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Why The Paintings In Altered Carbon Mean More Than You Think

No matter the franchise, the character, or the story, science fiction always works best when it's trying to tell a very human tale wrapped up in a futuristic setting. Sure, "Altered Carbon's" story is intrinsically linked to the imaginative technology of consciousness stored in "stacks" that can be "resleeved" into a new body, but it poses deep psychological questions at the core of the main mystery. The first season follows Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) as he's tasked with solving the murder of Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), a wealthy member of the upper class who was resleeved into a brand-new body after his death. However, he has no memory of the events that led to his murder.

It's a captivating mystery, and it's one that heads in some depraved and bizarre directions. And there are plenty of subtexts to dive into, even without looking at the story itself or lines of dialogue. In fact, the paintings seen in the apartment owned by Rei (Dichen Lachman) in the eighth episode directly correspond to the "Altered Carbon" story. The writers and producers of the series were clearly trying to create a mythical parallel between Laurens Bancroft and a painting by Francisco Goya hanging in Rei's apartment. But what does it mean?

Laurens Bancroft is like the Titan Cronus

Hanging in Reileen's apartment are Francisco Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Son" as well as Peter Paul Rubens' "Saturn," which both depict the Titan Cronus eating his own son from Greco-Roman mythology. He committed the heinous act because of a long-standing prophecy that foretold how one of Cronus' sons would kill him. So, by eating his own offspring, Cronus was attempting to stop his own death — his ego got in the way of his morals.

Cronus' story can be applied in a number of ways, most obviously in Bancroft's relationship with his son, Isaac. He constantly keeps Isaac in a younger body so that he can't grow up and take over as CEO of Bancroft Industries — so, it's easy to see the parallel between Bancroft and Cronus there. It can also be applied to the idea that Bancroft killed himself because of his own actions. Cronus didn't want to be overthrown by his own progeny, while Bancroft didn't want to lose his empire because he murdered a prostitute. 

So, by killing himself (and forgetting about the entire event), his legacy and social standing would be left unaffected in his own eyes. Unfortunately, his curiosity surrounding his death ultimately brought about the thing he was trying to avoid as Takeshi Kovacs eventually uncovered the truth. Although we aren't getting "Altered Carbon" Season 3, at least there's still plenty of layers to peel back and examine in the series.