There’s an odd contradiction at the heart of Future Man: The show is trying to do a plot straight out of an ’80s sci-fi movie, in a world where the characters know about and can play off of those conventions. That means that sometimes the show can have its cake and eat it too, but it also means that Future Man occasionally enters an uncanny valley with its production value, where it looks and feels caught between a delightfully cheesy sendup or intentional spoof of those movies and a more sophisticated, modern version of their tropes. Which is to say that if the rest of Future Man looked as good as “Pandora’s Mailbox,” a very funny and sharp, albeit loving sendup of James Cameron and James Cameron movies, it would be a much better show.
Almost all of “Pandora’s Mailbox” takes place in the near-future year of 2023 at the J.C.C., or James Cameron Compound—the site of the discovery of Cameronium. I want to single out Sam Ogden and Lisa Clark, the Future Man set designer and set decorator respectively, because the look and feel of the J.C.C. is really spot on. Though there’s certainly not enough going on for Avatar 5, the sets for the J.C.C. evoke a sleek, retro-futuristic minimalism that still fits in with the broader James Cameron aesthetic, from the elevator buttons telling you how to get to the Abyss (the basement lab) to the carefully mounted hall of props (including the Titanic door that Wolf sits on for a while). It’s a fun place to spend an episode, especially after the opening scene of Biotics staring at Josh’s semen stains leans a bit too hard on the show’s inherent immaturity.
The J.C.C. also introduces one of the best secondary characters Future Man has had so far: SIGORN-E, James Cameron’s smart house. Voiced by Megan Hayes, SIGORN-E is the mouthpiece (so to speak) for some great gags, ranging from the corny but still funny (“You have just told me a... True Lie”) to the efficient and versatile (descriptions for James Cameron including “ground-breaking multi-hyphenate,” “taller than average,” “good at marriage,” “visionary linguist,” and, of course, “Titanic talent”) to the surprisingly affecting (her bonding with Wolf, who is also having some issues trying to be something other than the thing he was programmed to be and who manages to learn the entire Na’vi language in, like, an hour). Also, SIGORN-E’s presence forces Josh to pretend to be Tom Arnold’s son Jax (who, for the record, actually was born in 2013), which is a rather specific pull.
Another very specific pull: The best joke in the show so far, when SIGORN-E tells Josh that James Cameron is at the home of “Governor Clooney,” who turns out to be Amal. Not only does Josh assume that “Governor Clooney” refers to George, you might have assumed it too, and you’d definitely assume that Future Man as a show would go that route. It’s a gag that relies on both some degree of sexism and the assumption that the easier joke is the one about celebrities getting elected to office, the smarter kind of time travel humor that I wish populated the rest of the show. (Or, at least, they got me with it. Your mileage may vary.)
Meanwhile, Tiger is primarily confused and put-upon for this episode, since Wolf and Josh are both deep into Cameron fandom. (One of the episode’s better recurring gags is the way Tiger complains about Cameron’s “hard-on for blue lights.”) Still, she opens the episode with one of the softer moments—sending her DNA in under Diane’s name to a testing lab that would tell her about her family history. It’s a neat idea that could play off Wolf’s burgeoning interest in cooking as both characters discover their non-Resistance side, but honestly we don’t really know Tiger well enough for the scene to matter. (It seems like the show knows this too—the scene is pretty overwhelmingly scored with maudlin strings, shouting that it’s meant to be taken seriously.)
Tiger also comes clean about The Resistance’s history in a conversation with Josh, who is still harboring doubts after his interrogation of Jeri. Honestly, I’m not totally sure what we’re supposed to get out of this scene—it seems like The Resistance was mostly fine on its own, until the Biotics tried to kill of their children—but also, Tiger kind of makes it seem like The Resistance was originally an army of anti-vaxxers? Maybe herd immunity has changed in the future, but this is a pretty weird way to frame the ostensibly heroic freedom fighters in your television show! Still, Josh is convinced by their heart to heart, committed to the side he’s been drafted onto for the Biotic Wars to the point where he jumps into a freezing pool to recover the Cameronium and dies in the process.
Thankfully, Tiger is willing to go through some much needed character development and go rathole to rathole with Josh, who wakes up in a coughing fit after receiving resuscitation. Set with their new Cameronium fuel, Josh, Tiger, and Wolf head back to 2017 to find out where and when Kronish was born. Maybe they’ll actually succeed in their mission before Avatar 2 hits theaters!