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'Altered Carbon' Gave Us A Smart, Badass Hero Who Was Completely Wrong About Everything

By Emily Cutler | TV | February 22, 2018 |

By Emily Cutler | TV | February 22, 2018 |


Spoilers Ahead.

Yesterday Lord Castleton outlined most of the things that we loved about Netflix’s series Altered Carbon. (I say most because I need to point out a severe lack of shirtless Takeshi Kovacs, both Original and Poor Man’s Eric Northman models. For shame, Castleton. For shame.) Today we talk about the problems with the series. Specifically, Angelica Schuyler was completely wrong about destroying the stack technology.

Ok, that’s not entirely accurate. For starters, Renée Elise Goldsberry (Pajiba 10, y’all. Get your lists ready) isn’t actually Hamilton’s Angelica Schuyler here. Now, she’s playing a 25th century rebel leader named Quellcrist Falconer because “Badass Motherfucker” wasn’t allowed to be said on Netflix that many times. Also, she’s not wrong about everything. Her teachings on weaponry, escaping virtual reality torture, and the importance of keeping the ruling class in check are all spot on, and—in the case of Takeshi—literally life-saving. (Except for all those people in the VR torture clinic Kovacs killed. They were very much not helped by Falconer’s wise words.) And she’s definitely not wrong at predicting the ways in which the ruling class will abuse sleeves in order to manipulate the system thereby making themselves figuratively and literally above the law. If time equals money, giving already rich, powerful people unlimited time is a disaster for income and wealth equality.

So Falconer’s reasons to start a rebellion were unquestionably right. It’s just that her goal is wrong. Unnder Quellcrist’s direction and supervision, the Envoys are going to upload a virus into the DHF central core that would limit every life to 100 years. Meaning consciousnesses could still be transferred from sleeve to sleeve, just not indefinitely. It’s not a bad idea, it just doesn’t answer a very specific question: Why?

Why constrain human life to this arbitrary number? And more importantly, why is limited life the answer to this problem?

Falconer insists it’s because unending human life will create a new race that isn’t human. A few of the privileged will make themselves into gods if they can live forever, and only the certainty of ended life could change that. “Death was the ultimate safeguard against the darkest angels of our nature.” Which, you know, really? Is death really the ultimate safeguard? How’s that old saying go? Those with nothing left to live for are the ones who make the most rational and humane choices? You know, like how they do in all of those revenge movies. Also what’s up with the funeral business in the year 2500? Because I could tell you right now, even with today’s limited life-extending resources, everyone is not equal in death. For starters, some people have enough accumulated wealth to lobby government officials to change tax laws so that their children can inherit millions tax-free once they’re gone. Others don’t have their bodies claimed by anyone and end up in a mass grave. So death might come for us all, but not equally.

But that’s only part of my issue. Yes, I disagree with the spiritual ramifications of unlimited life. (Call me immoral, but I don’t see how this medical breakthrough is significantly different from blood transfusions or antibiotics.) But more importantly, unending life wasn’t the problem. Income inequality and a corrupted political system were. And just in case you haven’t been keeping up with the news recently, you don’t need immortality to have those things happen in society. (This is also outside of the fact that “destroying” technology isn’t really an effective way of implementing change. Imagine someone at this point deciding the internet is too corrupted, and just destroying it. How long do you think that would last?) What she should have been fighting for isn’t to destroy a technology used for both evil and good (having the ability to get witness testimony from a murder victim seems like it should be a pretty decent deterrent), but a legal system that treats everyone equally, and an economy that offers a basic standard of living to all citizens. You know, the same shit we’ve been fighting for since the beginning of civilization.

None of which is to say I think the Envoys shouldn’t have taken up the rebellion. As long as societies have been establishing themselves, they’ve had groups that have been fighting to change what that establishment looks like. It’s good to fight for change. You should just make sure you’re fighting the right enemy.

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