This story contains spoilers for Season 1 of Altered Carbon.
Netflix’s audacious new cyberpunk sci-fi series, Altered Carbon, is a lot of fun. Set in a futuristic San Francisco (renamed "Bay City") where buildings float in the sky and the human spine is a giant USB port, it’s full of edgy tech, schlocky violence, and coded terminology that all contribute to its pulpy, hard-boiled feel. The show delivers exposition in nuggets, like breadcrumb trails to the next revelation. It works, for the most part, but with a plot so rich in detail, world-building, and lore, the conclusion hits like a freight train.
In the universe of Altered Carbon, human consciousness can be downloaded into something called a "stack," or a small disc that goes into the spinal chord. The development of stacks mean that humans can exist outside of their original bodies, now known as "sleeves." Humans are still born organically, but are able to transfer their stacks into new sleeves, essentially achieving immortality. As long as the stack isn’t damaged, no one ever dies. But because Altered Carbon is a smart show -- based on a smart novel by Richard K. Morgan -- there are limitations to this tech based on social status and ethical autonomy. Wealthy folks, known as "Meths," can afford to clone their original bodies so that their stacks are always in familiar casing. But lower-class citizens must make do with the stack they can afford, sometimes a different race, gender, or age. In one horrifying moment, a mother and father are reunited with their 7-year-old daughter, who is now in the body of an elderly woman -- the only available sleeve that their insurance covers. Some groups, like Catholics, opt out of "re-sleeving" altogether, believing it immoral.