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Everything You Need To Know Before Watching Altered Carbon Season 2

Contains spoilers for Altered Carbon season 1

Netflix's ambitious sci-fi drama series Altered Carbon proves that if you want something enough, you can make it happen.

It took 15 years to see the story, based on British writer Richard K. Morgan's acclaimed novel of the same name, brought to life. Originally optioned by Warner Bros., the film version of Altered Carbon languished in development until the option expired and showrunner Laeta Kalogridis stepped in. But even then — in the hands of a writer who has crafted complex, bigger-budget genre hits like Shutter Island and Alita: Battle Angel – the possibility of an R-rated cyberpunk feature film was, for all intents and purposes, a no-go in the circle of major film studios. So it seemed truly and regrettably impossible that Morgan's futuristic neo-noir would get its chance at a screen adaptation.

And yet, it happened, with Netflix releasing a 10-episode first season of Altered Carbon in 2018 before announcing a spin-off anime series as well. This makes the series' second season — slated to release on February 27 — an even bigger feat. Unlike the first, which merely had a long and bumpy road to its small-screen incarnation, the second season wasn't even supposed to happen. At least, not for Kalogridis and, at one point, Netflix, who backed one of its most costly shows under the impression that it would be a self-contained and single-season arc. But the series about a world where humans have found a way to cheat death by digitizing their consciousness managed to satisfy and genuinely surprise fans of both the sci-fi and cyberpunk genres.

Now it's hoping to do it again with a new showrunner (Alison Schapker) and a new lead (Anthony Mackie). If you've finally decided to dip your toe into this glossy, cyberpunk world practically built for fans of Blade Runner and Westworld and want a quick catch-up before the series returns, here's everything you need to know before watching Altered Carbon season 2.

A brief refresher on the events of Altered Carbon season 1

Altered Carbon season 1 is a gritty neo-noir tale set several centuries in the future where interstellar travel and immortality have been achieved. Human consciousness is now contained in small discs known as "stacks," which, for those who can afford it, are moved between bodies or "sleeves" as the vessels age. In this future, humans have settled on planets beyond Earth, and are led by the Protectorate, a version of our modern United Nations that oversees life across several different worlds. The political body employs a force of elite interstellar soldiers known as the Colonial Tactical Assault Corp to maintain power. At the start of Altered Carbon season 1, Takeshi Kovacs, a private detective and former member of the highly trained and skilled rebel "envoys," is downloaded into the body of police officer Elias Ryker (Joel Kinnaman) after being digitally imprisoned for 250 years for his role with an uprising against the Protectorate. 

Revived by the wealthy and politically powerful Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), Kovacs must solve the mystery of Bancroft's own death. Bancroft died by suicide according to Bay City police lieutenant — and Ryker's romantic partner — Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda). But the "Meth" — a term for this future society's wealthiest people — believes he's been murdered, and hires Kovacs to track down his killer. The job sees the mercenary caught in a plot that connects Bancroft's death to Kovacs' sister Reileen (Dichen Lachman), a Russian mob, Kovacs' lover Quell (Renée Elise Goldsberry), a tortured young woman name Lizzie (Hayley Law), a dead sex worker named Mary Lou (Lisa Chandler), and Resolution 653 (more on that in a bit). With the help of Ortega, Poe (Chris Conner), the A.I. who runs the Raven Hotel, and more, Kovacs slowed untangles a web of political corruption, familial betrayal, and death in an immortal society.

Unraveling Altered Carbon's complicated season 1 finale

Proposed by Bancroft, Resolution 653 is a proposed law that would allow members of the religious group the Neo-Catholics to have their stacks re-sleeved after they've been murdered. They're the only community exempt from being revived, making them easy targets for those who know their victims' Neo-C coding can hide the crime. It's especially useful for Bancroft's wife, Miriam (Kristin Lehman), who operates within the future's highly lucrative sex industry alongside Kovac's sister Reileen. When Miriam kills Lizzie after discovering her husband got the woman pregnant, Reileen is called in to clean it up. Using VR, Reileen tortures Lizzie's stack into insanity, essentially rendering her unable to speak if her body is discovered. But that means Miriam owes Reileen a favor, and she cashes it in to get her brother, Kovacs, back.

Because Reileen uses the Neo-C coding to cover up the murders of her sex workers at the hands of Meths, Resolution 653 would put her on the hook for countless deaths. So Reileen has Miriam set up her own husband for murder, using one of the sex workers she employs at her brothel, Head in the Clouds. The hope is that it will force him to use his political power to block the resolution's passing. But it backfires when one of Reileen's sex workers, Mary Lou Henchy (Lisa Chandler), witnesses the murder and then kills herself in order to preserve the evidence through her stack. 

When Ryker, who's investigating Mary Lou's death, discovers her stack was Neo-C-coded right before her death, he attempts to uncover the plot but ends up framed for murder himself. Reileen then calls in her favor to have her brother Kovacs taken "off ice" and put into Ryker's sleeve. That ultimately connects the former envoy to Ortega, who knows about Ryker's investigation and saved Mary Lou's stack. With this evidence, coupled with a number of bloody alterations, Kovacs, Ortega, and others victimized by the Meths are able to piece together the cover-up. In the end, Miriam is arrested, Lizzie is put back into her body, Ryker gets his sleeve back, and Reileen dies at the hands of her own brother.

Altered Carbon season 2 will feature a handful of new and familiar faces

While Anthony Mackie's turn as Kovacs was revealed along with the Altered Carbon renewal announcement in 2018, a casting teaser from 2019 and a season 2 trailer from February 2020 confirmed who will be returning from season 1 and offered a first look at the handful of new characters making their debut.  

Will Yun Lee, whom most know as "original Kovacs" or Stronghold, has returned in a recurring role (via Deadline). Much of the speculation around his possible season 2 appearance focused on universe-building flashbacks, but the trailer revealed he will be joining Mackie's Kovacs in the present. That announcement also included news of Chris Conner's return as Kovacs' loyal friend and A.I. Poe, who was destroyed during the season 1 finale after using his final virtual breath to help Lizzie get justice. Renée Elise Goldsberry's second go as Quell, the fierce revolutionary leader with a deep bond to Kovacs, is perhaps the least surprising of the season 1 returns. While Altered Carbon's second season wasn't initially planned, the Kovacs character ended it announcing his quest to find her, so it makes sense she has returned and in a major way, no less. 

Among the slate of new Altered Carbon cast members are Simone Missick (Luke Cage) as expert bounty hunter Trepp and Dina Shihabi (Daredevil) as an out-of-work A.I. programmed to assist archeologists Dig 301. On the darker side is Torben Liebrecht as Colonel Ivan Carrera, the leader of a Protectorate Special Forces unit hunting Kovacs, and James Saito (Iron Fist) as Tanaseda Hideki, a centuries-old organized crime boss who has a history with Kovacs. 

Altered Carbon season 2 will center around one of season 1's only unresolved plots

As if Reileen wasn't doing enough, Kovacs' sister was part of another one of season 1's major plots. Told mostly through flashbacks featuring Kovacs first sleeve (Will Yun Lee), the story of Reileen is one of jealousy as much as corruption. Like her brother, Reileen was once part of the envoy rebels group led by Quell, the creator of the stack technology and a revolutionary code that would limit lifespans to 100 years regardless of the stack owner's wealth. Quell leads the envoys in a mission to eradicate the connection between wealth inequality and immortality, but has her plans sabotaged by Reileen, who's working as a double agent for the UN and CTAC. The envoy rebels are all destroyed by a virus Reileen plants in their stacks, while she and Quell also supposedly perish trying to escape a UN attack. 

But Reileen didn't die. Instead, she was rewarded for betraying the rebels for a life wealth and immortality. Having watched the rebel ship explode, Kovacs is surprised to find his sister alive, and spends most of Altered Carbon season 1 believing that Quell died as well. That is, until Kovacs and Reileen's final confrontation, during which she reveals she downloaded a backup of Quell's stack and has kept it hidden all this time.

This is where Altered Carbon season 2 finds Kovacs, whose sleeve is now played by Avengers: Endgame star Anthony Mackie. The lone survivor of the super-soldier rebel group, Kovacs is back on his quest to find his lover and former leader. Set several decades after the events of season 1, the upcoming eight-episode season will see the private investigator returning to his home planet of Harlan's World, lured under the promise of finding Quell. The mercenary-for-hire has been tasked with investigating a series of brutal murders — but in a shocking twist, Kovacs discovers that his new job and his search for Quell are one and the same. Haunted by his past and once again helped by A.I. Poe, Kovacs finds himself on a quest to answer one question: Who is Quellcrist Falconer?

Altered Carbon season 2 hits Netflix on February 27.