By Neil Runge | Staff Writer
The Netflix original series Altered Carbon discusses themes of love, loss, action, murder, redemption and family, all set against a science fiction world with an aesthetic reminiscent of Blade Runner. The show is set in a hypothetical future where people can have their consciousness placed into pieces of technology called “stacks.” These stacks, unless damaged, can be put into a new body when a person dies.
The story follows Takeshi Kovacs, a man who, after 250 years, has been put into a new body. Takeshi has been woken up because he was requested to solve the murder of one of the wealthiest men in the world: Laurens Bancroft. Takeshi, with the help of various cast members, solves the murder of Bancroft, a man who has enough money that he never has to worry about being in a new body (he can afford to have his stack backed up to a satellite and have multiple clones made). Takeshi was selected by Bancroft because of his belief that he was murdered while backing up his stack, and the police are certain it was a suicide. Bancroft promises Takeshi riches to find out how he died.
The cast of characters is very diverse. Takeshi has an Asian heritage, and there are African American characters with complex stories. There’s also a Latina main character. While the entertainment world is dominated by stories with mostly white narratives, it is refreshing to see a cast this varied.
While Altered Carbon is diverse and offers a new take on a murder mystery story, it has its shortcomings. For example, sexual violence plays a large part in this show. It’s talked about repeatedly, and graphic depictions of the assaults are shown. This show is also brutal; action scenes take up major parts of each episode. It is gory and does not shy away from discussed violence. In fact, the show and its characters lean into the savagery and perpetuate it. Barbaric scenes like the ones portrayed can be triggering to some. A TV-MA rating should be heeded.
Furthermore, Altered Carbon has a slow start, with about an hour-long run time per episode. It takes a couple installations for the story to pick up. It struggles, at first, to flesh out non-white characters, which led to viewers feeling as if these are just tokens, written only to be stereotypes or nameless faces. Fortunately, this was not the case. Each character portrayed gets a story, even if only for a few minutes.
Once the action picks up and the minor story arcs unfold, it’s hard not to get invested. Altered Carbon captivates you with each new fact you learn about the murder and the main casts’ backgrounds. As the plot thickens, the viewer is drawn further into the story and becomes invested in even the most minor of characters. The plot twists, even though a little predictable, manage to shock and add another layer to the story.
What adds to the sense of the story picking up is the musical backing. The music that runs behind the action scenes only intensifies them. Behind each sex scene is music that gives light to what level of romance these characters are experiencing. At the times when there is no music, the silence puts the audience on edge and makes them suspenseful and anxious of the possibilities in the scene.
Altered Carbon is a binge-worthy show and can be handled in a day despite having around a 10-hour run time. If you love movies like Blade Runner, then Altered Carbon is a show that will surely catch your attention.