So I’m watching Altered Carbon, having finally succumbed to the charms of Netflix, and five episodes in now, I have to say I’m loving it.
Now, some that know me may feel this to be inevitable- it’s so obviously indebted to the 1982 classic Blade Runner that it almost feels like a Blade Runner 1.5, or maybe, following the methodology of BR2049, a BR2600 (which sounds like an Atari console- even more Blade Runner!), as the series is set far-future. The trouble is, for me mimicking or throwing nods to Blade Runner usually works only to wind me up. Its been done to death, it quickly gets tiresome and boring- one of the pleasures of BR2049 is that while it looked to be the same world of Blade Runner it did enough to look different.
Altered Carbon, however, has none of that BR2049 subtlety- this thing is pretty brutal in how it throws its Blade Runner-inspired visuals (the steamy, neon-drenched vistas, flying-cars and probing shafts of light) at you. Its relentless really, like the brutality of its violence. This thing is bloody and violent and yes, it’s hugely Blade Runner-inspired dystopia is so relentless it just beats any argument out of you. You just have to go with it.
And if you do, you’re in for a hell of a wild ride. One of the main pleasures of the series for me so far is that it really throws you into it with little explanation. Even at this midway point I’m trying to really understand exactly what is going on, the nuances involved. One of the things I always regretted about Blade Runner was that its original vague text introduction from the workprint was replaced by a lengthy text crawl that explained the general premise complete with the date, instantly demystifying the proceedings (such a pity the Final Cut didn’t return to that original dictionary definition of a replicant). Altered Carbon just throws you into its complex far-future world which, while it looks so familiar thanks to its indebtedness to Blade Runner‘s visuals is really quite different. Characters make references to concepts and tech that is never explained; we grasp at indications of a far-future humanity that has explored many worlds and colonised many solar systems, in which the rich rule from lofty cities in the clouds while the poor make do with a world that is LA 2019 on steroids. Its refreshing that a show makes some demand on viewers to decipher what’s going on, and I’m sure I’ll need to watch it all again to really get the most out of it.
And good grief, the production values- how much did this thing cost? At times this thing looks almost as impressive as anything in BR2049, which on the one hand is hugely enjoyable but on the other worrying- how many viewers does this kind of expenditure need in order to ensure we get another season?
The central theme is about immortality and death: midway through the series, the details still seem vague, but alien technology has enabled people to digitize themselves -their intellect, their memories, personality, everything- onto a coin-sized device called a stack, which slots into the base of the neck. When your body dies, as long as your stack is intact, it can be slotted into another body, referred to as a sleeve. If you’re rich, this sleeve is usually a cloned version of yourself in your prime, but if you’re not wealthy, it could be any sleeve that is available/affordable, so grandma could return as a middle-aged man, or a child as an old woman. In any event, death is no longer final, and as long as your stack is intact and healthy and you have the money to afford decent manufactured sleeves, you can live forever. Of course, if you’re poor your stack will have to just wait until your family can afford to purchase you a new sleeve, so in essence, immortality is for the rich, whilst the poor struggle to survive and do anything to ensure they can afford a new sleeve if they die, or a better one if they can work their way up to better, prettier, healthier sleeves while still alive (nothing stops you other than money from exchanging your current sleeve for a better one, just like changing-up your car).
Essentially, it is very, very, very future-noir.
One of my favourite things so far is an AI based on Edgar Allan Poe that doesn’t so much run a hotel named The Raven but is the hotel The Raven, one of the wildest sci-fi things I’ve seen of late that almost seems like it should have been a Philip K Dick story, and yes, again, feels very Blade Runner.
Really, all this thing lacks is Atari logos everywhere. Maybe I missed them.
Anyway, I’m now at the midway point and thoroughly enjoying it. I’ll post another review with plot details when I’ve seen the rest of the series.