When my friends and fellow Shadowrunners discussed Bright with me, I thought it sounded amazing. A modern day style Shadowrun based in LA sounded like a great movie with a great premise, and I was hopeful that Will Smith would be pretty damn cool. When I was told Altered Carbon was at least “good,” I jumped on it instantly and burned through it in less than 24 hours (10 episodes so not super impressive but I was happy). Needless to say, I loved the show and the premise and will likely put a stop on my reading the Dark Tower books in order to read the books of Richard K. Morgan just to get more of a fix for this amazing universe.
Set in an unspecified time in the far flung future, (according to the books its about 2,600 AD and Wikipedia says circa 2384 or so) humanity has changed drastically by installing a cortical stack in everyone at the age of 1. This allows all people to effectively store their consciousness in a form akin to a USB form and the human body subsequently becomes a meat puppet. What this also links to is the ability for people to jump around into other bodies, and is the method through which humanity moves faster than light. Instead of moving bodies and ships and material, it’s simpler to just “cast” into a new “sleeve” light years away. This also brings us to a SOMA-like take on the concept of immortality where one can simply be recast post death with all the advantages and disadvantages included. Those who die in accidents or murders can be “spun up” again in a different body, but the poor are stuck with arbitrary bodies of various ages, races, and gender while the rich get the pick of the best.
Throughout the show we follow the investigation of the last Envoy, Takeshi Kovacs as he looks into the mysterious death and apparent suicide of Laurens Bancroft, a wealthy individual over 250 years old and is termed a Meth for Methuselah, representing the hyper wealthy and affluent individuals of the colonized worlds. Confident that he would never kill himself, his immortality is insured by having a rotating satellite take backups of his consciousness every 48 hours, something he and his family are provided. This means even in the event of his cortical stack being destroyed, he can simply cast back in and be brought back with a gap of 48 hours at most. This is the case when Takeshi is defrosted from the prison he was held in for a quarter of a millennia. He is considered uniquely qualified for this investigation due to his time as an Envoy, which is a mix of special forces and jedi training, with the ability to read and absorb detail at a super human level, but also kick ass with the best of them.
Altered Carbon from a production stand point was fantastic as far as I’m concerned. The visuals were exactly like I’d imagine from Shadowrun, ranging from the filthy AR brothels, to the eccentric AI hotels, to the sky palaces of the Meths. The music is just great and sets the tone perfectly, and just sounds cool. No other way to phrase it to be honest. However my favorite part is the casting and while some stupid people wonder why Takeshi is cast as a white dude and claim its some racist BS, first off his last name is Kovacs. As in he’s Slavic AF in addition to being cast as an Asian man a decent amount of time for the flashbacks. Additionally, they explain frankly in the story why his sleeve is important and it would detract from a couple plot points if he was “in something a little less Gaijin.” Joel Kinnaman did a fantastic job as Takeshi, as did James Purefoy in playing Bancroft. Not going to lie to you though, the female cast was FANTASTIC and beautiful and my personal favorite part of it. Martha Higareda as Bay City lieutenant Kristin Ortega kicked ass and was an entertaining and spunky Latina cop, and Dichen Lachman as Takeshi’s sister and fellow Envoy was just great, and really quite hot especially during their “reunion” scene in the flashbacks. Finally, as a funny note I realized that Takeshi’s Envoy instructor and leader of the insurrectionists was Renée Elise Goldsberry, a.k.a. Angelica Schuyler from the Hamilton musical. All of them played their roles in such amazing and great ways that you can’t help but hope for more scenes with them (whether flashbacks or not) as you watch the show.
More things happen in the show and some who read the novels had issues with some things the show did, but honestly its a very gritty and R-rated cyberpunk experience. On the spectrum, it is less sex than Westworld, but definitely more violence (and that is saying A LOT) but not Game of Thrones level of violent, but almost that level of politicking. The show manages to hit all sorts of cyberpunk tropes and details from AR overlays and advertisements, extensive use of VR, amazingly personified Artificial Intelligence, and a crushing dystopic future where the wealthy are functionally immortal and all powerful and the weak are left on the ground in the dirt and mud. It also has a great bit of plot and some good twists that are clever but not so complex that you are left wondering what happened. I don’t want to ruin the show but honestly if you like Sci-Fi and intrigue, this is a Netflix Exclusive for you.