QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded

Altered Carbon

I wrote this first part in 2018 after watching season one. I've just finished season two and I'll add my thoughts at the end.

Altered Carbon is a ten episode sci-fi series on Netflix, based on a book by the same name. About all I know of the book is that it is the first of a trilogy.

Altered Carbon at imdb

Overall I liked this, but I had some issues with the puppet-master bad guy in the last two episodes. The motivations were trite and the dialog and actions seemed a bit poorly considered for someone who is supposed to be that powerful.

I felt the series did a great job with the central conceit: a small piece of technology that allows your mind to be moved (and for the rich, backed up). Bodies are called "sleeves" in a bit of language evolution that feels pretty natural. People can easily survive having their body die, even without backups, so long as their "stacks" (a little more awkward) are intact. The backups exist for the case of the stack being destroyed.

People swap bodies with some regularity in this series and yet I never once felt I didn't know who was who unless the story meant for it to be ambiguous. In one episode a guy with very distintive tattoos plays three people: a guy just arrested with a personality to match the ink; a woman's grandmother brought back from the dead for a Day of the Dead party; and an assassin whose regular body had just been destoryed "resleeved" for an interrogation. It was not hard to tell these people apart, and I think even the faceblind could realize it was the same The main character is a terrorist who has been in "jail" for 250 years, pulled out because of his special people reading skills to be a private detective on a case of a very rich man's attempted murder. The guy's stack and head were blown off a couple of minutes before the backup.

Weak point: Jail loses a lot of it's sting if it just means your stack sits on a shelf somewhere for that whole time.

Questionable point: there seem to be a lot of very random bodies about for people to be "resleeved" and a distinct lack of cheap generic clones to use. Only the very rich are shown to have clones.

Weak point: One character has a very powerful cloaking ability / technology. This is severely underused and never clearly explained.

Notable point: it is explicitly set in San Francisco, apparently about five hundred years from now. (Except for the flashbacks to the "before 250 years turned off on a shelf in prison" for the main character.) None of it looks like San Francisco.

If they make a second season out of the book series, I'll watch it. Five clones killed in one fight scene out of eight.

Season two was good, kinda different, probably a little weaker. It's still very violent, but there's hardly any nudity now. That goes along with very little of the body swapping, and almost no use of clones.

This season takes place off-Earth, on the main character's childhood home planet. Someone has a very effective way to kill people, simultaneously destroying the backups, and the "Last Envoy" main character from the first season has a reason to investigate this. He's got a new "sleeve" now, so our hero wears a different face. A couple of characters from season one show up in their same faces, and even the main characters's old face shows up for a while.

The story was entertaining, but not challenging. All the major plot points were well telegraphed and not much new is revealed about the technology of this future. How the backups are destroyed by the mystery "weapon" (as it is called) is never really explained.

Let's call it five out of eigth "meths" fried on screen.