Pandora returns for its second season Sunday night on The CW and with the series’ return so comes a whole new challenge for its heroes. The destruction of the universe has begun and there’s only one person who can stop it, Jacqueline “Jax” Zhou. But she won’t do it alone. Picking up six months after the events of the Season 1 finale, the second season will see Jax and her friends take on not just the possible end of everything but hunt down the fugitive Tierney as well.
It sounds like a wild, exciting ride and one television needs right now. With much of the fall television slate on hold due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Pandora is an exception when it comes to new, scripted programming. The series managed to pull off the seemingly impossible by completing production on its second season in time to make its fall television debut despite the pandemic, giving existing fans of the sci-fi series more to Jax’s story while also welcoming in new viewers as the show makes the leap from summer series to fall.
ComicBook.com recently had a chance to chat with Pandora creator Mark A. Altman about the series, talking about what fans can expect from the show’s sophomore season, the challenges of making television during a pandemic, and about all the great sci-fi inspiration and influence that makes Pandora both richly familiar and completely, refreshingly unique in the process.
Read on for our conversation with Altman.
ComicBook.com: I read somewhere that you described Season 1 of Pandora as “Harry Potter in the future”. With all the ground that Season 1 covered, how would you describe where the show is going in Season 2?
Mark A. Altman: I used to refer to season one as “The Paper Chase” in space but no one knew what that was, so I started using the shorthand “Harry Potter” to describe it which is probably more accurate anyway. In a way, the Academy was our Hogwarts. Instead of magic, we used spaceships and slycers (our equivalent of blasters and laser guns) to save the worlds. Also, Harry Potter, like The Paper Chase, extolled the importance of a great teacher in the formative life of a young student and that was important to us. Even though the show was about young cadets, I wanted Pandora to also be about their mentors, the teachers that shaped their lives like Osborn played by the wonderful Noah Huntley, Ellison Pevney played by the incredible Tommie Lee Jenkins and, of course, the marvelous Vikash Bhai who plays Shral who really was our Professor Kingsfield/Severus Snape but turns out to be something very different in season two. To me, college is really where you discover who you are and what you want to do with your life and a great teacher can be instrumental to shaping who you become.
You are very much a Star Trek person, you co-wrote The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years even. One of the things that struck me in Season 1 of Pandora was that it felt, in a lot of ways, very much like that original Star Trek. How can fans expect to see the Star Trek influence in Season 2?
You noticed that, huh (laughs)? Obviously, I’m a huge fan of original Star Trek as well as Next Generation and Deep Space Nine so there was no way I could do a space show without those series being important touchstones, but I have to say that season two evokes even more the spirit of the classic genre series and movies I grew up on. There’s a little Battlestar Galactica, a little Firefly, a lot of TOS [Star Trek: The Original Series] and even a little Buck Rogers and Logan’s Run in there. No Supertrain, however. You can’t avoid the giants, but you also don’t want to just pay homage, you want to use what you’ve learned from these shows as a jumping off point to create something new. The biggest influence of TOS is the idea to me of exploring contemporary issues through allegory and the lens of sci-fi. In season one, we looked at such issues as free speech on campus, date rape, slavery, and much more. It’s no accident that all the series episode titles are taken from Bob Dylan songs which have the poetry of classic Trek episode names. The other big takeaway from vintage Star Trek in which I mean the original series, TNG, and Deep Space Nine is an essential optimism and hope that the future will be better than today which is lacking in a lot of other science fiction series of late which are far more dystopian. And, of course, in Star Trek the main characters were always a family, albeit sometimes a dysfunctional one, but they were always there for each other and that was very important for me and you see that even more strongly this season. The idea that good friends can get you through anything.
What would you say is the biggest thing you learned while making Season 1 and how does that influence Season 2?
We learned so much in the first season. We had so many challenges. First and foremost, it’s no secret that we’re not a high budget series. Like Babylon 5 when it was running concurrently with Deep Space Nine, we are doing a show for a much more controlled budget than the big sci-fi film and TV franchises. Also, we were greenlit to series in late February and had to be on the air in early July for season one, so we had very little time to cast, write scripts and build sets. We also were shooting in Europe in Sofia [Bulgaria] and so understanding the way things worked there presented an immense learning curve as well. That said, I’m very proud of what we did, but season two is in a whole other league. I feel you can see the same difference from [Star Trek] Next Generation Season Two to Season Three in our show this year. We also learned so much about the characters and that the show wanted to live in space and that it was less a school show than it was a space adventure series or as Oliver Dench who plays Xander so brilliantly cheekily refers to it, “space spies.”
The real world has changed a lot since production on Season 1 of Pandora. The pandemic has definitely introduced a new challenge to film and television production. How has this “new normal” impacted Pandora Season 2?
Immense challenges. For a long time I wasn’t even sure we’d be able to do the show, but ultimately we implemented a very aggressive mitigation plan and, fortunately, we shoot in Europe which has done a better job of dealing with the pandemic than here, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to many sleepless nights waiting for our COVID test results to come back for cast and crew. We were safe, smart, concerned, and admittedly very lucky that we were able to get through production without cast or crew getting sick. Having had COVID earlier this year, it’s pretty awful, and not anything I would wish on anyone. Almost anyone. There was a kid in middle school who told me Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father before I saw Empire so maybe him.
Season 2 will see the regular cast expanded a bit with the addition of Akshay Kumar, Tina Casciani and Roxanne McKee. What can you tease about what to expect from these actors and their characters in Season 2?
I’m really so excited about the new additions. Akshay Kumar returns as Jett from last season who did something really loathsome and is now searching for redemption. This gives us a chance to explore so-called cancel culture and whether people who do something wrong really deserve a second chance. Roxanne is just a terrific addition; she’s smart, enigmatic, sexy, and a great actress. She just jumped into the pool and has been absolutely marvelous and you’re always left questioning her motives. Is she a good guy or a bad guy? We’re halfway through the season now and even I’m not quite sure. And, of course, Tina Casciani returns from Season One as the nefarious Tierney. She was pretty much a black hat villain season one, but I think we’ll see a lot more unexpected shadings to her this year and some rather unexpected developments from her… and some more great outfits too.
What are you most excited about with Season 2?
I’m really just so excited for people to see it. It’s a terrific season of television. All the characters evolve in unexpected ways, there’s some amazing visual effects from Chris LeDoux and Crafty Apes that take the show to a whole other level. We meet the Ancients which is a remarkable scene in an incredible episode which feels like a movie it’s so big. The first episode, “Things Have Changed,” starts six months after our season one finale and, true to the title, things HAVE changed. Jax is now working closely with the Earth Intelligence Services on missions and Xander has been promoted to Captain so he now has his own ship, the Dauntless, which allows us to spend a lot more time in space. In general, the show is a lot more serialized so it allows us to tell more complex stories both about the characters and the mythology which I think people will really respond to. The troika of Jax, Xander and Ralen are fantastic and I don’t think anyone ends up ultimately where you expect them to. They are our Kirk, Spock and McCoy or our Picard, Riker and Data, if you will. We address the Pandora mythology a lot more and answer a lot of questions… and ask a few more. We’ll be one of the few original dramatic series on TV this fall so I’m hoping we can attract an even larger audience and recruit a whole new bunch of “Boxers” (the name our fans have for themselves) so I’m very appreciative for you taking the time to talk about the show and let people know we’re back.
Pandora Season 2 debuts Sunday, October 4th at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.