Altered Carbon: Season 1 – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

The Altered Carbon Title Card featuring a dragon biting its tail.
56.84% (1)

Altered Carbon stumbles quite a bit in its first season, but thanks to the characters of Quell and Rei, it leaves you craving for a second season.


Network
Netflix
Creator Laeta Kalogridis
Noted Cast
Takeshi (Future – In Ryker’s Sleeve) Joel Kinnaman
Takeshi (Past) Will Yun Lee
Takeshi (Carnage Revival) Byron Mann
Kristin Martha Higareda
Quell Renée Elise Goldsberry
Laurens James Purefoy
Clarissa Anna Van Hooft
Young Takeshi Morgan Gao
Young Rei Riley Lai Nelet
Poe Chris Conner
Lizzie Hayley Law
Rei Dichen Lachman
Dimi The Twin Tahmoh Penikett, Michael Eklund

Summary

A poster of Quell before a Envoy museum exhibit.

In the distant future, where humanity has become but data in the back of our necks and our bodies just “sleeves” the world has become a dystopia. With the rich never dying, they have become “Meths.” Some would call them God-like beings who capable of doing anything and everything they desire. After all, with the eons of influence they have gained, what low-level cop like Kristin can take down someone who has influence on the UN? Much less, considering the way health care has become, who is to say the present day fears of where the media may find itself having come to fruition?

But while the world is bleak, there are disturbances. 250 years before where we begin the series there was a planned rebellion. A woman known as Quell wanted to reinstate the life expectancy to something human – a mere 100 years. However, she failed. But we learn that while she failed, it didn’t necessarily mean absolute immortality.

Leading us to the baseline of the first season which is the murder of Laurens Bancroft – one of the richest and most influential people alive. Somehow, despite his riches and security, he gets killed. This leads to him employing an associate Clarissa to retrieve him an envoy. In fact, one of the last who can be revived through the DHF/Stack technology. Said envoy? Takeshi Kovacs – the right-hand man to the leader of the Envoy terrorist Quell.

He is tasked with using the abilities Quell was known for instilling in her people to find his killer. For while he has a host of clone sleeves to easily be uploaded into, being murdered is still very much foreign to Meth. And with Kristin having failed to provide him the answers he seeks, Takeshi is put on the case. Often clashing with Kristin due to Kovacs being put in her ex-lover’s sleeve.

However, while, again, that maybe the baseline story, as Kovacs deals with being in Ryker’s body, Kristin’s lover, he experiences threats which lead to him learning he wasn’t the only one who survived the legendary Battle of Stronghold. Thus setting everything we learned up to that point in flames. All thanks to Rei.

Collected Quote(s)

Other Noteworthy Facts & Moments

Question(s) Left Unanswered

  1. How does the rise of A.I. come into play in their world? Their presence, and the distrust of them, isn’t really explained at all. Was there an uprising or something and now the few we see are some of the only ones left? Clearly, based on Mr. Leung having one to combat Poe, weapons were made to combat them but we’re not clued in on the reasons why. We’re just left speculating.

Highlights

The Visuals

Whether you are a sci-fi lover or not, one thing no one can deny is that the genre always has, especially during world-building moments, the best visuals. For whether it is Aerium where Laurens and Meths live to the world of the grounders like Kristin, the sets, maybe even CGI, shows that Netflix isn’t just throwing money around and not expecting results.

On top of that, while we don’t get foreign, alien races, despite the show noting how humanity has found multiple worlds, you have to also appreciate the décor and fashion. Though neither are often big things I hype up, bringing up Poe and The Raven Hotel, with him noting different aspects of his aesthetic, it really pushes you to take note of the work of the set designers. Then, when it comes to the fashion, alongside makeup, while only the Meth really have decadent clothing, there is also enough of a nod to the cosplay community to give them both easy and challenging outfits to mimic.

Everything About Rei

Whether talking about the young Rei played by Riley Lai Nelet or her older counterpart in Dichen Lachman, there can be no arguments that she was the consistent shot of adrenaline that starts episode 3 with her young counterpart and then, when episode 7 hits, goes full force and saves the show. For if we could be honest, and as can be seen in the bulk of the recaps, Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs seems like such a miscast at times. As noted below, he grows on you, but it is arguably because Lachman does most of the heavy lifting, alongside the original Takeshi, Will Yun Lee.

For when we see young Rei played by Nelet, it establishes not just the base of Lachman’s motivation but presents the first time you really feel a need to invest in these characters. And the pins Nelet sets up, Lachman obliterates as, from episode 7 on, she assumes command of the show, alongside Lee, and makes Kinnaman barely a person but a sleeve you just deal with.

Quell

Quell telling Takeshi that he isn't trapped, he is just waiting.

Though, let us not discount Renée Goldsberry. Between her and Lachman, you get what many clamor for in bad ass female characters who aren’t simply women taking on characters which seem like men. Whether you bring up Quell being the mother of a community, teaching every single last one of them how to fight and survive torture, or the fact it is revealed she created stacks in the first place, there is no denying that Quell and Goldsberry deserve spots as not only the top characters in action, taking consideration of Goldberry’s ethnicity and gender, but period.

For, again, like Lachman and Nelet as Rei, what might seem like a strong supporting role eventually becomes one which dominates the show. To the point, I’d argue Goldsberry as Quell makes both Kinnaman and Lee seem like they are supporting roles in her story.

Poe

When it comes to the future Kovacs finds himself in, the first person you may find yourself hooked by is Chris Conner as Poe. This eccentric A.I., with a penchant for guns and the macabre, is the methadone which often helps you get through the show as you wait for Rei or Quell to come around. That is, alongside await Lizzie’s recovery when she inserts herself as one of the characters to be noteworthy.

Now, the reason I say this is because, despite being an A.I., Conner is the first character, and actor, who doesn’t seem stuck in a trope or come off robotic. Poe’s curiosity about humans and the things they do pushes you to sort of fall for him. Since, essentially, he is the adorable sidekick who, with but a handful of lines each episode, strangely becomes one of the ventricles pumping blood into this show. He brings a sense of emotion, eagerness, and longing to be included which is so adorable that it makes you hope that he might return in season 2.

The Sense of Culture or At Least Neo-Catholic Culture

Kristin's family having a conversation about sleeving.

When it comes to the culture of Altered Carbon, while there are a lot of details poured into the idea of how the world has become, there are some grazed over elements. What happened to the media, for example, isn’t dived into, as well as why the healthcare industry has seriously become for profit. Yet, when it comes to the Meth and what they wear, how they act, how those like Ms. Prescott try to become one of them, and things of that nature, we get a lot of details. This also includes the sort of reverence they get, like how Mr. Leung acts, exhibiting how serious these centuries-old beings have pedestals they cannot easily be knocked from.

But it isn’t just the Meth and stacks we get to learn a lot about. Through Kristin and her Neo-C family, we get a taste of how Dia De Los Muertos has pretty much absorbed Halloween and Thanksgiving and how, as a holiday, it changed. That alongside the arguments for and against being Neo-C in coding as well as Proposition 653 which covers Neo-C people being spun up to testify against their murders.

Other things brought into the equation, though not gone into depth, are feelings about A.I., how openly police can be about brutality on grounders, and the concept of torture.

Lizzie’s Recovery

Poe worried he took Lizzie down the wrong path to recovery.

While actresses like Jessica Chastain critique what is known as the “Phoenix Moment,” it is hard to not appreciate Hayley Law going from this broken woman, due to physical violence and mental torture, to taking a synth body and joining the likes of Quell and Rei as a bad ass. Especially since her “Phoenix Moment” came in stages. Of which, as Poe, her psychologist, for a lack of a better term, helps her be empowered, so comes a lot of interesting questions. Perhaps even addressing the Chastain critique.

Which I say because, in the season, around Lizzie’s “Phoenix Moment” there is a line about the violence of death and rebirth that can be easily connected to Lizzie. And for me, it makes you question if in order to obtain a sense of autonomy and safety once more, is there only peace through learning how to impose violence? Is learning how to physically fight back the only tried and true way to obtain a sense of feeling healed or in the progress of healing?

So while Lizzie may not escape this often used trajectory, Poe’s involvement with her story does make it seem someone wanted to address what I’m sure some may have felt.

On The Fence

The Laurens Murder Becomes An Afterthought

James Purefoy as Laurena speaking to Takeshi about his misplaced optimism in his son.

As Kristin reveals the history of Kovacs’ sleeve being Ryker, Dimi The Twin becomes a prominent character, and Rei shows up, there comes a point where the Laurens murder you almost forget about. It is something you know is still an issue, but with menial clues and not much of an investment put in, it makes Rei asking Kovacs to just give Laurens an answer to end it seem like tying up a loose string. Just because that story has run its course and lived out its purpose of explaining how and why Kovacs was brought back to life.

Kovacs, Kristin, and Laurens Take Some Time To Grown On You

A picture of Ryker and Kristin during better times.

One of the main issues I found with the series is that its use of flashbacks isn’t complimentary to the future, or present depending on how you look at it. More so, they compete. When you compare Kristin to Quell, Quell comes off more interesting, a bigger bad ass, and someone worthy of your time and investment. That is, alongside an interesting love interest for Kovacs.

But also for Kovacs, comparing Kinnaman to Lee is just cruel in a way. It triggers feelings of whitewashing, despite how the source material may be, and with Kinnaman falling prey to the issues often felt when a white person takes on the role originated by a person of color, he becomes tiresome to watch. But also, like with the Quell/ Kristin situation, you are more comparing and seeing the past and future compete than one complementing the other.

To put it another way, it isn’t like Nelet and Lachman where one sets the foundation for the other. The past segment featuring Quell feels like it could have been the first season of the show, the second dealing with Kovac’s surprising revival, and what Rei reveals in episode 10 being the setup for season 3. Yet, despite this criticism, you do get used to Kristin and Kinnaman’s Kovacs. You won’t necessarily love them, clamor for them to be in season 2, or anything like that, but as an ends to a means, you look at them like a kid does vegetables. They are just there to sustain you.

Overall: Positive (Watch This)

Kristin wishing Takeshi goodluck.

While Kinnaman and Higareda are tough pills to swallow, with the help of Lachman, and Goldsberry you become adjusted to their acting as well as how their characters are written. To the point that, while, in the beginning, you may find this show boring and not worth the hype and money Netflix is putting out there, your opinion will likely change. For truly, I can only hope their contracts, Lachman and Goldsberry that is, allow them to receive additional money for right now, they are the main reasons I desire a season two. Alongside, hopefully, Lee getting to return as Kovacs rather than Kinnaman or even Byron Mann, despite him still being a better choice than Kinnaman.

Has Another Season Been Confirmed?: Yes, with Anthony Mackie due to take over as lead – Per Hollywood Reporter

Episode List

Episode 1
Altered Carbon first episode leads you to believe writer Laeta Kalogridis known not just by their productions, but by name.
Episode 2
As Kovacs begins his investigation, this is paired with getting to know the sleeve industry and Kristin a little bit better. Meaning, the 2nd episode doesn’t get better.
Episode 3
As Poe, Vernon, Miriam, and flashbacks make up for our male and female lead, things are slowly getting better.
Episode 4
As we get to experience a full lesson from Quell, we also get to see Kristin’s dysfunctional familia.
Episode 5
Naturally, just as the Laurens case gets traction, and Kristin is getting answers about Ryker, the worse thing possible happens.
Episode 6
Alongside the Ghostwalker’s identity being revealed, and another Meth who might be involved with Laurens’ murder, we also see a familiar face.
Episode 7
Everything that led up to the Battle of Stronghold and the end of the Envoys is chronicled, and it is a bit of a mindf—.
Episode 8
Laurens’ case is put to an end, but simply to set up something worthy of being featured in a season finale.
Episode 9
Rei drops another explanation of how things went down on us and all that leaves is the question of will there be consequences?
Episode 10
As usual, Rei delivers more shocking information and it sets Takeshi’s focus for the next season.

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