A small squad of gun-toting imperial fighters marches through a Vancouver soundstage. The light-up red eyes on their helmets shine through the pitch black and smoke of the hanger. It is the stuff of nightmares… or Altered Carbon season 2.
“These are Praetorians. They're basically black-outfitted stormtroopers,” Melissa R. Stubbs later tells Refinery29. Stubbs is the stunt coordinator for the Netflix show’s sophomore year, which premieres Thursday, February 27. “They are the protectorate. They are these badass warriors who can't be killed. So they're coming after our team.”
This time around, the steampunk sci-fi series’ team is a little different from the one fans met during Altered Carbon season 1, which debuted over two years ago in February 2018. Marvel breakout Anthony Mackie has taken over the central hero role of space-traversing supersoldier Takeshi Kovacs from Swedish beefcake/DC Comics actor Joel Kinnaman. Simone Missick — currently leading CBS’ All Rise — has joined the cast as Trepp, a bounty hunter on Harlan’s World, aka Kovacs’ controversial home planet. Kovacs’ eternal love interest Quellcrist Falconer, the Altered universe’s most fearsome freedom fighter, is still played by Hamilton alum Renée Elise Goldsberry.
However, as the Altered Carbon season 2 trailer confirms, Quell, who died hundreds of years before before the events of the series, is no longer a memory — she’s a knife-wielding, very alive warrior. The question hanging question is, how?
After a June 2019 visit to the Netflix’s series set (carefully embargoed until the season premiere), we just might know the answer — along with a few other juicy behind the scenes secrets. Keep reading for the full lowdown on what to expect from Altered Carbon season 2’s new Quell, and much, much more.
Altered Carbon will play with gender more than ever
The first season of Altered Carbon pushed the bounds of immortality — and race — to the very edge. As much internet chatter discussed, protagonist Kovacs is a biracial Asian and white man who was living in a white sleeve for most of season 1. Season 2 will once again question what identifiers like race mean in a future where consciousness (or, a “stack”) can be beamed into any body (or “sleeve”) — and add gender to the conversation.
“One of our leading men is sharing a sleeve with one of the woman sleeves,” stunt coordinator Melissa R. Stubbs teases to Refinery29. “So it's actually the woman inside the sleeve of the male sleeve.”
“So it's a male actor playing this role and he comes in, John Wick-style, as [director Salli Richardson-Whitfield] wanted, takes out 10 guards in a row,” Stubbs continues. “[The actor] had to think like a woman and take these people out like the female characters. So it was encompassing both male and female attributes of a human; the mind, heart, soul, the way they think, the way they would fight, and what are they fighting for — and how do they do it?”
Fight scenes are making people emotional
“I got to be involved in a couple of big set pieces where it was just a lot of kinetic energy, a lot of just cool shit,” Will Yun Lee, who plays the original Takeshi Kovacs, says. Trailers confirm Lee will be jumping into the present season 2 storyline through a sci-fi twist.
Director Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who helmed the final two episodes of the 2020 season, is particularly excited for fans to get to one action scene hiding in her pair of chapters. “There is a particular fight scene at the end of this [season] that we really thought outside of the box and is completely different than anything they’ve done last season or this season,” Richardson-Whitfield says. “It’s something that me and the director of photography really thought about and pitched to the writers and they were like, Yeah!”
Star Renée Elise Goldsberry, who plays leading lady Quellcrist Falconer, is dreading one specific fight scene — but probably not for the reason you think. “I’m actually sentimental about my last fight sequence coming up this week,” Goldsberry says. “I have one little fight sequence left with Anthony Mackie’s character and when it’s over, my body will be happy, but my heart will be like, Aw.”
Altered Carbon will be a love story
Although Altered Carbon season 2 promises to be filled with John Wick-ish “gun fu” and jaw-dropping displays of fisticuffs, the cast and crew want fans to know this story isn’t a simple action adventure — it’s a romance between star-crossed lovers/ultimate fighters Kovacs and Quell.
“At the end of the day, this is a love story,” star Anthony Mackie says a couple of minutes before heading to set, noting this is one of his first times playing a true “lover” in a project. “There’s nothing better than someone infinitely confessing their love to someone and proving it. Between Kovacs and Quel, he really gives his all and sacrifices everything. Because he realizes how great she is as a being, and that’s the ultimate test of love.”
Director Richardson-Whitfield confirms we’ll see a crescendo of that love story as season 2 races to its ending. “Fans don’t want to just see all the fanfare and the shooting,” Richardson-Whitfield, who shot season-closing episodes 7 and 8, says. “They want to see what’s happening with these relationships and how they’re ending or maybe how they’re beginning. Those tender moments between people, I think that’s what this block has a lot of”.
Meet Quellcrist Falconer
Since Altered Carbon 2.0 is built around Kovacs and Quell, it only makes sense for viewers to finally get to know the true Quellcrist Falconer — not the idealized version Kovacs has carried with him for, essentially, hundreds of years. As trailers suggest, something has brought someone who looks a whole heck of a lot like Quell into the present day of Altered.
“What’s wonderful about season 2 is that we see Quell as Quell, not through the lens of another person. That’s a wonderful burden for women to be able to put down: knowing that there is no perfect woman,” Goldsberry, the Tony-winning actress who brings Quell to life, says in full battle gear from a small side room on Altered’s cavernous set. Goldsberry emphasizes that season 2 will allow us to understand the “struggles” of Quell, a woman laden with the awareness of her world-saving responsibilities.
“What’s really fantastic about this season being conceived and created again by another awesome, very powerful woman is we get to see a really authentic look at a woman character who is a superhero,” Goldberry begins. “But she is still a woman.”
The people around Goldsberry are visibly impressed by what Goldsberry has brought to her character for 2020. “I think people have been waiting to really see her, all the time and not these little pieces,” director Richardson-Whitfield says of Quell. “You do [see her]. She’s a fascinating, complex character, she is a strong woman, she is a strong Black woman. I gotta tell you, you’re in this huge sci-fi show with three African American leads and they are bringing it.”
For his part, Anthony isn’t surprised to see Goldsberry “bringing it,” joking, “I saw season 1. I knew Renee was nasty with it.”
Poe has a new friend
A large chunk of Altered Carbon season 2 investigates the relationship of Kovacs and his AI sidekick Poe (Chris Conner) after decades together. Considering just how gruff Kovacs can be, it’s no surprise fans will find a strain in the series’ tightest friendship in new episodes. However, season 2 also gives Poe the gift: Dig 301 (Ramy’s Dina Shihabi), an archaeology-based AI.
“I'm basically programmed to do things that I technically can't really do anymore, and so I end up joining up with Poe,” Dig’s portrayer, Dina Shihabi, says.
“This is probably the most surprising storyline of our season for me,” Chris Conner, who plays Poe, explains. “Poe finds a kindred spirit and someone who propels him to be better than he is. What they wrote is what I hope for in my own life and I found with my wife, is two people trying to make each other better and walk their own paths, but just so happens the paths are going the right direction together.
If you think Conner’s words suggest romance could be ahead for Poe and Dig, he suggests the story will be more complicated than that. “Well, we are artificial intelligent life forms. So what does that mean to have intimacy together as developing intelligences? And we get to explore that a lot,” Conner teases. “We'll propel it to somewhere surprising where people can see something that might be a glimpse into the future.”