“There is only one god and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death. Not today.” This quote is from season one of Game of Thrones— while it is a completely different genre and even flavor of show— it can also be aptly applied to Netflix’s Altered Carbon.
From the first moments humans became capable of considering existential matters, like the future and the afterlife, we have wondered about how to circumvent death; with creams, chemicals, surgeries, or shamans we try and delay the inevitable march to the grave. In the Netflix series, Altered Carbon, a hypothetical earth is set several centuries in the future from our own, fantasy has become reality.
In this future earth (and the many worlds we have colonized), humans have achieved a measure of immortality, though with some caveats and twists. The entire essence of a person, the memories, personality, the very consciousness, can be copied onto a durable metal disk. At the age of one, these disks are inserted into every human’s body at the base of the neck. Physical bodies, what we think of as defining our identities, are in fact almost disposable and called “sleeves”. The durable stack can live on even if your body dies from old age or physical trauma, and you can continue living on in a new body. Being able to upgrade to a new form after each life has its perks, as might conversing with ancestors from generations past. Better yet, if you were extremely wealthy, you could keep uploading yourself into perfectly cloned bodies of your original self, achieving something closer to true immortality.
In this twisted future, we are introduced to Takeshi Kovacs, an elite soldier whose stack (again, his whole consciousness and self) has been in storage in a prison for 250 years. In this state, one experiences absolutely nothing; no pain, no pleasure, and no awareness of the passing of time. Imagine, though, the disorientation from going to sleep just after the Revolutionary War and waking up to the world of 2019. That is precisely the jarring situation faced by Kovacs, though in his case he returns to the real world in 2384. He has been brought back to life in a new body by Laurens Bancroft, one of the wealthiest men in any world. Bancroft needs Kovacs for one purpose: to solve his own murder. Bancroft has no memory of his actual murder nor the 48 hours leading up to it, so he chooses to turn to Kovacs because he possesses unique, almost Jedi-like training from a bygone era, and if anyone can crack the case,it’s him.
Season one of Altered Carbon debuted in 2018, and I purposely decided to write this review so I’d watch it again and be fresh for season two on February 27th. Without giving any plot details away, I can tell you that overall the show is an intriguing crime thriller set in a dystopian future that works on many levels. Fans of 80’s and 90’s movies will immediately feel elements of both Judge Dredd (the Stallone version) and Blade Runner in some of the imagery and scenery. Make no mistake, though, Altered Carbon is its own thing, with enough plot twists to keep you engaged. However, there is one Game of Thrones connection in the form of a disclaimer: the violence, sex, and nudity do reach the same levels, so watching without children in the room is recommended. Actor Chris Conner shines as the artificial intelligence sidekick and companion Poe, as does Martha Higareda who is the volatile detective Ortega. Joel Kinnaman plays the main version of our antihero Kovacs, and for me he works as the brooding lone wolf.
If you like a good mystery and wrapping your head around future versions of earth, consider catching up on Altered Carbon on Netflix and then bingeing your way through season two, which appears poised to continue exploring the pitfalls of immortality with equivalent levels of action and intrigue. Altered Carbon is more literal than Game of Thrones with its immortality, but in comparison we as viewers see in both what the Game of Thrones writers meant by the one thing we say to death– “not today”.
—Antonio Rodriguez, Blogger.
Joliet native Antonio Rodriguez is a jack of all trades, having worked in several careers since obtaining his bachelor’s degree ten years ago. An obsession with Mad Men and a love of advertising has led him to focus on studying Marketing at Lewis University, which he balances with walking his two rescue dogs. If either the zombies or machines rise up, he’s the man to find.