This week’s Netflix Pick is a new sci-fi series, Altered Carbon. The series introduces slick tech in a cool story line. The plot unravels episode by episode in a blend of familiar sci-fi staples.
Technology has progressed to where the consciousness of a human being is digitized. These digitized consciousnesses are either shelved or stuffed in a new body. Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) wakes up in one of these empty bodies 250 years after his death. Kovacs was an Envoy in his original life, an elite soldier.
The benefactor to Kovac’s new body and new life is Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). In a world where people don’t die the gap between the rich and poor is larger than ever. Old money becomes older as the rich are able to buy healthy new bodies again and again. Bancroft’s last body was murdered. It’s up to Kovac’s to solve the crime.
Science Fiction exists to point out flaws in our current society. The schism between the rich and poor is a big part of the social commentary. The return of a caste system makes the world look more like it did at the turn of the 19th century.
Our world is wrought with racial tension. Science Fiction is good about finding a new scapegoat for prejudices to target. In Altered Carbon race is essentially a non-issue. Uploading consciousness into new bodies means that no one is one race. The protagonist was originally Japanese and wakes up in the body of a white man. This doesn’t feel like ‘whitewashing’ but stands to show that race is secondary in a world where a body is a vehicle.
The technology of digitizing human consciousness, essentially transfering a digital soul, is cool. The approach Altered Carbon takes with its new tech is unique. Instead of exploring it the show uses it as a tool. The tech has lost its luster. World building always adds a lot to a story, when done right, and Altered Carbon does it right. The audience isn’t forced to sit through long scenes of narration or exposition to get up to speed. Most of the time we are thrown in and we catch up as we need to. What does need explaining happens through the protagonist.
It’s nice to see Joel Kinnaman in a great role again. He was outstanding in The Killing. His movie career has been lackluster (Suicide Squad and Run All Night). Back on form in Altered Carbon he gets to be every bit the badass. While still digging into a bit of his characters heart. Giving a strong actor like Kinnaman a role he can sink his teeth into is welcome.
The big downside to Altered Carbon is in the story complexity. The core story itself is fine, easy to follow, well written. The main story, the character stories, and catching up on the world it all takes place in is enough for the audience. A few too many side stories occur muddying the waters.
Altered Carbon is a great bit of sci-fi. The styling looks inspired by Blade Runner. The action is on point, the acting is strong, and the world building is complete. The ten episode run could be a tight eight with some of the fat cut but it’s not so bloated it overstays its welcome.