9:00am PT by Josh Wigler
'Altered Carbon': 15 Shocking Moments From Netflix's Violent Sci-Fi Drama
[This story contains spoilers from the full first season of Netflix's Altered Carbon.]
Sleeves, stacks and Takeshi Kovacs… oh my!
Given the complicated nature of the show's universe, viewers can be forgiven for struggling to keep track of the lingo and the individuals found throughout Altered Carbon, the brand new Netflix series from showrunner Laeta Kalogridis and starring Joel Kinnaman and James Purefoy. The series focuses on a mercenary named Takeshi Kovacs (Kinnaman), woken up centuries after his death and dropped in a world where reincarnation is the norm thanks to the proliferation of "stacks," a form of technology that ensures the continued survival of a human being's consciousness across multiple bodies, or "sleeves."
Kovacs, who is originally of Japanese and Eastern European descent (with Will Yun Lee playing the earlier form of the hero in flashbacks), wakes up in the body of an ex-cop, and is quickly hired by an impossibly wealthy individual named Laurens Bancroft (Purefoy) to solve a murder. The victim: Bancroft himself, only still alive thanks to his vast resources. In order to prevent any future attempts on his life, Bancroft sets the legendary Kovacs on a mission that takes him through a surreal neo-noir landscape, one that's eerily reminiscent of both Blade Runner and Westworld.
Over the course of the series, Kovacs uncovers shocking secrets, not to mention engaging in shocking amounts of sex and violence. As a means of an overview of the series, here are 15 of the most shocking moments found throughout the first season of Altered Carbon. Final warning: massive spoilers for season one are ahead.
• 1 • The entire first episode is shocking, really. It takes some time to acclimate to the universe of Altered Carbon, one that exists several hundred years into the future, which means there's a lot to follow beyond the sleeves and stacks of it all: ocularly implanted cell phones, flying cars, vicious cyberpunk gangsters and sentient hotels overseen by artificial intelligence lifeforms who become deeply enamored with their clients — like Poe (Chris Conner), proprietor of the Raven hotel, mild-mannered enough until you force him to bust out his ceiling-mounted gatling guns.
• 2 • During his attempt to solve the murder of Laurens Bancroft, Kovacs winds up entangled in a brief affair with Miriam Bancroft, the femme fatale played by Kristin Lehman. The two have sex with each other at the end of the second episode of the season, one in which they feel every single ounce of the other's pleasure, thanks to Miriam's genetically enhanced sleeve. It's not the only sex scene involving Miriam in the series, either: later, at a party, Kovacs finds one of Miriam's children under the guise of one of Miriam's own sleeves, caught in the act. The Bancrofts have some issues.
• 3 • At that same party, Kovacs winds up in a zero gravity fight against a married couple who are basically swingers, except their version of a good time involves battling each other to the sleeve death. Whoever wins the fight gets a slightly enhanced sleeve. Whoever loses gets a slightly downgraded sleeve. They rinse and repeat, party after party after party — until Kovacs shows up and ruins their rhythm.
• 4 • A couple of episodes later, Kovacs is in captivity at a very deadly torture facility (more on the details later), in which he's placed in a virtual realm where he's repeatedly mutilated and killed by his interrogator. Among the grisly highlights: Kovacs' legs are sawed off and promptly cauterized, and some sort of alien lizard is inserted into his body to cause unreasonable amounts of agony. When he busts out of the virtual realm, Kovacs promptly kills every single person he encounters in the facility, targeting their stacks, which means full-blown real death. Hard to blame the man for feeling so vengeful.
• 5 • Police officer Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) begins the series as one of Kovacs' main foils, and later becomes his love interest. First, she has an emotional story arc involving her dead grandmother coming back to life to celebrate the holidays with her family — although, oddly enough, Ortega's "abuela" uses a heavily tattooed criminal's sleeve, played by Matt Biedel. Biedel later returns as a sleeve worn by Dimi 2, an Eastern European mobster trying to kill Kovacs.
• 6 • In a further example of "cross-sleeving," Kovacs' number one ally Vernon Elliott's (Ato Essandoh) long lost wife, Ava, reenters the mix when Kovacs needs a "dipper" — a hacker, in Altered Carbon parlance — to assist him in one final mission. When Ava returns, it's through the sleeve of a Caucasian male, played by Cliff Chamberlain, the form she assumes for the vast majority of the rest of the season.
• 7 • Vernon is later tasked with infiltrating an extremely exclusive and extremely brutal brothel, where the high-end clients pay extravagant amounts of money to mutilate and murder the prostitutes. At the end of his mission, Vernon is so disgusted that he kills a small handful of the brothel's most important workers.
• 8 • Vernon and Ava's daughter Lizzie (Hayley Law) spends a long time essentially hibernating inside of a virtual reality world, recovering from an incredibly traumatic experience in the real world — leading her to burst back into reality at the end of the season and, pulling a page out of The Matrix playbook, she proceeds to kill a small army of bad guys and saves the day.
• 9 • In terms of other battles waged throughout Altered Carbon, there's a place in this universe known as "Fight Drome," an underground dog-fighting arena of sorts — except using humans and genetically modified sleeves. Kovacs and Ortega find themselves caught in the web of Fight Drome at one point in the season, under the supervision of a demonic figure named Carnage, who bears a striking resemblance to 1980s AI icon Max Headroom — probably because the two characters are played by the same performer, Matt Frewer.
• 10 • At the end of the Fight Drome sequence, Kovacs is saved by an unexpected face: his long dead sister Reileen (Dichen Lachman), who is not only revealed to be alive, but is also revealed to be the main antagonist of the season, the one responsible for engineering Bancroft's death. It turns out that Rei was the person who betrayed Kovacs so many years ago, motivated by an unhealthy obsession with her own brother. Since then, Rei has been killing and selling out her soul in countless ways (including being the owner of the aforementioned brothel, as well as the virtual torture facility where Kovacs was previously trapped) over the centuries. Not great!
• 11 • Speaking of Rei's involvement in Bancroft's death, it turns out that she was more of a catalyst and less of an actual killer in that case. Indeed, Bancroft really did kill himself, a decision he made purely out of shame. It's a shocking resolution to the central mystery of the season, that the likeliest version of the crime was indeed the actual version after all.
• 12 • Following the reveal about Rei's villainous role in the story, Ortega engages her new enemy in battle, killing several different versions of Rei's naked sleeve in one of the most jaw-dropping sequences of the entire series. At the end of the fight, Rei successfully deceives Ortega by assuming the sleeve of a helpless little girl.
• 13 • In order to stop Rei once and for all, Kovacs "double-sleeves" himself, which basically amounts to cloning himself. Using a quick game of "rock, paper, scissors," the two different Kovacs decide which one of them will move forward with the more action-oriented side of the mission, and which one of them will instead go off on a sex vacation with Miriam Bancroft.
• 14 • Near the end of the series, the two different Kovacs must decide which one of them will live and which one of them will die — a crucial decision they make thanks to, again, a quick game of "rock, paper, scissors."
• 15 • In the final scene, after defeating his own sister and deciding which version of himself will continue to survive, Kovacs gives up the sleeve he has dwelled in all season long: Ryker, the body belonging to Ortega's imprisoned boyfriend. In other words, Joel Kinnaman is no longer playing the show's main character as of the final moments of the season. Can we expect him to return in season two, then? If not, who will play Kovacs moving forward? Questions for another time. For now, that second run through Altered Carbon isn't going to start itself.
What did you make of the first Altered Carbon season? Let us know in the comments section, and keep checking THR.com/LiveFeed for more coverage of the new Netflix show.