Altered Carbon Season 2: She’s alive! (Review)

Continuity is important, and what Altered Carbon did in their second season that The OA didn’t before its untimely demise,  was balance new characters with callbacks to the last season giving viewers a reason to invest.  It’s a shorter season of eight episodes too packed full of action.

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In the world of Altered Carbon, death is not inevitable. After three centuries, humans can store their consciousness on downloadable disks and then be “spun up” into a new body, or “sleeve.” But the ultra-rich, living in a city in the clouds, have their sleeves designer-enhanced, or made into clones of themselves.  The future human transcends time and immortality.  

We’re 30 years into the future from where we left off in Season 1 and we’re introduced to a new ‘illegal’ fabrication technology that sees short cameos from Kristin and Rei in the show’s signature and spectacularly choreographed combat sequences.   Though they were merely puppets for bounty hunters trying to take down the last envoy in a UFC-style null  gravity arena, it was a nice salute echoing the past.

Interchangeable sleeves and stacks that turn this future human world into immortals leaves the door open for fan favorites to return. And they did!   Even Kinniman appears in a series of flashbacks and montages, while Lizzie is conjured up through Poe’s ‘digital dimentia’ story arc.

Joel Kinniman and Anthony Mackie have given very different portrayals of Takeshi Kovacs when comparing the previous season to the new one.  There are similarities, but there are distinct differences.  James Bond vs Men in Black, but what anchors the two is the appearance of the original  Takeshi (pre-Quell) in the form of Season 1 returnee, Wil Yun Lee adding a whole new layer to the story.

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Takeshi Kovacs has two identities: The one he was born with on Harlan’s World 250 years before the start of the show, and the one he is re-sleeved into -it’s important to make that differentiation with the two live versions we get this season.  The totalitarian government known as the Protectorate has long held interplanetary influence, and Harlan’s World was populated by Japanese and Slavic work from Earth (thus, Kovacs’ multicultural heritage). The “birth Kovacs” and his younger sister, Reileen, survived an abusive father. When, as a young boy, Takeshi showed uncommon bravery and fighting ability, he was recruited to be a Black Ops fighter, while his sister loses touch with him as she’s brought to an orphanage – something that will have a domino effect on her personality. Years later, the adult Kovacs (played by Will Yun Lee, costar of “Hawaii Five-O,” San Andreas, and The Wolverine) is recruited by a group of freedom fighters called Envoys, who oppose the totalitarian rule of Meths and the Protectorate and eventually the idea immortality itself. As the lush, forest-filled Harlan’s World was taken over by the Protectorate, Kovacs trained with the Envoys’ leader, a brave rebel leader and inventor named Quellcrist Falconer (Renee Elise Goldsberry, costar of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and “The Good Wife,” and a Tony winner for originating the role of Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton) who Kovacs fell in love with.

The double slipping deepens our conceptual understanding of this sci-fi world where death no longer exists and backups of consciousness are essentially snapshots in time that can ultimately define who we are as we see in Season 2’s two very different personnas of both Kovacs’.

Furthermore, the undertones of race and gender neutrality are what make the concept of altered carbon so provocative, challenging interpretation not only of the future but similar themes and motifs in the present.

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We’re introduced to Colonel Carrera (Torben LIebrecht) who’s pursuit of his long lost protoge gone rogue is very personal.

Kovac takes the form of a new custom built soldier sleeve and the transition by Mackie flows smoothly enough bringing about a softer side to the character towards the end of Season 2 which we only saw flickers of from Kinnaman last season.

It seems the longer one lives,  the longer your past which is why the fallout is collossal should it all come tumbling down.

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WHAT ARE METHS?  The show maps our sociological issues for audiences to consider unlike any other as it engages our hopes, our dears, our dreams, and our expectations of what’s to come.  “The division in the show between rich and poor echoes the disparity we’re seeing today,” said Martha Higareda who played Ortega in Season 1. “There’s only a rare group of people who have a lot of money, and then most everyone else are just Grounders, who feel it’s unfair that only the rich can get clones and hence can live forever.  Grounders can get a chance at another body only if something happens like they get run over, or it was an injustice – then they can get a new sleeve, but they don’t get to choose the body.”  Some in this future world choose not to live again, and submit to what’s called “real death.” But for the super-rich, known as “Methuselahs” – or “Meths” – death isn’t permanent; by living in a succession of new bodies, they are forever in control. In this world of changing bodies and modified life, everything can either be bought or sold or corrupted, and the line between right and wrong is completely erased.

The new diva of the hour is Governer Danica Harlan (Lela Loren), who picks up where Miriam Bancroft who by now would have served 30 years of her prison sentence has left off.  An elitist, ambitious chair guarding the safety and peace of Harlan’s World, it’s what ultimately leads to her end.

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WHAT IS AN ONI?  As SFX Supervisor, Everett Burrell explains, in the Altered Carbon universe, “It’s an ocular neural implant, but it works as an interface with its user.  It’s like a contact lens that’s put in the eye. Sort of an advanced iPad in your eye that you control with your brain. It detects your thoughts and eye patterns.” Burrell believes the advanced technology may seem outlandish but “may be just around the corner for us in the real world” – the new I-phone or I-pad we already have attached to our person.

The season opens with newcomer, Trepp (Simone Missick), a bounty hunter who eventually strikes a deal with Kovac.  The two quickly bond joining forces as she is looking for her brother in the same way he has been planet hopping, searching the galaxy for his lost love.

Altered Carbon  “redefines human beings’ relationship to our physicality,” describes show creator, Laeta Kalogridis puts it. “…you can exist in any body. It’s a fascinating idea that humans will have evolved over millions of years to exist in tandem with our physical body.”

We see this in a touching scene when Trepp is reunited with her son in a man’s body and he immediately recognises her.  Much of her story revolves around the connection to family which grounds the show and its over the top ideas.

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WHAT IS AN AI?  These holographic avatars are an evolved AI system operating.  Poe (left) manages the gorgeously retro Raven Hotel, where Kovacs lives in grungy Bay City.   “…while created by human beings, [they] have become independent,” says Executive Producer, James Middleton.  “A.I. are just another species, and they know it,” adds show creator, Laeta Kalogridis. “Some A.I. disdain humans. Some of them want to be like humans. Poe, for his part, very much wants to understand what human beings are, which is why he’s taken on this particular persona.”
A new charming love interest for everyone’s favorite avatar in this season takes place who is faced with a choice to reboot and lose his memories or fail everyone around him due to file corruption and damage to his operating system.  Assault, power imbalance and mortality are explored through the perspective of man-made machines putting a new lense on the human condition.

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“I love that the female characters in the show are so powerful and so dangerous in their own ways,” says Renee Elisse Goldsberry who plays Quell. “I love that Quell spars with Reileen.  There’s something fragile about Quell, but she’s 100 percent feminine and at the same time 100 percent a powerful hero.  She’s intelligent, calculating, and dangerous and the show makes no apologies for any of that. What I’ve always loved about sci-fi is that in the midst of all of the coolness and badass-ness, there can be deep character development. There are journeys that are going on emotionally between characters, and relationship development. This is a very dark world we’re imagining, and the love between Kovacs and Quell, make this world more interesting, and make the story universal.”

It’s not easy being the lone surviving soldier of a group of elite interstellar warriors, especially when spending centuries in search sould mate Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry).

Kovacs finds himself recruited back to his home planet of Harlan’s World with the promise of finding Quell who finally appears in the flesh after appearing as a figment of his imagination throughout the previous season.  You’ll spend several episodes wondering if she is the real Quell or not which will be annoyingly enjoyable.  After it becomes unsafe for her to remain in Bay City, she must prove her identity in order to return to the uprising she founded.   It’s an excellent combat sequenced monologue with sharp manouevres while maintaining deep emotion and assertiveness in every word.  The timing and delivery is one of the most memorable, with Episode 7 definitely being the highlight of the season.  The payoff is definitely worth it in the end.

Who we were, who we are, what we can accomplish, and what we destroy, all depend on endings and beginnings.  Altered Carbon takes place in a world where those lines are blurred: A neon-filled, dangerously sleek, tech-addicted but morally hollow future hundreds of years from now.

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In the amount of time it takes to back up one’s mental data in a satellite cloud, a person is ready to live life again – one day later, one week later, or centuries later.  This is the foundation and the potential for years of stories from this world to continue to propel despite the devastating season finale…

Altered Carbon Season 2 begins streaming Thursday 27 February – add it to your MyList below:

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