Review of Altered Carbon on Netflix

Saturday February 3, 2018 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | TV and Movie Review

I just finished the new series on Netflix, Altered Carbon. Let me say right up front that I loved it!


It is 10 episodes packed full of action, intrigue and awesomeness. Think Blade Runner meets Kill Bill meets Star Trek The Next Generation. But you would have to cross that with something graphic, for both violence and sexual content. It is very R rated, and filled with violence of every sort, including torture, as well as a fair amount of nudity. The series is based on the 2002 novel by Richard Morgan, and the main plot follows the original story relatively closely for those that have read it. The book is really in a genre all its own as an adult SF thriller.


This show looks incredible and really feels like a possible dystopian future. The sets are just amazing. The tech is cool in the extreme. It is set several hundred years in the future, where humans can store their personality in a cortical stack, which basically sits on top of your spinal chord at the base of the brain, and people can have their selves sent all over the colonized worlds at light speed, or have backup stacks and bodies (sleeves), if you can afford it. The good stuff is only available to the very rich, and society has evolved into a caricature of our own in the have and have-nots.


The plot is a noir mystery at its heart, with the main character being the last remaining bad-ass ninja special ops operative from a time in the past that was much more violent. He has been in virtual prison for 250 years for being a rebel terrorist to the Protectorate. He is the last of the legendary Envoys, which were an underground splinter group of operatives specially trained by Quellcrist Falconer. They are a cross between Navy Seals and ninja warriors, that were also hardened in the virtual world, with an unmatched skillset.


The actors picked to play the roles were perfect. The fight scenes are frickin epic in every way. The tech and special effects for the world are brilliant. The exchange between the cop Ortega and Kovacs evolves and the actors and writers do a great job with this complex relationship. Joel Kinnaman as Kovacs and Martha Higareda as Ortega are wonderful in their roles and are completely believable.


I have to say that one of my favorite characters was the AI Hotel, The Raven and its virtual human owner in the form of Edgar Allen Poe, played by Chris Connor. I liked it in the book and I liked it even more in the series.


Laeta Kalogridis did an amazing job melding the book with her vision of this world, and it deviates in very cool ways from the original, expanding on some themes and going in-depth into the history of the main character, Takeshi Kovacs, who was originally born on Harlan’s World, which was settled by Japanese and Slavic people, hence his name. They also explore the Envoy training and more about Quell and her code and her cause, and her relationship with Kovacs. She added a new character that has a major impact on the entire story arc in surprising ways.


Laeta Kalogridis does a marvelous job with clarity on a very complex story, interweaving multiple story arcs together in a way that was actually easier to follow that in the original story, at least it all came together in a way that I found easier to keep up with. She does this with flashbacks and narrative by the main character, and by showing his inner dialogue as the embodiment Quell or his sister. There is a funny twist that she added to the story that flesh out Ortega’s family.


I think Laeta does a great job answering the controversies that people were worried about, whitewashing the main character and violence against women, by giving Kovacs a deep back story and by making the women of this story as bad-ass as any man. They were all strong and compelling. The violence is full service, and not focused on shaming women. There is a backdrop of prostitution which is fundamental to the storyline, but it is not overdone. The showrunner also tuned down the graphic violence of the torture a notch from the book, and it was a smart choice. But, understand that It is still crazy violent.


I really liked the concept of the world when I read the book and Laeta made it really come to life. I wasn’t ready to leave this world in the follow-on stories, but Morgan leaves this setting in the next books. I am curious to see where Laeta will go next. If maybe she stays with the mystery concept or follows the books.


This will stand as one of my favorite shows of all-time, despite the violence. If you like action or science fiction it should be right up your alley. But be prepared for a violent and graphic ride. Overall, a huge thumbs-up from me.

I would love to hear from you!