‘Altered Carbon’: ‘The Blade Runner’ of Netflix

“Altered Carbon” is the latest in what seems like hundreds of the series available to watch on Netflix. Based on the Richard Morgan novel of the same name, it is set in the very distant future where humanity has managed to create devices called “Stacks” that essentially contain the human consciousness. When a person dies, the device can simply be taken out and placed in a new body—essentially creating immortality. The story focuses on former government soldier turned rebel Takeshi Kovacs who is brought back into the world to solve the murder of a rich matriarch. It contains 10 episodes, each between 50 minutes to an hour. Most of the episodes go by pretty quickly with a consistent pace.

Now before I go any further, I must say that if you are rather sensitive to extreme violence, graphic sex and nudity it is probably best to stay away from this series, very few punches are held with the content in the season.

All of the actors bring very pleasant performances. Joel Kinnaman does a good job at making the audience feel for him as he undergoes much emotional strife through the season. Martha Higareda, who portrays Katrin Ortega, also does a fair job in her performance, although at certain points she can feel a little forced, particularly when the show really wants you to know that she is a tough-as-nails police woman. For me, the best character of the season came from Chris Conner as the artificial intelligence hotel manager Poe; his gentlemanly attitude with a nuance tells the viewer that he can easily kill you or make you tea. While not all characters get much depth to them, no one character feels the same as the other.

Since the show is a gritty sci-fi, there will of course be action in it, and I must say while all of them are not that great, you can tell the creators definitely put forth the effort to make each sequence feel different from the others. Each elevator brawl, sword fight, fist fight and gun fight feel unique from the other. Some are occasionally plagued with some quick cuts that make it hard to make out what is happening, but those are few between.

I must also praise this show on not only the cinematography but also its use of color. As stated in the title of this review, “Altered Carbon,” at least aesthetically, feels very much like “Blade Runner 2049.” The show does a great job at transitioning between darks blues, orange, yellow, green and bright whites. Each use of the color in the environment helps establish the differences in the settings.

As I have stated many times before, no series or film is perfect. So what are the flaws of “Altered Carbon?” As the season progresses, more and more subplots are introduced to expand the overall mystery of the season, yet some are given more time than others. By the end of the season, since there was not a lot more time to flesh them out, and it feels that the writers ran out of time.

One other negative I have to give the season is that it has a rather weak finale. While not a horrible finale, it does its hardest to evoke emotions out of you but ultimately fails to do so. It also shoves in a few new plots simply to leave the story open enough to warrant a second season. Also, while portrayed well, the main villain of the season is rather weak, the motivations are somehow both clear and sort of nonsensical. Maybe I need to watch it again to get a better grasp, but that is how I initially came out of the last episode.

One last negative is that, being an adaptation of a fantasy novel, the series does at times need to introduce new concepts to the viewer that need more time to be explained, but they do not get that time. It is clear that these are likely more elaborated upon in the novels, but since this is a visual medium, it seems writers wanted to avoid cramming in exposition.

I do find myself hopeful that the show gets a second season to see this universe expanded upon even more. It is never quite clear just how expansive this universe is. They mention several times that humans have colonized on other planets, and even mention that aliens did exist at one point. I would like to learn more, and I hope to get the chance. I find that “Altered Carbon” is worth the ten hours if you are looking for a new gritty, sci-fi story. While it is not something you need to watch, it is a fair viewing.

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