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The Dollhouse Connection You Never Noticed In Altered Carbon

When "Altered Carbon" made its Netflix debut in 2018, it was hailed as a boldly stylized sci-fi tale fronting compelling characters, blockbuster action, and a narrative setup as intriguing as any the genre had seen. It was also noted as a series that unabashedly wore its genre influences on its, ahem, sleeve, with some rightfully pointing to 1982's "Blade Runner" and its masterful 2017 sequel "Blade Runner 2049" as directly informing the look of the neon-drenched city central to the plot of "Altered Carbon."

While "Altered Carbon" undoubtedly owes a stylistic debt to both "Blade Runner" films, it might also owe at least a small narrative debt to Joss Whedon's short-lived sci-fi series "Dollhouse." Or potentially vice versa, of course, as Whedon's series didn't debut on Fox until 2009, and "Altered Carbon" is based on Richard Morgan's brilliant 2002 novel of the same name. Whatever the case, the series' central conceits are strikingly similar, with each positing a world in which consciousness can be digitally stored, and thus uploaded into a human body for action. 

What each show does with that setup is obviously quite different, with Whedon's "Dollhouse" fronting it almost as a parlor trick with sinister potential as a shady corporation uses the tech to program human hosts to do whatever their clients desire. "Altered Carbon" goes far more sinister with its "stack" technology becoming a way for the rich and powerful to essentially lord over humanity for all eternity. We'll leave it for you to decide which narrative plays better, but we'll also point out "Altered Carbon" creatives were likely at least casually aware of Whedon's cult hit as they cast two actors who featured prominently on the series.

Dollhouse and Altered Carbon shared a couple of cast members

Fans of Whedon's brilliantly bizarro sci-fi confection were no doubt quick to spot the distinctive features of Dichen Lachman during her 12-episode run on "Altered Carbon" as it was front and center for virtually every single episode of "Dollhouse," even though the series was largely centered around Eliza Dushku's character Echo/Caroline. Nonetheless, Lachman's Sierra/Priya was more than prominent during the series' 27-episode run, with Lachman playing the parts of ass-kicking vixen and tragically wounded soul with equal intensity.

While "Dollhouse" never really found its audience and got the ax sooner than the cast, crew, and fans would've liked, it still proved a legit springboard for Lachman, who's gone on to deliver equally impressive work in lauded series like "The 100," "Shameless," "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," and "Animal Kingdom." As for Lachman's work on "Altered Carbon," it's easily among the best of her career, and we were as sad to see her villainous Reileen Kawahara meet her violent end as we were to see the series itself end.

As for the other "Dollhouse" alum who turned up on "Altered Carbon," we're guessing some of you missed Tahmoh Penikett on the show because he was only around for a pair of Season 1 episodes, and he looked nothing at all like himself. But that was indeed the "Dollhouse" and "Battlestar Galactica" vet portraying the first iteration of the vile Russian gangster Demitri Kadmin in Episodes 1 and 2 of "Altered Carbon." And no, he could not have looked any less like his noble "Dollhouse" FBI agent while he was throwing down with Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) and attempting to lay waste to not only Poe (Chris Conner) but his fabulous Raven Hotel. But hey, at least Penikett went out in one of "Altered Carbon's" most memorably over-the-top scenes.