‘Altered Carbon’ Explainer: Here’s Why Resolution 653 Is So Important

A failed law in “Altered Carbon” has a lot to do with the show’s technological immortality and some of its murder mysteries

(Note: This post contains some light spoilers for “Altered Carbon” Season 1.)

The world of “Altered Carbon” is a pretty huge one, and a lot of elements and concepts are talked about in the background of the show’s main action, only to become important later on. One of them is “Resolution 653,” a possible legal change that could have a major impact on law enforcement in the show’s universe.

In “Altered Carbon,” humans have developed a technology called the “cortical stack,” which is a small device implanted in each person when they turn a year old. The stack is basically a mini-hard drive that stores a person’s consciousness. Even if your body is killed, your stack can survive, and can be placed in a new body, or “sleeve.” Effectively, people become their stacks, and for some (namely, the rich), bodies become interchangeable.

Stacks can also be “spun up” outside of their bodies in virtual reality. In the show, spinning up a person’s stack is primarily discussed in terms of law enforcement. When someone is attacked or killed but their stack survives, law enforcement can spin that person up in VR and question them about what happened to them. The result is murder victims able to give police information about their own deaths, and their killers.

Not everyone believes in the use of stacks, though, even though every citizen of the U.N. Protectorate, the government in the show, has one. One group vehemently opposed to stacks is Neo-Catholicism (in the show, it’s often referred to as “Neo-C”). The Catholics of “Altered Carbon” believe that humans only get one life to live, and when they’re dead, they’re gone. Spinning up a Neo-Catholic’s stack essentially condemns them to Hell.

Neo-Catholics even have a specific type of computer code added to their stacks, called religious coding, that bars their stacks from being spun up. This causes trouble for police, however: Even if a Neo-Catholic is killed by another person, police can’t access their stacks to question them about what happened, and bring their killers to justice.

This is where Resolution 653 comes in. During Season 1 of “Altered Carbon,” the resolution is a law recently defeated, and treated as a test case for the Protectorate courts. Resolution 653 would allow police to spin up anyone, even those with religious coding, after their deaths to question them about what happened, even if they have religious coding. Of course, the Vatican and Catholics at large are vehemently opposed to the idea.

In the show, the idea of respecting people’s religious wishes is complicated by what could be a conspiracy. Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) is working on a case in which a woman was killed, seemingly by a member of the show’s ultra-rich class of “Meths.” Before her death, however, the victim apparently converted to Neo-Catholicism, which means the police can’t spin up her stack to ask her what happened. However, as the investigation continues, Ortega comes to believe that someone in the government might be protecting people by faking the religious conversion of some victims, in order to add religious coding to their stacks, and protect their murderers.

The debate about Resolution 653 largely simmers in the background of “Altered Carbon,” but where people stand on the idea is a big part of many of the show’s characters, as well as how the show’s central mystery develops over time.