Thursday, February 8, 2018

Altered Carbon Season 1 Netflix Series Review

Altered Carbon (2018-)
Season 1 - 10 episodes (2018)
Watch Altered Carbon Season 1 on Netflix
Created by: Laeta Kalogridis
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Martha Higareda, James Purefoy, Kristin Lehman
Rated: R
Watch the trailer 

In a world where the human consciousness can be digitized and transferred, Takeshi Kovacs is put into a cop’s body as he’s hired to investigate a suicide purported to be a murder. Laurens Bancroft apparently committed suicide, destroying the stack that contains his consciousness, but with a 48 hour back up, he buys a new body and hires Kovacs to figure out what happened in those two days.

The concepts and ideas anchor this show. The writing isn't as nuanced as it should be and the conclusion falters as the novel is altered so that a single thread can unify story lines and characters. While I really enjoyed the series, many changes to the novel come at the expense of the story.
It's definitely a fun world that borrows a Blade Runner aesthetic and it's made to be binged. Each episode's conclusion leaves you wanting more as Kovacs puts together the pieces of this case.
The idea is great, the execution is only adequate, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch.
Watch it.

The series looks amazing. The production values are great and the show likes it's big shoot outs. At its core it's a murder mystery, introducing themes that explore capitalism, the class divide, and immortality. I've read the book many years ago, but the show compelled me to look a few things up as it didn't track with my memory of the book.
Flying cars, because of course.
This starts with Takeshi Kovacs in a new sleeve. All bodies are sleeves for the cortical stack that houses a person's consciousness. He's been in prison storage for 250 years. It's mentioned more than a few times but apparently nothing has changed in that time span as he has no culture shock. It could be a detail just as easily deleted as it doesn't matter. In this world, when your stack is stored your body is leased out to the highest bidder. The first episode is a lot of setup, but it's a promising story with solid world building. I did everything a pilot should.
Kovacs prison sentence isn't up. Bancroft, an extremely wealthy Meth (short for the biblical character Methuselah who lived a very long time) pays to lease Kovacs to solve his murder case. In this society the rules don't apply to the wealthy. With a little, or a lot of money they can do whatever they please. Bancroft likes that Kovacs was part of the rebel group, the Envoy. He's trained to adapt to new sleeves and the sleeve he's in has combat and reflex augmentation which make him particularly effective in combat.
The streets where the poor live.
The skies house the rich.
We get backstory and the central mystery, but the voice over is unnecessary. The series should show us details instead of constantly telling us. Narration works fine in a book, but video is a different medium that isn't conducive. Part of the show's problem is apparent with Kovac's cigarette smoking. We see him frequently smoke, but only later does he say his sleeve has a nicotine addiction. It could have shown us trembling or calloused fingers. Kovacs could desperately search for a cigarette, but none of that happens. He blatantly tells us.
If Kovacs solves the case he gets a full pardon. While it appears to be suicide, Bancroft doesn't believe it. A man like himself wouldn't commit suicide. He's rich after all. Bancroft is part of the elite that lives high above the clouds, can duplicate his body, and even create backups of his stack. This process would cost a lifetime's worth of money for the average person. That's the pilot and it will draw you in.
Kovac's old body.
You can always spot a budget sleeve.
At times this feels like a solid sci-fi story with soap opera stylings. There's frequent nudity, and while I don't have a problem with that if it serves the story, showing how bodies are a commodity, it's used to show characters deliberating in the shower. It wouldn't be hard to link nudity with the value of life, but the show doesn't present taht as such. The ending unnecessarily tries to thread the plot to tie every single character and it doesn't need to. It's drama for the sake of it. Not everything needs to connect.
There's a large chunk of backstory in one episode, and it completely alters the pacing. It's not a bad episode, but that information isn't even needed and at worse should have been included throughout the season. The big mistake is that Kovacs doesn't have to be tied to the origins of the rebellion.
There are already flashbacks in each episode that reveal parts of Kovac's method of operation. His training tells us why he's making friends to solve the case, though the show is frequently afraid we won't make the connection. We get one big info dump during episode seven in another attempt to stitch everything together. It's a divergence we didn't need.
Kovacs and his sister Rei.
The series relies on Kovac's rebel training to inform all his decisions and I would have liked to see him in more sleeves, though that might be a budget issue. There are more than a couple settings though we do revisit them. We do see him in a few different sleeves, but the series seems to dip back to the same week of his life when he joined the rebels. There also could have at least been some kind of mannerism that tied Kovacs and his sleeves together.
Head in the Clouds floating entertainment.
How much money is too much? The series looks at the obscenely rich and the society formed under extreme wealth disparity. The conclusion is that wealth combined with living for so long leads the rich to see new and extreme experiences. This touches on guilt, but that is more of a footnote.

The series feels the need to create a single villain. This changes a cultural dynamic of how this society works into an orchestrated plot to get Kovacs. It rings hollow, because such an elaborate scheme isn't necessary.
The Raven Hotel.
Kovacs is a contradictory character, but he isn't as well defined as he should be. We're told from the beginning that he must fit in an establish a expendable support base to complete an objective. His base is The Raven hotel, an A.I. hotel that people don't use for some reason but proves incredibly effective for Kovacs.
We realize he has a degree of morality, but even that isn't played well when he decides to save the poor from the rich into the run up to the finale.
The series has plenty of problems, but I enjoyed it while watching. This completely rides on the strength of the concept. The concept is so good that the shortcomings don't completely derail this. It's only after thinking about the series to review it that the shortcomings really to start to show.

Warning, book spoilers below!
Quell Falconer, rebel leader.
The cop that doesn't like him.
Kovac's team by the end of the season.
In the book Karahawa was NOT Kovacs's sister but someone with a controlling interesting in brothels and letting the rich kill them. Karahawa employed only neo-c people (new catholics who refused to be reseleeved after death, even if to solve a crime) so truth would stay buried.
Karahawa was against legislation to allow neo-cs to be spun up. His plan was to leverage Bancroft to fight the legislation, and he also framed Ryker.
Another scene I remember from the book was the interrogation of Dimi, that patch work man. While I couldn't find a reference to this, the series included a patch work man kids book.
Changing the show's motive to Rei just wanting her brother back complicates things needlessly. She's rich. Why does she need the theatrics and shadow play?
In the book, Kovacs did kill Karahawa using the virus.

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