Netflix’s Altered Carbon
Season 1, Episode 1: “Out of the Past”
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
Written by Laeta Kalogridis
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Fallen Angel” – click here
All of Altered Carbon‘s episode titles come from the names of old film noirs. This first episode is from Out of the Past, a film directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer.
In a motel, two people have sex. Afterwards, the man presses the interactive TV screen, and then he says he sees people coming. Before they can grab their guns the wall explodes, knocking them both backward. Armed soldiers come through, opening fire, as Takeshi Kovacs (Byron Mann) and his partner Sarah (Olga Fonda) fire back.
“Your body‘s not who you are. You shed it like a snake sheds its skin. Leave it forgotten behind you.”
In this version of the future, human consciousness can be uploaded, stored, then downloaded into new bodies, a.k.a a “sleeve.” So, in a laboratory, new fleshy vessels are born out of bags filled with some kind of pseudo-amniotic fluid. This is where Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is reborn after 250 years. The process is violent if the original sleeve died violently. Not to mention Takeshi sees himself not as himself, but a white man born into Alcatraz. Freaky.
The new sleeves are brought to an orientation. They’ve all got a cortical stack – “pure human mind” – to which the consciousnesses are downloaded. Meaning, “real death” comes if the stack is corrupted; as in, don’t get your neck broken, or shot in the head. But there’s also no escaping past death. It’s a weird limbo in which the consciousness permanently exists.
Kovacs was a mercenary, arrested for “treason against the Protectorate.” He has quite the laundry list of criminal activity tied to his name. Bad motherfucker. Nevertheless, he is property, his consciousness has no civil rights. He’s owned by Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), a man over 360 years old. There are so many ugly ways the state could use human consciousness. Yeah, there are benefits, but the government could use you for anything if they’re able to manipulate your consciousness itself in that sense. You’re for rent, for many purposes; ANY purposes. Not to mention stuff like “victim restitution,” where people get their dead children back as old ladies, because that’s what they have in stock.
Once all the orientation is over, Takeshi gets a ride from police officer Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda). On the streets we see the protests, people wholly opposed to the idea of “resleeving.” And of course the whole premise of the show’s story is perfect for that – an Asian man’s consciousness is appropriated into the skin-sleeve of a white man; a sci-fi, capitalist vision of cultural appropriation.
Up at the Bancroft estate Takeshi meets Miriam (Kristin Lehman), as well as her son Isaac (Antonio Marziale). The place is a spectacle, Miriam’s filled it with impressively expensive things, from art to the only “songspire tree” on the planet. Up in the study, Takeshi meets Laurens, too. We find out more about the man Takeshi was, that he fought against the technical revolution which obviously came anyway. He’s considered a “psycho–terrorist.” Now, it looks like Kovacs is being pardoned – Bancroft has extensive reach. Just so long as the resleeved man helps with an investigation: into the murder of Laurens himself. Whoa.
Ortega is worried due to the past of Kovacs, that he’ll be a problem yet he’s simply let back out on the streets because of some rich guy. Meanwhile, Bancroft’s telling his property sleeve about his death. He’d been shot with a particle blaster, one kept under lock and key; to which only he and his wife have the key. So, how’d it really happen? Not suicide. No motive for the wive to have killed him. Ah, the mysteries! But Takeshi says fuck that, he’s not interested.
It’s an existential assault: “They own everything.”
Lost in the city, and within his own skin, Kovacs wanders around aimlessly. He’s having trouble adjusting, so he gets high. Good thing he runs into Officer Ortega again, who helps him from going a little crazy in the streets. They go for a drink and a chat together. She says the Bancroft case is a non-case, deemed a suicide. In addition, we get more of the whole universe – Catholics, because of their beliefs, don’t go in for the whole sleeve thing, which puts them at risk.
Later, Kovacs checks in at the Raven Hotel. Y’know, an Edgar Allan joint. Poe (Chris Conner) serves VIP access and respite from “bleak existence.” You can do all sorts of sexual shit. All catered to the likes or dislikes of your consciousness. However, before he can get a room a man shows up with a gun pointed at him, a fellow named Dimitri Kadmin (Tahmoh Penikett). Before Takeshi’s taken away in a violent manner he’s able to secure the services of the Raven; guest amenities include high-powered electronic machine guns and a shotgun behind the desk. What a glorious sequence of gunfire and ass kickery!
Certainly the cops turn up at the Raven, Ortega’s not extremely surprised. Either way, they get information on Dimitri, he’s a tricky guy who’s into “double–sleeving” – making illegal copies of himself. The penalty for which is real death. But the latest crime scene doesn’t help because of the damage from the guns. One thing they know is that it all traces back to Bancroft’s death, and whoever is trying to cover it up.
We see Takeshi remember a woman, Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry). He says he doesn’t know how to exist in the world without her. He begins thinking of blowing out his stack, terminating his existence. Quellcrist speaks to him. She says “move on.” Or else, change the system and finish their original mission, what they were fighting for originally in the Uprising. This leads him to take Bancroft’s case.
Wow, this opening episode truly impressed me. Wasn’t sure at first, now I’m totally sold. Altered Carbon is examining big things, I hope that will continue throughout Season 1. “Fallen Angel” is next.