‘Altered Carbon’ Features One Woman Under the Age of 50 Who Remains Fully Clothed

This post contains images of nudity and plenty of spoilers for ‘Altered Carbon’, so please proceed with appropriate caution.

That post title is a lie.

I think there actually might have been as many as three female extras/minor roles who kept their kit on in the handful of scenes in which they appeared.

Look, it’s 2018. Nudity needs to be less of a taboo, I get that.

But it’s 2018. We need to stop using women as sex objects.

First, here’s a spoiler-free, safe-for-work review of the show just as it is, no politics or social commentary:


The Actual Review

If you’re a thirteen-year-old boy, brought up by the most toxic elements of the internet, you’ll probably love ‘Altered Carbon’.

If you’re a normal fucking person, you probably just won’t care about it.

‘Altered Carbon’ is, to all intents and purposes, an unlicensed series of ‘Blade Runner’. In look and feel, it in every way tries to invoke the classic Sci Fi Cyberpunk Noir, and broadly succeeds from an aesthetic perspective. There’s flying cars, and massive cities, and dystopian slums, and class discrimination, and mega corporations, and so on. There is also plenty of body horror thrown in, too, and a bit of “what it means to be human”.

Sadly, the similarities to ‘Blade Runner’ really are skin-deep. There isn’t much else, thematically, going on with ‘Altered Carbon’, beyond the fairly ham-fisted message that humans are defined by their finite lifespans – a message that crops up towards the end but is largely forgotten by the final two episodes.

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There are two major issues with the show, the first of which is its lack of ambition. I haven’t read the book, nor am I particularly a fan of cyberpunk, and even I thought this show was generic. There wasn’t a visual in this entire series that hasn’t appeared in countless other films, graphic novels or computer games, and the world it creates feels small, despite the canvas with which it had to work.

The second major issue is the show’s excess. Fight scenes are highly stylised, belonging more in a DC superhero movie than in a show that tries to be “gritty.” Bloody violence and gore are rampant, and yet characters survive impacts and assaults that should, by all reason, leave them broken. This weird mix of ghastly mutilation and “totally badass” endurance takes the action past gratuitous and into the realm of the grotesque.

In essence, the show doesn’t know what it wants to be. There are some nice moments, but they’re sporadic and infrequent enough that at no point did I feel engaged. This may be a result of some pretty fucking uninterested performances by the show’s lead and the show’s ultimate antagonist. I thought Joel Kinnaman was pretty good in ‘House of Cards’, but here he’s just dour, swinging through the full emotional spectrum of “Bored” and “Angry” and literally nothing in between. The actor portraying the antagonist, meanwhile, is absurdly wooden and artificial.

The show tries to present itself as some kind of mystery thriller, focusing around the investigation of a wealthy man’s murder in his high-security penthouse. But the ultimate solution feels contrived, and at no point does much of what’s happening feel mysterious. Given ‘Altered Carbon’s adherence to the Blade Runner aesthetic, I feel like it could also have taken a narrative queue and made this a story of pursuit rather than investigation, given how poorly the investigation angle is developed.

To summarise: if you really want to see live-action cyberpunk as a TV series rather than a film, then you can watch ‘Altered Carbon’ and scratch that itch – and literally no other itches.

Otherwise, you probably aren’t missing much, unless you have a powerful desire to see just how little can be achieved with such an abundance of resources.

Huh. Maybe it’s a satirisation of itself.

The rest of the review will follow. NSFW imagery, spoilers, and plenty of inexpert socio-political discussion lie within. Please leave now before it is too late.

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I fucking warned you.


And Now, The Political Bit

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Oh, the woes of being a blogger, having to scan through garbage cyberpunk to find pictures of James Purefoy’s penis.

In this entire series, there are, I think, three examples of male full-frontal nudity, one of whom is named. There are plenty of topless and butt shots of Joel Kinnaman’s improbably statuesque figure, and a few other examples of men without their shirts on. But not many.

By contrast, there isn’t a single named female character bar one, a lawyer, who is under the age of fifty and who doesn’t take all of her clothes off at some point. Most end up with full-frontal nude scenes. Only one woman, Quell, played by Renée Elise Goldsberry, doesn’t show any explicit views of her body, but she still has one sex scene in which she’s fully naked – she just gets the benefit of a little “modesty”.

The bulk of non-named female characters also appear either fully naked or at least topless. I struggle to recall any other women in the show who don’t bare any intimate parts of their body, with the exception of Detective Ortega’s middle-aged mother; a young schoolgirl; and a single extremely wealthy woman who, it turns out, was just a disguise of the main antagonist, who is also a woman who spends a lot of time completely naked.

Nudity’s a fine thing. There should be nothing wrong with baring the human body, and I personally believe that the world would be a better place if we removed the taboo – and hence, diminished the fetishisation – of naked bodies.

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The reason it’s a problem in ‘Altered Carbon’ – and, to be fair, many other modern productions, including ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Spartacus’, pretty much anything by HBO, in fact – is the lopsided nature of the nudity.

There are so many scenes in ‘Altered Carbon’ that feature a fully-clothed man and an at least partially-naked woman (or at least a woman wearing see-through clothing) that it actually gets a little uncomfortable. And to be fair, there are examples of male nudity, sometimes even when there are clothed women in the same scene. But they are comparatively so few and far between that there’s simply no possible way that it could be viewed as “egalitarian”.

Now, that may be intentional. I’ll concede that one of the themes of the show is the exploitation of the lower classes by the upper classes, and so naturally you’ll see more sex workers, more poor people forced into compromising situations to amuse their hyper-wealthy abusers.

But that doesn’t explain why almost all of the sex workers we see (roughly 90%) are women. Many of the hyper-wealthy elite are women themselves, most with sexual interests in men, it seems. So you might expect the many brothels and strip clubs and snuff fetish hotels to be staffed by at least as many men as women.

Nor does the exploitation metaphor explain why it is that all of the wealthy, powerful women also end up without any clothes on.

Indeed, early on, as the lead character Kovacs explores a sleeve- and clone-production facility (“sleeve” being the term for a body, effectively, which can be inhabited by a person’s consciousness) he walks past three large holographic advertisements: one a man and one a woman, both advertising better sleeves for their owner, and a third, a fully naked woman with the slogan “Put your wife in me.” Could that not have been an attractive young man with the slogan “Put your husband in me”? Wealth and power in this world seem to be attributed to masculinity by default, despite featuring an independently wealthy woman as the main antagonist.

Now, this is a fairly standard trope, sadly, for the cyberpunk genre. In something like ‘Ex Machina’, however, the decision to have outwardly female androids exploited by a male creator feels like a self-aware, conscious decision, and the ensuing nudity feels similarly appropriate – the discomfort of it all fits the theme of the film.

Likewise – and this is purely me attempting to rationalise my own hypocrisy – shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ are intentionally portraying patriarchal societies, and whilst that doesn’t excuse the show’s rampant and unapologetic exploitation of “tits for the perverts” it at least provides some level of in-world justification for a gender imbalance.

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‘Altered Carbon’ doesn’t even have that level of flimsy rationalisation. During the finale, the female detective, Ortega (see below) is held captive aboard the villain’s floating sex dungeon. Her rescue team is made up entirely of men – all technical experts in some capacity, and none of whom appear naked. One of those men is, in fairness, merely a male body inhabited by a woman’s consciousness – but the scene itself is nonetheless made up entirely of male actors. Again, none of whom take their clothes off in the entire series.

Note: Detective Ortega is one of only two female protagonists who, despite generally remaining fully clothed, has nonetheless been shown showering, and also wandering around a room fully naked whilst her sexual partner lies in bed with his genitals covered by the tactical arrangement of a sheet, and also being bathed by that same man, who remained fully-clothed throughout whilst she again wandered around with no clothes on.

During a prior fight scene, we see Ortega confront and fight with the show’s villain, Kovacs’ sister Rei. Ortega is fully clothed, but the fight occurs in Rei’s private cloning chamber, where a series of her fully-naked clones attack Ortega in sequence. Which means that in one of the few scenes in all ten episodes to feature only women, half of those women are completely naked.


Female “Empowerment”

Further issues occur with one of the more minor characters, Lizzie. Lizzie is a young woman who is murdered so horribly that her consciousness gets caught in a “trauma loop”, where her tortured mind is forced to relive her attack over and over.

Part of her “recovery” involves her learning advanced combat techniques, such that she feels like she has the ability to defend herself, thus empowering her to leave her shell and re-enter the real world. Which is kind of fine, I guess, I can make my peace with that.

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Where it falls down though is that her first appearance in the real world is her inhabiting the artificial body of a completely naked sex robot, or “synth”. She then morphs the synth’s appearance to match her own – such that she is now completely naked. She then decides to clothe herself, at which point she chooses a revealing, skin-tight bondage outfit.

Now, I mean, at least the character chose that outfit for herself. But she didn’t really, the show’s creators did. And that means that one of the few women who actually get an arc in the series does so by evolving from a mute, terrified trauma victim to a “totally badass” action girl, dressed as a BDSM sex worker. If that doesn’t seem at least a little off to you, then that’s fine, but it seems weird to me.


In Summary

There is a hell of a lot more to talk about regarding gender representation in ‘Altered Carbon’. For all of its sins, I will at least credit the show with having a decent spectrum of PoC as its cast members (even if all the wealthiest people seem to be white).

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But its over-sexualisation of women makes it feel irreparably out of touch – particularly when we’re all still in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

If you’re still not convinced, and if you think I’m making too much of it, then all I can say is this: if all the images of naked men throughout this post left you feeling uncomfortable or distracted, that’s exactly what it’s like watching ‘Altered Carbon’. Only ten times more so. I had to scrape the series to find these images of male nudity – but it would have been ten times easier to find a corresponding amount of female nudity.

Is ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Veering Too Closely To Sadism, Sexism and Bloody Violence?

With the many issues that are emerging with the latest Star Trek series, I’ve decided to try shorter, single-topic articles rather than the romping, five-thousand-word anger fests that I usually produce.

First up, I want to talk about Violence.


Are We Watching A Sadist’s Vision Of The Future?

Trek has always been violent. Action has been at the heart of Star Trek since its very first episode. Even the mostly-peaceable ‘The Voyage Home’ managed to slot in some nightmarish images of whales getting harvested. And one of the most famous scenes from arguably the best entry into the franchise features a brutal ear-fucking by some space maggots. And let’s not even get started on The Next Generation’s ‘Conspiracy’.

What I’m really, really concerned about with ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is the sadism of it all. Not the sadism of the characters, mind – Khan was a sadist through and through, and the violence he inflicted on others matched that.

I’m talking about the fact that the show itself – indeed, its creators – seems to revel in the suffering endured by its characters, even when it’s incidental.

Take a look at Landry, for instance. By all counts, I’m glad the show is rid of her – she was a horrid, prejudiced dolt who was entirely out of place in Trek’s moral palette. When she gets killed by the large-igrade, we see her thrown around the room like a ragdoll by the beast, and that’s relatively standard for Trek. What was less standard was the CSI-style, top-down close-up of her lacerated body that immediately followed.

For the purposes of the narrative, we knew she was dead. We even get the standard dialogue confirming it. The view of her corpse, covered in bloody, deep cuts in her flesh, is entirely surplus to requirements – especially with the shot as close as it is, to show off all the detail.

Further, her death doesn’t even particularly serve the narrative, except to prove that the large-igrade reacts to threats. And she doesn’t even get mentioned for the rest of the episode, never mind the series. To all intents and purposes, she’s a throw-away character who exists to demonstrate the behaviour of an alien, and yet the show extracts as much horror and shock from her death as is possible.

In the same episode, we are told in graphic detail the fate of Captain Georgiou. Now, the Klingons discuss it with a degree of satisfaction that fits their more brutal characteristics, which is fine. But again, the detail with which the act is presented seems unnecessarily brutal. Hell, the fact it happened at all in the Star Trek universe is shocking enough.

Georgiou’s death is savage in its own right. Gone are the days of getting shot with a phaser and collapsing to the ground with a few burn marks. Georgiou is impaled with a Klingon blade, straight through the chest. Her attacker, T’Kuvma, is then shot with a phaser, resulting in a slowly-widening, fiery hole engulfing his upper chest.

In the latest episode, ‘Choose Your Pain’, the Klingon captain is hit with a deflected energy blast which melts half her face. But even as the protagonists are fleeing the scene, we are treated to a lingering close-up of her screaming in agony as her flesh sears and her face deforms. Where Gerogiou’s and T’Kuvma’s suffering could be considered necessary to inform on the grief of the characters around them, the Klingon captain’s suffering is entirely incidental – nobody is present to witness her torment except for the audience.

Even the after-effects of the show’s violence are harsh. Lieutenant Detmer, an officer on Burnham’s previous ship, now assigned to the Discovery, bears extensive reconstruction to the side of her head and face, with metal scaffolds that would seem to be holding parts of her skull together.

And Burnham herself is put through the ringer – covered in extensive radiation burns for a large portion of the first episode, blasted through space without an EVA suit in the second, and seen screaming in agony and torment at the beginning of the latest, as she empathy-dreams about the large-igrade’s fate.

And of these examples, all of them bar T’Kuvma are women. And that’s another scary aspect of the show’s treatment of violence. Whilst we see men being killed, and Lorca bears a painful war-wound, all of the graphic, gory fates are restricted to the female members of the cast, many of whom are women of colour.

And as mentioned elsewhere, I’m not trying to claim that this was a deliberate decision on behalf of the show’s creators – but it’s a worrying correlation. Greater representation for women in Star Trek is a good thing, but it’s mitigated if they are to be the exclusive recipients of sadistic, cruel violence.

Indeed, as of ‘Choose Your Pain’, and including the examples above, there has so far been a 5:5 ratio between the number of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Episodes and the number of times we see the mutilation of women’s bodies. That goes up to 5:6 if we include the verbal description of Georgiou’s body being cannibalised. That is not a nice statistic for any show, especially one bearing the Star Trek trademark.

Even moving away from the gender balance of it all, a bog-standard redshirt is murdered in the latest episode, and whilst normally this would be a “punched in the head, slashed with a blade” type affair, we instead see two Klingons graphically plunge bayonets into his chest, leaving large, bloody wounds behind. Redshirts dying used to be simple – nowadays, its as visceral and gratuitous as a Tarantino movie.


Mutilations Are Fair Game But Affection Between Gay Men Remains Taboo

Whilst women being burned, lacerated and eaten is all considered appropriate content by the show’s creators, two men kissing is still, apparently, taboo. At the end of ‘Choose Your Pain’, it is revealed that two of the Discovery‘s crew are in a homosexual relationship.

Despite the fact that one of them narrowly escaped death just a few scenes earlier, and the other expresses relief that he is still alive, the most physical contact that they make is a hand laid lightly on the other’s shoulder. Which is fine, but the scene itself is set up in such a way that, had it been a heterosexual couple, I would have been fully expecting a kiss, and a hug, or indeed any significant display of physical affection.

The lack of this physicality is notable, conspicuous by its absence, and whilst this may simply be a reflection of the two characters’ personalities (certainly there was no chemistry between them prior to this revelation), it doesn’t half come across as the show’s creators being too scared to show two men kissing.

Maybe I’m just reaching, or maybe my distaste with the show has coloured my view of it, but I hope this is not going to be a 2017 production that considers affection between two people to be more shocking and inappropriate than gory scenes of torture and brutality.