REVIEW: ALTERED CARBON Season 2 serves as an extended epilogue to Season 1, but offers little for new viewers


If you enjoyed Season 1 of Netflix’s Altered Carbon, Season 2 serves as an extended coda for the final episode but offers little by way of the world-building & character studies of Season 2.

I’ll be the first to say I really enjoyed the Blade Runner-lite cyberpunk noir of the first season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon. Employing many of the main players and themes of Joss Whedon’s ahead-of-its-time FOX sci-fi drama Dollhouse, Altered Carbon followed the adventures of Takeshi Kovacs, a half-Eastern European, half-Japanese former mercenary turned freedom fighter, as he traversed time and space via the invention of stacks. Stacks allow humans to back-up their consciousness digitally and thus upload themselves to new bodies on the event of their death, making humans functionally immortal. However, this also creates a massive wealth disparity where the rich become virtual gods, extending their empires into dynasties lasting centuries and being able to upload themselves into cloned bodies keeping the social strata in place forever. Kovacs, having failed in a resistance coup with Quell (Renée Elise Goldsberry), the creator of the stacks, to destroy the technology and return balance to humanity, finds himself a hero for hire in Season 1 and finding himself pitted against his sister Rei (Dichen Lachman), whom he ultimately defeats and is granted a full pardon for his past crimes as well as a fortune meant to last him several lifetimes.

When the events of Season 2 pick up, we’re 30 years removed from those events. Kovacs has spent that time and his whole fortune to try and find if Quell did survive her death as Rei told him in the Season 1 Finale. He is broke and changing bodies or “sleeves” to try and make cash to finance his search. But he is finally hunted down by a bounty hunter Trepp (Renée Elise Goldsberry) who leads him to the planet he met Quell; Harlan’s World, where he is installed in a military sleeve (Anthony Mackie) in order to protect a fellow founder. But this man is almost instantly killed and Kovacs finds himself a prime suspect. Even worse, he is convinced the killer was none other than Quell herself.

I’ll say, as a fan of season 1, the extended coda that is Season 2 is cool, but not something I can really see myself rewatching. I rewatched season 1 of Altered Carbon multiple times. The rich world-building, plus interpretations of LatinX culture in the future seemed really interesting and thought out, as well as the multiple weaved storylines with rich character work. While some of the character work remains, in the person of the A.I. Poe (Chris Conner), there’s very little new in terms of mining the story veins of this rich future landscape. The erstwhile villains don’t share any of the charismatic allure of the first season; their machinations largely serving as background noise to the story of who/what is going with Quell. Moreover, Mackie weirdly enough doesn’t add much of his charisma to the role of Kovacs. Joel Kinnaman’s portrayal seemed to suggest a haunted displacement, while Mackie projects more of a one-note of anger and desperation. The season’s arc will largely confuse new would-be viewers unless they watched season 1 and makes this season largely only for hardcore fans, with little to offer newcomers.

Overall, Season 2 is a darker take on the Altered Carbon universe. The ending would serve as a series or season finale, but doesn’t leave one with a lot of motivation to watch a 3rd season. Kind of a letdown after the world of possibilities that Season 1 set-up.