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Top image: Will Yun Lee as Takeshi Kovacs. Bottom image: Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs

"The danger of living too many times... you forget to fear death."
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Altered Carbon is a television series produced by Netflix based on the Cyberpunk trilogy of the same name by British writer Richard K. Morgan. It stars Joel Kinnaman, Will Yun Lee, Anthony Mackie, Martha Higareda, Kristin Lehman, Dichen Lachman, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and James Purefoy. The first 10-episode season debuted in 2018, and a second season has been ordered.

The series is set more than 300 years in the future on an Earth where peoples' consciousnesses are stored on cortical stacks implanted at the base of their skulls, so that if someone dies, they can be transplanted into a new body. The story follows Envoy Takeshi Kovacs after he is brought out of digitized storage (used as punishment for crimes) to work as a private detective for a super-wealthy 'Meth' (from 'Methuselah'), someone rich and powerful enough to afford to live for several lifetimes. The Meth, Laurens Bancroft, has recently returned from the dead (thanks to a personality backup) after an apparent suicide, but maintains that he would never kill himself. Due to the backup schedule, he is missing the 48 hours prior to his death. He hires Kovacs to find out who killed him and why.

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Due to Adaptation Distillation, beware of some spoilers for the books below.

See here for a recap page.


The show provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • The Bancroft family children are kept financially dependent on their father's money and if he ever dies, none of them will receive anything. He also treats them with open contempt as well as verbally abuses them. At one point, it seems like he's going to assault one with a weapon. He actually destroys his stackless clone his son made.
    • Takeshi and Rei's father, who physically abused their mother until he eventually beat her to death, and was heavily implied to do the same thing to Takeshi and Rei.
  • Actor Swap: A given, considering the scenario spanning a long time and involving body-swapping technology. Takeshi Kovacs alone is played by five actors. In chronological order:
    • Childhood Takeshi is played by Morgan Gao.
    • Takeshi at Stronghold is played by Will Yun Lee.
    • Takeshi when he's being caught by Jaeger is played by Byron Mann. A clone of this sleeve turns up in the present as well.
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    • Present day Takeshi is played by Joel Kinnaman. As he returns the sleeve to Ryker at the end of season one, Takeshi is played by Anthony Mackie in Season 2.
    • And while he's in virtual reality, he briefly impersonates Captain Tanaka, played by Hiro Kanagawa.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The Dénouement is different.
    • In the book, neither of the Bancrofts face legal consequences for their actions. Laurens Bancroft is considerably less unpleasant in the novel, and since he doesn't indulge in violence against women or anyone else as a general matter, everyone believes the whole thing was Kawahara's responsibility. There's a UN hearing about it, but they come to the conclusion that Kawahara must have drugged him aboard Head In The Clouds. Laurens ends up feeling bad about his role in events, but that's about it. Miriam gets away entirely because Kovacs agrees to cover up for her.
    • In the series, Ortega puts Laurens Bancroft away for a Real Death, an Organic Damage — the case that got Ryker put on storage — and his part of the conspiracy to falsify Neo-Catholic coding and suppress Neo-Catholic testimonies. Miriam goes down as well for the murder of Elizabeth Elliot's unborn child and for her part in drugging Laurence into committing the murders.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade:
    • Takeshi gains a dislike of re-sleeving as well as a case of Who Wants to Live Forever?, whereas his book counterpart has no angst over living forever and is specially conditioned to adapt to resleeving. Also, the written Kovacs figures that working for Bancroft is better than storage, and accordingly doesn't agonize over whether to take the job.
    • Detective Ortega doesn't have a family pressuring her to become Neo-Catholic and against re-sleeving in the book. Obviously this means they don't get Stuffed into the Fridge by the Ghostwalker, either.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Ortega's portrayal by Martha Higareda means her blonde hair and blue eyes are now brown and brown, respectively. No one's complaining.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Takeshi Kovacs is a bit more carefree about being a Sociopathic Hero. He's a former criminal as well as Envoy who only vaguely liked Quellist ideals. Here, he's former Quellist revolutionary who only left the service of the U.N because he met his sister. Zig-zagged with the fact one of his major Pet the Dog actions in the book has a far more cynical motivation rescuing the loved one of Vernon Elliot by getting her a new body in the show as he's attempting to make him a local guide as well as ally.
    • The Envoys in general, in the books they are elite UN Protectorate commandos/puppet state-builders, in this they were Quellists.
    • Reileen Kawahara is a much deeper, more Tragic Villain than the vicious, depraved sadistic crimelord in the novel.
    • Laurens Bancroft is both this and Villainy; he is far less sadistic in the book, while in the series he shamefully submits to arrest when he discovers his crimes, and even remorsefully admits that his lifestyle has "ruined" his wife Miriam, whom he feels infinitely devoted to.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: Ryker. In both the book and the series, Ryker was convicted of corruption while investigating a conspiracy to falsify Neo-Catholic coding to silence witnesses of crimes. In the series, Takeshi and Ortega expose the conspiracy and clear his name. In the book, Ryker was completely wrong about the conspiracy — Neo-Catholic coding was never successfully falsified — the conspiracy was Reileen's snuff ring. The Cowboy Cop screwed up so badly the bad guys almost won due to his sloppiness!
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Every main character, but most notably those whose lives are most closely tied to cortical stack technology;
    • Ortega is changed from a atheist with a virulent hatred of Neo-Catholics — and an even more vitriolic hatred of those who victimize Neo-Catholics knowing their victims are unable to testify against them — to an agnostic with close ties to her Neo-Catholic family.
    • Quellcrist Falconer's revolutionary stance is changed from a poetic and technocratic Bomb Throwing Anarchist who believes immortality makes victory over the Methuselahs inevitable if the rebels are determined enough to a fanatical anti-immortalist who wants to sabotage every human being's cortical stack, believing all humans will inevitably become evil given enough time and a universal 100-year lifespan limit is the only way to break the Methuselahs' authority.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • In the book the hotel was called "The Hendrix" and its AI was patterned after Jimi. Here it's called "The Raven" and its AI is based on Edgar Allen Poe.
    • Irene Elliot is now Ava.
    • Anemone's real name went from Louise to Alice.
    • Jerry's Biocabins is renamed Jack It Off, and the virtual whorehouse Jack It Up is renamed Prick Up.
    • An aversion created something of a plot hole: Mito Kovacs has in intriguingly bi-ethnic name, just like Takeshi Kovacs. But "Reileen" is neither Japanese nor Russian, and seems strangely inconsistent with her brother's name.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Laurens Bancroft is a kinky old lech with a Madonna–Whore Complex in the books, but he's The Caligula in the show, engaging in "consensual" murder fantasies, gladiator battles, and treatment of his children as debt slaves. On the other hand, he's also far more remorseful when he realizes what that lifestyle has done to his family, whom he does love despite his shortcomings.
    • Miriam Bancroft in the novel beat a pregnant woman so badly in a fit of rage that she miscarried. In the show she takes it a step farther and beats the pregnant woman to death. She also deals with this action differently in both media; in the book, she ends up paying off the affected woman with a huge settlement that allows her to retire to a life of leisure. In the show, she has her victim put into virtual and tortured into insanity so she can't testify.
    • Bancroft's lawyer Oumou Prescott was a slick Amoral Attorney in the novel, but she was a consummate professional and never did anything actually against the law. In the show, she's willing to commit various illegal acts in Bancroft's service, and is an abrasive jerkass while she's at it.
    • Kovacs' sister, Mito, is morphed into Reileen Kawahara, the Big Bad of the first book.
  • Advert-Overloaded Future: Takeshi gets an adblocker in the first episode to avoid getting overwhelmed.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The AI hotels are very adept at running themselves and taking care of guests. Unfortunately they were never programmed to be able to handle guests leaving. While Poe cares for his guests, the members of the AI Management Union all seem to have a low opinion of humans.
  • Artificial Limbs: Available but apparently rarely used: if you can afford the limb, you can afford a new sleeve, so why bother? Ortega ends up with one.
  • Artificial Limbs Are Stronger: Ortega gets a deluxe-model arm with all the bells and whistles, which includes super-strength. She accidentally bends the railing of her hospital bed with it and uses it in a number of combat situations.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • The hotel from the book becomes The Lancer and Mission Control in the series. He does a great job at it too.
    • Vernon Elliot has a far more significant role taking over some of Trepp's duties as Kovacs' backup.
  • Augmented Reality: The city is absolutely drowning in highly intrusive advertisements, though at least there are means of blocking them.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Laurens Bancroft has serious issues with Miriam, putting her on a pedestal while virtual-killing prostitutes with her appearance, and hiring a married couple of gladiators to beat each other to death for Rule of Symbolism. At the same time Miriam sleeps around with any man who catches her eye, and jealously guards her position as the mother of Bancroft's children.
  • Bare-Handed Blade Block: Ortega can pull it off after receiving a synthetic arm.
  • Bilingual Bonus: All of the foreign language dialogue is subtitled and so doesn't really qualify for this trope, but untranslated foreign scripts occur throughout the city. For example, the "O" in the neon sign advertising Jack It Off is replaced with the Chinese character 玩, which means "to play with" or "to have fun."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kovacs manages to solve the mystery and earn his freedom, the Elliots manage to reunite, the Bancrofts are forced to pay for their crimes... but Kovacs had to RD his sister and he has to return Ryker's sleeve - which means Ortega and he won't be getting together.
  • Blood Sport: Since only destroying someone's stack can actually kill them, it is possible for people to participate in lethal blood sport as a profession. Bancroft even hires a husband and wife team who kill each other professionally.
  • Body Backup Drive:
    • Anyone with enough money can "resleeve" themselves into a new body, even after they die, provided their stack isn't destroyed.
    • Meths go the extra mile and have their minds regularly backed up by satellite so that any death, even one that destroys their stack, will at worst cost them a couple days of memories.
  • Bottomless Magazines: The Ingram-40 Fletchette Pistolonly has a 10 round magazine, but thanks to its ability to recall the rounds back into the weapon, it theoretically has infinite ammo.
  • Brain Uploading: Universal within the Protectorate. The implications are explored:
    • The rich upload themselves into cloned bodies around the world as a quick form of travel.
    • Some criminals upload themselves into multiple bodies to allow themselves to be in multiple places at once.
    • Bancroft has a fetish for "consensual death" in that he kills prostitutes, compensating them new and better sleeves.
    • It also means that killing a person is a valid method of subduing a person who is needed alive.
  • Canon Foreigner:
    • The show includes several new characters, including an AI named Poe who looks and acts like his namesake. This is actually an Suspiciously Similar Substitute for a Jimi Hendrix A.I. that might have been tied up in the Hendrix estates' rights.
    • Isaac Bancroft. In the book, the only one of the Brancrofts' children that was even named was the daughter who found Laurens' headless body, and she spends the whole story in psychosurgery.
    • Abboud is a Composite Character of several Bay City cops from the novel, although he gets more characterization and ends up being overall more important to the plot. He also dies backing up Ortega, which doesn't happen to his clearest book analogue Sergeant Bautista or any other BCPD officer.
    • Ghostwalker/Leung takes the place of Trepp in her role as Kawahara's enforcer, but he's a lethal Church Militant compared to her Lovable Rogue/Punch-Clock Villain personality and neither befriends Kovacs nor executes her plot-critical Heel–Face Turn.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Matt Frewer plays Carnage, a man in a synthetic sleeve that makes his face and hair look stiff and plastic, very much like Frewer's most famous role as the eponymous Max Headroom. To put a stamp on it, he deals in data stored on VHS cassette, the media featured in the show.
    "Practically pre-school and thus un-hackable, but apparently still whispered about in the data stream."
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • In the first episode, Ortega does one kind thing for Kovacs: places an ad blocker on him so he won't get assaulted by the holographic ads on the street. She also slips in a tracking device under the blocker when she implants it on the back of his neck so he can be tracked.
    • The Wei Clinic mentions a previous person who they serviced before Kovacs is Lizzie Elliot, whose mind they raped and broke to prevent her from being able to tell her story.
    • The 3D clone printer Bancroft's youngest son used to clone and fake being his father comes back so Kovacs can put through his plan to make Rei confess to her crimes.
    • The nanovirus used to destroy the Envoys at Stronghold gets used to kill one AI and then to infect Rei's backups.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Carnage, and by extension, his Fightdome establishment appear in the barrage of ads Kovacs endures before he gets them blocked.
    • Leung appears a few times standing in one location, observing things before seeming to vanish before his proper role is developed.
    • The Adorably Precocious Child at the museum, the woman with the snake at Bancroft's party and the dark-skinned man who hired Dimi to find Kovacs were sleeves used by Rei so she could keep an eye on him — and the girl is also used to get Ortega to let her guard down so Rei can take her.
  • Child Soldiers: An unusual variant - a prepubescent Kovacs had his mind put into an adult body to begin military training. It's unclear if this is true of all CTAC recruits, but Jaeger's sales pitch implies that it's pretty common.
  • City Noir: Lone detective. Dark city. Beautiful women. Poe lampshades the trope by noting that he's watched a lot of noir films to help out and puts on a stylish fedora to play the part.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: VR torture allows the bad guys to torture their victims over and over again in really twisted ways. There is no damage to the sleeves but the victims remember all the pain as if were real, and it's only a matter of time before they break and/or go insane. When Kovacs is tortured in VR, some of the things he is made to experience include being burned alive and having his limbs amputated. Only his Envoy training saves him.
  • Combat Pragmatist: An important part of Envoy combat doctrine is to "take what is offered," that is, to be constantly aware of your surroundings and look for ways to use them to your advantage.
  • Composite Character: In the books, "the Envoys" were a governmental Special Forces agency operating under the United Nations, under who Kovacs was trained and served before he later joined up with La Résistance, which was named "the Quellists" as the organisation was lead by Quellcrist Falconer. The series takes these two organisations and mashes them together, changing the Envoys to have been Quellcrist Falconer's rebel organisation all along instead. Another significant difference this creates is that in the books, the Envoys are still very much an active government agency of which Kovacs is merely an ex-member, but in the series the illegal organisation was stamped out by the authorities, making Kovacs the Last of His Kind.
  • Crapsack World: In keeping with the elaborate Cyberpunk setting and mostly defined by its extreme social stratification. There's a host of other problems, too, but the divide between the poor folks scraping by in dark, rainy, overcrowded megacities and the ultra-rich living out their inhuman hobbies in ultra-luxurious Starscrapers to stave off the boredom of immortality is easily the most visible one.
  • Create Your Own Hero: At the end of episode 1, Dimitri Kadmin decides to try to kill Kovacs instead of retrieving him, as he was instructed by Hemingway (Reileen's persona). Since actual hitmen show up to take care of him, Kovacs decides the case is worth his time, instead of just spending a night in debauchery before going back into incarceration for good. Kadmin practically kicks off the plot due to him letting his emotions get in the way of his better judgement.
  • Cyberpunk: As a noir story heavily featuring transhumanism and megacorps, the series is a solid example of the genre.
  • Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain: The grimy megacities that the lower classes live in are usually seen with overcast weather or pouring rain.
  • Dating Catwoman: Ortega hooks up with Kovacs. It helps that he got resleeved in the body of her storaged boyfriend.
  • Deader Than Dead: Destroying a person's stack that stores their mind makes it impossible for them to come back in a new body. There's a way around it through satellite upload, but it's so hideously expensive that only the ultra-wealthy could possibly afford it, and even then Kovacs finds a way around by uploading a stack virus.
  • Dead Partner:
    • Discussed when Poe asks to be Takeshi's partner, but notes how detectives' sidekicks tend to die in the stories.
    • Abboud is killed by the Ghostwalker.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Virginia Vidaura's demotion to extra dooms her to die with the rest of the Envoys in the Rawling attack.
    • Sarah suffers real death in the Millsport raid instead of merely being killed and put in Storage with Kovacs.
    • Poe's book counterpart, the AI of the Hendrix hotel, does not die.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Kovacs is occasionally met by his deceased mentor and former lover Quellcrist Falconer. As Kovac considers Real-Death suicide, a hallucination of Falconer gives him a Rousing Speech that inspires him to face his second chance at life and take the case.
  • Death Is Cheap: Since the mind is stored entirely in the stack and bodies can be swapped at will, only the destruction of the stack is actually considered murder. Simply killing a person's sleeve is a lesser crime known as "Organic Damage" or, more rarely, "Sleeve Death."
  • Discount Lesbians: Gender-flipped. Eliott's wife is resleeved in a male body. After the initial shock, they spend the rest of the time being as affectionate as any married couple. It's a heterosexual relationship that happens to involve two male bodies, thus delving into Transgender territory. She does eventually get her real body back.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: On a massive scale. Apparently a lot of Meths want to try murder. Fortunately the workers can be resleeved afterward. However, the Head in the Clouds keeps client privacy by secretly recoding the workers as Neo-Catholic so that they can never be revived.
  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Officer Kristin Ortega keeps following Takeshi Kovacs around town after his personality has been downloaded into a new body. He later discovers that this is because the body used to belong to her deceased boyfriend, Officer Elias Ryker. This was arranged by his client Laurens Bancroft to punish her for failing to solve his own murder. Kovacs later falls into bed with Ortega after an After-Action Patch-Up, though she acknowledges that he's not the same person.
    Ortega: I look into his eyes, but I see you staring back at me.
  • The Dreaded: The Envoys are viewed historically as this. Focused, disciplined and armed with almost steely will. Able to break out of VR torture. Manipulate those around them, create followers on the fly into determined and loyal packs. Armed with almost supernatural intuition and clarity of purpose they were on the verge of changing society on a galactic scale. Until betrayed by one of their own.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous:
    • Mary-Lou Henchy's body is seen several times half-naked floating in the ocean, and later completely nude in the morgue.
    • Averted when Anemone's naked corpse is seen at the Psychasec facility it's been surgically eviscerated for its organs.
    • Ortega kills about a dozen of Reileen Kawahara's naked sleeves, leaving them sprawled around the ground.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • An unusual example in the Dimi twins, who are brutal torturers and murderers but genuinely care for one another as brothers. However, they're actually copies of the same person, so there's some narcissism involved.
    • Reileen Kawahara also cares for her elder brother Kovacs, almost to Yandere levels.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Dimi the Twin seems in deep love with the sound of his own voice.
  • Exact Words:
    • A seven-year-old girl who died in a hit and run is entitled to have her stack put into a new, free body. The bodies of those who have been imprisoned are free, both in monetary terms and in that nobody's using them. Thus she ends up in the body of a current inmate, a sixty-year-old woman.
    • In the final episodes, Kovacs orders Poe to not let anyone into his room. When Vernon Elliot breaks down the door, Poe notes, he didn't let Mr. Elliot in.
  • Extreme Speculative Stratification: Society is broken up into two broad categories: grounders and Methuselahs.
    • Grounders are anybody who isn't filthy rich, and has a relatively mundane life. Though if they die without their stack being destroyed, they're put into storage until a replacement sleeve can be donated, bought, or rented. This comes with its own problems, since sleeves are expensive enough that few grounders can afford new ones, and cognitive fragmentation from being sleeved into too many different bodies is a real risk.
    • Methuselahs (or "Meths") are those who became rich enough that they can have cloned sleeves made from scratch and on demand without much trouble. While everybody is effectively immortal while their stack is intact, the Methuselahs are the only ones that can afford to live with a continuous presence in the world for centuries. Their continuous age and experience allows them to agglomerate huge fortunes, making them individually more wealthy than many nations, and live in splendor in personal skyscrapers that penetrate the cloud cover. Meths are almost considered to be a different class of people all on their own, due to age and wealth. The downside is that they're prone to boredom, and their money and influence is an effective shield from legal or moral consequences, so many of them tend to become arrogant monsters who indulge in their darkest fantasies as a pastime.
    • There's a thin middle ground of a low upper class comprised of those who work for the Methuselahs, whose skills and talent allow them a sort of patronage. Oumou Prescott is one of them, and she aspires to become a Meth herself.
  • Fanservice: Several scenes present some of the more attractive characters (both male and female) completely naked, including extended sex scenes of Kovacs with Miriam and Ortega. More in general, any situation where you'd expect people to be naked in real life will have them just as naked in the show, very often with no Scenery Censor at all. Given the many strippers, prostitutes and other women whose lifestyle doesn't typically involve a lot of modesty... well, just don't watch the show with anyone prudish, OK?
  • Fantastic Catholicism: Since Kovacs was put on ice, a new form of Christianity has arisen, called Neo-Catholicism, which emphasizes the evil of the Cortical Stack, and that those who die should stay dead. Their rallying point is a piece of legislation called 653, which would allow murder victims, regardless of religion, to be resleeved so they can testify against their murderers.
  • Fantastic Drug: The pink backpack Kovacs buys in the first episode contains most of the drugs featured in the books: stallion, tetrameth, merge-9, reefer...
  • The Federation: The Protectorate, a nominally democratic society that stretches across multiple worlds, governed by the United Nations.
  • Fish out of Water: Takeshi finds himself on a planet he never visited, 200+ years after his own time and is told to investigate a bizarre crime in a society he does not understand. However, Envoys were trained to be extremely observant and highly adaptable so he quickly picks up cultural cues and figures out how things really work. It also helps that society had not really evolved or advanced during his time on ice. Something that Quellcrist foresaw happening due to immortality on tap.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Poe mentions that he can't be a good detective partner because he's watched a lot of noir and knows that the partner always dies. Then at the end of Episode 5 Ortega's partner Abboud is killed by the Ghostwalker. In Episode 10, the Ghostwalker kills Poe as well.
    • The Adorably Precocious Child that pops up at the Envoy exhibit matter of factly sums up the motive of the villain when relating her own personal problems. This is because the girl is actually Reileen in disguise.
    • Bancroft mentioning that even he had limits he would not cross. Rei had him drugged in such a way that he would kill the first woman he had sex with, which he did at Head in the Clouds, brutally killing one girl (destroying her stack) and causing another to commit suicide, with the latter's stack recoded so she could not be resleeved. Bancroft chose to kill himself so he could forget about what he did.
  • Gender Bender: It can occur in this series if a person, willingly or not, is resleeved into the body of an opposite gender. Judging by the reactions, it's considered bad form to provide such sleeves, but ultimately acceptable as most people prefer "any body" to "no body".
    • Kovacs poses as a woman "cross-sleeved" in a male body to talk to a prostitute.
    • Ortega rents a male criminal's body for her grandma on Dia de Muertos. The grandma has a lot of fun in this body and doesn't mind at all being a towering white man. She even asks to use some drugs Ortega might have in evidence because she never used them before and doesn't care about harm to this body.
    • Kovacs also brings Elliot's wife Ava back in a male body. The woman-now-man and her husband take only a short time adapting to this situation and have no problem being affectionate or loving to each other in public.
  • Genius Loci: AIs that control establishments like Poe in the hotel are the establishments themselves. Within their walls, they are near omniscient and omnipresent.
  • Guys Smash, Girls Shoot: Inverted. Kovacs can smash if he has to, but seems to prefer guns. Conversely, Rei can shoot if she has to, but will use a sword if at all possible. Ortega also get pretty smash-happy after she gets her cybernetic arm.
  • Helpful Hallucination: Kovacs regularly hallucinates the appearance of Quellcrist, but they're both quite aware that she's a figment of his psyche. She sometimes provides commentary relating to envoy techniques of construct hacking or social engineering.
  • Hate Plague: It is possible for a virus that functions this way to be forcibly downloaded directly into a person's Stack. It also corrupts any system it's introduced into.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Prescott willingly helps Tanaka take down the Bancrofts after they ruined her life because of manipulations by Kovacs in his investigation.
    • Captain Tanaka becomes disillusioned after the deaths of Samir, and later Ortega's entire family including the children. When given a chance by Prescott to save Ortega's life, he takes it.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Joel Kinnaman is 6'2" and very well built, Martha Higareda is a petite 5'3". They have a lot of screen time together.
  • Immortality Immorality: Both Quellcrist Falconer and the Neo-Catholics believe this, though for very different reasons.
    • Quellcrist foresees that immortality means the rich and powerful will be able to keep amassing power forever.
    • The Neo-Catholics believe that God intended humanity to only ever have one life and one body. They also seem to fear Stack technology because it wasn't invented by humans.
  • Impersonation Gambit: Because sleeves are interchangeable, this comes up often. Though it sometimes happens that it's actually a Mistaken Identity.
    • When Kovacs questions Anenome about the circumstances regarding the sleeve death of Lizzie Elliot (Anenome's coworker), he pretends to be Ava Elliot (Lizzie's mother) sleeved into a man's body. Pretending that he was Lizzie's mother looking into her daughters death was enough to get Anenome to open up to him.
    • Kovacs pretends to be a cop when he's working with Ortega. It works pretty well, since his sleeve belonged to an actual cop named Ryker, who had been Ortega's partner and lover. The downside of this is that any criminal who had it in for Ryker is more than willing to take it out on Kovacs.
    • Issacs makes a clone of her father's sleeve and uses it to close a lucrative business deal, in an attempt to prove to his father that he's worthy of him.
    • Kovacs uses his Envoy training to impersonate Tanaka in a virtual meeting. Unfortunately the person he's meeting has the same training and quickly realises who he's really talking to.
    • Reileen uses Ortega's sleeve to find out if Kovacs and Ortega have joined forces against her, and to discover the extend of Kovacs feelings for Ortega. She's also revealed to have been impersonating various people including a little girl, using her Envoy training to inhabit different sleeves without problems.
  • Incest Subtext:
    • It's hard to read Reileen's obsession any other way especially once she steals Ortega's body and tries to seduce him. Though it's possible that seduction is just what seemed like the best way to act in that body.
    • Also Bancroft's daughter Naomi having sex in her mother's sleeve, albeit with one of the help.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Defied. Even if the sleeve dies almost instantly — after a headshot or a bullet through the heart — they have to be shot again through the brain stem to kill them permanently. A few people do die instantly after being shot through the stem... but that's more or less realistic.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: The series shows plenty of both, so whenever one happens, you can bet the other is already waiting right around the corner. Case in point: very shortly after Ortega has her way with Kovacs in Episode 5 she's brutally eviscerated by the Ghostwalker, and Abboud gets Killed Off for Real as well in the same confrontation.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Inverted: Unbodied stacks are almost-universally referred to as people (or as belonging to people) rather than objects.
  • Karma Houdini: As of the end of the first season:
    • Nothing happens to Carnage onscreen, but Ortega is pretty occupied during the series and may deal with him later.
    • Jaeger has only been seen in flashback, but if he ever paid any price for his dickishness, the audience is not told.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • There wasn't really any good reason for Jaeger to sell Reileen into service with a Yakuza clan as opposed to actually finding her a good adoptive family like he said he would.
    • And then there's Laurens, who purposefully resleeved Takeshi into the body of Ortega's lover, because he thought she wasn't doing a good job of investigating his alleged murder and needed to be taught a lesson.
    • With all the resources she has at her disposal, Rei could have put Ava Elliot's sleeve into a female body if she truly wanted to. Instead, she put her in a male body (something that's frowned upon) and told Takeshi - through Leung - that she 'doesn't run a charity'.
  • Killed Off for Real: Anyone who suffers "real death" can't be brought back. This usually happens because their stack is destroyed.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Kovacs kills a lot of people but almost all of them had it coming. He also makes sure to Real Death the really nasty ones.
  • Magnetic Weapons:
    • Takeshi's secondary weapon is a "shard pistol" that magnetically propels a large metal slug and then draws it back in by reversing the polarity, allowing him to kill two people with the same bullet.
    • Vernon's home defense weapon is a handheld railgun, apparently his former service weapon that he's purchased from the military, as that's how Kovacs is able to trace him.
  • Layered Metropolis: San Francisco is now Bay City, a Skyscraper City with megatowers reaching above the clouds for the rich, and a rain-soaked metropolis beneath. There's some kind of above-ground tube transport system, Flying Cars are finally the norm and the Golden Gate Bridge is now clustered with slum dwellings built from cargo containers.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Bordering on Zeerust; there is an insatiable demand for natural aged humans and clones to sleeve cortical stacks despite the presence of 3D bioprinters capable of printing sleeves on demand and a VR internet which sleeveless stacks could populate. In-Universe, this is justified by heavy regulations on bioprinting to prevent "identity theft" and the Array being full of stack-annihilating malware. Cloned sleeves are considered extremely expensive, so much so that only the elite can afford them while everyone else has to make do with what's available, with healthy and young bodies being bought up by relatively wealthy individuals. Of course, the whole system also serves to keep society both stable and the elite in power while true immortality for the masses might lead to massive upheavals and resource shortages. Basically the Meths help keep the status quo so that only they get to live forever comfortably and the rest of society does not implode ending that. Eternal life for the few, struggle for the rest. A situation Quell saw coming and tried to prevent.
  • Mistaken Identity: A lot of people are convinced that Kovacs is the cop named Ryker since he's riding around in his sleeve. This become important because Ryker was a Cowboy Cop whose brutality and effective police work left him a lot of enemies.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: How Rei, his sister usually deals with any woman that Takeshi loves, out of creepy jealousy.
  • Mythology Gag: Some of the Bay City uniformed cops have Mohawk haircuts. In the novel all the men in Ortega’s unit had Mohawks because they all used the same ex-con barber and he’d only learnt the one style.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: All the Bancroft children, though Isaac seems to be getting hit the hardest by it. His parents are over 100 but look 40-something, while their children are actually in their 50s and 60s but still look 20.
  • Obligatory War-Crime Scene:
    • Jaeger is introduced holding an obvious grudge against Kovacs, and pays back Kovacs's disrespect by blowing out his partner's stack. Jaeger had it pinned on Kovacs, along with his other offenses. Less obvious was that the "foster family" Jaeger found for Reileen was implied to be her being bought by the Yakuza.
    • CTAC isn't above torturing prisoners.
    • CTAC was also responsible for the deaths of everyone at the Envoy base of Stronghold. They went out of their way to take no prisoners and killed even the noncombatants, which included children.
  • Omniglot: Everyone, apparently. The first episode alone has people talking to each other semi-randomly in English, German, Spanish and Arabic, and nobody ever seems to have trouble understanding the speaker. Additional languages show up frequently as the series progresses.
  • Police are Useless: Whenever a Meth is involved, the police might as well not exist, and they seem to fight a losing battle against regular crime as well. You know it's bad when your own captain admits as much to your face. Of course Ortega won't have any of it even when explicitly ordered to drop related cases.
  • Power Perversion Potential: The potentially perverse uses of Brain Uploading are touched upon, such as the rich forcing people to fight to the death or submit to getting raped to death with the promise of having their mind placed into a better body afterwards. One particularly slimy manager of a hedonist resort even offers one of his supposed "clients" (actually one of the main characters infiltrating the facility), after he runs away from a prostitute who was willing to let herself be tortured, a child sleeve instead.
  • Precursors: Known as "The Elder Civilization" here, the compounds necessary for cortical stack technology are attributed to them. The Bancrofts have several Elder artifacts including the fossilized remains of an actual Elder on display in their home to show off their incomprehensible wealth.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: In the first episode, Takeshi is offered drugs by a dealer who's carrying them in a child-sized, pink backpack emblazoned with a rainbow, a unicorn, and the words "Hello Unicorn." He buys the dealer's entire stock, along with the backpack to carry them. He continues to use the backpack through the rest of the series, often times storing his arsenal inside.
  • Related in the Adaptation: In the show, Takeshi and Reileen Kawahara are siblings. In the book that is not the case at all.
  • Resurrection Sickness: Normally, being resleeved comes with a period of disorientation, especially when transitioning to a different body. Kovacs has training that allows him to recover a lot faster than normal.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: At first, Takeshi did not believe that Laurens Bancroft was murdered, and thought the case was a wild goose chase. He thus had no interest in anything but drugs, getting laid, and going back on stack. However, when Dimi the Twin attacked him at the Raven — after addressing him by name — he realized that someone had an interest in killing him, meaning there actually was a case to solve and therefore became very interested in claiming Laurens' reward of freedom and wealth.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: The Nemex carried by Kovacs looks like a very large revolver.
  • Rip Van Winkle: Takeshi is revived 250 years after his death.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: A few happen over the series, but two really take the cake:
    • After having been tortured by his captors for a full episode, Takeshi single-handedly kills everyone involved with the operation.
    • In the first season finale, Lizzy emerges from Poe's construct onto the array, grabs a synth sleeve on Reileen's floating station and proceeds to lay waste, rescuing her parents and Ortega directly and Kovacs by proxy and crashing the station.
  • Sherlock Scan: Envoys are trained to do this as second nature, gathering small clues and bits of information from their environment and using that to make connections and infer information to solve questions and achieve their objectives. The idea behind this is that they could needlecast to an unfamiliar planet and quickly assimilate details about its society and culture, allowing them to go into action or manipulate events as quickly as possible.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Averted; Mickey and Poe, the more comical characters, ignore Kovacs demands that they get out of Bay City and end up getting killed.
  • Skyscraper City: The extremely old and wealthy live on top of skyscrapers high enough that they don't have to see the "clutter" of everyone else. They literally look down on the lower-class ground dwellers.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Waaaaay down the cynical side. There's nothing good in this world that doesn't get twisted into something awful virtually the moment it appears, everyone is only out for themselves, the good guys are ruthless bastards one way or another, and the bad guys take their bastardy to a whole new level of excess.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Downplayed from the books, which hammer this point home quite a few times, but the idea of a lower class resentful of an (in this case immortal) Idle Rich is a running theme and helps the main character frame the wrong suspect.
  • Spoiler Opening: The long version of the opening, only featured in episodes 1 and 10 of the first season, features the season's Big Bad in a sort of "corrupt goddess" motif. This aspect of her is not revealed until episode 7.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Many times.
    • Sarah, who was killed by CTAC just to be a dick to Kovacs, right at the start of the show.
    • Anemone, real name Alice, is a good-natured prostitute killed for little reason than to give Kovacs extra motivation and anger.
    • The entire Ortega family, gratuitously murdered by Rei as revenge for Kristen killing a pile of her clones. What makes it worse is the killer recorded his actions, kidnaps the person whose family died, and then forces the person to relive finding the scene many times over in VR.
  • Super Soldier:
    • The Protectorate CTACs are trained to be brutal soldiers with the aid of at least some amount of chemical enhancement.
    • The Envoys are trained by Falconer in a diverse and much-feared set of skills to make them effective as soldiers, spies, assassins, and infiltrators. As the name suggests, their job was not to be a One-Man Army, but, like real special forces, to arrive in a new place and convert the locals to their cause. Nonetheless they are amazingly capable soldiers trained to "observe without preconception", resist VR torture, use Stack technology in unexpected ways, and rapidly adapt to new circumstances. Even though there don't seem to have been more than a few dozen Envoys they're still a boogeyman across the many planets of the Protectorate 250 years after being defeated.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: The Raven hotel was built during a period of civil dispute, so it's equipped with rotary machine guns in the lobby. Poe was licensed to use them to protect guests when he was installed, and that license never expired. In the last episode Lizzy acquires a synth body from a high-end brothel. It's not surprising that it can shapeshift cosmetically, but having strength enough to snap a neck one-handed was a little unexpected.
  • They Were Holding You Back: Rei's reason to kill everything and everybody that Kovacs so much as gives the time of day to, let alone his allies (and lovers), aside from plain Yandere-sister-from-Hell-ness. She seriously thinks that this will make Takeshi accept further "evolution" of his Envoy-taught sociopathy and her offer of "We Can Rule Together".
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Bancroft's one rule — though he's quite into consensual death (paying prostitutes for killing their sleeves and reinstating them in better ones), he won't cause Real Death. Reileen and Miriam manipulate him into breaking the rule so he has motivation to kill a proposed law that would allow his murder victim to speak out as a witness. Disgusted with himself, he commits suicide to be restored from an earlier backup and forget what he did.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Lizzy goes from scared traumatized prostitute to She-Fu Action Girl after some time in VR with Poe as her mentor.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Kovacs's Dark and Troubled Past is explored through occasional flashbacks.
  • True Companions: Subverted and then played straight. Envoys are trained to recruit capable locals and make them Fire-Forged Friends, but they're actually expendable Cannon Fodder for the cause (it's an In-Universe Alternate Character Interpretation as to whether Quellcrist regards her own Envoys this way). Kovacs recruits such a group for his investigation, but he forms a genuine attachment that is exploited by the Big Bad. Even when Kovacs reveals the deception and tries to Shoo Out the Clowns, they choose to stay and help him.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Taken Up to Eleven; try octuplet ninesome fantasy just because the prefixes seem to be lacking. Miriam Bancroft owns an island with its own cloning and resleeving facilities — which she uses to run dozens of her pheremone-enhanced bodies simultaneously. Kovacs uses Miriam's standing invitation to take him to that island as part of his plan to make Rei confess to her crimes, sending his double-sleeved 3D-printed clone as part of the distraction.
  • Virtual Reality Interrogation: Kovacs is put through multiple virtual torture sessions in episode 4, but he escapes by using his Envoy training to stop his IRL heart.
  • Wall of Weapons: Reileen's taste in interior decorating runs to this - there are easily accessible swords in her bedroom and also in a completely separate facility where she keeps most of her clones.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: Kovacs is hired, or indentured, by Bancroft backup to figure out who killed Bancroft's prior incarnation.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: Bancroft can be a real bastard to the people around him and plenty of people hate him simply because he is a Meth. Kovacs has to pretty much assume that everyone has a motive for shooting Bancroft and focuses on who had the means to do it.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Quellcrist Falconer has serious issues with the technology of Stacking and believes it destroys a person. Neo-Catholics also believe it's a mortal sin. Takeshi agrees with the former, which is a complete inversion of his beliefs in the book as he actively hates religions that condemn it.note 
  • Working the Same Case: The death of Bancroft and Mary-Lou Henchy seemed unrelated at first, until Kovacs and Ortega notice that they are connected.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Rei, who orders the deaths of Ortega's family - including her prepubescent brothers. Likewise Leung/Ghostwalker, who carries out the order.
    • Miriam Bankcroft kills the unborn child of a woman in a jealous rage.
  • Written by the Winners: Quellcrist Falconer failed to overthrow the Protectorate and now her Uprising movement is remembered only as evil terrorists who slaughtered children. Not only that the final act that destroyed the Envoy movement was called the Battle of Stronghold, implying the Protectorate defeated the evil rebels in glorious one on one conflict. In truth using intelligence from Reileen they ambushed Stronghold with a stack-destroying computer virus that drove them all mad and when they were most vulnerable came in and slaughtered every single person down to the last child.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In the first teaser, Bancroft's backup states that he was born in 2019, first resleeved at 99 (2118), and continued doing so for the next 263 years (2381). Then he says that he supposedly committed suicide at 365 — which would put the date at 2384.
  • Yandere: Apparently a common flaw of immortals;
    • All of the AI hotels turn into this once you stay at them, which is why no one uses them anymore. It's bad enough that Poe hadn't had a guest in fifty years before Takeshi.
    • Reileen Kawahara is so obsessed with her brother Takeshi that she does her best to kill pretty much everyone else he shows any affection for whatsoever: Quellcrist Falconer, every other Envoy, Ortega, Ortega's family, the Elliots.
    • Miriam Bancroft is so disturbed by her husband's impregnated mistress— despite her own indescretions with Kovacs — she beat Elizabeth Elliot until she miscarried, and eventually drugged him so he'd kill the next woman he fucked.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Takeshi is frequently called a terrorist and Falconer's Envoys are treated as monsters in the media despite being defeated centuries ago. Takeshi's perspective of the Envoys is considerably softer.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: The Anti-Hero version happens in "Force of Evil". Kovacs has been tortured for hours in Virtual Reality Interrogation, but he's eventually able to fool the Torture Technicians into waking him up in the real world. He then pretends to be an undercover officer for a CTAC special forces unit, spells out a To the Pain description of what will happen to them for this stuff-up, but says the first man to release him will get to live. The technicians rush to do so, whereupon Kovacs proceeds to Real Death them and everyone else in the building. As he's exiting the building, he encounters his sidekick Vernon, who's convinced the cyborg thug who originally captured Kovacs to take him to where Kovacs is being held. Kovacs Boom Headshots the thug without breaking stride, whereupon Vernon says belatedly that he'd actually promised the thug his life.
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