Altered Carbon begins with a futuristic twist on the noir whodunnit. The victim commissions the detective’s help himself. Thanks to an alien technology that is poorly understood (yet nonetheless replicated and mass-produced), human consciousness can be stored digitally and implanted into a new body, or “sleeve.” When Takeshi Kovacs awakens in a new body, he’s given a bargain: solve his benefactor’s murder and keep the sleeve. It’s a new lease on life, if he can pull it off.
While the twists and turns of the murder investigation drive the plot, the fascinating aspect of Altered Carbon is the world in which it takes place.
Life is cheap in Altered Carbon, but sleeves cost money. Most people scrimp and save for a replacement for when their body dies. The wealthy, tech-made immortals who can afford to endlessly clone themselves and backup their minds with impenetrable security are called Methuselas.
Vices that abuse the body are also rampant. Drinking, drugs, prostitution, even conventional murder becomes vaguely blasé when someone can simply wake up in a new body afterward. Of course, that costs money. Everything boils down to money, and that’s one factor at the heart of the series.
Takeshi Kovacs is a quiet character. He goes about his business, conducts his investigation, and gets distracted by the noir-mandatory love interests, both present and from his past. He’s also a one-man army, which is how he got this gig in the first place. But he’s also highly cerebral, which is a necessity when you’re trying to solve a crime in a world where the person you’re after may be in any sleeve now, when physical and digital evidence can be fabricated, and when the most powerful people in the world might be implicated.
I won’t spoil anything more by getting deep into the plot. The first season is a self-contained mystery with a satisfying conclusion. Netflix gave it a second season before canceling Altered Carbon, so you may just want to stop there.
But season one is a great thrill ride, a brain-stretching mystery, and—full disclosure—contains about as much gore and nudity as you might expect from a world where bodies are disposable (and on a streaming service without network censors).
If that doesn’t dissuade you, it’s worth the ride.