Crossing the Stream: Part 5 - "Altered Carbon" Sn 1 Eps 1-2

I am drowning in an existential sea of viscous self-importance. I'm tacky with it. It will not come off. I've posted thousands of words at this point, and even created a Youtube account for Media Sandwich. But today is the day it all suddenly feels like too much, and for nothing back. Take a case of the Mondays, then remove your ability to combat it with sugar, grease, or really any self-medication, and you get a wretched stew of repressed self-loathing and thoughts of hopeless inadequacy.

But then, I write a meandering emo screed about it, and I sound like the most narcissistic teenager back during the glory days of Myspace (oh, I'm also old as hell and remember Myspace, kiddos!). So...short of something like an impromptu frolicking with a gaggle of puppies, today will be a hard day. But I'm here. I wonder if this sudden pounding headache/holding back tears/stomach cramp combo is the result of anything I'm doing wrong physically. It can't be a lack of sugar, since I slipped up and ate some Easter chocolate yesterday. Hurrah for holidays.

As a matter of fact, I ate all sorts of stuff I probably shouldn't have during the weekend. On Saturday, while camping, I shrugged and ate a huge handcrafted hamburger with Swiss cheese and a huge fluffy bun. I wasn't proud, and the guilt kept me from partaking in my kids' marshmallow ecstasy once the campfire got started. I also avoided beer and pop the whole time, and went for a little walk. So, is that a mixed success? Did I roll a 12, or what? I have a minus-two on self control, incidentally.

I was happy to put up the first video for Media Sandwich, even if today it felt like mindless indulgence and a terrible idea. I'm hoping to do some more fun, less self-help style videos in the future in order to justify the amount of work that went into it. And I am excited to watch a different show this week, especially one where I can talk about plot and motif and visuals a little more. I hope literally anyone else is interested in going down that path with me.

The exercise today was miserable. It was like going to gym class in high school, with a raging hangover. Which I only did once, and I do not require a repeat. Maybe it's the new show, maybe it's my probable chemical imbalance in my head, but my pace is off and my ankles are weak today. Some days you just don't feel all the way there, and I barely made it to the end of my minutes. I suspect that this is the nasty, typical "I'm quitting" period that I knew was coming. But it still feels like a psychotic episode.

And speaking of psychotic episodes...

"Altered Carbon" - Season 1, Episodes 1-2

This show cost more than ten seasons of "One Day at a Time."

I have a theory about "prestige series" pilot episodes. When a whopping ton of money has been spent on the series, the more sprawling establishing shots filled with effects replace any plot progression in the pilot. They are no longer beginnings so much as extended prologues.

Well, this is certainly a show that requires some active listening skills. That could easily be from the clunky tour guide style exposition throughout the first episode, "Out of the Past," or it could just be laundry list of Future-Slang and narrative tech rules. Five minutes in, I created a makshift index for myself:

sleeve - An (empty?) body for human minds to be downloaded into.
cortical stack - Your Brain cartridge
digital human freight (DHF) - human mind files
needlecast - remote access or broadcast your DTF to a sleeve or harddrive
Meth - Methusela, a generally rich person over 1,000 years old
Envoys - something, something, something Space Detective?
RD'd - Killed permenantly
Double-Sleeving - Downloading into more than one sleeve

It's an awful lot to get across all at once. That's why the episodes are a full hour long, but the pilot feels very much like a pilot. It's shot very cinematically, and the effects are very expensive and gorgeous looking, but the entire hour is a setup, a pitch episode that gives a nice, tidy murder mystery with a cool sci-fi spin: the rich man who hires our downloaded gumshoe wants to solve his own murder from a previous body. Recently released from prison, as property to rich client, Takeshi Kovacs is sleeved up as a bio-engineered super-soldier and tasked with solving the mystery while growing increasingly unstable due to the traumas of all his past failures and deaths.

There is plenty of promise out of this pilot, from the possibly superhuman hard-boiled detective, the loyal AI hotel manager who acts as sort of a butler for the detective, multiple recurring villains who can always come back, even after being killed in an eye-opening gunfight sequence that feels right out of a 90s Aacrion movie, and the copious, gratuitous amount of nudity. If you wanted a Netflix show with all the "sexposition" of an HBO show, here ya go!

I'm not sold on Joel Kinnaman quite yet. Physically, he's performing the role admirably. But for a hardboiled detective with a shady past, he's coming off as bland as he did in Suicide Squad and the Robocop remake. The production, however, has sold me. The Blade Runner cityscapes, the believable future technology, and Jeff Russo's moody electronic score are great stuff.

Episode 2, "Fallen Angels," Comes at us with the first recurrent themes. Most, ahem, nakedly obvious of them is the association of sex and violence, as evidenced by the Meth client, Bancroft, and his paid beating and sometimes accidental, temporary killing of hookers in...yeesh...in "Licktown." Another theme is the elaboration on the religious protestations to sleeving glimpsed in "Out of the Past." Leiutenant Ortega herself comes from a Catholic family who do not believe in getting their consciousness downloaded into another body. This is a fun sci-fi spin on the present day "right to die" arguments, to go along with the previous episode's dystopian prison commentary.

Finally, Kovacs seems to be weaving a larger philosophical thesis with his dreamy detective narration. As he sees it, humans are innately violent beings, as eagar to destroy as we are to survive. Even AI citizens like faithful Poe are fascinated by the human capacity to attack. Kovacs is speaking in vagaries that I can only assume will lead to an overarching plot through the season, but it is accompanied by the image that opens and closes the episode: a porcelain-skinned woman, dead and seemingly dumped in a pastoral lake.

So far, I'm intrigued. Though it sometimes slips from Raymond Chandler style plotting to Frank Miller's more adolescent impulses as a pulp writer, it's a brand of self-serious fun that sci-fi rarely gets anymore. It's like a sleazy dime novel from the '30s if it were written by William Gibson.

Rating: B+


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