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Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: TV.

US animated online tv series (2022-current). AMC Studios, Titmouse. Based on the work of Ken Liu. Created by Craig Silverstein. Directors include Ed Tadem and Melchior Zwyer. Writers include Craig Silverstein. Voice cast includes Katie Chang, Paul Dano, Chris Diamantopoulos, Rosemarie DeWitt, William Hurt, Raza Jaffrey, Daniel Dae Kim, Heather Lind and Ajay Mehta. Eight 41-44 minute episodes. Colour.

The company Logorhythm has the Technology to scan a living mind, but the procedure is fatal: "The brain would be peeled away, layer by layer, by a laser that records everything, down to the molecular level." Employee David Kim (Kim), who has only days to live, agrees to the procedure but his family is told it fails. Years later his daughter Maddie (Chang) is helped online by someone who seems to be her father. Her mother, Ellen (DeWittis), learns David did became an Uploaded Intelligence (UI), but is only now becoming fully conscious: "I want family, I want freedom." An earlier upload, Laurie Lowell (Lind), who escaped from Logorhythm's servers, helps Maddie to load her father's data onto an encrypted online server that will house his neural patterns.

Caspian (Dano) believes himself to be the son of one of Logorhythm's employees, but is a Clone of Stephen Holstrom (Hurt), the genius (see Intelligence) founder of Logorhythm. Caspian's parents are actors: the company is mimicking Holstrom's life to create an intellectual copy of their founder, who died comparatively young – in 2001 – before he could perfect the uploading technique, which has a flaw that will eventually kill any UI. The clone of himself was Holstrom's idea; he believed it would eventually work out how to remove the flaw. Caspian discovers the truth and flees; through Maddie he meets Laurie and David.

Working in the same field is an Indian company owned by Ajit Prasad (Mehta), who scan one of their researchers, Chanda Vinod (Jaffrey): their technique is far more brutal than Logorhythm's. His uploaded consciousness now undergoes an endless cycle of workdays, until a visitation by the remnants of Prasad's early, failed, UIs cause him to realize his situation. After killing Ajit and his family, Chanda decides to build an online world where UIs can live, unfettered by humanity (see Utopia). He passes the secret of uploading to military agencies around the world, believing he will have no problem persuading the resulting UIs to join him. Not long after, security hacks – political, military and financial – undertaken by the UIs created by these agencies edge the world towards war. Chanda destroys Laurie's servers when she threatens to go public; Chanda and David's Avatars now battle in Cyberspace (which has Role Playing Game elements) – David is killed, but manages to broadcast Laurie's warning. Meanwhile, Caspian is offered control of Logorhythm, and accepts, planning to shut it down: he orders the unplugging of their servers, possibly killing Chanda.

Pope (Diamantopoulos), Logorhythm's former CEO, now reveals their true plans: Earth's finite resources cannot support humanity for much longer (see Disaster; Ecology; Overpopulation), but the Cloud can, granting "us freedom from scarcity, possession, decay, waste – and yes, death." (see Immortality). Conceding that unruly uploads could be a problem, their answer is to have a ruling UI. Caspian says the only person he'd have trusted with such responsibility is David, who's dead. Pope points out that this is not a problem: "We kept a copy, of course."

This is an impressive, thoughtful work of high-concept sf that slowly builds tension and is not afraid to have characters spend time discussing ideas. When most western animated sf is either in the Humour and/or Superhero genres, Pantheon is to be applauded for choosing its own path. On the whole the characterization is good, though at times Chanda's and Caspian's personalities don't quite jell (the latter seems too easily swayed by Pope). Needless to say, what it is to be human (see Identity; Metaphysics) and Paranoia are core themes.

Pantheon is based on the three stories Ken Liu wrote for the End of the World themed anthology series The Apocalypse Triptych (anth 2014-2015) edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. There are some changes: most notably, the Caspian and Holstrom characters and plotlines are original to the tv series. A second season was completed, but then cancelled as part of AMC's cost-cutting measures. [SP]


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