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Miscellaneous Thoughts on Altered Carbon

 Spoilers for the whole show; discussion under the cut.

TL:DR It is messy and interesting.

Confession: I was unethusiastic when we started watching Altered Carbon because it was so  unrelentingly male gaze-y. Boobies, everywhere! Sigh. But the story itself was interesting, and gradually I got into it more for analysis than anything else (which isn't unusual for me, but there you  go). Also, I pretended the whole thing was a sequel to Dollhouse because of the theme on the technological separation of bodies and minds, and because Dichen Lachman and Tahmoh Penikett are both in it. Altered Carbon is based on a series of books from the early 2000s, so it predates Dollhouse, which has made me wonder if it was an influence. (A friend had a low opinion of the books, but I've gone ahead and requested the first from the library, and I am like #41 on the waiting list because popular culture is popular.)

The thing that bothered me at first is that it starts by putting the mind of a Japanese man into the body of a white man, because apparently Ghost in the Shell did not call and say "this is a bad idea." Eventually we spend more time via flashback with the Original Body, and it concludes with the removal/ return of the white body to its rightful mind; the white actor has also said he doesn't expect to return to the series as the story is expected to continue in other bodies, or "sleeves." In this world, we learn, people treat bodies very different, and specifically as commodities: you can "upgrade" to a "better sleeve" ie one that is younger, more attractive, whatever. On the flipside, an accepted part of sex/entertainment work is for bodies to be injured and killed. Late Capitalism is late, yo.

This does have some interesting implications that weren't explored. There's a subplot about a former marine and his family, and for reasons his wife is "put on ice" ie her body in storage and her mind in a new sleeve, that of a white man. It's no big; there's a lovely scene of the couple, a black man and now a white man holding hands tenderly in a restaurant as they talk. As I wrote once in an essay on Star Trek, "everyone's bi in the future." But this aspect is totally ignored, and all the romances are hetero and all the sex is hetero with a little performative lesbianism sprinkled on top. I also checked and the head showrunner/writer is a woman, which surprised me. Maybe they didn't let her do anything differently? But oy.

Another issue is that in the future, you're either super rich or not, and if not you can be a cop, a soldier, a drugdealer, a minion, or a prostitute. And like, on the one hand it's nice to not have sex work being treated as inherently criminal and immoral, on the other hand, it would have been nice to have more than one woman character not getting literally fucked over by the system.

Related, there are exactly five women main-ish characters in this show: The Cop Strong Female Character (TM), the Freedom Fighter Strong Female Character (TM), the Rich Man's Wife, Protagonist's Sister/Villain, and Murdered Sex Worker Who Becomes A Strong Female Character (TM). Also, male protagonist fucks three of these within the first half of the season. (There are a couple of smaller roles for other women, like Cop's Mom, the Mom Who Is Played By a Guy, a Minion, and so on, but you get the idea.)

But anyway, are we to intimate from this that the future is pseudo-feudalism? That there is no real class, just the laborers and the owners, basically? I wish they could have covered ANYTHING about this, but I guess Marxism With Titties just floated no one's boat.

Anyway, the show is a bunch of interesting ideas and I'll totally tune in the for next season. I just wish that if it was gonna be one of the most expensive shows ever made, more of that could have gone into the writing. I will say that the actors' performances were largely very solid, even if Dichen Lachman continues to be The Best Actress with the Most Limiting Roles Ever (Sigh), and the show would have been unwatchable without them. But...I can still wish it had been better.

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