Altered Carbon is an American dystopian science fiction cyberpunk television series created by Laeta Kalogridis and based on the 2002 novel of the same title by English author Richard K. Morgan. The first season consists of ten episodes and premiered on Netflix on February 2, 2018.
The series takes place over 250 years in the future, in the year 2384. In the future, a person's memories can be decanted in a disk-shaped device called a cortical stack, which is implanted in the vertebrae at the back of the neck. These storage devices are of alien design and have been reverse engineered and mass produced. Physical human or synthetic bodies called "sleeves" are used as vessels that can accept any stack. Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a political operative with mercenary skills, wakes up 250 years after his previous sleeve is terminated. He is given the choice to either spend the rest of time in prison for his crimes, or to help solve the murder of Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), one of the wealthiest men in the settled worlds. Takeshi was the sole surviving soldier of those defeated in an uprising against the new world order 250 years prior.
Netflix ordered the series in January 2016, fifteen years after showrunner Laeta Kalogridis optioned the novel with the intent of making a feature film. According to Kalogridis, the complex nature of the novel and its R-rated material meant that it was a tough sell for studios before Netflix ordered the series. Steve Blackman served as co-showrunner. Miguel Sapochnik directed the pilot episode. The series was produced in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original release date|
|1||"Out of the Past"||Miguel Sapochnik||Laeta Kalogridis||February 2, 2018|
|Convicted criminal Takeshi Kovacs awakens in a new body after two and a half centuries to help an extremely rich man, Laurens Bancroft, solve his own murder. He died just before his consciousness was uploaded and saved to a satellite, and the evidence suggests it was a suicide. Bancroft offers Kovacs a massive amount of wealth and Kovacs' freedom, but Kovacs declines. He is briefly interrogated by a police officer called Ortega, but makes it clear he doesn't want the case. Just before he checks into a gothic hotel run by an artificial intelligence, Kovacs is attacked by a high-class hitman called Dimitri. As Kovacs has been gone for two hundred and fifty years, he believes someone really did kill Bancroft and takes the case.|
|2||"Fallen Angel"||Nick Hurran||Steve Blackman||February 2, 2018|
|Lieutenant Kristin Ortega, already at odds with the Bancrofts, tracks Kovacs, who is investigating the long list of people who have threatened Laurens' life.|
|3||"In a Lonely Place"||Nick Hurran||Brian Nelson||February 2, 2018|
|Kovacs is invited to a party at the Bancroft mansion, where Laurens has assembled the many likely suspects in his murder.|
|4||"Force of Evil"||Alex Graves||Russel Friend & Garrett Lerner||February 2, 2018|
|Kovacs is abducted and tortured, and must remember his Envoy training by Quellcrist Falconer to turn the tables on his captors.|
|5||"The Wrong Man"||Uta Briesewitz||Nevin Densham||February 2, 2018|
|Kovacs has learned that his sleeve was formerly the disgraced cop Elias Riker, Ortega's lover, and demands answers.|
|6||"Man with My Face"||Alex Graves||Steve Blackman||February 2, 2018|
|While Ortega recovers from a violent attack, Kovacs informs Laurens of his son Isaac's duplicity. Ortega and Kovacs are abducted by Carnage, who forces them into a fight to the death with his minions.|
|7||"Nora Inu"||Andy Goddard||Nevin Densham & Casey Fisher||February 2, 2018|
|Reunited with his resurrected sister Reileen, Kovacs remembers his origins in the Protectorate, and with Quellquist.|
|8||"Clash by Night"||Uta Briesewitz||Brian Nelson||February 2, 2018|
|Faced with his sister's treachery, Kovacs gets Vernon's wife Ava released into a male sleeve to help him convince Laurens that his lawyer Oumou Prescott is the murderer. Ortega tries to determine the identity of the mystery woman who saved Kovacs.|
|9||"Rage in Heaven"||Peter Hoar||Russel Friend & Garrett Lerner||February 2, 2018|
|After Reileen issues a violent ultimatum, Kovacs and his associates plot to infiltrate her ship.|
|10||"The Killers"||Peter Hoar||Laeta Kalogridis & Nevin Densham||February 2, 2018|
|Everything is revealed as Kovacs confronts Reileen for the last time, and Lizzie faces the Bancrofts.|
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 65% based on 72 reviews, and an average rating of 6.64/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Altered Carbon leans hard into its cyberpunk roots, serving up an ambitiously pulpy viewing experience that often overwhelms, but never bores." On Metacritic, the season has a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
David Griffin of IGN said the show "gets almost everything right" as a "cyberpunk fantasyland." Griffin praised the visuals and the complexity of the plot, as well as the acting, such as Chris Conner's performance as the AI hotel manager Poe. He also wrote of the show's problems, such as the intricacies of the murder often got "in the way of the show’s momentum" and the murder plot "loses steam" early on. He ultimately gave it a score of 8.8 out of 10, summarizing it as "A visual titan with a less than stellar story." Michael Rougeau of GameSpot made a point of calling it "hardcore" science fiction, as a "noir sci-fi/gumshoe thriller bursting with the trappings of both genres, from murdered prostitutes and holographic billboard ads to AIs who flit between the real world and some convoluted cyberspace." The review praised how deeply the show examined and explored the cortical stack, the central concept. Catherine Pearson of Digital Spy said the visuals were magnificent and the themes fascinating, but that it had flaws; for example, the characters "mumbling their way through long expository dialogue."
The Vancouver Sun summarized that the reaction of professional critics was mixed, and that the critics' conclusion was that the "murder mystery takes a back seat to the show's futuristic visuals." Entertainment Weekly also summarized reviews, saying the consensus was that the visuals were spectacular, but the violence against women raised questions. Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly gave it a "B-" grade and wrote that the "show tackles race, gender, and class with all the subtlety of a blowtorch." Forbes criticized other critics for speaking negatively of the show and called it "terrific" and one of the best science fiction shows on television. Andrew Liptak of The Verge called it engrossing, but criticized the lack of focus on the relationships between the characters.
Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times gave it a mixed review, but particularly praised Kinnaman, even if the fight scenes were described as tedious in a way. Jen Chaney of Vulture said the show was "ambitious, convoluted, violent, derivative, and somehow simultaneously grimy and glossy," but ultimately gave it a negative review, saying "the visual candy and philosophical subtext of Altered Carbon may wash over me, but none of it gets absorbed in any lasting way." Radio Times wrote that the "drama tries to find its groove by shifting erratically from noir detective drama to war epic to soap opera, ultimately failing to meet its own lofty ambitions: it's a thunderous haymaker that only manages to graze its target." The review noted that the show takes on too much, and that much of the story could have been left for a second season.
Many critics focused on the show's violence. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw of The Daily Dot wrote that the show seemed to use "the dystopian setting as an excuse for sexualized violence," and that the focus on dead, naked women's bodies "was a massive distraction from the show's stronger points, like the well-choreographed fight scenes and Takeshi Kovacs' backstory." Digital Spy defended the level of violence, arguing it accurately reflected the books, and was "the point" of the franchise, as "without showing brutal, unremitting violence, Altered Carbon would fail to fully explore the dystopian reality it aims to present." Kimberly Roots of TVLine also criticized the scenes of violence and nudity, and also said the story suffered from uneven pacing. However, she noted that the investigation part "clicks along smartly," and that the fight sequences were "sophisticated." She gave it a "B-" grade.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Saturn Awards||June 2018||Best New Media Television Series||Altered Carbon||Pending|||
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