Review: Altered Carbon

Altered CarbonI was pretty excited when Netflix announced Altered Carbon. I loved the book by Richard K. Morgan, and had high hopes for the series. So, let’s dig in.


In the future, humanity has found a way to cheat death and travel the stars: the cortical stack. The cortical stack is a device based on alien technology that is implanted in the neck. It saves the mind of its wearer, which can then be transferred to other bodies, or uploaded to the stars.

This has led to a future where a small group of people effectively rule the world. This group has nearly unlimited funds and power and can grow a variety of bodies.

When one of these people, Laurens Bancroft, played by James Purefoy, apparently commits suicide, he digs up the stack of an Envoy, a specially trained super soldiers, named Takeshi Kovacs.

Kovacs is to solve the murder of Bancroft in exchange for a pardon.


Takeshi Kovacs, played (mostly) by Joel Kinnaman, is an ex-envoy. He was trained to adapt to any situation and kill ruthlessly. He is also a traitor and has lost his friends, his sister, and the woman he loved.

Kristin Ortega, played by Maria Higareda, is a cop who ran afoul of Bancroft with her partner Riker. Her partner was convicted of murder and when Bancroft needs a body for Kovacs, he uses Riker’s. Kristin is ordered to let it go, but she isn’t going to do that.

Takeshi goes looking for helpers and end up recruiting an AI hotel called Poe (player by Chris Conner) and a down-on-his-luck ex-soldier Vernon Elliot (player by Ato Essandoh) who has a beef with Bancroft.

What’s it like?

Altered Carbon has a pretty complicated plot. More happens in one episode than in an entire season of Sense 8. It’s not too complicated, but there are times when I had to really think about what was going on. And I already read the books, so maybe other people had even more trouble with it.

The problem is that multiple different plotlines thread through each other, regarding Bancroft’s murder, Riker’s and Kristin’s case, and Takeshi’s past. The three touch on each other and here and there intertwine making it hard to keep track. On top of that, people can swap bodies.

There are also quite a lot of characters in Altered Carbon, but not too many. They are usually well-rounded, or at least interesting.

The show really gets the most out of the idea of cortical stacks. Body-swapping, kinky sex, and fights to the death – it’s all in there and more. This show is also definitely not for children. It has a lot of violence and quite a lot of sex.


Altered Carbon is really Game of Thrones meets Blade Runner. It looks great, the acting’s good, and the story is complex enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.

If you like dystopian science fiction, this is definitely a show for you. If you dislike complicated stories or scifi, then this is definitely not the show for you.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands