“Altered Carbon”: a sci-fi mystery worth watching


Garret Roberts

Netflix original series have been notable for adapting graphic novels and comic books in the past; however, they seem to have a new interest: feature length novels. “Altered Carbon,” previously a mystery novel by Richard K. Morgan, offers a unique sci-fi adventure that keeps viewers hooked until the finale.

“Altered Carbon” is set in the distant future where interplanetary relations with aliens have led humans to store their consciousnesses in technology known as “stacks.” As a result, the human body has become disposable, referred to as “sleeves” that the rich and wealthy treat as nothing more than another commodity. Many of the wealthiest people in this world are over 300 years old, yet they look no older than 30.

Protagonist Takeshi Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

The plot follows protagonist Takeshi Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman, a criminal and terrorist who has been dead for 250 years. When wealthy businessman Isaac Bancroft (Antonio Marziale) is murdered in his home, he revives Kovacs and hires him to solve the mystery of his death. With a fortune and a chance at a new life, Kovacs must find the mystery killer while trying to avoid enemies from his past.

The mystery elements are what makes this show worth watching. From start to finish, the series has you hooked on finding out who Bancroft’s killer is and what the motivation was. The viewer learns all the facts at the same time as Kovacs, which allows you to make your own theories and assumptions as you binge the series. It’s essential for a good mystery to not have a protagonist who already knows the answer, and through the eyes of a soldier instead of a detective, the show allows you to keep in pace with the storytelling.

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Image of interplanetary soldiers standing in line. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

While the mystery is the strongest part of “Altered Carbon,” the action helps keep the visuals of the series interesting. Instead of relying on jump cuts to emphasize punches and gunshots, they use sweeping single shots to make the action feel coherent and solid. Not many films or shows dare to film these scenes anymore due to their complexity and cost, but by taking the chance, the series has a unique flair that sets it apart from other crime and mystery shows.

The show’s issues are small but are still present in the final product. The overall messages of the story focus on technology and religion, and while it proposes interesting debates, they don’t get the time they deserve. For example, it would have posed some interesting questions if the main antagonist had been a devout religious figure. Unfortunately, the story allows these themes to sputter off in different directions while the plot continues down its own path.

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One of the beautiful futuristic scenes in Altered Carbon. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Additionally, the protagonist relies purely on violence in favor of other ways of dealing with his opponents. The intrigue of Sherlock Holmes mysteries are partially in how he deals with enemies, favoring deception and outsmarting others in favor of violence. Kovacs’s solution isn’t as clever.

“Altered Carbon” is an incredible mystery that remains faithful to the book, making changes necessary to keep viewers engaged in a 10-hour binge watch. The series is great for both mystery and sci-fi fans, but it could turn some viewers away with its lackluster protagonist. The series offers great mystery and questions about the future of technology, but it can leave you wanting more information about the world they take place in.