How Netflix’s “Altered Carbon” Satisfyingly Elevates The Desirability Of Death
Because we need to be entertainingly quarantined!
Mild spoilers for the first season
Dying is the mystery that leads us into the realm of uncertainty — and that pretty much dictates why the notion of not being alive anymore is on the top of the list of what most of us are incessantly fearful of — and with good reason.
If we had the ability to live forever — would you make that happen — and if so — why?
This is the question that you can’t help asking — once you dive into the futuristic spectacle of Netflix’s latest offering Altered Carbon — a high-tempo, grossly-moody romp — that features a universe that is rife with desperation and the irresistible alternates that only money can buy.
The impressively dark thriller stars Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs — a political warrior who is revived almost 250 years after his “sleeve” was terminated. “Sleeves” are the exteriors that serve as disposable bodies that are wired to accommodate “stacks” — which are storage devices that contain personalized memories.
These “stacks” are mass produced and replicated numerous times and they’ve been designed to fit into the vertebrae — at the base of the neck — which means that a “sleeve” can literally wake up with the memory of an Asian — who was the only survivor of a major revolution — that took place many years prior — with the goal of deactivating the new rules that were optimistically instituted — but ended up creating a climate of enslavement.
Kinnaman embodies his “sleeve” and the responsibility of it with sour restlessness as he accepts the fate of rejecting a prison term in favor of investigating the gruesome murder of one of the richest and powerful men of the “settled world.”
As entertaining as Kinnaman’s Takeshi is in his new form — roving through erratic channels — with all the celebrated goriness and explicit activities to boot — it’s his former version that fascinates each time we’re transported to flashbacks that expose the deep connection with his tragically lost love — Quellcrist Falconer (Hamilton’s Renee Elise Goldsberry) — a rebel leader with a feisty past — that positioned her for greatness — and the destiny that became her undoing.
Quellcrist and Takashi become lovers during the bootcamp that is supposed to equip him and all the other chosen members of “the resistance” with the courage and skills that are required to re-wire the system back to the blissful time — when the grim reaper wasn’t just a “quaint metaphor.”
The ultimate goal is to dismantle the notion that death is an inconvenience that should be rebuked by the audacity of having it as an optional quest.
In Episode Seven (Nora Inu) — Quellcrist is hell-bent on fronting the uprising that will restore death as the glorified mandate that will “reset the balance” by “bringing back real death.”
“The ebb and the flow of life is what makes us all equal in the end.”
This takes us back to the significance of dying and how we struggle with the reality of losing the ones we love as we grapple with the possibility of leaving this earth before we’re ready for the final departure.
We are given a certain amount of time to make our lives count and the pressure to add value to the reflective phrase — “you only live once” — is a hefty undertaking — that can be considered an unfair burden when you consider how unevenly distributed our “good fortune” tends to be.
This imbalance is even more glaring now — as we endure the consequences of an economic template that is savagely set up to fund the wealthier population while those who are vulnerable to the elements — remain helplessly chained to the rules that are implemented to keep them direly incapacitated.
This is why the themes in Altered Carbon — resonate in a deeply profound way — particularly in the seventh installment where the decision by the warriors to die in order to “save humanity” becomes the proof of why the “human spirit was meant to be free.”
Turns out that the avid brilliance of an ambitious futurist gave birth to misplaced intentions that produced disastrous results. Existing without the humanistic pairing of life and death doesn’t serve us well — and in fact reduces us to the rubble of eternal carnage.
Achieving the comfort of not being limited to one lifetime through the “transfer of human consciousness between bodies” became an option that only the elite could afford and this produced “a new class of people, so wealthy and powerful — they answer to no one and cannot die.”
When you possess the authority to repeatedly defeat death — the urge to bully those who can’t enjoy such a valued disposition is a human instinct that automatically creates a caste system. This ends up breeding “eternal life for those who can afford it” — which translates to “eternal control” over the population that aren’t as fortunate.
Quellcrist is determined to reverse what her former “sleeve” — Nadia — managed to instigate by preparing her army for war against the “new order” — that has breathed chaos into an already imperfect world — that is doomed to the farce of an existence — that has been infected by the virus of interchangeability.
In other words — saving humanity means dying a “final death” so that the codes needed to “infect the central core” will be able to “reset” — which will resurrect the act of dying — when you’ve reached 100 years.
Once the brave souls are ready for battle — we wish them well — but there’s also the assignment of satisfyingly embodying the desirability of death.
In order to be human — we have to be immortal. The realization that we’re on a timetable that can’t be altered — according to our status or our voracious appetites is supposed to keep us humble and clinically aware of our limitations.
No matter how sickeningly wealthy Wall Street thugs or over-paid reality TV stars are — they’re fate mirrors those who don’t come remotely close to their prized level. And even with that reality — we still battle with the systematic betrayal that is levied on communities that are targeted for extinction without flexibility.
The lessons of Altered Carbon are complexly layered — but also simplistic in delivery as we’re courted with the message of why one lifetime is more than enough. But then there’s the nagging thought of how humans fuck shit up — even when we get exactly what we think we need — to make us better versions of ourselves.
We actually don’t improve with the option of living forever because that privilege kills our soul and dehumanizes us — as we advance from “sleeve” to “sleeve” — until eventually the only way out is the final verdict.
We have to die. And for once — that doesn’t sound all that bad.