Altered Carbon – Ep 1

I had not watched this series, and only had a tangential understanding of the plot from the non-stop Netflix trailers.  Duke and Copper mentioned I should take a closer look, so I popped it on while I was running on the treadmill.  As with most series, the first episode (usually a pilot on TV) needs to establish the main characters, the overall plot, and provide a reason to watch episode 2.  I think the first episode does a good job of this

Tangent to start.  Dark City is 20 years old.  You should watch it, because there’s nary a bad scene in this entire film.  Just avoid the voice over part before the title card… the director’s cut avoids this.  Watching this, you can see how tropes can improve a story.  Very much in the vein of “show don’t tell”, Dark City explores what it really means to be human, and what makes up reality if memories are all we have.

Back to Altered Carbon (AltC).  10 episodes, each 1 hour long.  Pushed like nuts by Netflix (to me at least, based on my habits I guess), then fell to the side when Cloverfield came out, then mute.  Maybe they expect me to binge?  I dunno, but the timelines for new releases are much too short.

The general plot assumption is that people’s identities can be stored in disks, that can be implanted in new bodies (sleeves) to essentially live forever.  How new bodies are acquired is an interesting question, in particular the one provided to the main character.  Looking forward to that.  The main character comes back to life after 250 years (more on this) in order to find the murderer of one of the richest people on earth.  There’s a lot of hints at a complex backstory to this character, and I will say that there’s some depth to it.

What works:

  • Joel Kinnaman as Kovacs does a serviceable job.  He is not a plot device, which is nice to see.  He has his own code of ethics, and methods.  He goes on a hell of a bender, knowing that his options are limited.  Most importantly, his decision making is consistent and rational.
  • The flashbacks to a previous sleeve work in the concept of character development and plot exposition.  There’s another arc that’s started.
  • James Purefoy is always an effective heel, or at least presents himself as one.  There’s an elitism to him that works really well here.
  • The main plot generally follows logical steps.  The scene at the end in the hotel works given the setting.  The opening shot is a bit of “ghost in the shell”, but we go back to tropes and water being a birth channel.  It’s a setting and is not abused.
  • There are fundamental rules to the universe that are consistently applied.  There’s no magic ghost that makes things happen because.  There’s also some religious bits in here relating to immortality that resonate well.
  • The art style works, and the VFX/sound work too.  Again, the art has a purpose relating to the classes.  Someone thought this through.
  • By the end of the episode, it feels like there was some minor closure on items, and that you’re about to step in the deep end of the pool.

What doesn’t work:

  • There are some logical/science issues that don’t really jive.  Kovacs already had multiple bodies before his recent death 250 years ago.  I can barely recognize the world 25 years ago.  It doesn’t make sense to have such a dramatic lack of societal progress after a quarter century.  This is a writing trope from the golden age of sci-fi, and will require some further explanation.
  • Where do the bodies come from?  Is it a financial thing to be immortal, because Kovac’s body is over the top quality to be left for scraps.  I don’t get this.
  • The religious tones are seen in the first 10 minutes, then dropped moving forward, which is a shame.  The concept of immortality is a great opportunity – see Hyperion Cantos for a great example.
  • If the main character is not a cop, then the cops in a series are dumb.  The main cop (Ortega by Martha Higareda) is written like a teenager in an adult’s world.  Her partner does a much better job.  Kovacs is essentially teaching them, which is dumb.  This works in Demolition Man, since cops have not seen a murder in 100 years, but it doesn’t work here.  For an example of a well developed cop, see Shi Qiang in Three Body Problem.
  • The kitchen sink is thrown at Kovacs when it comes to absorbing society, and he goes all in on a hell of a drug/booze bender.  It is a lot for a viewer to absorb, and Kovacs himself has trouble with it.  It’s bad in that I lost sense of the episode for nearly 10 minutes.  It’s good because when Kovacs comes out of it, he wants nothing to do with it, instead wanting to stick with simple/archaic entertainment.  Cutting this down a bit would have let other themes grow.


This first episode shows some promise; characters appear to have more than one dimension, and there are multiple plot points that are opened up, with a central mystery to drive the story.  It isn’t binge-worthy, mostly because it throws so much at the screen that I can’t digest it all in time, and the foreshadowing to the next episode isn’t all that strong.

4 thoughts on “Altered Carbon – Ep 1

  1. I watched this last week. It gave enough curiosity to plan to watch episode 2, but it didn’t feel like a monster home run out of the park or anything. As you say, interesting premise, let’s see what they do with it.


  2. I read the book over a decade ago but didn’t connect it with the TV series for some reason. While I watching the first episode I was thinking to myself, “Man, this is really familiar…”

    The penny dropped halfway through the episode.


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