Altered Carbon (TV series)

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Altered Carbon
Altered Carbon title.jpg
Created byLaeta Kalogridis
Based onAltered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan
Composer(s)Jeff Russo
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes10 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)John G. Lenic
Running time46–66 minutes
Production company(s)Virago Productions
Mythology Entertainment
Phoenix Pictures
Skydance Television
DistributorNetflix Streaming Services
Original networkNetflix
Picture format
Audio format
Original releaseFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02) –
External links

Altered Carbon is an American science fiction web television series created by Laeta Kalogridis and based on the 2002 novel of the same title by English author Richard K. Morgan.[1] In a world where consciousness can be transferred to different bodies, Takeshi Kovacs, a former soldier turned investigator, must solve a murder. The first season consists of ten episodes and premiered on Netflix on February 2, 2018.[2] On July 27, 2018, the series was renewed for a second season of eight episodes.[3] The series received generally positive reviews.


The series takes place over 360 years in the future,[4][5] with most episodes set in the year 2384, in a futuristic metropolis known as Bay City.[6] In the future, a person's memories and consciousness can be decanted in a disk-shaped device called a cortical stack, which is implanted in the vertebrae at the back of the neck. These storage devices are of alien design and have been reverse engineered and mass produced. Physical human or synthetic bodies are called "sleeves" and stacks can be transferred to new bodies after death, but a person can still be killed if their stack is destroyed. While this theoretically means anyone can live forever, only the wealthiest, known as "Meths" in reference to Methuselah, have the means to do so through clones and remote storage of their consciousness in satellites.[6]

Takeshi Kovacs, a political operative with mercenary skills, is the sole surviving soldier of the Envoys, a rebel group defeated in an uprising against the new world order.[7] 250 years after the Envoys are destroyed, his stack is pulled out of prison by 300-year-old Meth Laurens Bancroft, one of the wealthiest men in the settled worlds. Bancroft gives him the choice to solve a murder—Bancroft's own—to get a new shot at life.[8]



  • Joel Kinnaman (season 1)[9] and Anthony Mackie (season 2)[10] as Takeshi Kovacs, a former Envoy, an elite rebel group defeated 250 years prior to the start of the series. Kinnaman also portrays Elias Ryker, a police officer and Ortega's former lover, whose "sleeve" or body Kovacs inhabits during season 1. Mackie serves as a new host body for Kovacs in season 2.
  • James Purefoy as Laurens Bancroft (season 1), one of the wealthiest men alive, who lives in a skyscraper above the clouds and out of the reach of everyday people, ruthlessly powerful and wanting to exert control on those around him.[11]
  • Martha Higareda as Kristin Ortega (season 1), a smart and tough lieutenant in the Bay City Police Department who comes from a religious Mexican American family of cops.[11]
  • Chris Conner as Edgar Poe (seasons 1–2),[10] an artificial intelligence (AI) that takes the likeness of Edgar Allan Poe and runs the hotel that serves as Kovacs' base of operations in Bay City.[12][10]
  • Dichen Lachman as Reileen Kawahara (season 1), Kovacs' sister, who shared his violent childhood, who joined the Envoys at the same time as him and apparently perished when the uprising was put down.[11]
  • Ato Essandoh as Vernon Elliot (season 1), a former Protectorate marine whose wife was imprisoned and daughter murdered.[12]
  • Kristin Lehman as Miriam Bancroft/Naomi Bancroft (season 1), Laurens' wife who has her own motivations.[13] Lehman said she was "really intrigued and challenged" to play the character of Miriam, considering it different from her other work. Her background as a dancer helped her prepare for the role. Of the character's sexuality, "She has commodified her sexuality and I was interested in exploring that side of the character."[14]
  • Trieu Tran as Mister Leung / Ghostwalker (season 1), a killer and "fixer" who kills and solves problems for a mysterious employer.[15]
  • Renée Elise Goldsberry as Quellcrist Falconer (seasons 1–2),[10] a "master strategist" and leader of the Envoys. She was killed when the rebellion was put down but appears in Kovacs' flashbacks and hallucinations.[16]
  • Simone Missick as Trepp (season 2)[10]
  • Dina Shihabi as Dig 301 (season 2)[10]
  • Torben Liebrecht as Colonel Ivan Carrera (season 2)[10]
  • James Saito as Tanaseda Hideki (season 2)[10]
  • Lela Loren as Danica Harlan (season 2)[17]




Netflix ordered the series in January 2016, fifteen years after Laeta Kalogridis optioned the novel with the intent of making a feature film.[2] According to Kalogridis, the complex nature of the novel and its R-rated material meant that it was a tough sell for studios before Netflix ordered the series.[2] The show was one of a number of dramas ordered in short order by Netflix, which had committed to spending $5 billion on original content.[1]

Kalogridis wrote the script and served as executive producer and showrunner.[1] Steve Blackman served as co-showrunner.[2] David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross of Skydance Television also served as producers, as well as Brad Fischer and James Vanderbilt of Kalogridis' Mythology Entertainment.[1] Miguel Sapochnik directed the pilot episode.[2][9] Morgan served as a consultant during the show's production.[26]

The series was reportedly the most expensive Netflix production to date.[27] The production costs were not disclosed but Kinnaman said it had "bigger budget than the first three seasons of Game of Thrones".[8]

Ann Foley served as costume designer. The production crew fitted about 2,000 costumers and custom made at least 500 pieces for the show, and emphasized "grounded" looks for future fashion but figured in specific details, such as a unique palette for Meth characters and subtle costume changes when different people are inhabiting the same sleeve.[28]

The series is produced in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.[27] Laurens Bancroft’s gardens was filmed in University of British Columbia Rose Garden and the lobby of the Marine Building served as Bancroft’s home. The old Canada Post building was used as the location of The Wei Clinic, where Kovacs was tortured. Scenes with the Envoys were filmed Altered Carbon on the Sea to Sky Gondola suspension bridge, in Squamish. Other Vancouver locations include the Convention Centre's West Building, the visitor centre at VanDusen Botanical Garden, the UBC Museum of Anthropology and The Qube.[29]

Altered Carbon was renewed for a second season in July 2018. Anthony Mackie will take over the lead role of Takeshi Kovacs, replacing the first season lead star Joel Kinnaman. Additionally, Alison Schapker joined the series as co-showrunner alongside Laeta Kalogridis.[3] On May 23, 2019, it was announced that Schapker will be the primary showrunner for the series, replacing Laeta Kalogridis who is still credited as an executive producer.[30]

Adaptation of the novels[edit]

First season[edit]

The first season is based on Richard Morgan's 2002 novel Altered Carbon. While most of the major plot points in the book are retained, the adaptation featured several major changes for characters and organizations.[31] In the novel the Envoys are elite soldiers of the United Nations Protectorate based on Earth, quite the opposite of the freedom-fighting rebels of the show, originating from Harlan's World, where Kovacs was born.

Book Kovacs was imprisoned for his freelance work after leaving the Envoys, while show Kovacs is a captured rebel. The character of Reileen Kawahara in the novel was merely Kovacs’ ruthless underworld boss, and had no blood relation with him as on the show. The Envoy who trained Kovacs in the book was one Virginia Vidaura. The show's Vidaura is a minor character only. Instead his trainer is given the name and backstory of Quellcrist Falconer, who in book three is the historical messiah-like figure only.[32] Falconer's rebellion occurred not during Kovacs' training as in the show, but long before Kovacs was born in the books.

The Hendrix is an AI character in the novel, it runs the hotel and takes the form of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix's estate declined to license his image for the television series because of its violence. Instead showrunner Kalogridis chose the likeness of Edgar Allan Poe and a Victorian era hotel for the replacement Poe character, and said it would juxtapose well with the futuristic Bay City.[33]


On November 7, 2018, Netflix announced an anime companion series set in the same universe and exploring new elements of the story mythology. The series will be written by Dai Satō and Tsukasa Kondo.[34]


Season 1 (2018)[edit]

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
1"Out of the Past"Miguel SapochnikLaeta KalogridisFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
Convicted criminal Takeshi Kovacs awakens in a new body after two and a half centuries to help an extremely rich man, Laurens Bancroft, solve his own murder. He died just before his consciousness was uploaded and saved to a satellite, and the evidence suggests it was a suicide. Bancroft offers Kovacs a massive amount of wealth and Kovacs' freedom, but Kovacs declines. He is briefly interrogated by a police officer called Ortega, but makes it clear he doesn't want the case. Just before he checks into a gothic hotel run by an artificial intelligence, Kovacs is attacked by a high-class hitman called Dimitri. As Kovacs has been gone for two hundred and fifty years, he believes someone really did kill Bancroft and takes the case.
2"Fallen Angel"Nick HurranSteve BlackmanFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
Lieutenant Kristin Ortega, already at odds with the Bancrofts, tracks Kovacs, who is investigating the long list of people who have threatened Laurens' life.
3"In a Lonely Place"Nick HurranBrian NelsonFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
Kovacs is invited to a party at the Bancroft mansion, where Laurens has assembled the many likely suspects in his murder.
4"Force of Evil"Alex GravesRussel Friend & Garrett LernerFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
Kovacs is abducted and tortured, and must remember his Envoy training by Quellcrist Falconer to turn the tables on his captors.
5"The Wrong Man"Uta BriesewitzNevin DenshamFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
Kovacs has learned that his sleeve was formerly the disgraced cop Elias Ryker, Ortega's lover, and demands answers.
6"Man with My Face"Alex GravesSteve BlackmanFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
While Ortega recovers from a violent attack, Kovacs informs Laurens of his son Isaac's duplicity. Ortega and Kovacs are abducted by Carnage, who forces them into a fight to the death with his minions.
7"Nora Inu"Andy GoddardNevin Densham & Casey FisherFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
Reunited with his resurrected sister Reileen, Kovacs remembers his origins in the Protectorate, and with Quellcrist.
8"Clash by Night"Uta BriesewitzBrian NelsonFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
Faced with his sister's treachery, Kovacs gets Vernon's wife Ava released into a male sleeve to help him convince Laurens that his lawyer Oumou Prescott is the murderer. Ortega tries to determine the identity of the mystery woman who saved Kovacs.
9"Rage in Heaven"Peter HoarRussel Friend & Garrett LernerFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
After Reileen issues a violent ultimatum, Kovacs and his associates plot to infiltrate her ship.
10"The Killers"Peter HoarLaeta Kalogridis & Nevin DenshamFebruary 2, 2018 (2018-02-02)
Everything is revealed as Kovacs confronts Reileen for the last time, and Lizzie faces the Bancrofts.

Season 2[edit]

The second season consists of eight episodes:[35]

  • "Broken Angels" written by Alison Schapker & Elizabeth Padden
  • "Bury me Dead" written by Adam Lash & Cori Uchida
  • "Experiment Perilous" written by Nevin Densham
  • "I Wake Up Screaming" written by Cortney Norris
  • "Nightmare Alley" written by Michael R. Perry
  • "Payment Deferred" written by Sarah Nicole Jones
  • "Phantom Lady" written by Laeta Kalogridis
  • "Shadow of a Doubt" written by Sang Kyu Kim


The series premiered on Netflix on February 2, 2018. The official trailer was released on January 11, 2018.[36]


Human-machine interface, transgenderism, technology and society, cyberspace and objective reality, hyper-urbanization that passes up urban planning, artificial intelligence, paranoia.

A key concept in Netflix's cyberpunk series Altered Carbon is the 'stack', an advanced hard drive installed on the brainstem on which a person can save a copy of their consciousness. The main effect of stack technology is a form of immortality, because a stack can be installed into another body if the original body dies. But there’s another a major implication only hinted at during the first season of Altered Carbon: If you could choose your own body, would you go with the one you were born with? That's an especially important question for gender fluid or transgender people. The topic was only hinted at in the first season, but Altered Carbon creator Laeta Kalogridis told The Wrap it's something she would like to explore in greater detail.[37]


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 67% based on 92 reviews, and an average rating of 6.59/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Altered Carbon leans hard into its cyberpunk roots, serving up an ambitiously pulpy viewing experience that often overwhelms, but never bores."[38] On Metacritic, the season has a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[39]

David Griffin of IGN said the show "gets almost everything right" as a "cyberpunk fantasyland." Griffin praised the visuals and the complexity of the plot, as well as the acting, such as Chris Conner's performance as the AI hotel manager Poe. He also wrote of the show's problems, such as the intricacies of the murder often got "in the way of the show's momentum" and the murder plot "loses steam" early on. He ultimately gave it a score of 8.8 out of 10, summarizing it as "A visual titan with a less than stellar story."[40] Michael Rougeau of GameSpot made a point of calling it "hardcore" science fiction, as a "noir sci-fi/gumshoe thriller bursting with the trappings of both genres, from murdered prostitutes and holographic billboard ads to AIs who flit between the real world and some convoluted cyberspace." The review praised how deeply the show examined and explored the cortical stack, the central concept.[41] Catherine Pearson of Digital Spy said the visuals were magnificent and the themes fascinating, but that it had flaws; for example, the characters "mumbling their way through long expository dialogue."[42]

The Vancouver Sun summarized that the reaction of professional critics was mixed, and that the critics' conclusion was that the "murder mystery takes a back seat to the show's futuristic visuals."[43] Entertainment Weekly also summarized reviews, saying the consensus was that the visuals were spectacular, but the violence against women raised questions.[44] Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly gave it a "B-" grade and wrote that the "show tackles race, gender, and class with all the subtlety of a blowtorch."[45] Forbes criticized other critics for speaking negatively of the show and called it "terrific"[46] and one of the best science fiction shows on television.[47] Andrew Liptak of The Verge called it engrossing, but criticized the lack of focus on the relationships between the characters.[48]

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times gave it a mixed review, but particularly praised Kinnaman, even if the fight scenes were described as tedious in a way.[49] Jen Chaney of Vulture said the show was "ambitious, convoluted, violent, derivative, and somehow simultaneously grimy and glossy," but ultimately gave it a negative review, saying "the visual candy and philosophical subtext of Altered Carbon may wash over me, but none of it gets absorbed in any lasting way."[50] Radio Times wrote that the "drama tries to find its groove by shifting erratically from noir detective drama to war epic to soap opera, ultimately failing to meet its own lofty ambitions: it's a thunderous haymaker that only manages to graze its target." The review noted that the show takes on too much, and that much of the story could have been left for a second season.[6] Benjamin Lee at The Guardian gave the series 3/5, praising the "sheer ambitious scale of it all" and "it’s an impressive step up from what we’re usually offered." Lee compared it to the work of Paul Verhoeven only lacking the social commentary. He concludes "it’s refreshing to see a show so unashamed about its pulpiness. The spectacle might grow stale but for now, the flash is blinding."[8]

Many critics focused on the show's violence. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw of The Daily Dot wrote that the show seemed to use "the dystopian setting as an excuse for sexualized violence," and that the focus on dead, naked women's bodies "was a massive distraction from the show's stronger points, like the well-choreographed fight scenes and Takeshi Kovacs' backstory."[51] Digital Spy defended the level of violence, arguing it accurately reflected the books, and was "the point" of the franchise, as "without showing brutal, unremitting violence, Altered Carbon would fail to fully explore the dystopian reality it aims to present."[52] Kimberly Roots of TVLine also criticized the scenes of violence and nudity, and also said the story suffered from uneven pacing. However, she noted that the investigation part "clicks along smartly," and that the fight sequences were "sophisticated." She gave it a "B-" grade.[53]


Year Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
2018 44th Saturn Awards Best New Media Television Series Altered Carbon Nominated [54]
70th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Main Title Design Lisa Bolan, Thomas McMahan, Yongsub Song, Byron Slaybaugh, Carlo Sa, Mert Kizilay Nominated [55]
Outstanding Special Visual Effects Everett Burrell, Tony Meagher, Joel Whist, Jorge Del Valle, Steve Moncur, Christine Lemon, Paul Jones, Antoine Moulineau, David Zaretti for "Out of the Past" Nominated
2019 17th Visual Effects Society Awards Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode Everett Burrell, Tony Meagher, Steve Moncur, Christine Lemon, Joel Whist for "Out of the Past" Nominated [56]
Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project Philipp Kratzer, Daniel Fernandez, Xavier Lestourneaud, Andrea Rosa Won
Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode Jean-François Leroux, Reece Sanders, Stephen Bennett, Laraib Atta Nominated


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External links[edit]