Altered Carbon: TV’s Newest Hard-Edged Sci-Fi Tale

Altered Carbon is the latest example that we are living during the Golden Age of sci-fi television shows. It premiered last month on Netflix. but was mostly dismissed by mainstream critics who probably only sample one or two episodes before rendering their verdicts. However, Altered Carbon, much like its characters, is much more than it seems.

Both Kovacs Altered Carbon

Based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel, Altered Carbon takes place hundreds of years in the future where humanity has essentially become immortal. This was accomplished with the introduction of alien technology that allowed human consciousness to be downloaded into “stacks”, devices that are implanted on the base of one’s neck. Everytime a body is near death, the stack transfers the consciousness into another body, called sleeves, with its own stack. This has a profound effect on humanity as people live hundreds of years and casually transfer onto new bodies as swiftly as we change our clothing. But this has not created a paradise. Constantly switching to new sleeves has a profound affect on the mind, soul and even society itself. This process has created a class of super-rich hedonists called meths who consider themselves to be above humankind and its morals.

The show focuses on Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnamen and Will Yun Lee), a revolutionary soldier who was captured and placed into a new sleeve hundreds of years later. This new sleeve was activated by Lauren Bancroft (James Purefoy), one of the wealthiest men in the known universe, to solve his own murder. That is the recent murder of one of Bancroft’s previous sleeves. Kovacs was activated because of his reputation as an Envoy, a rebellious group that wanted to end the use of stacks. Envoys are renowned for their tough mental resilience and discipline. which is what Bancroft needs to solve his murder.

 Kovacs grudgingly accepts Bancroft’s offer of indentured servitude in exchange for his freedom. During his investigations, Kovacs travels the seedy underworld of Bay City and the decadent and hedonistic lifestyles of the mega rich, while meeting an interesting cast of characters. There is Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), a working-class police detective with an unusual interest in Kovacs, and Edgar Poe (Chris Conner), an AI manifested as a holographic hotel manager. The show also features extensive flashbacks of Takeshi Kovacs’ previous life with people important to him, such as his sister Reileen (Dichen Lachman) and Envoy leader Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry).

Due to the nature of his job, Kovacs runs into a lot of trouble, from criminal elements out to settle scores to sadistic hitmen to unsavory VR experiences. Luckily his honed skills as an Envoy allows Takeshi Kovacs to endure his ordeals. As he tries to solve the murder, Kovacs also has to grapple with his lost, previous life and finding his way in the new life.

altered carbon cityscape

Altered Carbon is entrancing, exciting and quite gripping at times thanks to its stylistic and noirish, cyberpunk elements that are similar to Blade Runner and intensely violent scenes that are reminiscent of John Wick or The Raid. Each shot is captivating with rich cinematography, not to mention special effects and production design that completely sell the notion this story takes place in the distant future.

Unlike other current TV shows, while Altered Carbon can be binged watched but is not dependent on this. Most episodes seem more self-contained while servicing the main plot of the Lauren Bancroft murder case. It is something of a relief since it allows the episodes to be enjoyed individually. However, its plots can be quite dense, though in a good way, with its usage of unusual words, exposition, and plot twists that may confuse casual viewers and calls for more focused viewing.

A word of caution is warranted, Altered Carbon is extremely violent and has graphic nudity. If this was a film it would be a hard R, so it is not for the more squeamish viewer.

Getting past its grimy nature and lurid violence, it is clear that the intense scenes underline the show’s theme: that humanity is not ready for immortality. By using stacks, most of humanity takes life and their bodies for granted as seen with the way many are too quick to jump into new sleeves after injuries or to take on new identities.  In essence, they have become desensitized to violence and by being so cavalier about the sanctity of the physical body these people are losing their humanity.

Altered Carbon is a stylistic, hard-edged sci-fi yarn that engrosses you with eye-popping visuals, intense fight scenes, and captivating and tortured characters. But more than that, Altered Carbon does what a a true sci-fi tale sets out to do: to extrapolate where humanity may go.

José Soto




Star Wars Rebels Has A Fitting Farewell


Star Wars Rebels has now finished its run and has seemingly tied up the loose ends fans were wondering about when these new characters were introduced during the series’ beginning. Specifically Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus, and his apprentice Ezra Bridger. In the case of Kanan, his story concluded in the episode “Jedi Night” where he sacrifices himself to save his friends and destroy an imperial installation. The antepenultimate episode “A World Between Worlds” truly embraced Star Wars’ mystical side with seemingly magical wolves on Lothal aiding our heroes. Plus, Ezra transported to a nexus in time and space by using a Jedi temple mural and rescued Ahsoka Tano from her supposed end while fighting Darth Vader in the season 2 finale “Twilight of the Apprentice”.

All of this sets up the final episode “Family Reunion and Farewell”, where the remaining heroes launch a final plan to free the planet Lothal from the clutches of the Galactic Empire. Ezra Bridger faces his fears and feelings for his lost parents and withstands a final temptation by Emperor Palpatine. Ezra is also able to help his friends free his homeworld, kidnap Grand Admiral Thrawn and disappear with him into parts unknown by using interstellar space whales that can travel in hyperspace. Yes, you read that right. The epilogue is very interesting in that it shows the other characters fans have come to know and love surviving the Galactic Civil War. General Hera Syndulla had Kanan’s child and took part in the Battle of Endor, as did Zeb Orellios, Rex and Sabine Wren. Sabine herself states in the episode’s final moments that Ezra is still alive and out there somewhere, and along with Ahsoka, they both set out to look for him.

Thus concludes Dave Filoni’s companion piece to his earlier show Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The fact that he was in charge of Star Wars Rebels helped to maintain a sense of continuity between the shows, with several characters from the first show appearing in  Star Wars Rebels, especially clone trooper Rex, the pirate Hondo,  and Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan Ashoka Tano. Similar to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the quality of Star Wars Rebels increased as the series went on.

The very beginning had Ezra Bridger with a slingshot, which seemed silly and stoked fears that Rebels was just going to be just a dumbed down kids show about Star Wars, but he matured as the show went on and the relationships between the crew of the Ghost developed quite nicely, as well as their trials and tribulations as a small band of partisans trying to do good in the galaxy. “Family Reunion and Farewell” showed quite well how our heroes’ struggle against the Empire finally ended with freedom for their homeworld. Also, the Rebellion finally took a stand against the Empire, and the fight for freedom truly starting to take shape.

The show added quite a lot to the lore of Star Wars by showing the origins of such varied things like the B-Wing fighter, Mon Mothma and Senator Bail Organa organizing the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance, Princess Leia and Lando Calrissian in early adventures with the show’s characters, bringing fan favorite Grand Admiral Thrawn out of the Heir To The Empire books, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul having a final confrontation on Tatooine. It also gave something of a conclusion to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, (something the show was denied when it was canceled by Disney) by having Ahsoka’s fate revealed and with her confrontation with  her former master.

Star Wars rebels mural

 The two shows are linked in this way obviously due to the involvement of Filoni who oversaw both series and is now in charge of overseeing all of the Lucasfilm animation projects. This bodes well for the future of Star Wars shows, since he was able to maintain a high-quality storytelling throughout the run of both Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars and hopefully will be able to continue this when the next eventual animated show comes along. I have a feeling that this next series will take place between the original and sequel trilogies and bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. A clue indicating this is that Lucasfilm has trademarked the title Star Wars Resistance. I trust that Filoni will be able to bring new and interesting ideas to the new era of Star Wars; something that is needed. But regardless, the legacy of Star Wars Rebels has been set with its emphasis on a crew who became a family, struggling and fighting against seemingly impossible odds and finally overcoming everything and helping to defeat the imperial juggernaut. Not bad for a kids show on Disney XD.

C.S. Link

Star Trek: Discovery – A First Season Review

Ordinarily, when reviewing TV shows, I would watch 4 to 6 episodes to get a good feel for the program. With Star Trek: Discovery, I decided to wait until it concluded its first season before doing a review because I honestly could not decide how I felt about it. This latest Star Trek spinoff has been the most difficult to form an opinion about. It has many commendable features, yet there are so many aspects about it that misfires so badly, that we have to wonder if the creators behind this spinoff understand Star Trek at all. Major spoilers will follow.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the 2250s, which makes it a prequel to the original Star Trek. Then again it does not feel like a prequel but more like a remake. Naturally, it does not recreate the mood and production of the original because it would have been laughed off and this is part of the reason why it is so controversial with fans. Overall, this show has to be accepted as a remake rather than a reboot because there are many attempts to stick to canon and some elements established in the original Prime timeline, such as numerous Easter eggs, references and sound effects. On the other hand, they’re not always consistent with sticking to canon, which can be irritating. But once you put aside these feelings about this latest Star Trek spinoff, it becomes easier to watch.

Star Trek: Discovery is updated to today’s standards in terms of special effects, set design and writing. The entire show is beautifully executed and each episode feels more like a feature-length film than a TV show. While this is welcome, at times the creators went too far in reimagining Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic universe. A case in point is the unnecessary re-do of the Klingons, the show’s main enemy race. The poor actors portraying the Klingons seem to be drowning under all the heavy makeup and wardrobe and we have to wonder why the showrunners thought this was an improvement over the perfected Klingon look seen in the other spinoffs and films. Be that as it may, the subtle updating of other alien races like the Andorians and the Tellarites are executed well.

The Star Trek spinoff follows the story of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a former first officer who mutinied against her captain and was jailed. Her actions helped spark a war between the Klingons and the United Federation of Planets and most of the first season is devoted to this storyline and her redemption. Burnham is freed by the captain of the U.S.S. Discovery, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and enlists her to his crew for some ulterior motive. He assigns her to aid the ship’s science officer Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and find a way to utilize an experimental spore drive being tested on the Discovery to win the war against the Klingons. Eventually this results in Stamets using himself as a conduit for the spore drive, which allows the ship to instantaneously travel anywhere.Even though Burnham is the main protagonist, Lorca has emerged as the most fascinating character thanks in part to Isaacs’ exemplary acting and the way he is written. Lorca was introduced as a mysterious, and unusually brutal commander who was obsessed with winning the war. He was not above tossing aside ethics to get the job done, and pushing people beyond their limit, yet he was a capable commander. But in the second half of the season, the Discovery wound up in the Mirror Universe where humans are evil and it was revealed that Lorca himself came from this reality. This confirmed many suspicions that fans had but in the end, this development was a disservice to Lorca who became a moustache-twirling villain and unremarkable. Hopefully, some way can be found to return some version of Lorca in the second season.Therein lies the fault and strength of Star Trek: Discovery and this is typical of its conflicting nature. Some characters are compelling and well developed like First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and fastidious alien, Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), a bubbly young cadet, and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), a Starfleet officer who is actually a Klingon that was surgically altered into a human in order to infiltrate Starfleet. While others are interesting background bridge crewmembers  that  the show largely ignores. I’m not even sure what their names are, I just know them as the cyborg lady, or the woman with the metal implant on her skull. They barely have any dialogue and are begging to be examined more closely.

The stories themselves are also just as uneven. Some episodes are genuine classics and belong up there with the great Star Trek episodes. These include “The Wolf Inside”, “Despite Yourself” (two fantastic Mirror Universe tales), “Lethe”, “Choose Your Pain”, and “Into the Forest I Go”. As great as those were, Star Trek: Discovery is also weighed down with some downright clunkers that are poorly plotted and clumsily executed. One example is the first episode that aired for free on CBS, “The Vulcan Hello”, which needed to be great to entice people to subscribe to the CBS All Access app that streamed the rest of the episodes. Unfortunately, the season also ended on a less-than-thrilling note with a two-episode storyline that ended the war too quickly and unsatisfactory. However, the final shot of the last episode “Will You Take My Hand?” brought a thrill when a sparkling and graceful Enterprise appeared on the screen.Despite these faults, I have to admit that I genuinely enjoy Star Trek: Discovery. As far as first season Star Trek shows go, this is the best one since the original Star Trek. Unlike some other Star Trek spinoffs that first started out, this show is rarely dull and takes some genuine risks, even if they do not pay off. Of course, the criticism is valid that unlike its predecessors there isn’t any exploring done. This is something that is a vital essence of Star Trek, but it does push the envelope, chiefly with its characters and focus. The captain is not the main hero but a broken and disgraced former officer. Many of the characters are out to prove themselves and most of them do, which is why they are so easy to watch and root for.Another thing to note is that putting aside all the action and eye-popping visuals (seeing the Discovery spin its saucer while it goes into spore drive never gets dull), certain elemental truths about Star Trek are still there. We just have to recognize them: accepting diversity, seeking diplomatic solutions, and bettering yourself. As Alexander Courage’s iconic theme played during the end credits of the season finale, I found myself eagerly waiting to see more from Star Trek: Discovery, and for that reason the show is a success.

José Soto




The Cloverfield Conundrum

A lot of the buzz generated from the Super Bowl centered on the Netflix premiere of The Cloverfield Paradox. It was anticipated by many fans of the Cloverfield movies since it promised that it would explain the first Cloverfield film. Well, the film left many people confused as to what it all meant. Sure, it was the weakest of the Cloverfield films, but it explained how the three films are connected, though it was done clumsily. Ahead of this will be major spoilers for all three Cloverfield films.

The Cloverfield saga started ten years ago with the release of the first film, which at the time before its release was kept in secrecy. A bunch of clues about the film’s content was teased and after the film came out, many obsessed over the origin of the giant Cloverfield monster that wrecked New York City. As time passed and no sequels appeared, interest died off until a couple of years ago when the film 10 Cloverfield Lane was suddenly released. Originally, the dark, atmospheric thriller did not have any connection to the first film until vague Easter eggs were added. But the sci-fi angle confused fans. The giant kaiju from the first film never appeared, instead the world was threatened by invading aliens.

The Cloverfield Paradox (originally called God Particle) offered an explanation as to what caused these events. As viewers know, The Cloverfield Paradox takes place in a space station that uses a Hadron Collider to solve the world’s energy problems in the near future. This transports the station  into an alternate reality where World War III breaks out on Earth and the crewmembers spend the film figuring this out and trying to find a way back to their own dimension. When the surviving crew returns to their own reality the big reveal at the end is that their world is under attack by a super giant Cloverfield monster.

Many viewers were perplexed. The film takes place in the near future, so how come no one remembered the first Cloverfield film or the alien invasion from the second film? The answer is simple, the experiment on the space station ripped open the barriers between dimensions that affected the past (Cloverfield in 2008), present (10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016 for our present, more or less) and future (The Cloverfield Paradox or the third film’s present). This was foreshadowed early in the film by a conspiracy writer that this event would occur and the world would be invaded by monsters, aliens and demons. Note that the fourth upcoming Cloverfield film, called for now Overlord, takes place in World War II and deals with Nazis and the supernatural, so that writer’s claims about demons and the past being affected could be applied there. Who knows, maybe we’re next?

The Cloverfield Paradox has many problems, not just that the Cloverfield connections were obviously inserted into the film. But at least there’s an explanation for the bizarre sci-fi events in the film anthology.

Waldermann Rivera


Sorry Folks, No X-Men Or FF In The MCU For A While


Many of us were disappointed when we learned last week that there are not any immediate plans to integrate the X-Men or the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In an interview with Vulture, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige stated that it is too soon to stick the newly acquired properties into the MCU and that Marvel Studios is busy with their current slate of heroes.

As disappointing as that is, it should not come as a surprise. First of all, despite all the news in December 2017 about Disney buying most of 21st Century Fox’s intellectual assets, it is not a done deal yet. It will take at least a year for the deal to be finalized and approved by the government and, of course, there can be roadblocks, which would disrupt immediate plans for the Marvel mutants and the First Family of comic books. Coming right out and making that statement was the safest thing for Feige to admit. The statement is a good way of letting fans know to not get their hopes up that the X-Men or the Fantastic Four will somehow turn up in the next two Avengers films.

To shoehorn these new characters into carefully planned films and TV shows would be too disruptive and ruin the narrative flow. They have to be naturally introduced into the MCU because that universe is not set up for mutants and their baggage, although it will be easier with the Fantastic Four. The X-Men property is built on the premise that mutants are widely feared and disliked by normal humans. This would not gel with the MCU where for the most part, superhumans are better received. In the comic books, although both mutants and superheroes co-exist, the way they are treated does not make sense. If normal people distrust mutants because of their powers, shouldn’t they feel the same way about superheroes? Comic book events like Civil War addressed this but the dichotomy still exists. Besides the entire humans-fearing-superhumans motif has been addressed in the MCU with Inhumans as seen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans. Last we heard both TV shows are nominally part of the MCU.

Look at the bright side, the time being given to integrate the properties allows Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to have some breathing room. They can take their time to figure out how to integrate mutants and the Fantastic Four and just as important, who to cast in the roles. Despite what some may hope, it is likely that Marvel Studios will recast the iconic roles. This is a great opportunity for the Fantastic Four who’ve had terrible casting in the Fox films, but for the X-Men this can be traumatic for fans. Also, after the slated Fox X-Men films and TV shows run their course, it would be a good idea to give the properties a decent rest so when they make their comeback, the level of interest will be intense.

All we need is some patience and hope that at the very least some cryptic references about the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can be made in next year’s MCU films and beyond.

Lewis T. Grove