This recap of Pandora Season 1, Episode 1, “Shelter From the Storm”, contains spoilers.
The CW has a particular knack for airing genre shows that are rip-offs but masquerade as homages, presumably to defend themselves against the obvious criticism. The Outpost is their low-rent, high-fantasy Game of Thrones stand-in; Pandora is their attempt at reaching for the stars — both the Trek and Wars varieties — with a smattering of teen melodrama and angst thrown in for good measure. And Pandora Season 1, Episode 1, “Shelter From the Storm”, is exactly that, plus all the stilted dialogue you could ever want or need. A terrible show? No, not really. But a painfully laidback and derivative one hamstrung by its own lack of imagination and ambition? Absolutely.
Fresh ideas aren’t always mandatory, especially in genre fiction; sometimes the familiar tropes and trappings are enough. Not everything has to be challenging or provocative. But the problem here, at least in the Pandora premiere, is that there isn’t much effort expended on making the borrowed elements all that interesting either — a problem when all the elements are borrowed.
Pandora Episode 1, “Shelter From the Storm”, opens with the show’s protagonist Jax (Priscilla Quintana) witnessing the unfortunate devastation of her sandy near-future colony — and with it the deaths of her parents, one assumes, although this show being what it is I wouldn’t put too much faith in that idea. We catch up with Jax some time later, when she’s enrolling in a training academy under the stewardship of her uncle, Professor Osborn (Noah Huntley), and his handsome teaching assistant, Xander Duvall (Oliver Dench).
It’s here where the Pandora premiere begins to unveil its Scooby Gang of tried-and-true genre archetypes; there’s Thomas (Martin Bobb-Semple), a telepath; Delaney (Banita Sandhu), Jax’s cybernetically-enhanced roommate; Ralen (Ben Radcliffe), the lone representative of a warlike species that shares a tumultuous political history with Earth and its folk; and Atria (Raechelle Banno), by far the most interesting character, a clone refugee from a planet where she was allowed no rights and considered her master’s property. It’s a diverse group, but “Shelter From the Storm” doesn’t really know what to do with them yet; everyone leans into their archetype or their one or two defining characteristics.
Plot-wise, Pandora Season 1, Episode 1 introduces the idea that Jax’s parentage and true nature are going to be the show’s central mystery, although as yet there’s little to buy into in that regard. The balance between getting-to-know-you scenes and attempts to forward the overarching plot is pretty even in “Shelter From the Storm”, but the worldbuilding feels a bit thin. We’re expected to buy into characters who embody — or subvert — cultural trends and attitudes but we’ve never actually seen those trends and attitudes in their original context; it’d be like Spock bursting into tears in the first episode of Star Trek and Kirk saying, “Blimey, that’s odd for a Vulcan, they’re usually a bit uptight.”
I have no desire to dislike Pandora — in part, because the CW’s rabid fandom will come for me and arbitrarily decide I’m a racist, which seems to be a trend these days, and also in part because contrary to popular belief critics have no desire to hate everything they watch. We still have to watch these things whether we hate them or not, so it’s better for everyone, including me, to enjoy them. But Pandora Episode 1 did little to convince me that there’s much on offer here beyond played-out, overly-familiar ideas that have been presented more compellingly elsewhere. But you never know. And I’ll at least say this for it: It’s certainly better than The Outpost.