I wanna start this review by saying that I have a love-hate relationship with this series. When the first season was released, I wasn’t exactly transfixed with the show. I thought the first episode was cringe, derivative and cliche in terms of its settings and characters. While I did find the premise of the show to be interesting, I just was not motivated to watch the rest of the show based on my reaction to the pilot. But when I heard that Anthony Mackie would be taking over the role of the protagonist in season 2 I decided I’d give the series another go. So it really wasn’t until about 2 years later that I finally watched and finished the rest of the first season, mostly due to the fact that I was very interested in how the second season would play out.
I’m gonna first off be straightforward about what I didn’t like about the sophomore season. While Anthony Mackie does bring something new to the role of Takeshi Kovac, I don’t honestly think he reaches the emotional heights of Joel Kinnaman. With Kinnaman, I honestly saw bits of Takeshi in his performance. But with Mackie, all I saw was Mackie being Mackie. Maybe this is because I have so much exposure to Mackie’s representation of The Falcon in the MCU, but I just wasn’t able to see Kovac beneath the surface of Mackie’s performance. But I will say that Mackie does bring some emotional pain to the role, especially with his trajectory this season with his journey to find Quell. I also love the cool enhancements that get made to his sleeve this season, so the fight scenes were definitely fantastic.
I was very happy that Poe came back as the main character this season since he was such a delight in the first season. He and Kovac also gain another AI ally this season, an ex-mining AI named Diggs and I definitely enjoyed her as an addition to the team. But I was very annoyed and disappointed by the conflict that Poe had this season. I hated the conflict between Poe and Kovac, I felt it was so unnecessary and forced and I found that it was resolved way too easily and unrealistically. While this season doesn’t have Ortega in it, they do have an ‘Ortega’ like character to fill in her shoes. Simone Missick plays an abrasive bounty hunter named Trepp that Kovac must gain the trust of in order to have more valuable allies. But she just doesn’t reach the emotional or personal height of Ortega in the first season and I think Trepp’s conflict with her wife and with Kovac is kind of cringe and bland. Towards the end of the season, she does have an extremely emotional conflict in relation to her brother and father that I will not spoil but I definitely found it far more satisfying than what she had throughout the season. It just takes a while to get there and is somewhat brief.
In terms of pacing, this season is a whole 2 episodes shorter than season 1. The episodes this season are also much shorter than the episodes of season 1, the longest episode being 56 minutes (Episode 4) and the shortest episode being 43 minutes (episode 6). I’m not sure the pacing this season actually benefits from both the reduction in episodes and the reduction in episode length. It seems this season could have actually used a little more building and setup because the season really flies by and I’m not sure that’s a good thing especially since this season is so personal for Kovac as a character. Unfortunately, the show also loses some of its film noir inspiration and style this season, which is something that really attracted me to the first season. While there is somewhat of a case that needs to be solved this season, it is solved relatively quickly and it rapidly changes from a detective inspired show into an action thriller.
In case it wasn’t obvious by the ending of last season, Jaegar does come into play this season – just not how you expect and I definitely loved the conflict between Kovac and Jaeger this time around. Jaegar also adds an extremely awesome level of the conflict this season when he needs an ally to help hunt and takedown Kovac and I won’t spoil what he does but it is definitely both cool and very personal to Kovac. Quell also plays a significant part of this season and while her conflict is somewhat bland until the final episodes, it is very nice to finally have her back and see her kick some serious ass. In terms of Kovac’s actual conflict this season, I don’t know if it’s really more personal or not compared to the first season. On one hand, it is because Quell is obviously a very important part of his origin and discovering what truly happened to her stack is both a very personal and very difficult conflict for Kovac to investigate and overcome. But on the other hand, I still think his conflict with his sister in the first season was more brutal and personal, especially what she did to his allies than this season. While Jaeger is a significant force to be reckoned with this time around, he’s ultimately not the big baddie by the season’s climax and it’s unfortunate how they end up dealing with him in order to place the season’s true antagonist as the final ‘boss’ so to speak.
In the end, I think the verdict for this season will be conflicting even for die-hard fans of this show. While the end of this season does set up possibilities for future seasons, I’m really unsure of the direction they’ll go – unlike the end of season 1 which really spelled out where they were gonna take it for season 2. But until then, get ready for an action-packed second season of Altered Carbon that will leave you on the edge of your seat, for better or for worse.