'Altered Carbon' Season 2 Review: It delivers again with blitzkrieg action and crisp writing
While Joel Kinnaman would still be a preferred choice to play Kovacs, Anthony Mackie makes a strong impression
This review is spoiler-free.
'Altered Carbon' was Netflix's trump card in 2018. It was compelling, insanely violent, terrifyingly stunning, complicated and convoluted at the same time. The dystopian sci-fi piece was an ambitious and audacious attempt to bring Richard K. Morgan's 2002 cyberpunk sci-fi novel to life. Great visuals, an impressive cast, and some riveting writing meant 'Altered Carbon' had enough in it to spawn a couple more seasons.
In Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Ato Essandoh and Chris Conner, the part noir, part action-thriller managed to explain a complex story in ten episodes. The staggering response meant another season, sans Kinnaman. The concept was simple— death is cheap, immortality is now a possibility. Death can be defied, immortality was man's gift and God wasn't needed to bring someone back to life. Science would do.
And all the while, there's enough social and personal issues 'Altered Carbon' touched. The eternal class divide, the concept of death, misogynist power structures, and people's idea of ethics and morality in a distant future. Season 2 doesn't vary much. It takes its predecessor's route and while that makes the latest installment predictable, it makes up with blitzkrieg action, a strong narrative, and some crisp writing.
The trailer perhaps gives out the biggest spoiler as it shows the return of Renée Elise Goldsberry's Quellcrist Falconer aka Nadia Makita. She was portrayed as an inspirational leader of the Envoys and was leading a resistance against the UN Protectorate. The character birthed a whole new eponymous religion called Quellism, which many throughout the human empire related to and embraced. And while she was shown to be killed in Season 1, she's back in Season 2 stunning Takeshi Kovacs (Anthony Mackie as the new Tak), fellow Envoy, Falconer's lover and the last surviving member of the resistance.
That said, there's also the return of AI Poe (Chris Conner). While Kinnaman would still be a preferred choice to play Kovacs, Mackie makes a strong impression and brings out new shades of the character. It's easy parallels. Kinnaman was a broody Kovacs projecting a flawed, difficult character with a rather morbid sense of humor. Mackie, who's risen up Hollywood's ranks over time and is not new to Netflix's projects, adds a more no-holds-barred layer to Kovacs.
Mackie's Kovacs is sentimental and the season opens with him and Poe searching for Falconer. It's only a matter of time before the duo runs into her. However, there's an instant realization that this is not the Quell they've been after. It might seem a simple plotline, but that's entirely what Season 2 hinges on and this alone is a storyline that's capable of rising the suspense quotient. Since the focus in on Mackie, it's also worth a mention that his essaying of Kovacs could just add to his meteoric rise as an actor.
'Altered Carbon' Season 2 leans in heavily on the action and while much of the footage seen in the teasers and trailers are probably done in the first few episodes, it is after Episode 4 that things start becoming convoluted. Mackie's in search of a ghost and in that frantic, single-minded devotion, is taking a route where he just might end up being a ghost himself.
The cast delivers yet again. New arrivals in Torben Liebrecht, Lela Loren, Simone Missick, and Dina Shihabi along with some key characters of Season 1 in flashbacks add to what could be another hit on Netflix's hands. The biggest challenge for Season 2 is vaulting the bar it set and to make sure it does so, the series sticks to the basics that made Season 1 a success.
What sets 'Altered Carbon' apart is that there's no need to have a recurring storyline to spawn a new season. Such is the ending that there are enough reasons to expect a couple more seasons of the slambang series. What remains to be seen is if it can replicate the success consistently.
'Altered Carbon' Season 2 will premiere on February 27 on Netflix.