A New Body
Altered Carbon is back and as we return to the glitzy, neon-lit futuristic streets, nothing is as it seems. With new sleeves, new faces and new scores to settle, the second season wastes no time getting right to the heart of the drama. With a similar set-up to the first season, at least in terms of character motivations, Altered Carbon combines its high production values and beautiful world-building with a story that just starts to flex its muscles.
30 years after the Bancroft Case, we return to Maghda Prime for episode 1 of Altered Carbon’s season 2 in the Raven Hotel as Poe listens to a woman singing. A synth at the bar asks Poe where Kovacs is but he simply tells her he’s off looking for Quellcrist Falconer, the leader of the Uprising. She offers him credits to speak but the synth doesn’t divulge anything, dissipating as the actual bartender arrives.
Things quickly go awry when a man with a briefcase full of credits enters the bar, announcing to the crowd that whoever Kovacs is now – the money is all theirs. Inevitably a fight breaks out as everyone clamors over the money, leading him to slip out the back…and straight into the path of Kovacs himself, who happens to be the female singer from the start of the episode.
Midway through negotiating terms for another job, the messenger shoots him in the face and tells him Horace Axley, a Meth, wants to talk to Kovacs about a job. When she refuses to play ball, the messenger shoots Kovacs in the back.
We then cut to Kovacs in a meeting with Axley, who offers him a brand new sleeve – this one of Anthony Mackie with state of the art biometrics. After choking him out, Axley offers him Quellcrist Falconer in exchange for his help. Eventually Kovacs agrees, and as he wakes up in the glass container, he’s reborn. With the resleeving now complete, he narrows his gaze and prepares for what comes next.
Only, he finds Axley and a number of other guards dead on the floor. With Axley the only person still alive among them, Kovacs grabs him and asks where Quellcrist it. He manages to squeeze out a strained “gone” before he dies. As Kovacs heads outside and looks out at the gorgeous skyline, he realizes it’s been 30 years and they’re on Harlan’s World.
Walking through the neon-awash market, he speaks to Poe about Quell and Axley, tasking Poe to check the news feed, where he learns Konrad’s daughter Danica has now taken up the mantle of leader here, who informs the crowd that she’s entered into talks with the Quellist Leader Joshua Kemp.
Kovacs makes it to the Yakuza and tells the leader he’s Taneseda Hideki. Unfortunately he’s actually talking to his great-grandson, and as Poe arrives it’s just the distraction needed for Kovacs to start fighting the gang, his facade broken. It’s not enough to overcome them though and he finds himself face to face with Hideki himself. Kovacs reveals his true form and asks him for a favour – a place to stay off-grid. After berating his grandson, he agrees to help Kovacs.
Alone, Kovacs questions his life and entering another wild goose chase looking for Quell. Seeing Quell in his mind’s eye, she tells him the answers are in the one place he’s not looking. As he stares in the mirror, Kovacs proceeds to stab himself in the chest, where he flashes back to Axley’s apartment and sees Quell beating him down and stabbing him in the chest. Flashing back to the present, he realizes that Quell is still alive and sets out with renewed vision.
With an inspired Anthony Mackie filling the big boots left behind by Joel Kinnaman, Altered Carbon gets off to an intriguing start here as the quest to find Quell resumes. Given what we know about her, it’ll be interesting to see what direction the show takes in explaining her motives surrounding killing Axley. For now though, the world-building is second to none and the gorgeous Harlan’s World is brought to life in the best possible way.
The visuals have always been one of the strong points here and thankfully Altered Carbon has continued that tradition going forward. With less nudity and sex (so far at least), this certainly feels a lot more tightly wound but whether this translates to a better season across the span of 8 episodes, remains to be seen.