HomeTelevisionAltered Carbon Series Premiere: Solid Cyberpunk Fare

Altered Carbon Series Premiere: Solid Cyberpunk Fare

Altered Carbon Joel Kinnaman

Altered Carbon Series Premiere Plot Summary:

Former rebel and convicted terrorist Takeshi Kovacs (Will Yun Lee) is awakened and put into a new body (Joel Kinnaman) 250 years after his arrest to solve the murder of wealthy immortal Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy).

The cyberpunk genre has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance lately, as we continue to slide into our own version of the dystopic futures they warned us about (minus all the cool parts, of course). Given that, as well as Netflix’s voracious hunger for new hit series to fuel subscriptions, it was likely only a matter of time before we got a big new cyberpunk series from the streaming giant. Well that series has finally arrived in the form of Altered Carbon, an adaptation of the 2002 novel of the same name by Richard K. Morgan.

Altered Carbon is set in a future where human consciousness has been fully digitized and can be downloaded onto chips called “stacks” and put into new bodies called “sleeves,” effectively achieving immortality (though in practice only for the rich). It’s an intriguing premise, one we are introduced to right away by the arrest and subsequent awakening of Takeshi in a new body.

Indeed, the rich world that Morgan created is one of the show’s biggest assets. It is fascinating to piece together what life is like on this far future version of Earth by the small details and bits of exposition that are given out over the course of the hour. Some of it is a little clunky (a conversation between Takeshi and cop Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) about some sort of religious movement opposed to reviving the stacks of people who died is both forced and confusing), but it remains overall a great element of the show.

This is a cyberpunk story, though, and that means we need some kind of hard-boiled neo-noir plot to wrap all this worldbuilding around. Altered Carbon delivers in the form of the murder of Laurens Bancroft, an absurdly wealthy man who bought Takeshi’s freedom for the purpose of figuring out who killed him.

Thankfully for Bancroft, he owns a series of backups that make him even more effectively immortal than most, and all the murder cost him was two days of memory. But that means he has no idea how he was killed in the privacy of his own mansion with a gun only he and his wife should have been able to access. It’s a classic locked door murder mystery with a sci-fi twist. As a mystery, it stands a bit thin in this first episode, but it’s sufficiently intriguing to hook viewers and it leaves plenty of room to be fleshed out with twists and turns over the course of the narrative.


Not every imported classic of the genre holds up so well, though. Higareda’s character, the tough-talking Bay City cop who failed to crack the case, feels oddly out of place. Her place in the narrative feels wholly unnecessary, and even after she explains how she’s involved in the case it doesn’t entirely make sense why she’s so invested in Takeshi’s work.

It’s Takeshi himself who suffers from this the worst, though. He is exactly the same kind of grim, sardonic anti-hero you’d expect to find in an old cyberpunk story, and unfortunately he has not been updated for the decades that have followed since. This means he spits out eye-rolling one-liners about how God will take a long time to count his sins and wallows in indulgent self-pity about his past. There is something interesting about that past, tied up as it is in his membership in some elite force known as the Envoys, but Takeshi is such a cliché that it can be hard to care. Still, it’s always possible that it’s just the inevitable difficulty of crafting a first episode and the character will grow into the role.

Altered Carbon, in its first episode at least, is hardly a groundbreaking entrant in the cyberpunk genre, destined to spawn a thousand imitators. But it uses its conventions well, and if its character work leaves something to be desired, the rich setting helps ameliorate that somewhat. If you have a love for the genre and style, then it’ll certainly scratch that itch for something new. And if you’re a newcomer looking for an entrypoint, there are few that go down the checklist of what typically defines cyberpunk as thoroughly as this one. Just don’t expect to have your mind blown, let alone transferred into a new body.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.


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