Review: Pantheon (Episodes 1-4)

Title: Pantheon
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: David Dwooman Woo, Melchior Zwyer
Starring: Katie Chang, Paul Dano, Aaron Eckhart, Rosemarie DeWitt

What It Is: A teenage girl named Maddie (Chang) is effaced with a mysterious anonymous chatroom user linked to her father, who was said to have died from cancer. Getting closer to the idea that her father may actually have a part of his personality still existing in the digital world, she seeks the ability to speak with him again. Her mother seeks protection, concerned there’s something larger at hand, relating to the suspicious tech research organization he was working with. Caspian is a quiet, incredibly intelligent teen boy who finds himself on the trail of learning about digital conscience, a new type of intelligence. Maddie, Caspian, and their families have far more to do with the unfolding technology than they realize, leaving them to race to find the truth.

What We Think: For anyone to call this series “original” is jumping the gun. Promising enough because of its source material (The Apocalypse Triptych short stories by Ken Liu), what might hold your attention to this show is the wait for whatever dark, twisty reveals it might have in store for us. Until then, it certainly takes its time in pacing itself to a few discoveries per episode, moving quite a lot slower than any of its genre contemporaries. Watching through, I kept getting reminded more and more of how familiar all of the parts are, from the thematics to the characters, to the plot. For anyone who gets a hard-on for existential sci-fi dramas, this might be a satisfying binge. For myself, I started making a list of all the other works it combines:

Tron / Tron: Legacy, Wonder Egg Priority, Serial Experiments Lain, Transcendence, Black Mirror, Westworld, Ghost in the Shell, Paprika, A Scanner Darkly, Undone, Ergo Proxy, Invincible, Blade Runner, Summer Wars…

…presented in the style of Invincible, or more mature young-adult-friendly works.

The problem I have with its similarities to these works is that so far, it hasn’t elevated or done much different with those elements as of yet. It’s paced slow, practically 1-2 major discoveries or developments per episode, in spite of the viewer likely already putting together the pieces of what’s happening far ahead of the characters. Some reveal pack a punch, while others feel inevitable for the sake of the plot. It carries enough mysterious elements to promote watching the next episode, but I can see how many might lose interest, especially considering the more animated, dark, and fantasy elements don’t kick in until a few episodes pass. There is a lot of potential here for Pantheon to square up with its sci-fi influences but should have been far more abbreviated in the writing room for explaining and showing all the things we could already read from between the lines.

I do hope it develops in a larger, more original way.

Our Grade: C+, Performed with a talented cast delivered in an interesting presentation, Pantheon may suffer from its slower pacing and use of sci-fi conventions. It should appeal to fans of the genre, young and old, but has a lot to work up to if it’s going to make its mark thematically and visually. I’m still interested in continuing the series, in the hope it’ll pull its punches in the runtime it has left in the season.