It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Altered Carbon premiered on Netflix… until you try to remember what actually happened in the first season of the cyberpunk Netflix drama. Then it starts to feel like it’s been 200 years. That’s because Altered Carbon isn’t some simple laundry-folding show that you can have on in the background while doing your chores or messing around on Twitter — not even close. But while the complex world building and deeply developed character histories are what made the first season such an addicting binge. It’s also what might make you feel a little intimidated about watching Season 2 since there is so much mythology you probably have forgotten!
Season 2 will largely be tackling new storylines as Takeshi Kovacs (now played by Anthony Mackie) finds himself on a new mission on his home planet, Harlan’s World. However, an important theme in the second season will be the ways in which Kovacs remains haunted by his past, so a refresher on what has already happened is highly recommended before diving into the eight new episodes hitting Netflix on Friday, Feb. 27. However, if you don’t have time to re-watch all of Season 1 before Season 2 premieres, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Kovacs’ new adventures. All you need is this handy guide detailing everything you need to remember about Altered Carbon Season 1 before jumping into Season 2!
1. The show is set 300 years in the future when humanity has found a way to extend life indefinitely. One of the most fun aspects of the show is how a human consciousness, also known as a Digital Human Freight (DHF), can be transferred into different bodies, known as sleeves. This is done by putting a human’s DHF into a cortical stack, which is a device made from metal left by an alien civilization (known as the Elders) that is implanted into every human as an infant. Stacks were originally invented by Quellcrest Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry) as a means of traveling to other planets; a person’s stack was downloaded and then transmitted to a sleeve waiting at the destination, a process known as needlecasting that saved people years of travel time.
However, this technology became a means for the extremely wealthy members of society, known as Meths, to ensure their own immortality by downloading their stacks into new sleeves again and again. Meths also make copies of their DHFs in case their original stack is destroyed (or “slagged”), a situation that would cause real death in anyone who couldn’t afford a backup. All of these procedures are denied to those who can’t afford them, even re-sleeving. If you are unable to pay for a new sleeve after experiencing sleeve death, your stack is put in storage until someone can buy your way out. But even for the wealthy, there are still limits to what they can do. Double sleeveing, where the consciousness of the same person is downloaded into two sleeves at once, is illegal for everyone. (If you’re still having a hard time keeping track of all this futuristic jargon, check out our full Altered Carbon glossary here.)
2. Takeshi Kovacs used to be a Protectorate soldier. Kovacs (whose birth sleeve was played by Will Yun Lee, but who was portrayed by Joel Kinnaman during Season 1’s present day plots) may have been very anti-establishment throughout Season 1, but he didn’t always used to be that way. Throughout the first season, we got glimpses of the Kovacs’ past, including of his abusive childhood on Harlan’s World, the closest colonized planet to Earth. After his father killed his mother and threatened his sister Reileen, Kovacs murdered him. Kovacs then enlisted in the Colonial Tactical Assault Corps (CTAC), the military division of The United Nations Interstellar Protectorate, after the CTAC officer Jaeger (Daniel Bernhardt) promised to ensure Rei was taken care of.
However, as an adult, Kovacs discovered Rei (now played by Dichen Lachman) had been sold to the yakuza during a CTAC raid on a yakuza site. Feeling betrayed by his surrogate father, Jaeger, and thrilled at being reunited with his sister, Kovacs became a fugitive with Rei and together they joined the Envoys. (More on that below.) After the Envoys were defeated, Kovacs became a mercenary and was eventually hunted down by Jaeger. Bitter over Kovacs’ betrayal, Jaeger framed Kovacs for the murder of his partner Sarah (Olga Fonda). Kovacs’ stack was stored without a body for decades until he was released to work the Bancroft case and given a new sleeve (which is when Joel Kinnaman took on the role of Kovacs).
3. Quellcrest Falconer has been missing for years. Kovacs met his love Quell when he and Rei joined her followers, known as the Envoys. Quell was orchestrating a rebellion against the Protectorate and inspired a new political theory known as Quellism, which sought to create a system of checks and balances, dismantle the corrupt and elite ruling system, as well as reinstate limits on human life after her own invention (stacks) enabled immortality. But the uprising ended at the Battle of Stronghold where the Envoys were wiped out entirely with the exception of Kovacs, thus earning him the nickname “The Last Envoy.” For decades, Kovacs thought Quell had been real deathed like the other Envoys, but it was later revealed that, out of jealousy of Quell and Kovacs’ relationship, Rei sold out the Envoys to the Protectorate at the Battle of Stronghold and had backed up Quell and hidden her stack so that everyone would presume she was dead. Season 1 ended with Kovacs leaving on a mission to seek out where Quell’s DHF had been stored.
4. Kovacs and Ortega took down Laurens and Miriam Bancroft. When Kovacs was re-sleeved in the Season 1 premiere, it was on the orders of Meth Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), who wanted to hire Kovacs to find out who had killed him before Bancroft had himself re-downloaded into a clone sleeve. Kovacs teamed up with the detective Kristen Ortega (Martha Higareda) and together they solved the complex conspiracy.
The web of crimes began when Bancroft’s wife Miriam (Kristen Lehman) beat and abducted Lizzie (Hayley Law), a sex worker who had become pregnant with Bancroft’s child. Miriam’s physical assault on Lizzie caused her to miscarry, and to avoid being charged with the murder of Lizzie’s unborn child, Miriam had the young woman sent to the Wei Clinic where she was tortured, driven insane, and killed. Rei, who owned the Wei Clinic, blackmailed Miriam into drugging Bancroft as payment for torturing Lizzie and as part of her plot to stop Proposition 653 from passing. The bill would allow any murder victim to be spun up or re-sleeved to testify against their killer regardless of any religious coding, such as being Neo-Catholic. (It was in Reileen’s interest to stop victims from testifying as a means of protecting her criminal enterprise.)
While under the influence of the drug Miriam gave him on Rei’s orders. Bancroft then real deathed a sex worker Lena, an event that was witnessed by another sex worker Mary Lou. Mary Lou killed herself to avoid Bancroft destroying her stack permanently. To protect himself, Bancroft used his wealth and influence to defeat the bill and then destroyed his stack before his DHF was backed up with the memory of Lena’s murder or his own suicide. Meaning, Bancroft honestly didn’t know he had ended his own life when he hired Kovacs to solve his murder. After Kovacs and Ortega had the Bancrofts arrested for their various crimes, Proposition 653 was passed by the Protectorate.
5. Poe was killed. The A.I. caretaker at The Raven Hotel, Poe (Chris Conner) became Kovacs’ devoted supporter and friend during the first season. Poe worked closely with Kovacs and Ortega on the investigation into the Bancroft case, but when Rei’s henchman Mister Leung (Trieu Tran) attacked The Raven the A.I. hotelier was murdered. However, we already know Poe is being resurrected and will appear in Season 2, so no need to mourn too much!
6. Lizzie survived in a synth body. After she was driven insane in the Wei Clinic’s VR torture construct, Lizzie’s mind became stuck in a trauma loop. After meeting Poe, Lizzie began to heal as a result of undergoing virtual therapy and combat training with him. When Rei’s men attacked The Raven, Poe uploaded her consciousness to Head In the Clouds where she took control of a synth body that she made look like her birth sleeve. Lizzie was then able to rescue her parents, Vernon (Ato Essandoh) and Ava (Courtney Richter and Cliff Chamberlain), from Rei’s men and they all returned to their normal family life, with Lizzie choosing to keep the synth body.
7. Kovacs killed Rei. Having thought Rei was dead for years, Kovacs joy at discovering his sister was alive in Season 1 was short-lived once he learned of everything she had done with the uprising, the Bancrofts, and Proposition 653. It was eventually revealed that Rei had plotted everything — including Kovacs’ release from prison — in the hopes that the two of them would be put in children sleeves and become immortal together.
Along the way, Rei killed many people, including the entire family of Kovacs’ partner Ortega out of jealousy for her relationship with her brother. When Kovacs refused to go along with her plan and expressed his disgust at her actions, the two turned on each other with Kovacs ultimately real deathing Rei.
8. Kovacs gave up his sleeve. When Kovacs was resleeved following his prison release, he was put into the body of a former cop and Ortega’s ex Ryker (Joel Kinnaman). Ryker had been framed for the murder of Mary Lou, the sex worker who witnessed Bancroft murder Lena and who had jumped to her death believing she’d be spun back up to testify. However, Reileen had recoded Mary Lou’s stack as Neo-Catholic, which meant she couldn’t be re-sleeved. After exposing Reileen, Bancroft, and Miriam, Kovacs was able to clear Ryker for Mary Lou’s alleged murder and he surrendered the sleeve so Ryker could get it back.
Altered Carbon Season 2 will premiere Thursday, Feb. 27 on Netflix. Season 1 is available to stream now.