I was warned that the CW’s Pandora was a bad show. But as is too often the case, my response was “challenge accepted.” I watched all thirteen episodes of the season and yes, Pandora is a bad show.
Here is the short review. If Netflix’s Another Life was too intellectually challenging for you then Pandora may be more your speed. Pandora is almost a parody of a stereotypical CW show where someone took the younger, edgier version of the SG-1 team as the way to go for a space opera.
The longer review will involve some mild spoilers for the season so consider this your SPOILER WARNING.
I’ll start with the lazy worldbuilding. Someone simply looked up space opera conventions (or tropes, if you prefer) to create a generic setting. It’s the year 2199 and Earth is a member of an interstellar alliance of worlds, in this case the Confederacy. Many of the worlds were colonized by humans during a great migration from Earth in the mid-21st Century. Of course the Confederacy had a recent war with an alien race that is still a dangerous adversary.
Most of the main characters are cadets in the Fleet Training Academy which, as the name suggests, is a service academy training students to become officers in the space fleet. But not a single cadet wears a uniform on campus so the place looks like a generic Space University. The only times we see cadets in uniform are occasionally when they’re off-world. I could go on a long rant about the problem with this but the show isn’t worth the effort.
Priscilla Quintana isn’t a terrible actress but her primary qualification to play main character Jacqueline “Jax” Zhou (who is also the Pandora of the show’s title) seems to be that she’s pretty and looks good in Jax’s default outfit of tight pants, tank top, and jacket.
None of the rest of the cast will win any positive awards for their performances either. But to be fair they are saddled with terrible, stilted lines that perhaps looked good on the page but fall flat when spoken out loud.
As for the plot, the central mystery is Jax herself. It’s stated in the first episode that she’s not human. As the season progresses it seems like only Jax and her classmates don’t know that she’s not what she seems to be. By the end of the season we still don’t know a lot about Jax/Pandora and revelations in the last couple of episodes only raise more questions about her. No major plot points from the main story or any of the side stories are resolved presumably with the expectation of a second season.
Pandora has a low budget but shows like Krypton and 12 Monkeys prove you can still tell your story effectively without a large effects budget. I had trouble suspending belief when watching Pandora but that was because of the things I listed before, not because of the effects (though the battle scenes were truly awful).
I could go on and on about the problems with Pandora like squandering the compelling story opportunity of the emancipated clone raised on a world run by a religious cult that tells clones they have no souls and aren’t considered real people. At least the writers realized a clone slave resistance movement was a good set-up for an “I’m Spartacus” moment.
But that’s more effort than the show deserves.