Rrevenge series are a staple in the K-drama world, but the bar for the genre reached new heights from 2019 to 2021 thanks to The Penthouse, which gave us three juicy seasons of melodrama and plot twists. All that momentum has bolstered excitement for Pandora: Beneath The Paradise – spearheaded by The Penthouse lead writer Kim Soon-ok and assistant writer Hyun Ji-min – and perhaps seemingly giving Disney+ and tvN’s new K-drama all it needs to succeed.
When we meet our heroine, Hong Tae-ra (played by Lee Ji-ah), it seems she has everything going for her – she’s happily married to wealthy tech company chairman Pyo Jae-hyun (Lee Sang-yoon) and lives in a sprawling mansion alongside their daughter. Despite her seemingly idyllic life, we are immediately introduced to a Tae-ra plagued by vague memories that appear in flashes. After narrowly escaping unscathed from a car accident, a portion of Tae-ra’s memories emerge, and keep coming back whenever she finds herself in jarring situations. Shockingly, they are always of her in danger: in some, she’s being chased by rabid dogs through the woods, in others she’s engaging in combat with dozens of assailants.
Tae-ra’s long lost memories form the foundation of the series’ driving force, which came to be after she was involved in an accident about 15 years ago, though the details remain fuzzy at this stage of Pandora: Beneath The Paradise. Her recollection of events prior to the accident is also being jogged by people around her, including her own sister Hong Yu-ra (Han Soo-yeon), who have been orchestrating incidents to produce these flashbacks – their motives for doing so, however, remain unclear two episodes in.
Things begin going downhill at breakneck speed from there on. Not only does Tae-ra learn of her husband’s infidelity with her own sister, she also receives an anonymous tip regarding the identity of the sniper who assassinated her father. As she cycles through numerous unpleasant situations as the series chugs on, more disjointed memories begin forcing their way to the forefront, and viewers are left to untangle the show’s labyrinthian web of complications, lies and schemes.
A revenge tale will always make for a riveting story; who doesn’t love watching the underdog not only rise against the odds but also give their adversaries a taste of their own medicine? Yet, this base premise can only take a story so far. Pandora, while intriguing in theory, has yet to live up to the fanfare – with only two episodes out, the show has already somehow spread itself too thin. With its convoluted and wide-spanning stakes, Pandora is on the precipice of losing viewers with overwhelming, jam-packed world-building before the metaphoric ball has even gotten a chance to get rolling.
Cryptic flashbacks that suggest the plot includes, but is not limited to, Squid Game-style threats (someone even refers to Tae-ra as No. 50 at some point), complex present-day politics between tech conglomerates and family, dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s affair and her sister’s betrayal… trying to grasp that all of these have occurred over the course of two hours in runtime is a hard task.
Convincing viewers to stay engaged in a story that’s already becoming too much to comprehend for 14 more episodes is even harder. Pandora’s glaring lack of a strong start is even more disappointing when you realise there are adept writers and directors behind this show – with the addition of the likes of One The Woman director Choi Hyeong-hun, the standards set by its own predecessors are far from being met, let alone surpassed.
There are so many directions Pandora could go as the series and its overarching mysteries continue to unravel, but as it stands, it seems its creators’ ambitions have far outweighed their abilities. It’s a shame that other decent aspects of the show, including the performances of veteran actors like Lee Ji-ah and Lee Sang-yoon as well as incredible CGI from Studio Dragon (behind other visually stunning K-dramas such as Alchemy of Souls and Island), are being squandered by what is shaping up to be a half-baked script.
Pandora: Beneath The Paradise airs every Saturday and Sunday at 9:10pm KST on tvN and is available for streaming on Disney+ in select regions.
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