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TV Series Review

Death is not the end. Unfortunately.

Welcome to, well, the indeterminate future, wherein death is a serious-but-not-final bummer for some and a mere inconvenience for others. Technology hands folks the ability to live after their bodies have long since conked out: They download their conscious selves into what's called a "stack," which in turn is nestled in semi-used bodies, or "sleeves," allowing them to live on.

Think of it as a world where everything we truly are—our minds, our souls, our spirits—can be stored on a flash drive, and where we're able to download that identity data onto an empty, organic machine that just happens to be lying around.

Great, right?

Or not. See, sleeves are expensive. The best ones cost a small fortune. Even a minor upgrade is more than most folks can afford, which means that near-immortality is in the hands of the super-rich: Some even clone their own bodies, changing them out whenever the mood strikes. And then, of course, there's always the chance that you just might get your stack destroyed, and then you're really, truly gone. Kaput. Off to whatever afterlife this dystopian universe affords.

But what happens when one of society's one-percent of one-percenters—a guy who fully expects to re-sleeve himself until the sun cools—gets his stack smashed in?

That's when things get really strange.

Dead Again

Laurens Bancroft is known as a Meth—taken from the biblical name Methuselah. He's 360 years old now, and he's super-bummed that someone killed him not so long ago. They didn't just scrap his sleeve, but blasted his stack, too¬—a very thorough hit, indeed. Good thing he had his essence saved on a satellite backup drive, one that refreshes every 48 hours or so, and an extra cloned sleeve to boot. But unfortunately, the backup didn't record the details of his own death: Bancroft has no idea who his killer is.

So, because money really can buy pert near everything in this world, he pays to resurrect Takeshi Kovacs, who has spent the last 250 years cooling his heels in an icy pool of goo.

Kovacs was what was once known as an Envoy, a super soldier who was equipped psychologically to deal with the repeated re-sleevings his job entailed. But Kovacs went rogue, and the establishment threw him into permanent limbo for espionage, terrorism and, in the words of one fellow, "more murders than I can count."

But no one's better equipped to find Laurens' killer, and Laurens promises to pay handsomely for Kovacs' services—including giving him a full and unconditional pardon. If successful, Kovacs will, almost literally, have a new lease on life.

But it won't be easy to bring Laurens' killers to justice. And it sure won't be pretty.

Days of Future Aghast

This is not to say we don't see pretty people in Netflix's Altered Carbon. Indeed, we see plenty of them—and plenty of them.

Men are seen fully naked. We don't see complete full-frontal female nudity, but the show only avoids it by the barest of technicalities (and coverings). Women and some men are horrifically objectified here, with their near-nude images proliferating on three-dimensional ads, in high-tech strip clubs and in virtual-reality brothels. I'm guessing that the folks at Netflix would argue that all this sex and nudity underlines and illustrates this sci-fi society's moral bankruptcy; but there's a bit of irony in Netflix then streaming all that moral bankruptcy straight into our living rooms.

The show is exceedingly violent as well. Blood and brain matter and all the body's gory accoutrements fly and spatter. And we've not talked about the language (atrocious) or the drinking (frequent) or the smoking (which you'd think would've been snuffed out by now, but whatever).

Altered Carbon had a bit of promise in its premise. It even flirts at times with the spiritual questions that such constant temporal re-spawnings would naturally lead to. But as a finished product, this much-buzzed-about Netflix series leaves a lot to be desired and very little to the imagination. I'd not alter my schedule one little whit to watch this dystopian drama.

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Episode Reviews

Altered Carbon: Feb. 2, 2018 "Out of the Past"



Readability Age Range



Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs; James Purefoy as Laurens Bancroft; Martha Higareda as Kristin Ortega; Chris Conner as Poe; Renée Elise Goldsberry as Quellcrist Falconer; Antonio Marziale as Isaac Bancroft; Kristin Lehman as Miriam Bancroft






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On Video

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Paul Asay

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