role. What’s certain is that Altered Carbon has brought up a lot of philosophical questions, uncomfortable as they may be, yet not that far fetched at the rate technology is evolving.