The central conceit of Altered Carbon is, simply put, immortality. Every human possesses a stack, a device which stores consciousness and allows transference to any other body. The idea is its greatest strength and also a weakness. On the one hand, it allows anyone to take any role in the cast. Hence the story can last from minutes to centuries while still maintaining a clear continuity of consciousness and indeed narrative.

The weakness, well, we’ll cover that in a moment.

The second season of Netflix’s hit series, Altered Carbon, takes full advantage of its premise by casting a new lead. Picking up the reins from Joel Kinnaman, Anthony Mackie is the new Takeshi Kovacs. The central setting has changed as well, moving lightyears from Earth and many decades after the end of the first season.

Indeed, the only returning actor (initially) is Chris Conner, again portraying the loveably defective hologram Poe. This season’s opening four episodes are thus as disorientating for the audience. Moreso for the beleaguered Kovacs, after being shot and forcibly re-sleeved in a military-grade body. All to investigate the murder of a rich “Meth” on Harlan’s World, the planet of which the vaunted stack technology originated.

The idea is its greatest strength and also a weakness.

However, this opening revealed the weaknesses of the show’s body hopping format. Much like Doctor Who, the premise has a built-in method of rejuvenating the franchise by periodically changing the protagonist’s face and companions. However, whilst Doctor Who generally gives its protagonists a few years to find their feet, Altered Carbon switches almost everything between seasons.

It feels like a reboot of a franchise which has only just begun. Nor is this helped by the fact the series has deliberately skipped ahead in the novel series, with a time jump adding to the sense of dislocation. It forces this season to waste a good deal of its runtime introducing us to a new setting and a giant cast of new characters.

Yet Season 2 finds its feet after the first few episodes, and reminds us why the series is so entertaining. The frenetic and beautiful fight scene set pieces, the glimpses into an exotic and bizarre culture to our modern eyes. Altered Carbon explores fascinating technology, utilised in wonderous and horrifying ways, and extrapolates the human condition as all good speculative fiction should. In particular this series explores double-sleeving (same person split between two bodies). And how one judges the “self” when one’s mind is a digital package of information, easily modified at the whim of the powerful.

[Altered Carbon] extrapolates the human condition as all good speculative fiction should.

I was less enamoured with how easily stacks destruction occured this season compared to the last one. The setting weakens when “true death” is wrought so easily. At a certain stage, it begins to feel like the premise has become “everyone can live forever… unless shot in the neck…”

I was also not tremendously invested in the character Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry), the Quellist revolutionary hero from the first series, who gains more focus in this season. In the books, Falconer is a more ambiguous and less overtly heroic figure. Meanwhile the TV series goes out of its way to emphasise her virtue, and mitigates any questionable acts she undertakes.

The amnesiac, super soldier warrior woman trope is one that is a little tired and predictable for me. Kovacs and Falconer never seemed in genuine danger throughout much of the season, the antagonists consistently losing or being outwitted. Some scenes were treading old ground too. For instance, having Kovacs sentenced to death by gladiatorial combat, before being rescued by a lethal face from his past. This is a repated, virtually beat for beat, in Season 1.

The glimpse into the eldritch nature of the Elder species was fascinating in the later episodes. As was the build up to the climax gained incredible momentum. Also Poe’s subplot about whether he should reboot himself, losing his memories and obliterating his self, is an interesting parallel to the human characters. Poe’s desire of continuity of consciousness, something humanity has mastered, is intriguing as it is saddening.

Ultimately, Altered Carbon Season 2 is an exciting and satisfying piece of science fiction. It maybe stumbling in its early episodes, but it still delivers us a knockout climax.

About Andrew R. Aston

A novelist and a resident reviewer for Tbird, A.R Aston hails from deepest, darkest England. From his rain-drenched lair, he has had several short stories published in anthologies, such as Wicked Women from Fox Spirit Books and Outliers Saga. His debut novel, The Hobgoblin’s Herald, is due for release 2017.