Sunday, October 1, 2023

AMC Plus’ Pantheon Is A Terrifying Hyper-Productivity Nightmare That Shouldn’t Feel So Real

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In a less stressful world, the premise of AMC’s new animated series Pantheon by Craig Silverstein would feel much more far-fetched and unbelievable like some black mirror‘s more fantastic episodes. But at a time when people use expressions like “stop calmlyWith a straight face, a show about companies racing to see who can perfect the technology to turn employees into hyper-productive automata stripped of their humanity feels a lot less fictional than it should.

Pantheon tells a series of interconnected stories set in a near-future world not unlike our own, but the story revolves largely around a teenager named Maddie (Katie Chang) and her mother Ellen (Rosemarie DeWitt) as the pair struggle to to cope with a tragedy. Although Maddie understood how serious her father David (Daniel Dae Kim)’s struggle with a terminal illness was, the shock of his death still sends her into an emotional spiral that makes it difficult for her to be present or empathetic to the pain from her mother. Like her daughter, Ellen’s feelings about David’s death are complicated and difficult to put into words, but she understands that moving on is something she must do for her own healing.

Because David’s death is as relatively recent as… Pantheon opens, neither Ellen nor Maddie really feel like they can open up to each other about their feelings or where they are mentally. But that all changes one fateful afternoon when Maddie receives a mysterious message, written in emoji, that somehow appears in her command-line interface, from all places.

A woman leans over a desk to look at a computer screen with suspicion while her daughter, who is sitting behind her, watches.

Ellen and Maddie try to figure out who is talking to them via the command line.
Image: Mees

While Ellen and David raised Maddie to be tech-savvy and careful about how she interacts with people she meets online, she can’t help but vent her frustrations about being bullied at school to her new online pen pal, whose simplistic messages she extrapolates. in long sentences. Maddie knows better than to give the person on the other end of the chat too much personal information. But when some strange things that work in her favor start to happen offline, she’s sure that whoever she’s been talking to in secret is behind them, and they strong suspects that the person could somehow be her father. Or at least part of him.

Possibly, Pantheonwhich is based on a series of short stories by author Ken Liu, becomes a story of people uniting in the face of the show’s villains: two unfathomably powerful tech giants. But it is aware of bringing attention to the small personal losses his heroes experience as their paths gradually cross – something that remains Pantheon feeling surprisingly intimate despite the way the stakes are rising exponentially.

As impossible as it may seem that David’s fullness of consciousness could somehow exist on his daughter’s hard drive, perfecting the process of uploading people’s minds to servers is exactly what Pantheon‘s villains – two companies – are about to do it. Pantheon takes the time as it gives you clues as to how the rival tech companies plan to leverage their respective take on ‘uploaded intelligence’ technology in hopes of taking the market for employee productivity. But the show leaves no doubt that both entities are driven by profit rather than aspirations for apocalyptic global domination, which has a way of making much of what they feel so much more within the realm of possibility.

For Caspian (Paul Dano), another brilliant and withdrawn teen who spends too much time online, it’s the way his father abuses his mother that eats him up inside, rather than one of them being dead. But the implosion of his family is a kind of death that he, like Maddie, copes with by escaping into the kind of digital communities that can become lifelines for people who feel detached from society.

An overhead shot of a boy lying on his bed in a dark room lit only by the screens of his computer next to him.

Caspian is chilling in his room while his parents argue about one room.
Image: Mees

although Pantheon Drawing heavily from the dystopian sci-fi canon of the near future, the show avoids a general sense of techno panic, which in turn makes the season feel like a story about real-life people trying to navigate a world they really understand. Ellen from DeWitt and David from Kim aren’t hapless analog parents trying to keep up with their digital daughter — they’re just as tech-savvy and potentially at risk as they are, because that’s what it takes to succeed in their field. But even with their nuanced understanding of the society they live in, Maddie’s parents know there’s little they can do to fully protect her from the dangers of an increasingly digital world.

Pantheonis not without its moments of gore and abject horror, as it slowly reveals more and more of the slow mystery at its core. Ultimately, though, what’s most captivating about the series is the way it zooms in on the deeply personal ways people can learn to help and harm each other using the same bits of technology. That concept isn’t particularly new, but it’s one that Pantheon explores with an agility that shows like this aren’t always known for, and it’s more than enough reason to check it out as the season progresses.

pantheon also starred Lara Pulver, Maude Apatow, William Hurt, Scoot McNairy, Aaron Eckhart, and Taylor Schilling. The show is now airing on AMC Plus.

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