When an elusive assassin needs to be hunted down, you can count on a deadly terrorist sporting a Hello Unicorn backpack to get the job done. Altered Carbon is a murder mystery that spins into a full-blown conspiracy leaving a trail of dead corpses from start to finish. While the story isn’t groundbreaking, the action and dystopian cyberpunk world of Bay City will leave viewers satisfied.
In the future, humanity has learned to cheat death. When a human turns one-year-old, a device that will house their consciousness is implanted at the base of the skull. These cortical stack devices can be removed and implanted in different human bodies called sleeves.
In this World, the terrorist Takeshi Kovacs (present Joel Kinnaman and past Will Yun Lee) is killed in a raid and his stack is sent to Alcatraz Prison. 250 years later a wealthy industrialist, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), pulls some strings to get Kovacs stack implanted in a new body and released. His freedom comes at a price, Kovacs must find the person responsible for killing Bancroft’s old sleeve.
With an unlimited resource of funds, Kovacs sets up shop in an abandoned hotel staffed by an artificial intelligence named Poe (Chris Conner). His investigation will not be easy due to rule-bending police Lt. Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) tracking his every move. As the story unfolds, this single murder morphs into a governmental conspiracy and glimpses of Kovacs past reveals who the real terrorists are.
Kinnaman and Lee both bring a unique style to the character of Takeshi Kovacs. Lee plays the past version as an idealistic soldier assisting his comrades in their struggle. Kinnaman’s present version shows him more as a standoffish loner haunted by his past.
The hotel A.I. Poe will become a favorite for many. Modeled after the poet Edgar Allen Poe, he runs a mid-20th-century style hotel that has not seen a guest in ages. This shotgun wielding A.I. will not hesitate to gun down anyone who threatens his paying customers. He also has a human side which blossoms in later episodes after he helps and befriends a traumatized girl.
The action scenes are graphic and intense. Whether it’s a virtual reality torture facility full of body parts, a gory knife fight inside a moving elevator or fights in death arenas, there is plenty of violence throughout the 10-episode run.
Bay City has that classic cyberpunk feel with most scenes taking place during dark rainy nights. At ground level, the narrow litter covered streets have a claustrophobic look to them. Storefronts with flashing neon signs advertise their services beckoning customers inside.
Stretching high into the sky are massive buildings with flying cars zipping above the city streets. Traveling up past the lightning-filled clouds into the sunlight shows the tops of these towers where the elite of the city call home.
Altered Carbon‘s story does falter in a few places but will hold your attention to the end. The main characters are well written, but some others could have used more screen time. The action is brutal compared to many shows which can be a plus depending on your opinion.