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AMC+’s Pantheon Episode 1 And 2 Recap And Review-A Cyberpunk Obsession

Taylor Schilling voice of Renee and Paul Dano voice of Caspian – Pantheon _ Season 1, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Titmouse Inc/AMC

The most exciting tech thriller on television is an animated show from AMC+. Pantheon is a cyberpunk mystery filled with philosophical, intelligent, and emotional weight. It is also wildly engaging. Developed from the works of Ken Liu’s award-winning book The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, it feels like the perfect extension of those interconnected stories. The chapter of the book spanned thousands of years as humans struggled with the implications of digital intelligence and what it means to be alive. It is an expansive book that is rooted in philosophy and sentiment. Pantheon feels from the same place. It is what an adaptation should be.

The series is a heady mix of high-level concepts and simple life truths. It’s a fun watch that keeps you on your toes and deep into the weeds. Early on, there are conversations about the Singularity and ancient aliens. Did you ever expect to have both geeky guilty pleasures jammed into a series? Pantheon opens with the story of Maddie, a teen struggling with her father’s death and nasty school bullies. It is also about Caspian, a brilliant loner whose entire upbringing appears to be a bizarre and cruel experiment. If that isn’t enough, there are huge injections of cyberpunk mysteries.

The pilot opens with a mythology lesson that rather ham-handedly reminds us rulers are frequently displaced by their offspring or creations. The implication is clear. Regardless of how tightly these big tech corporations try to hold onto their creations, they are already on the precipice of destruction from those very creations. The second episode gives us a similarly blunt lesson on the importance of love. The human brain is amazing, but its compacity for love makes it special. These two lessons dictate the course of the series.

Some elements don’t work, like a conversation meant to illustrate the complexities of Maddie’s parent’s view of the world. Ellen questions why anyone would play a game where you couldn’t ever die, and David counters why die if you don’t have to? It foreshadows and informs the viewer that Maddie comes from both worlds and is probably better for it. The voice talents of Daniel Dae Kim, who plays David, Rosemarie DeWitt(Ellen), and Katie Chang(Maddie) help alleviate some of this coarseness, though, as they have palpable chemistry.

These are rich characters who invite you into their world moment by moment. Chang’s Maddie and Kim’s David are profoundly tender and vibrant together. Caspian is magnetic thanks to Paul Dano, who makes him both brooding, empathetic, and an enigma as we settle into what is happening to him and why. Maddie’s mother, Ellen, provides a fierce counterbalance for the group. She is brilliant in her own right and firmly has one foot on both the technical and philosophical side of the issues.

When David was close to death, he agreed to be scanned in the hopes that his brain could live on in a computer. The experiment appeared not to work, but they learned it was a lie two years later. Caspian and Maddie connect when her dead father begins reaching out to her through her computer. David’s intelligence stalled until they recently introduced his emotional side. After that, he developed exponentially. Unfortunately, those interactions bring Caspian and Maddie into the middle of a corporate battle to control Uploaded Intelligence. It is the ultimate ghost in the machine.

Katie Chang voice of Maddie – Pantheon _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Titmouse Inc/AMC

When Maddie is contacted by the husband of a second Uploaded Intelligence named Laurie, she has all the pieces to wrangle her father from Logorhythms’ grasp. Although Ellen thinks the idea of a digital David is abhorrent, Maddie has other ideas. In a chilling showdown, Maddie demonstrates a rigid spine and brave heart. With the help of Laurie, she holds all the cards and is able to walk out of the building with her father. With two artificial intelligences out in the world, there are a lot of directions this show could take. Coupled with Caspian’s plight, there are elements to be excited about. What are his parents trying to do and why? Are they trying to program a human through behaviors just as you would change a program through code, or is Caspian something else entirely?

Comparisons will undoubtedly be drawn to HBO’s Westworld. What Delos wanted to achieve with the hosts pales compared to what occurs in Pantheon. This is more Transcendence than Westworld, with the human element front and center. It’s not all navel-gazing and philosophizing, though. There is a healthy dose of corporate intrigue.

You’ve seen stories like this before. Amazon’s Upload took a humorous tone, while Black Mirror sought out the paranoia a surveillance state produces. What makes Pantheon unique is the gooey emotional core in between all the technobabble and tension. We are sucked in by the mystery but obsessed because of the feeling.

This is not only a sentimental family drama, however. A brutal scene shows Chandra, a man working for a rival tech company having his brain scraped and copied into a computer against his will. The procedure is memorable and painful to watch. Chandra is conscience and pleads for his life as he has it scanned away. The pain and fear are punctuated keenly by the final words he speaks as a human. His employer is angry about a potential betrayal and is willing to trade Chandra’s life for the experiment. If he is successful he thinks he gets an uploaded intelligence and a prisoner. These are all ruthless people who only care about results.

The animation is beautiful and assists the stellar voice work. It is proof that you don’t need live action to show context. The artwork from Star Treks: Lower Decks’ Titmouse is some of the best we have seen. The nuances of Caspian and his parent’s relationship are best seen here, where small lines and facial movements are subtly teased out. The allure of a digital world promises lazer-focused seduction while the real world is often out of focus. Smart choices like this help keep the critical debate of online life versus a physical one front and center.

In a series like this, you need a little patience. An insane amount of exposition is required to set all the pieces up. But, if the excellent voice work, lovely animation, and thrilling mysteries are anything to judge by, Pantheon will be excellent. I was fully invested by the end of the second episode and couldn’t wait to see what happens next. Pantheon feels more like the sumptuous and heartfelt episode, San Junipero, of Black Mirror than anything else. It asks you to decide what matters most to humanity. New episodes are available weekly on AMC+.