Altered Carbon Season 2 Review
Phew! I just finished Altered Carbon Season 2 and let me tell you, it was quite a ride. There are pros and cons to this season, just like any season, and there’s a lot I want to get out of my brain because I have so many thoughts on the series. So without further ado, here we go: my review of Season 2 of Altered Carbon.
The general feeling of the series is very toned down compared to last season, for better or for worse. It’s warmer and more family-friendly. There is less torture, less nudity, and less shocking gore and violence.
Source Material Bias
My experience of the series was probably biased, and shaped from my familiarity with the source material. I found myself often lighting up upon hearing references to characters and concepts from the books. This led me to enjoy the series more, as I often took a very conscious note of their choices to veer from or stick to the original content. Also, as a result, my review will be very much contrasting the book to the series.
General differences between book and series
Quell & Vidaura
One of the biggest differences from the books in this season is the choice of Kalogridis and Schapke to create the love story between Quell and Takeshi. In the books, Takeshi’s trainer and the leader of the rebellion were two different people: Quell was the legendary leader of the rebellion, who inspired people to follow her own life philosophy called Quellism. The leader and trainer of the envoys, meanwhile, was someone called Virginia Vidaura. Kovacs has flings with both Vidaura and Sylvie, but not Quell.
Source: theaquasarah, YouTube
Sex vs. Love
Kovacs has sex with Sylvie (Trepp in the series), but when they do, she switches to the AI copy of Quell. This passion is what triggers the switches in the books. There is no love between Kovacs and Vidaura, or between Kovacs and Sylvie—it’s purely sexual lust, and obviously a certain connection that comes with it.
Many people were turned off by the random, very explicit sex scenes in the books—in particular with Woken Furies. I remember when I read the book it felt like a jarring switch and I was never ready for it, which led me to skim or often just pass over the explicit sex scenes, which often rarely added anything to the actual story.
The complete lack of sex scenes in the second season, except for one very PG-13 one, is perhaps a strong flip to the other side of the coin. And the lack of gratuitous sex mirrors the new emphasis on love in the story, which was virtually non-existent in the books.
There’s also a stronger emphasis on family ties than on the previous season. Season 1 had the mother and family ties from Kristin Ortega, who then tragically died and gave the story more weight. Season 2 is about Trepp doing all she can to find her brother, and then to protect her wife and her son, who ultimately are saved in the end by her actions. Everything she does is to protect her family. And while one of her family members tragically dies to protect her, none of this carries the same weight as Ortega’s family dying in the first season. It almost feels like going through the motions when she discovers her dead family member. I knew I was supposed to feel something, but because of how stiff and set up it all was, I felt little.
Now let’s look at the characters from Season 2.
I really enjoyed Poe again in this season. Not only is his acting excellent, but he is very well written and is a fun, charming addition to add levity to the more somber moments of the season. His quests to help Takeshi, and to try to remember what he was forgetting, made him incredibly endearing. Even more than before. If that’s even possible.
I really liked Tanaseda Hideki’s character. In the books he is simply a Yakuza leader with a shared past with Takeshi, but in this season he acts as a wise, respectful mentor figure for Takeshi. It was a refreshing take on the character.
I also liked the fact that they put in Cemetaire! His character really bothered Takeshi in the books, because of his profession making money off the lost stacks of the dead–and he was a good addition here (even if his part was very small). I recognized one of his lines as being taken straight from the book: “I am a simple ferryman plucking souls from my ocean wide.”
I thought it was interesting that they chose to have the character of Trepp, who acts like a Sylvie with her head coils, yet chose Falconer’s mind as the one with the second personality in her stack instead of in Trepp’s mind. I thought having the second mind/personality downloaded through the coils really made sense in the books, and I would have preferred them doing the same thing with Trepp instead of with Falconer. Still, I really enjoyed the mystery of figuring out who was in Quell’s stack, since it obviously couldn’t be Quell as it was in the books. The way that we were introduced to Takeshi in a completely different sleeve than expected made us believe the second personality could really be anybody, and in my view was quite well done.
I also liked that they included Kemp, but his role was so diminished here. I understand that Kemp had his uses in season 2, but in the books Kemp was a legitimate rebellion leader and very brutal. When you know who he was in the books, his diminished role here really feels a bit like a waste. At least they put in the ascertainment trial, but if you didn’t read the books, know that in the books the trial took hours, but was obviously condensed for the sake of editing.
Another big difference was how they changed Takeshi Kovacs’ double-sleeved clone from an earlier period of his life.
In the books his clone slaughtered the entire team Takeshi was working with in the past. Takeshi was incredibly afraid of his brutal clone, because of the regrets he carried from his past choices in life. The books made it feel like his past mistakes were literally hunting him in the present day.
This version of Takeshi, however, is simply a new person. Almost like a long-time brother, one who wasn’t up to speed with what had happened in the world. It felt incredibly different, and while I loved Will Yun Lee’s performance, I think his character was a bit of a wasted opportunity here. There’s so much more they could have done with him. I will admit that Stronghold Takeshi is a little ruthless in the beginning, but by the end all that is quickly erased as his character does a complete 180.
Col. Ivan Carrera
Having Carrera as originally the dogged hunter-soldier made him a force to be reckoned with—especially in the scenes where he is brutally interrogating his prisoners. I wasn’t expecting it to then turn into something where Carrera was an old father figure to Takeshi, and go into their complicated history. It gave a more nuanced side to the character, which I actually liked. In the books he’s simply the leader of the Wedge, a military group instead of a small task force, and he does little more than fight one on one with Takeshi.
Additional mentions: Dig 301 and Danica Harlan
Both Dig 301 and Danica Harlan were technically in the books, but they had almost no part worth mentioning whatsoever. And regarding their roles, I thought they were…fine. Dig 301 simply doesn’t have the charm that Poe does, and I personally didn’t find her very interesting at all. I was happily surprised that Danica Harlan was plenty cunning, very much more than she leads on, and in that way I liked her character.
Although Sylvie/Quell was able to briefly summon Angel fire, in the books it was unexpected and not understood until afterwards. Similarly to this season, I was incredibly surprised when it happened, as there was no warning this time either. It was incredibly cool to watch Angel Fire on the screen.
I was also glad they put in a little bit about the archaeologues and deciphering the symbols, like in book 2, even though it was a very small part of the story. It was interesting to see how they changed the portal from the books into the new alien ruin that it is in the season.
If I had to compare this season to the previous season, I would say that it’s not as good as the first half of season 1, but much better than the second half of season 1. The countless naked Reileens attacking an armed Ortega just seemed too over the top and unnecessary, and then the overly dramatic scenes with Lizzie and the confrontations in the end were all new and different from the novel. Reileen, in fact, was never even mentioned in the books—it was all for the TV series. The first season was pure, classic film noir cyberpunk.
Season 2 has none of the bloat or over-dramatic scenes from the first season. It’s all very tight, self-contained narrative with a decent plot and pacing. But barring a few exceptions, nothing really shocks the viewer in this season.
Overall Verdict: 7.5/10
Although a fun and interesting season, after the first couple episodes the season started losing a lot of the Cyberpunk visuals that help make it great. There were no flying cars, or mega-cities, and there were less neon lights as the series moved inside and then into the trees outside. Its excessive violence and gore is toned down, which is great, but so is everything else—less sexuality and greater focus on family, which feels like a more PG-13 kind of season. Nonetheless, the action’s pacing, exciting plot and solid acting performances create an all-around great second season that is well worth watching.