The 13 Best Things About 'Altered Carbon'

Lord Castleton | Streaming | March 16, 2018

Warning: This is all spoilers. All of it. Go no further until you’ve finished the entire series of Altered Carbon on Netflix.

I enjoyed the hell out of this series. Here’s the piece where I try to convince you to watch it.

If you’ve now watched it? Let’s rejoice together and compare notes. Here are my thirteen favorite things about it.

#13: The Ghostwalker

I mean, holy moly. Mr. Leung and his little pineapple thingy are messsssssed up!

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#12: Tamara Taylor as Oumou Prescott

She was pitch-perfect in this role. If we’re honest with ourselves, it might be the character most of us could relate to. A chronic overachiever who earns her seat at the table only to be cast aside at the first suggestion of impropriety. With a wave of their hand, the Meths cast her out and broke her for fun. She was the perfect patsy for Kovacs to set up and Taylor killed it.

#11: When Lizzie Saw Her Mom

This show is great with all the various sleeves and the way that forces us to confront many of our ingrained predjudices. One thing I adored was when Lizze’s mom, Ava, shows up in a middle aged man sleeve, but somehow, someway, Lizzie knows it’s her mom in there right away. That’s awesome.


#10: The female naked form as powerful

One thing everyone seems to talk about is the naked Dichen Lachman fight scene. It’s just kind of awesome to watch. Yes, on one level, many people will just be happy to experience that amount of raw human beauty in it’s primal form. But Lachman played it with such great strength and predatory tenacity. I know some viewers will point to a girl-on-girl fight kink, but at its core it was a primeval return to basic human conflict. Themes of transgression and violation meeting themes of justice and fair play. The flawless meth with bodies to spare against the flawed but determined messenger of justice.

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#9: Praetorians

A full mask is so terrifying. Completely removing the humanity from the warrior. Scary but awesome.

#8: Everything Poe

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Chris Connor absolutely crushes it. And when he died in the finale I was yelling NOOOOOOO! From his early interactions with Kovacs to getting square with that dickhead A.I. he was a tour de force. How can the best character in the show be a goddamn HOTEL? It’s amazing. When the next quantum leap of A.I. occurs, let’s hope that it loves humanity half as much as Poe does.

#7: The Ortega mom and daughter dynamic

In an interview I read, Dichen Lachman points out that Hollywood hasn’t really cracked the egg on Asian women yet. That they’re written very one-note. No one has adequately captured their inherent complexity. The same could be said for just about any non-caucasian segment of the population. But I really enjoyed the relationship between the Ortega women. I enjoyed mom trying to save her daughter’s eternal soul, even in the face of pretty compelling evidence to the contrary. Moms and daughters share a special bond and this show did a great job highlighting that.

#6: Virtual torture

Now, I’m not saying this is a good thing, but conceptually it’s fascinating. And seriously terrifying. Imagine that scenario: An enemy, usually of the sociopath variety, has control of your physical body. They spin you into a virtual prison where they start to do any number of heinous atrocities to you until you die.

And then they reboot you and start over. Over and over and over. In a place where you basically can’t be saved. My god I get short of breath just thinking about it. When Dimi burned off both of Kovacs’ legs I was just aghast. And then he did it again and again and again. We could write a hundred think pieces about the ramifications of that kind of obscene power over another person. It keeps me up at night.

#5: Miriam’s sleeve secretes ecstasy

I thought this was such a cool idea. That you can build this idealized version of yourself and then bio-engineer it to secrete narcotics. My ideal partner’s sleeve would secrete hot chocolate. If there’s one gripe I have about the show it’s that when Kovacs double-sleeves it up and one of him goes to finish the mystery and the other goes to have fantasy sex camp with like twenty-five Miriam clones on a private island — we never see that action. Not even a wide establishing shot from distance. And then they Rochambeau that Kovacs off the show so he never gets to go on Ellen and give us the deets. I throw a flag on that.

#4: The conscious non-sexualization of the brother/sister story

That was refreshing. The fact that this wasn’t some bizarro ‘I want to marry my brother’ thing. With the one exception of the beat where Rei is in Ortega’s sleeve in the tub and she’s like “mmmmm I see why you like her” there’s never even the hint of anything sexual, and even that scene was just about extracting information to determine if Takeshi was trustworthy. In a world where you can’t even surf for the mildest white-collar porn without gag-wincing through a neo-sodomite wasteland of every type of incest fetish? (Or maybe I need a better place for my kink.) Thanks for throwing the doors open, Cersei Lannister!

I think it was a powerful and correct choice to keep their sibling relationship above the waist.

#3: Rei’s entrance

I scarcely have the words for how many check boxes this scene ticked off for me. Hooded avenging valkyrie savior with katana? Um, yes?

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Dear god that’s so awesome.


#2: The Mortgage on Ryker

I feel like this one gets missed by lots of people, but it’s such a great little twist. So you have Detective Kristin Ortega. Cops, even in the distant future, make jack shit for pay. Her partner and lover, Officer Elias Ryker, is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. They snatch his stack and put him on ice. In that case the Protectorate Prison System takes over the rights to his sleeve. But Detective Ortega believes him. And she doesn’t want him to lose his sleeve (which has special features like combat muscle memory) to the capitalist scumbags of the Protectorate Prison System. So she takes out a ridiculously expensive mortgage on the sleeve. And every month, she has to afford this Mercedes sleeve on her Ford Fiesta salary.

Like all mortgages, someone else owns it until you pay it off and they can call in the full amount if they desire. But why would they?

Unlessssssssss that mortgage was bought out by a douchebag Meth named Laurent Bancroft.

He buys out the mortgage on this cherished sleeve that Ortega is slaving to pay for.

AND THEN HE CLOTHES HIS ASSASSIN IN IT.

That is some cold, cold shit. It makes for a such a great trigger point for the story, and really helps clarify why Ortega ‘borrows’ a Bancroft limo in the pilot episode to escort Tak out of deep freeze. She wanted to know who the fuck was in her man’s body.

Wow.

1. The second Takeshi and Rei realize they’re brother and sister.

You remember this? Praetorians assaulting Yakuza. Rei puts a gun to Takeshi’s helmeted head and has him dead to rights. He sees her necklace and demands to know where she got it and said his mother wore it. They realize — instantly — who the other is. And in an unspoken nanosecond of complete understanding they get back to back and start killing their own teams. Takeshi spent his LIFETIME becoming a Praetorian and at the sight of his baby sister, he annihilates them. Likewise for Reileen Kawahara, who spent her whole life navigating the tricky world of the Yakuza. In a second, she throws it all away to align with her brother.

It’s just a fascinating, captivating moment of pure clarity for both of them. And forms a real basis for why Rei would do what she does to bring him back. Relationships like that are few and far between.

So what was your favorite thing about ‘Altered Carbon?’

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