Saturday, 5 October 2013

Atlantis: A Girl by Any Other Name


Atlantis' second episode introduces another new character in another gorgeous episode that switches between the equally pretty albeit slightly different-looking countrysides of Wales and Morocco... Beware spoilers.

The inspiration for this episode is presumably Euripides' Bacchae, CS Lewis' favourite Greek tragedy. In the play, the king of Cadmus, Pentheus, forbids the worship of the god of wine, ecstasy and fun in general, Dionysus. In revenge, Dionysus drives the bacchants - his female worshippers - mad and persuades Pentheus to spy on them. When they find him, they tear Pentheus limb from limb and his own mother carries his head, stuck on a thyrsos, back in triumph, only later realising it's her own son.

There's no sign of anyone being torn limb from limb here - though it is mentioned - but the maenads are pretty freaky for a family show. As screen depictions of maenads go, these are definitely closer to reality than True Blood's Maryann - not that it takes much (and some of the stories Hercules and Pythagoras have apparently heard about maenads sound more like they apply to Maryann). The 'satyrs', on the other hand, don't look much like satyrs, who should be half-man, half goat (I'm not sure what these were - the love-children of Gollum and some Inferi, possibly). Perhaps the show-runners didn't want Narnia fans to get confused, and are saving the half-man/half-goat look for some fauns later on.

We can see where the decision to make Jason a modern character (or, more strictly speaking, one raised in the modern world) really starts to pay off here, in his reaction to Medusa introducing herself with a cheery 'My name is Medusa!' He even takes the time to check whether it's a common name. Since the audience will probably react in a similar way to such names, it's quite nice to have a character who can have that reaction on screen and address the issue head on - and, of course, point out all the differences between the stories we know and what we see here in an attempt to get the audience on board with a new version of the tale. By the end of the episode she's apparently been cursed, but her hair is still hair and everyone's OK with looking at her, so we'll just have to wait and see exactly how she turns into a monster for heroes to slay, if, indeed, she does.

I rather liked Jason's response to Hercules' explanation of what happened with his mysterious woman as well, as Hercules says she was terrified and Jason says, 'I'm not surprised if you were chasing her through the woods!' There's so much underlying misogyny in Greek mythology, it is probably a very wise idea to have a modern character around to comment occasionally on the rather dubious attitudes that the other characters take for granted. Mostly, these things can be adapted out, but it's still a useful backup position to have available.

There were some other quick shout-outs to various aspects of Greek mythology and history here. Hemlock is the poison that Socrates was forced to take, which does indeed work quite quickly, though possibly not that quickly. Medusa avoids being brain-washed by the cult of Dionysus by stuffing her ears, which echoes Odysseys avoiding the Sirens. It was nice to see this new, cowardly version of Hercules stand up for someone and show some bravery this week as well - perhaps his reputation won't turn out to be entirely undeserved!

There are still some minor niggles with the show. Towards the beginning I found myself wondering exactly what Hercules and Pythagoras' jobs are, and how they make money, other than adventuring (which seems unlikely given neither of them are much for fighting). They seem to be doing security of some kind? Which is what's boring Jason?

Even more problematically, we hear the maenads speak some Greek, which just draws attention to the still-unresolved issue of exactly what language everyone's speaking and how they're able to understand one another if Jason's speaking English and everyone else is speaking Greek. Or are they speaking English? Hmm. As with Stargate (which did at least provide a handwave explanation for the entire multiverse speaking English) I guess we shouldn't worry about that too much. And although we keep being promised some mystical explanation, the satyrs' refusal to attack Jason did seem awfully convenient.

Still, niggles aside, this was another fun and beautifully shot episode. Ariadne still doesn't have much of a personality but Medusa does, and both she and Hercules showed an endearing kindness (even if I was distracted throughout by imagining Demetria's father as Cato). There's only so many weeks we can watch the Oracle make obscure, enigmatic statements though...

Quotes

Jason: I nearly died of boredom twice.

Pythagoras: So your cunning plan to avoid your debts is to get yourself killed?

All Atlantis reviews

8 comments:

  1. Now I'm intrigued! I hope it gets carried over on this side of the Atlantic...

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  2. So they're playing Hercules as cowardly? That's an interesting choice, but it's going to make it even harder for me to see past Mark Addy. I have a really hard time seeing him as anything other than DC Gary Boyle or maybe Robert Carlyle's sidekick in The Full Monty. (Haven't watched Game of Thrones yet.)

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    1. Yes - I'm enjoying their interpretation of Hercules a lot, though it's nice to see he can be brave when necessary! (Game of Thrones is great by the way, highly recommended!)

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  3. Still not completely on board, but this was fun!

    I think you're right about the positive aspects of having a "modern" character on board. His frustration with the Oracle reflects ours (the others would take it as normal), his reaction to Medusa's name here and Hercules and Pythagoras in the previous episode...

    If Medusa does change as a result of this woman's curse then it will be another deviation from Mythology. She was cursed by Athena, right? My memories are a bit fuzzy on the topic... :p

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    1. It depends which version you're reading. Sometimes she's just a Gorgon - there were three of them, but she was the only mortal one. If she's cursed it's usually by Athena, either because she was raped at Athena's altar or because she said she was more beautiful than Athena.

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    2. I thought that Athena caught her making out with Poseidon in her temple.

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  4. I thought all three Gorgon sisters had been cursed by Athena...

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    1. It depends on the source -sometimes they seem more like random monsters!

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