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Altered Carbon | Review

If death wasn’t a guaranteed phenomenon in our universe, how different do you think our world would have been? The ultimate utopia? No wars fought in the name of god since everyone would be god?

Peace and harmony for all of eternity?

I, personally, think that the world would be no more different than the direction its headed today. The tough will still prey on the weak. The rich will still never play by the same rules as the poor. The law will still never apply the same way to the upper tiers of society than it does the rest of us. The fact is, no matter how special humans become human nature will ultimately lead to pain and suffering at our own hands.

Greed and dishonestly will always outweigh our desire to live with a clean conscience. Even with the few bleeding hearts out there who will stop at nothing to secure justice for the weak and save others from the oppression of the rich, it won’t be enough to save humanity. We always thought that innovative technologies and ground-breaking inventions will make our lives better and easier while making the world safer for us and our families. But with the track that we are on, I see a very dark future for humanity unless we make some major changes to our thinking process. This has been portrayed clearly by the first season of Netflix’s latest original series Altered Carbon.
Based on the highly acclaimed 2002 science fiction novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon has both excited and terrified fans around the world. The theme portrayed in a lot of the British writer’s Sci-Fi novels is the idea that no matter the economic or political system, there will always be those individuals who are ruthless enough to accumulate as much power and wealth as possible, no matter who they had to crush.

Cyberpunk can be a tricky genre to bring to life from pages to the screen since you not only have to correctly portray the futuristic fictional world, you also must get the story-line right. In this ten-part series, show-runner Laeta Kalogridis portrayed what life would be like in 24th century Earth if humans developed the technology to digitize and transfer complete human consciousness from one body to another. Suddenly, your body was a just like a clothing item, something you could change every day to your liking. On their deathbeds, or whenever they felt like it, people could put their cortical “stacks” into a new “sleeve” and they were good to go until the next time. No one ever has to die. Trans and queer people could be in the bodies that they truly felt comfortable in without any major surgery. Trying to live forever sounds like a great idea, but when you factor in how society truly works, you will see why this is not such a great idea for most of humanity.
The protagonist Takeshi Kovacs, a highly trained mercenary turned freedom fighter turned mercenary, takes us through life on earth after he wakes up into a new body 250 years after he was killed. Tasked with solving the murder of one of the richest people on earth, who is still alive, by the way, thanks to the gift of stacks, Takeshi is given the choice of earning back a pardon for all the crimes he committed if he figured out who shot Laurence Bancroft in the head. With each new scene, we get a glimpse of Morgan’s idea of what the world would look like 350 years from now. Flying cars, high-speed space transportation and powerful AI’s have become a go-to for every show and movie that attempts to break into this genre. Humans have settled on countless planets in the galaxy and can travel by casting their consciousness into bodies on different planets in an instant. But Morgan’s adaptation focuses on how this technology affects everyday folks.

The Neo-Catholics protest bringing murder victims back to life to accuse their murderers because they think it will damn their soul. Dead people should stay dead. Most people aren’t rich enough to afford even one new body to transfer to after their death. The police are overworked and underpaid and can’t control even the most blatant violation of stack laws like coping your consciousness into another body, so there is essentially two of you living at the same time. The brilliant portrayal of the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead, plays a huge role in the show since death is a common theme explored.

The people’s ethics and morals are tested when dealing with putting a 7-year-old girl into the body of an old lady since her parents cannot afford to buy her a top tier sleeve. Mental health issues are also focused upon since jumping from one body to another can completely shatter a person’s personality.

Most of all, the show portrays the rich exactly like they would be in reality. With the ability to clone their original body to perfection as many times as they can, the rich are essentially Gods. The rich are nicknamed Meths after Methuselah, who according to the Old Testament lived for longer than any man has, and control the monopoly over everything on earth. With no fear of death, they exploit the sickest of humanity’s tastes like allowing people to rape and murder others for a price, since their bodies can be replaced. The antagonist of the show and the protagonist’s sister, Railene Kovacs runs a flying sex club for the Meths that fulfills their every desire. The rich truly think that no boundaries govern them. They live in ivory towers high above the filth and clutter of the miserable lives of the grounders who have to scrape for every penny. This should come as no surprise to anyone given the amount of people who are still living below the poverty line today.

One of the best thing about the show would be its portrayal of its strong female characters. With well-developed characters, even a dull plot can be forgiven. Kristin Ortega, a Hispanic cop in the Organic Damage division, first opposes Takeshi’s role in hunting the killer down since she believed that Bancroft killed himself. She realizes that he isn’t the terrorist that he seemed to be and teams up with Takeshi to bring down his sister. She kicks ass with her new synthetic arm and never lets anyone stand in her way. Quellcrist Falconer, the leader of the rebel group in the 22nd century and a black woman, recruits Takeshi to fight with her against those who wanted to live forever and cause oppression. In the books, Takeshi didn’t meet her until book three, but the show-runner believed that her spirit was vital for the show to have a balanced stream between the flashbacks and present day in this season. Her wisdom and strength is what inspired Takeshi and helped him in times of trouble like when he was tortured for days in virtual reality.

Joel Kinnaman, the actor who portrays the body of Takeshi Kovacs in the 24th century, does a fantastic job of making us love the broken down, smart-ass soldier that Kovacs is.

Having to adjust to a white man’s body when he is of Japanese-Slavic descent was endearing to watch. His partnership with Kristin Ortega in bringing justice to the wrongdoers and fighting for what he believed in was a well-developed story line. His own backstory about his sister and his loyalty to the fight against living forever within the ten-episode mark was a feat in itself. In the age of Black Mirror and The Man in the High Castle, this show has truly made in a significant mark not only in the Sci-Fi industry but has also managed to show how technology has never really been human beings’ greatest ally. With equal amounts of nudity, violence and humor, the show is off to a great start. With two more books in the series, the show has plenty of material to take inspiration from. Some may say that the show has nothing new to offer from its genre king The Blade Runner series. But I believe that show-runner Laeta Kalogridis has assembled a great diverse cast for this project and this is already seeming up to be the best first season of a Netflix Original series. The themes explored by this story offers something for everyone to enjoy and connect within this weird and diverse world. I really hope that we will learn from their mistakes and that we aren’t doomed to live in a perpetual dystopia forever.

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