'Altered Carbon' showrunner Laeta Kalogridis discusses the finale, and which actors — including star Joel Kinnaman — are likely to stick around for season 2
Altered Carbon is planning a pretty big shakeup if the show gets a second season on Netflix.
First, you can say goodbye to Bay City, the futuristic version of San Francisco that contained season 1. Also, a time jump of around 30 years seems likely. Plus, several members of the show’s cast seem unlikely to return — such as James Purefoy and Kristin Lehman, who played the morally bankrupt Meth power couple. Others, such as fan favorite AI Poe (Chris Conner) and Kovacs’ deadly sister Reileen (Dichen Lachman) might be seen again, despite their respective characters being killed off. But the biggest mystery is surrounding series star Joel Kinnaman, who was recently booked on rival Amazon’s upcoming series Hanna. Below, Altered Carbon showrunner Laeta Kalogridis takes our burning questions about the finale and her season 2 plans.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So in our last interview, I made a comment about how you’re lucky to have the Altered Carbon concept because — unlike other showrunners — if an actor annoys you, you can simply recast their part at any time. And you laughed and were like, “I had not thought of that.” Smash cut to: “Joel Kinnaman may be leaving Altered Carbon” headlines. So is he off Altered Carbon?
LAETA KALOGRIDIS: First of all, a blanket statement that everybody seems to not-quite-know yet but I’m hyper-aware of: I don’t have a second season. And I didn’t make a deal with Joel, or much of anybody, beyond the first season due to the structure of the books. I love Joel. I had no idea he had taken the gig. I had no idea he was even up for it. I sent him a “congratulations.” I think I laughed when you said the other part because I never thought of [recasting] in terms of switching out people punitively, but rather that one of the most interesting things about the material is it does not require a specific actor to play Takeshi Kovacs. If anything, it’s quite the opposite, and to the degree you can figure out who Kovacs is in any particular sleeve is part of the appeal. So what’s going on is: I don’t have a second season yet. I know Joel will be amazing in whatever he does. I don’t know what their schedule is, or what our schedule is. And this is a world that allows you to “never say never.”
What about Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda)? She seems unlikely to end up on another planet and more like a Bay City girl…
I loved working with the entire cast. There isn’t anybody I wouldn’t want to work with again. Exactly what form that would take in that world, we have a lot of freedom. I would never rule out working with Martha again ever. I love her and what she brought to the role. My first thought is that we want to do something surprising with the second season that is not in the same place with the same people. I think the universe of these books gives you more latitude.
Is Poe really gone? There wasn’t a back-up of him on a hard drive somewhere?
The things that I find really interesting about Poe is the concept of a character who knew everything, and had everything at his fingertips all the time, being very damaged and not knowing everything. He wants to be human, but part of humanity is a level of imperfection that Poe doesn’t possess. That’s interesting to me. What we’re going to do with that, I don’t know. But I will say Poe has lost Lizzie (Haley Law) forever. There’s no ever-after for those two.
And Kovacs’ sister Reileen is dead?
Yes. Within the world of Altered Carbon, she is real-dead, stack-dead, all of her backups are corrupted. Kovacs did succeed in completely destroying the person you saw. I would argue that they bookend each other as brother and sister; she chooses that. When she says, “Go ahead, do it,” she chose to die, she didn’t want to continue living. She got a look in his eyes at the mirror of herself. But the story of Altered Carbon is not told as a linear story, so we could see Reileen at another point in her life. But that version of Reileen who faced off against her brother at the Head in the Clouds is gone.
Our critic Darren Franich was like: What would be cool is if Kovacs was spun-up again in season 2 and the only sleeve available was Reileen’s…
Oh, that’s creepy as s—t! I can honestly tell you I’ve never thought about that. Seriously, there’s something about that that creeps me out. I totally have thought about Kovacs being a woman. I’ve discussed that with the studio and network precisely because I think that’s part of the promise of this type of story — you can explore what those gender differences mean from the inside and not just the outside. But no, we haven’t thought of that.
The first season roughly followed the first book by Richard K Morgan. Will the second season follow his second book, Broken Angels, or will it be its own thing?
That’s a very expensive book! With space battles and giant portals and huge warships that are orbiting the planet and a thermonuclear explosion. Richard came and worked with us in the writers’ room for a couple weeks to try and hammer out a story that was able to use elements of the second book without creating the vastness that is the second book. Also, the stuff we created in the first season that conflated some elements from the third book — like bring Quell (Renee Elise Goldsberry) into the story earlier — that also altered the structure significantly. So now you have this character who wasn’t in the second book and I hope if we’ve done our job people will be very invested in this love story. So that becomes very much a part of what we’re doing . … The idea was to mimic what the books do, which is to go from planet to planet and not stay in the same city. So the intent would not be to return to Bay City for the second season. Part of what I love about the books is the degree to which they hold up a mirror to the idea of faster-than-light travel by entangled consciousness downloading. That’s what needlecasting would be; you’re re-creating a consciousness far faster than the speed of light on another planet — and that’s just too cool not to do something with. Richard and I have a plan, I don’t know how people will feel about the plan, but we do have one!
The second book also has a 30-year time jump…
I’m not ruling that out, especially in a world where you can clone people or 3D print people. The emotional passage of time is always a good thing. I wouldn’t want to do a 250-year jump again, but I like in the second book where emotionally Kovacs is at due to what’s happened to him in the interim.
What was your favorite scene this season?
One of the problems and joys of having a cast that came together so seamlessly is you can’t say one scene is head and shoulders above the rest of it. I couldn’t pick one thing.
Okay, what was the biggest challenge to pull off?
Stronghold. We were shooting exteriors in the forest setting things on fire, a lot of ash and pyro and explosions. Physically that was the most challenging. There are ashes raining from the sky for acres and acres, you got soldiers and plasma weapons and people being chased and bombs falling and the people on the bridge. All of that on the bridge was actually in-camera, we actually shot that on a suspension bridge, none of it is green screen except some of the fire — we obviously didn’t burn down a big swath of forest.
So those snow-covered mountains in the background weren’t added? Kovacs looked like he was in Middle Earth about to head over to the Misty Mountains.
That’s Vancouver, man! It’s gorgeous! The only thing we did we add was this conceit that the Envoy use a force field camo net that is projected above them so they’re not visible by satellite. That’s why the color is slightly more saturated blue and green to reflect the camo shield over them, so that does give that shot a more otherworldly look. But yeah, that’s all real.
What questions should viewers be asking themselves after the finale?
Just because Reileen says Quell is still alive, do we believe her? Kovacs is walking away from Ortega, he’s making all these choices, but is he sure? Also, Ortega has renounced her coding. You have two dead kids, but their stacks are intact. You gonna spin those kids back up or not? What’s she going to do? That’s an interesting question.
I think the finale held the most disturbing moment for me, the scene with the sex worker describing all the things her customer could do to her.
This is one of the most frightening things about the way this kind of oppression works. You get the first hint of this in episode 3 when the married couple are fighting for the pleasure of the Meths, they’ve normalized and are buying into this idea that “nobody is making us do it, we’re choosing to do it, so it’s okay.” It’s not okay. To use a real-world example, most would agree that sex workers are not choosing that as their first option. Not every single person, but often times that’s the case, that’s not what they wanted to do when they grew up. Yet the people who are overwhelmingly arrested are the sex workers and not people that are purchasing the sex workers. The point of that scene — and it’s a very heavy anvil of a metaphor, I’ll give you that — is it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. She’s been lied to and has been told she’s going to come back, this has been normalized for her. In reality, she’s going to be chewed up, spit out and not come back. It’s a metaphor for the ways our society allows us to normalize for women and the disenfranchised to be used. There is not an excuse that would ever make what’s happening to her okay, and that’s why our characters are responding with such horror. The idea that people with extreme wealth and privilege will just keep pushing and pushing the limit of what is acceptable and will look at people who are not part of that extreme privilege and wealth as expendable — that’s what that is about because I think that dynamic exists right now; I know it does. This is an extrapolation and dramatization that’s meant to make you uncomfortable and question the way our society functions.