Altered Carbon: Broken Angels and Philosophy

Aaron Meacham
7 min readMar 8, 2020
Photo by Diyah Pera/Netflix

Season 2 of Netflix’s sci-fi noir Altered Carbon released last week to great anticipation. While there was no shortage of questions and themes across season 1, the new season clearly wants to raise the stakes and present itself as deep, philosophical material.

So how does it measure up?

Season 1 gave us a much harder look at moral philosophy and justice in this new frontier of human civilization. The season-long focus on securing justice for the murdered and the mistreated has been left behind on Earth. Several of the lessons learned or lines drawn in the sand are erased without a thought, or are presented in the same hollow manner that the season 1 cast is puppeteered around to torment Kovacs during The Circle.

While disappointing and a bit of a step backwards, this shift can be (somewhat) explained away by Kovacs’s new, more personal quest and by the 30 years elapsed since the end of the first season. In that time, it seems that Kovacs has been run ragged by the futility of his quest to find his lost love and by the frustrating degradation of his companion AI, Poe. And it is in this transition that the seasons’s true philosophical focus emerges: identity.

In a meta-narrative opening, the season even presents itself as a formulaic copy of the previous season — Kovacs, out of options, is pressed into service by a powerful meth and given vast resources to that end. But that illusion is shattered when Kovacs awakes to the carnage of his benefactor murdered by the very woman he’s been unable to find. The concept of “illusion” is also foreshadowed in the ballad that lounge-singer Kovacs croons in the opening scene — “I think I fell in love with an illusion of you.” As for depth, this dichotomy between reality and illusion never really transcends beyond the typical for a noir genre. The aspect of identity that the show develops most deeply, and most interestingly, is that of change.

“We can’t quantify the change, but we are not the same. I’m not the person I once was. Neither are you.” — Hideki to Kovacs

The most obvious change we are made aware of is Kovacs himself. With the return of Ryker’s (Joel Kinnaman) body at the end of the previous story arc, Kovacs is forced to inhabit a new military-grade sleeve (Anthony Mackie) for…

--

--

Aaron Meacham

My name anagrams to “a man becomes.” I love movies and Kurt Vonnegut. I don’t understand how anagrams work.