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.

So I’m Playing Destiny 2 Again

I know I posted a while back that I was putting down Destiny 2. At the time I was refusing to spend the full price of the Forsaken expansion along with the absurd cost of a season pass in order to reasonably progress my character. At the time, most activities that would actually provide you with gear to progress your character was locked behind those paywalls.

With the release of Shadowkeep at a reasonable cost, Forsaken’s price reduction, everything now being available on Steam, and Bungie divesting itself away from the shitshow that is Activision, I figured now is as good a time as any to jump back in.

Since Shadowkeep came out, I’ve been playing the game pretty much exclusively, and I feel that this is the game that Destiny 2 should have been when it first released. I went from having a couple of quests to fiddle about with to having pages and pages of things to do. It is literally too much to handle in a single day, which means there is such a huge variety of activities that there is always something to do.

I have no idea if Bungie can keep up this kind of pace going forward, but so far things are interesting and I’ve got a hell of a lot to do. Since most of Destiny 2 can be experienced for no cost whatsoever thanks to its free to play offering, anyone can jump in and see if it’s worth your time to buy into the latest content.

I don’t feel bad about supporting Bungie now that it’s self-publishing. If they can continue producing quality content (while no doubt also developing a follow-up title), I’ll keep coming back to take in the sights and shoot things.

Shitty Science Fiction: Another Life

Imagine my surprise when Netflix throws a trailer at me for another new science fiction original. Historically, these have been hit and miss for me, mostly in the miss category, but this one has Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame heading it up. I decided to give this one a try, and only a few minutes into it, regret sank in.

Spoilers ahead.

The plot is fairly basic science fiction fare. An alien device lands on Earth, and nobody knows what it’s up to. A mission is sent out to investigate its origins, and the original commander is demoted and replaced by the show’s lead character, Niko Breckenridge, for reasons which aren’t really made clear. Niko’s husband is left on Earth to investigate the device, because everything apparently centers around her and the people she knows in her life.

The main storyline is the mission in space, and it’s not executed well at all. The ship itself is crewed almost entirely by people in their early twenties, a bizarre decision when you consider the mission is perilous and a possible first contact scenario. Experience counts, and I’m not entirely sure a 21 year old engineer is going to cut it, and it feels so out of place. Almost every crew member has some massive character flaw which puts them immediately at odds with one or more of the other crew members. Nothing could be more dangerous on a deep space mission than crew conflict; even today, space programs take great pains to make sure astronaut crews will work effectively together for long periods of time.

The very first command decision Niko makes is met by mutiny at the hands of the replaced commander, for little reason other than he’s a massive asshole, and it’s all downhill from there.

The writing of Another Life is so utterly basic it’s almost insulting to the viewer. Four minutes into the show we’re treated by Niko’s apparent husband walking in to the house, blurting happily, “Where’s my daughter? There she is.” Such natural dialogue. The show seems to rely heavily on blunt exposition rather than being subtle or artful in any way. The conversation continues for a few minutes with Niko and her husband dumping details with nouns and events that the two of them obviously already know, but only used for our benefit.

The entire show is carried 100% by Katee Sackoff, who does a great job with what she’s been given. There’s a couple of legitimately badass moments where she elevates the script well, but the problem is nothing else works. The ship, normally a character itself in any science fiction, is boring. Nothing about the crew works, nor do you feel anything about any of them so when the dying starts you won’t give a shit. The plot in space doesn’t go anywhere interesting with one exception, which turns out to be a very tropey “it’s just a dream” episode. The plot on Earth is just so badly executed it came off as a total waste of time that the rest of the show could have used more effectively.

Even the designs don’t work; if the side effects of hypersleep is extreme disorientation and lack of coordination, maybe make it so your hypersleep beds aren’t wide open on the sides, allowing people to fall out and hurt themselves on the edges and corners which all look sharp as fuck. Maybe quality shows like The Expanse have totally wrecked other shows for me which don’t have sensible ship designs in them. Those unsecured items will be 100% deadly in the event of a high-G maneuver, after all.

I actually sat through all ten episodes of this, and the worst feeling is not that I suffered through it, but that Netflix will take that as a +1 that the show should continue on to another season.

As a science fiction fan it’s sad that Netflix can’t knock this genre out of the park.