– By Carly Twehous –
As far as the ever-increasing number of disastrous Netflix originals go, Altered Carbon is… not the worst, but, it’s no Daredevil or Stranger Things, either.
Here’s the elevator pitch: a ten-episode retelling of Blade Runner, but in San Francisco.
Let me explain. Three-hundred years in the future, resurrection and immortality are completely up for bid… if you have the money to pay for them. In almost a mirror image of Blade Runner’s stingy, neon metropolis of Los Angeles, Altered Carbon offers up a view of the Bay Area, populated only by “sleeves” and “stacks”. See, you can download your consciousness into an implant at the base of your skull, called a “stack”, so when your “sleeve” (body, for the layman) dies, you can just slip into a new one.
The “sleeves” act as replicants, mere vessels for consciousness, but only for those rich enough to re-sleeve. There are rich a-holes, who literally live on a cloud, who never have to run the risk of re-sleeving into a stranger’s body. Instead, they just clone their own body, over and over and over.
Clearly, with this one, the writers plucked storylines out of the infamous Grab-Bag of Classic Science Fiction Concepts.
Dystopian Society? Sounds good.
Downloadable human consciousness? Yes, perfect.
Clones? Even better.
Strong, female lead with an emotionally-stunted backstory? Check.
Contentious objections to the status quo of said dystopian society, based on a slightly inaccurate interpretation of the Catholic teachings on the human soul and the afterlife? Sure. Why not?
The Grab-Bag of Classic Science Fiction Concepts is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it offers a plethora of the very best ideas of the genre, ones that continuously allow for discussion, debate, and moral inquiry that would be otherwise impossible.
On the other hand, some of these ideas have become household names, inevitably tied to the stories that portrayed them best. Inception and The Matrix question reality as we know it; Jurassic Park, the consequences unhindered genetic manipulation. Terminator and Ex Machina open dialogue on the potential consciousness of machines, and The Wrath of Khan, while beautifully mirroring the ideologies of the hero and the villain, is just kind of awesome.
And, yeah. Blade Runner kind of has a monopoly on the clones-gone-very-very-wrong thing.
Altered Carbon even captures the whole cop-out-for-answers-and-maybe vengeance thing, in Kristin Ortega, our very own female carbon-copy of Harrison Ford. Although raised by these pseudo-Catholics, Ortega holds the belief that anyone should be brought back, contentious objection due to faith in the afterlife notwithstanding, for the sake of solving their own murder.
Sounds interesting, right? It is. It’s a thrill, to watch this story unfold, to piece together the different notions stolen from the Grab Bag. It’s a wonderful portrayal of the human consciousness and soul, twisted together with murder and intrigue, and only slightly inaccurate depictions of what the Catholic Church actually teaches on death and resurrection.
But… it’s all been done before.
To be fair, though, the writers could have pulled “Twenty-minute, unnecessary pod-race” out of the Grab Bag and subsequently copied The Phantom Menace. (Insert gasp of horror here.) Instead, Altered Carbon still manages to be exciting and mildly enthralling, in the sense that it holds your attention over the course of ten episodes.
At the end of the day, though, Altered Carbon is still a carbon-copy.
For more TV reviews by Carly, click here.