Unique storytelling is hard to come by in the 21st century as studios rely more on the same money-making tropes rather than sticking their necks out for original content. But the rich fictional universe and unpredictable storyline in “Altered Carbon” tests the legitimacy of this blueprint.
Don’t expect much from the get-go. The first few episodes are saturated with the trifecta of tried-and-true cop-outs: sex, drugs and violence. While the exposition drags on and on, the setting is enough to be enticed. After a few episodes, an engaging plot line emerges to finally give a good show.
“Altered Carbon” takes place in 2384, and in this cyberpunk future, humans are able to transfer their memories and consciousness from body to body — or as they call it, from sleeve to sleeve. Each sleeve is embedded with a stack, a small disk implanted in the spine. A stack encapsulates all life experiences, and any stack can be transferred to any sleeve regardless of race, gender or age. This technology grants people the will to travel across space, take on another identity, and even live for hundreds of years.
In his first life as a superhuman soldier, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) fought in an uprising against the Protectorate, the galaxies universal system of government. Unexpectedly re-sleeved into an unfamiliar body 250 years into his life sentence for his war crimes, he is hired by Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), to look into his own murder. In exchange for his services, Kovacs will regain his freedom and live his life for the rest of his days. While trying to find the answers, he feels a deep desire to learn the identity of his new sleeve.
The series takes a few episodes to give the viewer any reason to care. With shallow, one-dimensional characters, it’s tempting to click out after watching the pilot. Although mystery is key to the story, it overshadows any reason to invest. As the narrative progresses, the show digs deeper into motives, and we start to see a direction.
Where character development is lacking, remarkable acting saves the show from falling too far from grace. Martha Higareda gives a great performance as a Kristin Ortega, a cop who has it out for Kovacs for unknown reasons. Higareda, along with Kinnaman and Purefoy, certainly deliver. Phenomenal production and directing fuses cohesively with their acting to bring something different to the table.
Mind jumping, double identities and immortality paves the way for many unforeseeable plot points. The viewer’s expectation of the plot’s direction is turned on its head many times. Any lack of enticement in the first half of the season is certainly made up for in the second half.
“Altered Carbon” is the show for anyone looking for a great sci-fi drama or simply something to binge. This Netflix original will pleasantly surprise even the most adept TV show analysts. For the less experienced, be prepared. A thrill awaits just behind the play button.