Hmm. I don’t know how I feel about this episode, exactly. There was good stuff in here but somehow the whole thing just felt… all over the place. Almost like it’s a really messy middle part of a trilogy.
It seems that Medusa has been cursed and missing for a little while now. Hercules finds out where she is and somehow his head has translated Pythagoras promising he’d look for a cure into him actually finding one. (Ariadne, Pasiphae and Minos, by the way, are distinct by their absence for the third episode in a row. I don’t miss them, to be honest, but wasn’t Jason supposed to be murdering Pasiphae or something? Maybe there’s no particular timescale on that). The whole episode then goes through a series of vignettes of a sort, which end up with everyone more or less back where they started, albeit in possession of a couple of new tidbits of information.
The first of these involves Jason asking the Oracle to lend him Pandora’s Box, in case that provides any clues to a possible cure. Apparently Jason is the Faramir of Atlantis and has never even been tempted to open the thing, even though it’s still doing its One Ring Whispering trick. The most interesting thing here is that the Oracle, who didn’t expect to see Jason so soon after his hissy fit last episode, looks genuinely, properly pleased to see him. Just as I typed the words ‘Is she his mother?’ into my notes, Jason started asking her about his mother and insisted she was lying when she said she’d told him all she knew. I am now completely convinced that the Oracle is, in fact, Jason’s mother.
Next we get to meet Daedalus, and a throwaway reference to his ‘foolish son Icarus’ suggests we’ll get to see that story at some point, possibly in season 2. I like Daedalus a lot, he’s cranky and slightly bonkers, that always entertains me. Pythagoras calls him ‘a man of science, an inventor’. I don’t like it when people call anyone from the ancient world ‘scientists’ because there were no scientists in the ancient world – ancient philosophers didn’t test their theories, they just thought and thought so much that sometimes they came up with fairly accurate ideas. Sometimes their ideas were crazy town banana pants (I always illustrate this point with the mirror story). They had very little sense of which was which. I don’t mind in Daedalus’ case though, because he’s mythical anyway, so what the heck. I love the way his workshop makes him seem like a sort of Atlantean Leonardo da Vinci (complete with, of course, wings hanging from the ceiling).
Then we’re off into the woods, which are full of Scythians who capture you, then let you go so they can hunt you. Scythia was a real place, near the north coast of the Black Sea. Herodotus tells all sorts of stories about how barbaric and vicious the Scythians were involving human sacrifice and drinking blood (possibly from human skulls, but I can’t remember for sure). I don’t remember anything about hunting men for sport but it's quite possible it's in there, and I'm sure Herodotus would find it plausible. Of course, Herodotus finds quite a lot of things plausible, up to and including giant gold-digging ants…
The business with the Scythians goes on for ages, until our heroes are inevitably rescued by the female hand holding a bow we saw earlier as they were passing through a grove sacred to Artemis. It turns out to belong to Atalanta, who, in the world of Atlantis, is apparently not only a huntress but also a witch, and has grown up in the woods protected by Artemis (how? The gods supposedly don’t play an active role in Atlantis…). Does every female character have to be either a monster (Medusa) or a witch? Between Circe, Pasiphae, Atalanta and, assuming she turns up next season, Medea, this is starting to get silly. On the plus side, Atalanta is awesome. Our heroes seem to agree; Atalanta tells them they’re destined to meet again and they seem quite happy about that.
Finally we get to Medusa in her cave, Hercules tries to sacrifice himself to save her, Medusa won’t let him, and we’re back to where we started except for the discovery that Jason can look at Medusa all he wants without turning into stone. But we’re no closer to finding out why that should be. Essentially (and notwithstanding my complete forgiveness of the Moff the other week) we’re looking at the Steven Moffat Doctor Who Problem again – lots and lots of ‘mystery’ attached to characters that are more plot device than three dimensional person, that drags on forever and never seems to get any payoff.
There were some really weird tonal issues with this episode in particular that quite often affect Atlantis in general. For one thing, I hate the ‘comedy’ music that plays to tell us we’re watching a funny bit. Harry Potter 5 did that too and it drove me insane. The jokes, if I’m brutally honest, often aren’t that funny, but any humour there is, is drained out of them by the music that's telling me I should be laughing. I’ve always preferred comedy played straight, like in Airplane! – a completely insane movie, but acted and filmed as if it were serious, which is what makes it funny. For another, the show lurches between deadly serious and crude comedy without warning – one minute we’re watching Jason talk about how murder ‘doesn’t feel amazing’ and get stabbed, the next we’re watching Hercules do some kind of pratfall routine involving bird poo. The two scenes don't mesh at all.
Then there’s the plot contrivances, like Pythagoras suddenly opening up to Atalanta, a total stranger, about how Hercules can cure Medusa by sacrificing himself despite the fact he hasn’t told Jason yet, which of course Hercules overhears. I suppose he might feel more comfortable talking to a stranger than to a friend who knows and loves Hercules, but still. Atalanta saves them because the goddess told her to, which is all nice and convenient, but again, the gods supposedly play no active role in Atlantis, so what happened? Did she dream about them? Did she talk to the Oracle? And I can’t help feeling the reason Atalanta is a witch is so that she can cure Jason, rather than because it’s important to her as a character.
I sound a bit down on the show this week, which is a bit unfair, as this was enjoyable enough. But this installment just felt so… messy. Atalanta is promising; I’m already much more interested in her than I am in Ariadne (sorry Ariadne). I liked the reference to the story of Alcestis and Admetus (though the bit in Euripides’ play version in which Hercules goes back to the underworld to fetch Alcestis back again for everyone to live happily ever after is, for obvious reasons, left out!). I like the central characters and as ever, it all looks beautiful (if a tiny bit Welsh, woods-wise). The whole thing just felt too much like there was no beginning and no end, just a series of bits of middle.
Next week, Jason is a vampire. Or a werewolf. Probably a werewolf. It’s more Greek.
Pythagoras (re Daedalus): He’s a genius. To him I’m a fool.
Jason: What does that make the rest of us?
Hercules (to Pythagoras): Most men dream about women, you dream about triangles.
Hercules: Can we stop talking about poo? Yes. Please. Seriously.
Pythagoras: Hello? Has anyone been turned to stone yet? OK, the joke was completely inappropriate at that moment, but I did smile at the delivery.