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The Uncomfortable Question Fans Have About Sleeves Dying On Altered Carbon

Fans may never get an Altered Carbon season 3, but that doesn't mean the questions about the cyberpunk series are going to stop. After all, Altered Carbon left season 2 on a cliffhanger. Regardless of how the series concluded, audience members are still curious about one of the show's most intriguing technologies: Stacks and sleeves.

A stack, for those who need a refresher, is a copy of a person's consciousness. A person's memories — and everything about this person — are digitally stored on a stack. A stack then goes into a sleeve (a body). As long as a stack isn't damaged, it can go in and out of an unlimited amount of these vessels, despite the severity of the sleeve's damage. Just because a sleeve is damaged or "dies," however, that doesn't mean a person in the Altered Carbon universe also dies — as long as a stack remains intact, that is.

Takeshi Kovacs' timeline might muddy the waters for people who have never seen the show, as he's played by multiple actors, but his journey from one vessel to the next fully displays what it means to never die on Altered Carbon. The richest people of the Altered Carbon universe made immortality a possibility, and although audience members are just supposed to accept the fact that these people have found a way to live forever (and ever and ever), questions about stacks and sleeves remain.

What actually happens to stacks when people die on Altered Carbon?

A Reddit user posting under the handle u/whiskeyjkilo brought up a valid question about dying on Altered Carbon: "After your sleeve death, and you get put into storage — Do you experience a time in your cortical stack in a sort of waiting period, somewhat like VR, or do you just jump to your new sleeve regardless of the time between sleeve death and being spun up as if there was no gap?"

Another user responded, "I'm pretty sure it's no gap. The people have violent reactions if they did a violent death. So it's like it just happened." From there, suffice it to say things get complicated, with another user writing, "My counter to this (totally playing Devil's advocate here): In the first episode, where Tak is at the reacclimation center. He is taking to Ortega about the little girl who was given the older lady's sleeve. When her parents confront the prison personnel about it, you hear the girl say (paraphrased) "No Daddy! Don't put me back in the dark!" That would suggest a period of awareness while in cold storage. IMO, the writing does a bit of a flip flop on this, and leaves it as clear as mud..."

This is, unfortunately, one of the biggest problems about a series getting unplugged (pun intended) before its time. Fans will never know what actually happens when a sleeve dies and a stack is put on ice. Whether it's similar to a hard drive being turned off or more closely related to a period of limbo, the show's creators never fully explained this concept and, as pointed out above, the show jumps back and forth. More than likely, a stack is similar to a hard drive and when it's removed from a sleeve, all thought process is turned off. Since the series leaves this up for interpretation, it will always remain a debate.

At the same time, that's also one of the beauties of a dystopian world: Audience members will always wonder how the characters arrived in a post-apocalyptic world, how they're surviving, and how advanced their technology is. In Altered Carbon's case, the technology is so advanced that it's unimaginable to the real world — but that makes for great conversation and fan theory fodder.