Thoughts on Altered Carbon
Does immortality corrupt humanity? Altered Carbon argues yes. Like many science fiction movies and series philosophical questions about humanity pepper this story centered around technology that keeps you alive and theoretically immortal but not in the same body. Stacks are your consciousness implanted into whatever sleeve, body, you can find or have cloned. Only the rich and powerful have multiple sleeves to ensure they live forever. It is easy to be envious and awe inspired by how these fictional elite live in the clouds, literally, and imagine more familiar privileged faces living this way in the future.
The story expands around a murder mystery at its core with excessive violence, action and sporadic sex and nudity making the series more biased towards male praise and appreciation. But underneath this slick veneer of eye candy are more probing questions. Technological fail safes are made to be broken and eternal life is corrupting people more than just money and power can. Religious coding ensures people who are murdered are unable to come back, or spun up, and point the finger at their killer. This loophole is used to keep people, women, quiet who are killed by the rich and powerful, mostly men.
Change is the only constant in life. So how much would you change in 250 years without aging in the conventional sense? I doubt anyone would be even remotely similar to who they were today. This already happens on a much smaller scale during our finite number of years. I don't feel even slightly similar to the person that shrugged and mumbled through high school. I can still see the similarities in my college self but we are quickly growing apart. In centuries the transformation from someone starting as the oppressed and becoming the oppressor seems expected. They refuse to feel guilty about this transformation in the show. Multiple times they justify their actions, random murders and other atrocities, and feel no remorse because they have become a stronger, better person.
There are many twists in Altered Carbon which are less surprising in hindsight. In this universe it seems impossible to truly die unless you see their stack fried on screen. Some of the biggest twists stem from his relationship with the woman he loved who is long gone and his sister whose fierce protectiveness morphs into power and control issues. When bodies are disposable it is impossible to know who you are really looking at.
In the beginning of the story reality is shown through the lens of the main character Takeshi Kovacs who sees his sister and love interest everywhere even though they don't exist. He has been re sleeved into a buff white guy so it is hard to remember that he is not what he appears. This is a running folly throughout the series. Look here is a Mexican grandma swearing in front of her grandchildren on Day of the Dead in the sleeve of a very tattooed white criminal! Look here is a little girl in the sleeve of a old woman! And so on ad nauseam. The gimmick starts to run stale and is easy to forget even when these examples keep getting shoved down your throat.
Takeshi's mind has been sitting in prison for centuries and is taken off ice by one of the wealthiest men on the planet. What is the price for his freedom and eventual pardon? Solving this man's murder. While the initial premise is intriguing the story gets better as the narrative doesn't revolve solely around a rich guy killing himself. Because that isn't super interesting. Takeshi's backstory is much more interesting and each layer reveals a little more of the truth behind his tough guy actions.
Takeshi is the argument for finite life times as he has remained the same person just in a different body. His morality and ethical qualms barely move the current inhabitants of the world around him. Corruption and manipulation are the name of the game. Where it used to be hidden from view in the past now it is flaunted.
The murder mystery aspect is centered around one of the most wealthy and powerful men who refuses to believe he killed himself even though this is the obvious answer. The details of the apparent suicide point to only him or his wife. Why would he do this? Was he feeling guilty about something? In the end the reveal isn't very shocking because we have seen what being alive too long has done to other similar people. He still believes there are some lines he would never cross which becomes a weak platitude in his mouth. When you can do whatever you want for so long you think the rules don't apply to you.