And on we go with this week’s “Freaky Sci-Fi” theme. I like to present shows that are quite different from each other together and so this pick is the opposite in style to Travelers in many ways. I am talking about Altered Carbon.
Like many other shows and movies these days, Altered Carbon is based on books, in this case written by Richard K. Morgan. As seems to be a reoccurring theme with these posts, I have not read those books yet, nor am I sure I will pick them up. This just means I cannot draw any real comparisons between the source material and the screen adaptation, but I think we will all survive.
Altered Carbon is a Netflix show with one season out so far. I usually don’t say this, because I am a greedy person and always want more, but I quite liked the ending of the season. I think there are talks about season 2 (which have some storytelling quirks to figure out due to the finale), but I personally wouldn’t mind if that was all there is to the story, which is almost refreshing.
Human consciousness can be stored and transferred. A former prisoner now has the option to win his freedom, provided he can solve a highly complex and dangerous murder case.
Those of you who follow my tweets, probably saw me binge-watching and binge-tweeting about Altered Carbon on release weekend. When I was done, I knew that I had liked it but I had watched it while being sick with borderline hypothermia, so I wasn’t sure how accurate my judgment really was. But in the following days I saw everyone else’s reactions and I knew this was one of the good ones.
Altered Carbon brings you into a world where, if you have the money, you can live forever. Don’t like the body you were born with? Well, just upgrade your sleeve (what bodies are called) and you are settled. In all the stories I have ever read/watched/otherwise-consumed, I have never encountered one where it was smart to give humanity access to immortality. We simply aren’t built for it! This already brings me to one of the main topics throughout the series – immortality and all its moral ramifications and repercussions. It’s very thought provoking in some ways. If you are rich, you can’t just buy any body you like, you can also clone the one you have infinite times without ever even having to age. Would that be ground for unlimited freedom or a prison in itself? There’s a religion featured that absolutely doesn’t want to be reborn in a new sleeve, as it would taint the soul. But if you had the possibility to talk to murder victims by giving them a new sleeve to testify, wouldn’t that almost eradicate violent crimes? It’s questions like that, which although not always front and center, are the underlying current of the show.
Where Travelers is very understated, Altered Carbon is almost overwhelming you with information and vibrant visual cues. The CGI is great, in my opinion, and we gradually get to explore all the dark corners of this particular universe, while never getting all the information. I believe this is necessary if the show is thinking long-term, but I also think it might have been too much information otherwise.
With all the love I have for the show, it definitely isn’t perfect. I know I am terribly bad at giving trigger warnings, but let me tell you the violence in this one is real! There are multiple cases of sexual abuse and downright torture. In an almost Blade-Runner-esque fashion, women are definitely sexualised but I think the series really tried to show almost equally as much male nudity. I am really bad about talking about these parts of a show, because if I don’t care about it much, my mind can very easily just blank those parts out. Let’s just say, be prepared for some disturbing stuff.
This time, I really couldn’t decide on just one character. So, I am going to feature two. One is the main character, Takeshi Kovacs, and the other is a really quirky AI, going by the name of Edgar A. Poe (yes, exactly like the poet), who I sometimes loved more than the humans on the show.
As the name Takeshi Kovacs already suggests, the character is of Japanese and East-European descent. He comes from a very different world to the one we get to see and I especially enjoyed slowly rolling up his past episode by episode. And, not being a fan of flashback episodes whatsoever, I also really valued the background we got during that particular part of the show, even if I will always stand by the opinion that it is a tiny interruption of the natural flow of the storyline. Anyway, he is a very tortured man, who had to fight for survival from an early age on. I think he does what he has to, however, I do believe that he’d rather do what’s right in the process. He seems very loyal to the people he loves and respects, but also easily closes himself off from the world in order to not get hurt or hurt anyone else. In my mind, he will always be haunted by the things he has done.
In some ways, I think it was a bold choice to go with a white actor for Takeshi’s main sleeve during the course of the first season. In the book, you got Takeshi’s inner voice to show how he felt about basically being whitewashed, but that wasn’t possible to portray as easily in a visual way. I appreciated that the creators made sure to have two Asian actors portray other bodies Takeshi inhabited at least. There is still an element of racism in the 26th century setting and to show that, only minor roles in the book were expanded for the adaptation and cast with POC as well (Lizzie, to this day, being one of my favourites).
Now finally on to my lovable AI! Poe is the owner of the Raven Hotel (you see he can stick to a theme) and finds his first guest in over 50 years in Kovacs. As I understood it, no one uses AI run hotels anymore, because they become obsessed and stalkerish with their guests and that’s, of course, bothering. However, Poe is a real life saver. He would literally die for his inhabitants and is in general quite fascinated with humans. While other AIs seem to be fed up with humanity, he genuinely wants to help wherever he can. I think of him as the funny sidekick, who can be very weird, but is probably a better person than some of the actual people. Also, I will forever love him for quoting one of my favourite poems. I am easily swayed that way.
Okay, this post got super long! I hope you have a better understanding of what Altered Carbon is like but, please, don’t hesitate to ask questions if anything is unclear. The body swapping and such can be quite confusing.
Did you watch Altered Carbon? Is it something you’d be interested in?