Altered Carbon crashed onto the scene in 2018 with a great debut season that effortlessly set up a futuristic cyberpunk world filled with compelling characters and an engaging story that held up for the majority of its ten-episode run. Now, over two years later, the series returns with new characters, old characters and plenty of new faces.
Season two picks up with another thrilling mystery, set 30 years after the events of the first season, where Takeshi Kovacs, now played by Anthony Mackie, is searching for his lost love Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry) and finds himself on his home planet of Harlan’s World, where the promise of locating Quell looms large. It doesn’t take long for this season’s narrative to kick off, after some brief and cleverly integrated catch-ups in the first episode, Takeshi’s journey is set into motion. What exactly is happening may not be clear yet, but the story continues to develop at a rapid pace, covering a lot of ground in each of the eight episodes. Contrary to the last season, which ran at a much slower pace and was more of an investigative noir crime series, this is much more of a thriller, adopting a quicker pace and what felt like more stakes this time around for the main characters.
The consistency of this season is what sets it apart from the last. Where the story lost its focus going into the last few episodes of season one, this story keeps things fresh with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. The mystery unfolds gradually through the season, so it always feels like you’re making progress towards a final climax, and the regular revelations in the story aren’t predictable at all, making the binge even more exciting. The climax of the season pays off all of the setup in the episodes prior incredibly well, tying together everyone’s individual journeys in a way that makes everyone’s story meaningful to the main plot. The way individual stories are told through the season is great; they’re centred around a single character but tied into the main narrative, resulting in the events of one narrative affecting the bigger picture and creating more investment in the smaller stories.
The story isn’t the only element of the series that is drastically improved. In the first season, Takeshi Kovacs was portrayed by Joel Kinnaman who delivered a very stoic and brooding performance that didn’t show too much emotion. The character and his backstory was still interesting, but there was a little bit of emptiness felt with not having the lead giving off that much emotion. That’s completely altered here in this season with Anthony Mackie picking up the role of Takeshi Kovacs and bringing a little more charisma to the role, presenting him with more of an approachable and animated personality whilst still coming across as a brutal warrior. His performance allows for more entertaining interactions with some of the supporting cast as he can subtly match some of their snark and comedic touches.
The dynamic between Takeshi and Poe (Chris Connor) is much stronger this season, with their relationship having already been fleshed out it means there’s more time for them to go back and forth with their banter. That’s just one of the supporting cast highlights as there are many. Renée Elise Goldberry makes her return as Quellcrist and I have to say, where I thought she was one of the most compelling characters of the first season, she’s all the more compelling in this season and my favourite character in here other than Mackie’s Takeshi Kovacs. Simone Missick makes her debut this season as Trepp, a character who has a number of great scenes with Takeshi, but who also has an engaging journey of her own, one with plenty of heart that Simone conveys really well.
The action is one of the biggest draws of this series and it does not disappoint this time around. There are shades of John Wick in how the series delivers thrilling action sequences that all feel different from one another. Some involving heart-pounding hand-to-hand combat, some focusing on gun combat, and some incorporating a blend of both to create some riveting action sequences. The action is remarkable, but the setting in this spectacular cyberpunk world is what sets it apart. It’s very Blade Runner-esque in its appearance, but it stands on its own with how well the political structure and social customs are depicted and explored. It really makes you feel like this is a living world that is thriving around these main characters. That outside of what our lead characters are going through, there’s a tonne of things going on around them we never see. It’s this world building that brings much more character and individuality to the series.
In the end, season two of Altered Carbon manages to build on the first season in almost every way and deliver a thrilling story that keeps you coming back for more after each and every episode. The twists and turns in the story are fantastic, bringing together a strong narrative that wasn’t predictable in the slightest. The introduction of Anthony Mackie in the titular role makes the character of Takeshi Kovacs more entertaining and fulfilling to follow than what Joel Kinnaman bought previously. This is a must watch for fans of the first season, or fans of sci-fi thrillers in general, thanks to a riveting story, great characters and engaging relationships that keep your eyes locked on the screen right through to the end.