In a distant future where humanity has managed to thwart “real death” by transferring their consciousness into a new body, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is brought back to life and “re-sleeved” into a strange new body all to solve the murder of the insanely wealthy Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy).
If that is not confusing enough, it was Bancroft himself that ordered Kovacs to be brought back “from the ice,” turning him into a mercenary of sorts. The newly brought-back-to-life rebel is caught up in a murder mystery, a grand conspiracy and a world where individuals can be tortured until madness in virtual reality.
‘Altered Carbon’ is a science-fiction/cyberpunk Netflix Original that takes inspiration for its neon-clad aesthetics from the likeness of “Blade Runner” with a dash of introspective themes about morality and humanity from the classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
The Netflix Original is not without its shortcomings, however, as shown by some of the backlash it has received based on Whitewashing, and the concerns that the TV show is too much like the disaster that was ‘Ghost in Shell.’
Showrunner Laeta Kalogridis, who was also a part of the process of adapting ‘Ghost in Shell’ to American screens, has responded to these claims by explaining that they have attempted to grapple with the prospect of Takeshi’s stack, or consciousness. As well as, the main character who is bi-racial Asian and Slavic, being placed in a white man’s body by adding more diversity to the show’s cast as well as casting two different Asian male actors to play Takeshi in the flashbacks to his past.
The disappointing thing for me, however, was lack of prevalence of the theme of identity, and Takeshi’s struggle of being an Asian man in a body that is not his own.
Other than the short scene in the first episode where Takeshi sees his new face for the first time in a mirror and screams, ‘Altered Carbon’ quickly packs up this theme and sweeps it under the rug. Therefore, putting more priority on the crime drama that unfolds afterward with Bancroft.
For those that are not paying attention, it is almost easy to forget at times that the man inside the “sleeve,” as the bodies within the show are referred to, does not mirror that of the body he wears.
It is unfortunate then, that ‘Altered Carbon’ ignores the problems that would arise in a society in which your identity does not match the body you inhabit. This is a theme that is not only important for transgender and queer individuals, but also the idea of identity in general and how important it is when it pertains to race and gender.
In the universe that ‘Altered Carbon’ creates, I would argue that issues surrounding race, gender and class would be more important, more prevalent — not less so.
With that said, I would not say that these issues take away from the show to the point that it cannot be enjoyed. I could not help but become obsessed with the characters and the world that unfolded before me, and the questions that were presented by the series such as:
“What if there was a way that humanity could cheat death? And if so, should we?”
Characters such as Kristin Ortega (a Latina woman and cop who has broken away from the traditions of her highly Catholic family), Lizzy (a young black female sex worker who was murdered and then tortured in Virtual Reality until she was driven to madness), and Poe (an AI manager of a hotel called The Raven, who was created and named after the likeness of the poet, Edgar Allen Poe) breathe life into a series that’s aesthetic is the perfect mix of utopia and dystopia. It is a cyberpunk novel brought to life.
All in all, ‘Altered Carbon’ makes up for some of its downfalls with a colorful cast and amazing character development that kept me hooked from beginning to end. If you are looking for an action-heavy sci-fi to binge watch over spring break, I highly recommend trying ‘Altered Carbon’ on Netflix.