Welcome to Altered Carbon, to a dark, distant future where the rich live forever and the poor are expendable in ways we could never imagine.
Thanks to alien technology, mankind has learned how to store their minds…their essences if you will…in devices called stacks and every child is implanted with a stack at 1 year of age. Their bodies are referred to as sleeves; and it’s possible to put one person’s stack into another person’s sleeve and, essentially, wear their bodies almost as though it were an article of clothing. But most people can’t do such a thing very often or it would drive them crazy.
It’s important to understand these basic themes in order to watch Altered Carbon. It’s also important to understand that a group of rebels, called Envoys (people who had the ability to move from sleeve to sleeve as necessary and also had extraordinary fighting and intuitive senses) did their very best to stop this very thing from happening.
But they lost (we’ll explore exactly what happened to them in a future episode). And of course, because history is written by the victors, they’re now viewed as terrorists and not the freedom fighters they really were.
This is the world Takeshi Kovacs wakes up to hundreds of years after his previous sleeve was killed in a hail of bullets. Now he’s covered in slime, looking at his reflection and seeing a stranger looking back.
A police detective named Kristen Ortega wastes no time picking him up from the prison he was revived from to meet with the man interested in hiring him to find out who murdered him.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The man’s name is Laurens Bancroft and he is one of the uber wealthy…the Meths. (The term “Meths” come from the Biblical name “Methuselah” who lived hundreds of years.) And because he’s rich, he has the ability to backup and restore his memory from a certain point and start again in one of his backup sleeves. Bancroft and other Meths live up above the clouds so as not to be distressed by the petty lives of the little people down below.
Laurens believes Takeshi is just the man for the job of finding out what happened to him (Why? Well…the reason is actually super important but we’ll find that out in a future episode). He wants to know what happened in the time he lost…ie, the time between the backup and when he was killed because he knows it wasn’t suicide. He just isn’t the type to do such a thing.
Kovacs is super psyched to get started on that right away. Ha ha, no…just kidding. Actually he blows off the offer for immunity and money and just wants to have his stack removed and stored forever in a dark hole. The memories he has of his life…the woman he loved, his beloved sister…both long since lost to him…are too much for him to bear and he couldn’t give two flips about what happened to a super privileged Meth.
He does decide to spend one night on the town by taking pretty much every drug known to man before Ortega shows up and harshes his mellow.
They talk some of the case…Ortega thinks it was suicide, Kovacs…doesn’t know, nor really care all that much. But he does believe Laurens believes it was murder. So there’s that.
Then he’s off to enjoy the last bit of his mini vacation in reality at a hotel he feels suited to the task. But before he can sign in, he’s attacked by a group of very angry men. The AI from The Raven Hotel…Poe…steps in and gives him a helping hand.
It gets Kovacs to thinking: hey, maybe I’m being attacked by a high end hit man means Bancroft didn’t commit suicide after all. Someone wants to stop him from looking into what happened.
But it’s a vision? memory? of his long lost love, Quellcrist Falconer, urging him to finish the mission and find the unanswered question…to solve the mystery…that finally motivates him into action and he decides to take the case after all.
Which is a good thing, otherwise this would’ve been a very short show. 😉
- O.G. Kovacs being taken down by Jaeger (in my interview with Byron Mann, he describes what it was like to shoot this scene)
- Poe being a little aggressive while protecting Kovacs
- Orientation for newly resleeved inmates
Altered Carbon is one of those shows you need to watch more than once. The story is intricate and complex and there are things that happen throughout the entire season that seem to either not make sense or be unrelated to the story.
But the one thing to lock down from the start is that everything that happens is connected to the over arching story. Everything. So pay attention and sort of make a mental note of elements that seem out of place because it will make sense before the season is up.
“Out of the Past” was a great introduction to the show and this world. There are a lot of terms that are used and referred to without fully providing the context for them but you catch the drift as the show progresses.
Kovacs, in all his forms, is a compelling character if not the most endearing one and Ortega’s brusque posturing indicates there’s a lot more going on with her than first meets the eye.
As Quellcrist alluded to, there are a lot of unanswered questions posed in this and future episodes; and the show does so in a way that makes you need to know what happened and why.
Overall, Altered Carbon is a wicked cool ride with twists and turns you don’t even know you’ve taken until you’re on the other side of it all. As for “Out of the Past” I give it 4.5 Kovacs tattoos out of a possible 5.