Minor Spoiler Review
The rich still lead decadent lives. The government at times seems to be all the more self-serving. The poor still exist in a class-based society that constantly serves to keep them underfoot. Technological advancements bring about a litany of questionable moral and social implications.
I’m not talking about what happened last week in the news. Nope, we’re once again entering the world of Altered Carbon, Season 2.
The second season of Netflix’s break out cyberpunk/ sci-fi series is scheduled to be released on February 27th, after a pretty solid inaugural effort in 2018. The adaptation of the 2002 Richard Morgan novel of the same name was a great piece of sci-fi storytelling, focusing on a world where immortality was the name of the game. Utilizing technology set in a period 360 years in the future (2384 to be exact), people’s consciousness could be transferred to different bodies, or “sleeves”, through the use of disk-shaped cortical stacks, known as “stacks”. The rich/ elite (known as Meth’s) are the main ones who can access such technology with the use of clones/sleeves, and by uploading their consciousness into remote satellites. The rich live forever. The poor keep getting screwed.
Focusing on issues of the moral and ethical implications of immortality, and classism, the first season focused on Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman/ Will Yun Lee), a newly awakened and re-sleeved rebel fighter, as he’s recruited to solve a murder mystery while also attempting to locate the whereabouts of a former lost love and fellow rebellion leader, Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry).
Fast forward to season 2, and Kovacs is still on the hunt for Falconer. From the series official summary, “Season Two of the sophisticated and compelling sci-fi drama finds Takeshi Kovacs (Anthony Mackie), the lone surviving soldier of a group of elite interstellar warriors, continuing his centuries-old quest to find his lost love Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry). After decades of planet-hopping and searching the galaxy, Kovacs finds himself recruited back to his home planet of Harlan’s World with the promise of finding Quell. Haunted by his past and responsible for investigating a series of brutal murders, Kovacs is stunned to discover his new mission to solve the crime and his pursuit to find Quell are one and the same. With the help of his loyal A.I. Poe (Chris Conner), Kovacs must now partner with new allies to outwit his enemies and find the truth: Who is Quellcrist Falconer?”
All in all, season 2 delivers, focusing on the primary theme of obsession throughout its 8 episodes. Kovac’s obsession with finding Quellcrist. Poe’s obsession with keeping his memory intact. Governor Harlan’s (Lela Loren) obsession with maintaining order on Harlan’s World at any cost. Trepp’s (Simone Missick) obsession with finding the “ultimate” bounty. (Redacted)’s obsession with seeking (redacted). Note: Don’t want to spoil too much with the “redacted” bits, but just wait until the later episodes and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
These various obsessions are what drives most of our characters for this season, with a murder mystery again being the backdrop which keeps the action moving at a nice pace over 8 episodes. And let me say this: thank you Netflix for keeping the plotting and action to a nice and concise stride for this second season. Here you avoid the 10-12 episode drag which often wears down series’ such as these.
Mackie taking on the role of the re-sleeved Kovacs works, and he does solidly in the role. As mentioned before, you see his obsessive nature on full display, as he seeks to find Falconer. He bribes, he lies, he cheats, and kills A LOT to accomplish this, and by the last episode, you’re asking, “What more can this dude do?” to accomplish his mission. It’s a bit taxing for Kovacs, and by the time you reach episode 8, you see how challenging it becomes.
The standout performances though have to go to Goldsberry, Missick, Conner, and Loren in their respective roles of Falconer, Trepp, Poe, and Harlan. Goldsberry has been a solid addition to this cast ever since the first season, and she brings it all here. She is the central figure of this entire season, in my opinion, even taking the mantle of the story’s main protagonist as the season plays out. It’s very rare that you see a woman of color seen as the central figure of such grandiose sci-fi storytelling, and the directors, writers, and ultimately Goldsberry stick the landing when it comes to Falconer. There’s a lot which I can’t reveal in this review about her ultimate fate, and the reasoning and rationale for her actions within this season. I’m must say I’m grateful that Goldsberry was given even more shine time this go around. Side note: I need Goldsberry to be in the running to portray Storm/ Ororo Munroe, whenever the opportunity arises. After seeing this season, you’ll understand why.
Missick has been a fan favorite of the blerd community ever since her introduction in Netflix’s Luke Cage, with guest starting roles in Iron Fist, and The Defenders. I’m going to say this directly to Netflix: GIVE-THIS-WOMAN-HER-OWN-SHOW. Something, where she’s kicking butt, and having her play the lead character, would be preferable. Missick brings newcomer Trepp to life with a hard as nails portrayal of a bodyguard who crosses paths with Kovacs starting in episode one. She’s there for the bounty and only that. We eventually find out that her ultimate goal with collecting on the stacks of criminals on Harlan’s World and across the solar system is a more personal one, which adds even more emotional heft to her story.
Lela Loren as the governor is deliciously evil, staying one step ahead of everyone in the story, including this reviewer. Episode four is especially a standout episode for her, as she plays the “Altered Carbon” game of chess in a pretty gruesome fashion. And Chris Conner’s portrayal of the constantly put upon AI known as Poe just kept me wanting to give this dude a hug. Poe is that ride or die friend, and even in the face of possible “permanent non-existence”, the AI does his best to help Kovacs on his Falconer search/ quest. The fact that the AI is given his substantial story arc in the span of 8 episodes is impressive, to say the least.
Episodes 4 and 7 were standouts, with some huge revelations brought forth in both. The fight scenes are just as solid this go around, with the episode 2 introduction of Col Ivan Carerra (Torben Liebrecht) and his Wedge/ special forces group being my favorite murder/kill/ kick-ass spree of the entire season. Only Reileen’s (Dichen Lachman) re-introduction in season 1, episode 6 tops it as the best action sequence of the series. Action aside, the show continues to delve into the moral implications of immortality for a cost, just as much as you’d find in season 1. Without giving too much away, the creative crew behind the scenes of this season focuses on how much lower humanity has fallen in trying to keep this wondrous technology going, bringing in tow some huge costs.
Also, thanks again Netflix for giving us a cyber-punk world where black and brown people exist. Being able to see all of humanity represented from the tops of the ivory “Meths” filled towers, to the streets of Harlan’s World, it was good to see that folks who looked like me exist in the future. Lastly, seeing a trio of black folks (Trepp, Falconer, and Kovacs) teaming up to save the day in this fantastical backdrop gave this reviewer so much damn life. Netflix, please keep quality storytelling with representation like this coming down the pipeline.
If you want a sci-fi laced murder mystery laced in action, with questions about the moral implications of using questionable technology, and brown and black people galore, check out Altered Carbon Season 2.
Robert Jeffrey II is an Atlanta based freelance writer who has worked for such clients as DC Comics, the Centers for Disease Control, and Nitto Tires. He is the co-writer of Radio Free Amerika, the writer of RET: CON, the creator/ writer of the Glyph Comics Award winning/ nominated Route 3: Vol 1, and the creator/writer of Mine To Avenge: The Book of Layla. He’s contributed to the Dark Universe: The Bright Empire and The Scribes of Nyota prose anthologies. He is a graduate of the 2017 DC Comics New Talent Writers Workshop. You can reach him at www.robertkjeffrey.com