Netflix series "Altered Carbon" season 2

Stacks & sleeves: Identity in the ‘Altered Carbon’ universe

Spoiler alert! This article contains some discussion of season one events! Please enjoy finishing up season one if you don’t want it to be spoiled!

Get hype! Altered Carbon is back! After a long two-year wait, season two will come to our screens on Friday, Feb. 27, and I could not be more excited. We have Anthony Mackie as Takeshi Kovacs. And we can even expect to see Quellcrist (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Takeshi’s original sleeve (Will Yun Lee), and our favorite hotel/host Poe (Chris Conner).

What to expect for season two

Anthony Mackie
Credit: Netflix

Based on the trailer Netflix released earlier this month and the summary for season two, we meet Takeshi Kovacs in his search for Quellcrist Falconer, his lost lover. While following leads back in his home planet Harlan’s World, Kovacs is fitted into a military-grade sleeve with superhuman augmentations. His sleeve comes with: rapid wound healing, enhanced reaction time, and something akin to a magnetic force that allows instant pick up and reload of weapons. In return, Kovacs must investigate a series of murders. Of course, these deaths are somehow connected to Quellcrist, opening a new series of questions of who she is, or maybe even, who is in her sleeve?

The power of stacks in the narrative

Whatever season two will bring, I’m sure the plot will captivate me. However, I think what I remain most fascinated by and interested in is the core technological premise of Altered Carbon — the stacks. They unlock the ability for human consciousness to be transferred between bodies.

Like most science-fiction work, Altered Carbon does not shy away from commentary on human nature. In this proposed future, the technology of stacks has dramatically changed the meaning of life for humankind. The universe presents a world where death has been redefined and bodies are commodities.

I’m most excited for additional episodes to further explore how the existence and utilization of stacks not only shapes the Altered Carbon universe but also encourages audience to ask questions about gender, race, class, religion, and mortality.

The conception of the stack opens incredibly opportunity across the board. In the fictional universe, stacks provide well-to-do characters eternal life, passing from sleeve to sleeve. In the world of TV production, stacks allow the flexibility to have a diverse cast and limitless options. And in the eyes of an audience, stacks give viewers the opportunity to think about what it means for our identities to be completely separated from our bodies — our skin, our gender, our age.

Stacks redefining cast diversity and representation

Will Yun Lee as Takeshi Kovacs
Will Yun Lee as Takeshi Kovacs / Credit: Netflix

Bodies are exchangeable in the Altered Carbon universe. And in the same way, actors portraying certain characters can also change without disrupting the story. We already see this happening in front of our eyes: Anthony Mackie will now be playing Takeshi Kovacs.

Anthony Mackie as Takeshi

Computer screen revealing Takeshi Kovacs' stack in a sleeve of Anthony Mackie
Takeshi Kovacs’ stack in Anthony Mackie sleeve / Credit: Netflix

I imagine this is exciting not only as an audience member to see how Mackie adopts Kovacs character. In season one, Joel Kinneman presented Kovacs with a very brooding, serious, and untalkative persona. Kinnamen certainly did a fantastic job as Kovacs. And not to mention Will Yun Lee’s excellent portrayal of a younger Kovacs in flashbacks. I’m excited to see how Mackie interprets Kovacs. And the fact that the protagonist can change every season is completely justified by the premise of the Altered Carbon universe! Outside of superhero franchises, I’m not sure how many other stories allow showrunners to change acting cast without changing the story or characters. This feature certainly makes Altered Carbon unique.

Sleeves past Season 2?

If the show is to continue for more seasons, I expect a different person to portray Kovacs with every iteration. The possibility to see one character played by many different actors not only directly questions diversity-limiting casting, but also allows a protagonist to be played by many different people without repercussion of losing the franchise. In Altered Carbon, there is absolutely no excuse to not have a diverse cast. And fortunately so far, this show does not sit back on that opportunity.

Stacks contribute to the discussion of identity

Within the Altered Carbon universe, we do not know who a person is solely by their appearance. That sleeve can be in use by anyone for those with the means to own the sleeve. And in the show, we see sleeves utilized for both innocuous and malicious reasons.

See beyond appearance

In season one, Detective Kristen Ortega made use of a sleeve to “revive” her grandmother for Día de Muertos… Well, technically Día de Los Muertes in the show — Day of the Deaths as opposed to Day of the Dead. The sleeve this time around is one of a white, tattooed male body. And while amusing to see Ortega’s family members react to seeing their lita’s personality in a very contrastingly appearing body, it asks us why we find this funny. This scene is comedic because of the difference between what we expect stereotypically and what we perceive on screen.

The universe establishes the grounds that we cannot able to trust our perception of a person based on how they look. This challenges audience minds to see beyond appearance. Additionally, it sends a powerful message in telling stories about identity: We cannot and should not presume anything about anyone based on how we perceive them. We can extend this to what we know is true in our current lives: Expression is separate from both gender identity and sexuality. Race is not equivalent to ethnicity.

But…

This isn’t to say that everything Altered Carbon is doing is revolutionary and that the overall premise of the show is only progressive. The message that everyone can be anyone tastes similar to “blind to race” or “all lives matter” statements, directly erasing the truth and story of disparity and oppression. I hope for bluntness on the show’s part in addressing this, and I remain optimistic about the direction of the show.

There’s more to explore!

What’s incredibly promising is that the Altered Carbon showrunners recognize the power and the opportunity of stacks and sleeves in telling a story about fluidity of gender, sexuality, and identity. In an interview with TheWrap before season two was renewed, former head showrunner Laeta Kalogridis speaks to potentially exploring this, if Netflix renews Altered Carbon for another run. Now that the second season is upon us, I await to see how much will be done.

Conclusion

With this, I’m incredibly excited for what season two has in store for us — both in plot and what further discussion stacks facilitate. Altered Carbon season two will definitely be a fun and engaging watch no matter what, so definitely put it on your watch list!

(And don’t even get me started on Altered Carbon: Resleeved, the upcoming anime adaptation of Altered Carbon that will premiere on March 19! You know I’ll be yelling about it.)

Tag us in your thoughts on Altered Carbon! You can find us @geekgalsco. Or let us know in the comments!

You can read more of Catherine’s articles here.

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Featured image credit: Netflix

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