Phantom Lady – | Review Score – 4/5
Payment Deferred – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Nightmare Alley – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Shadow of a Doubt– | Review Score – 3.5/5
I Wake Up Screaming – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Bury Me Dead – | Review Score – 3/5
Experiment Perilous – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Broken Angels – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Back in 2018, Netflix dropped the first season of Altered Carbon. This neon-awash cyberpunk thriller boasted impressive world-building, gorgeous visuals and a really intriguing story. With graphic nudity, some wobbly dialogue and a slightly over-long run-time, Altered Carbon just about held it together to bow out with a suitably climactic end. Throughout its bumpy ride, the real glue that held this show together was Joel Kinnaman, who perfected the role of Kovacs and added a raw, gritty feeling to proceedings.
Back for a second season, and jumping forward 30 years in the process, Altered Carbon returns for a follow-up slice of sci-fi, one that brings new blood to the fold while rehashing many of the same ideas from before. With less nudity and sex this time around, Altered Carbon sees Kovacs returns for another mission in a brand-new custom sleeve (modified body). Tasked with bringing his lost lover Quellcrist Falcon back, the season sees Kovacs transported to Harlan’s World and forced to descend back into the grimy underbelly of the world to find her.
At least, that’s the plot line for the first half of the season. From here, the show changes slightly to take on a much more apocalyptic stance as Quell’s significance to the story reaches cataclysmic levels. Without giving too much away, the show grapples with several different plot lines which interweave throughout the season and converge on the penultimate episode as secrets are revealed. Individually, the episodes themselves are enjoyable but this is one of those instances of a show feeling more disappointing on reflection than an in-the-moment watch.
The story borrows heavily from the first season, with chasing Quell taking up a good portion of the first four episodes. From here, the story then takes concepts from The Expanse and mashes them up into a hybrid story of different ideas. Some of these work really well but others not so much. Don’t get me wrong, the mysteries themselves are compelling enough to see you through to the end of this one, but some characters flip-flop on that antihero line and change allegiances several times, making for a bit of an inconsistent watch.
At the forefront of this is Anthony Mackie, who teams up with recurring synthetic partner Chris Conner (Poe) and together they really steal the show here. While Mackie doesn’t quite fill the boots left behind by Kinnaman, there’s enough here to find him a competent enough protagonist. The new supporting players who enter the fray, including assassin Trepp and a face from the past (which will remain secret for spoiler purposes), change teams several times over the season and despite receiving a relatively satisfying pay-off at the end, are difficult to really get behind given their swaying allegiances.
With so much revealed in the penultimate episode, the final slice of drama in the finale does feel a little underwhelming, despite a really dramatic and tense fight at the end. This is especially evident when so many of the show’s mysteries are wrapped up in the episode beforehand. It’s not a deal breaker but it is enough to notice a slowed momentum going into the final fight. If there’s one area that excels here though it’s the action.
These sequences are fantastic, with some beautifully shot moments involving hand to hand combat and gunplay. It doesn’t ever reach the brilliance of the first season in this department, but it’s a worthy enough follow-up nonetheless.
Overall then Altered Carbon isn’t a bad show but it’s one that never quite manages to step out from the shadow of what’s come before. The aesthetic is beautiful, the production designs are high and the story itself moves at a decent enough pace to find yourself gripped until the very end. Unlike the first season though, this one just doesn’t have the same hook, the same lasting appeal to keep you glued to find out what happens next. It’s a rare instance of a perfectly enjoyable show in the moment but on reflection, more of its flaws are revealed that sour the overall experience.
It’s not a bad sci-fi season per-se but given some of the excellent offerings we’ve had recently in this genre, Altered Carbon can’t quite successfully switch sleeves to make it the fully fledged synthetic follow-up it so easily could have been.