Revisiting: Altered Carbon

With Season 2 of Altered Carbon releasing on Netflix, I figured recently I should revisit the first season. My initial viewing of Altered Carbon was not very positive, so I figured maybe a second viewing might improve my opinion of it.

I’m a big cyberpunk nut; I love William Gibson novels and Blade Runner is one of my all-time favorite film series, so when Altered Carbon was announced I was fast to dive into it. At the time of my initial watch, I had not read any of the original books (though I am currently starting out on the first of the three novels). While it had the production values indicating Netflix was hurling buckets of money their way, something about the story just never clicked with me.

There seemed to be critical pieces of information that weren’t being given out. Now I’m not a fan of blatant long form exposition in media, I prefer the “show don’t tell” approach where the viewer has to exercise the brain in their skull. But things just sort of happen in Altered Carbon that could stand for further, or better, exposition to flesh out the world more. When that doesn’t happen, my brain starts churning on why that is, inevitably landing on there being an issue with the writing.

One example of this is the relationship with the main character, Takeshi Kovacs, and his protege Quellcrist Falconer (I’m not shitting you with that name, it’s like it’s right out of a Hunger Games novel). It felt like it was forced, and had come out of nowhere; after reading up about it after my initial watch I found out it wasn’t in the novels at all. There’s a lot of that with Altered Carbon Season 1, and the show suffered for it.

Exposition also seemed amateurish sometimes. They were light on details that could have benefited the audience, and when they did dish out details it was just someone speaking details that are clearly only meant to be directed at the audience. There are ways of doing that well, for instance having the main character be in a fish out of water type of situation so there is a context for exposition that seems natural. There’s a bit of that in Altered Carbon, but it’s handled badly.

Revisiting Altered Carbon again was a much better experience than the first time through, since you come to it with context for the convoluted twists the show attempts to serve up. I don’t mind plot twists but with this show you see them happen and just end up thinking “well I guess this is the path we’re taking then” rather than there being any genuine intrigue. It all seems a bit too “Blade Runner Lite”.

Character wise the main characters of Kovacs and his police shadow Ortega are well handled by their respective actors. I also continued to enjoy the character of Poe, the artificial intelligence-based hotel, another item that is apparently only an inspiration from the novels, but a well implemented one.

I suppose the best thing I can say is that it’s a worthy revisit before watching Altered Carbon Season 2, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it. For new viewers, there’s definitely something there in the series — I’m just not sure it’s getting the right screenwriting team to bring it forward from the books.

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