Saturday, 16 November 2013

Atlantis: The Furies

Atlantis dips a toe into the psychologically rich waters of Greek tragedy, sort of. Spoilers for both this episode and the 'Next Week' trailer follow...

This is going to sound really corny because it's the thing we're all sick of hearing about every sci-fi or fantasy movie sequel that ever comes out, but this is a dark episode of Atlantis, literally and thematically. Pythagoras (who really was from Samos, by the way) turns out to have committed manslaughter against his abusive father to protect his mother, something he hid from his younger brother. This is some pretty heavy stuff - Robert Emms is absolutely fantastic in several scenes here (perfecting silent crying while talking, apart from anything else) but there is, inevitably, some lurching in tone, considering the light tone of the opening and closing sequences.

The story sits on a fine line - the grown-up in me rather wishes Pythagoras had deliberately killed their horrible-sounding father, which might be more interesting and would certainly be understandable (not to mention, a lot more like Greek mythology, especially Athenian tragedy. Except for the caring-about-a-woman-over-a-man part, because as we know, the ancient Greeks were a bunch of sexist f***wits - see the conclusion to Aescylus' Eumenides, among other things). But that would probably be too much for a family show, so the series goes for the less dark pushing-someone-who-hits-their-head method of murder beloved of all stories everywhere that need us to sympathise with a not-quite-murderer and avoid too much deliberation in the act to keep their heroes heroic (see especially comic book films and Disney movies. Pushing them so they fall off a cliff or other height is also an option).

(There's also a mildly gross dead body at one point. This show is not for sensitive children).

The representation here of the Furies that Arcas calls down on Pythagoras to avenge his father's murder might be the closest we've come to actual Greek mythology in this series so far. Almost everything about their appearance fits with Greek myth - they were even particularly associated with crimes of parenticide - they burst into existence from the blood of Ouranos when his son Cronos castrated him and they're best known for pursuing Orestes to avenge his matricide in Aeschylus' Eumenides (Eumenides is another name for them). In Classical mythology, there were more options for dealing with them, as you could perform a rite or some task to atone, or call on another god if you're lucky, but to give Pythagoras more options here would spoil the story - to tell the story about forgiveness that the writers want to tell, it has to be up to Arcas to call them off.

A rough, fairly crude image of a Fury in the cave shows a figure with wings, which fits their Classical form, and I love the interpretation of them as an eerie whirlwind that follows our heroes across the desert (screaming, winged female monsters would probably look really naff, especially if the special effects weren't quite up to scratch). I would have loved to see them inflict madness on their victim, but let's face it, this episode was dark enough already, and a windy monster is more family-adventure friendly. The only downside is that these particular Furies seem to have a tendency to grab the wrong person, which doesn't seem quite like them, though they did sometimes punish whole cities, so maybe they're following that logic here and punishing the whole group.

To go alongside all this darkness, Philemon and Baucis come from one of the nicer, more fairy-tale-like bits of Greek mythology, at least in Ovid's version of their story in the Metamorphoses. Like many adorable old women/men/couples in folklore from around the world, they show hospitality to gods in disguise, and in return they're saved from the Noah-style flood that wipes out everyone else. Then they die together and are turned into trees together. Of course, none of that happens here because here they've only just met, but it'll be nice if we can see them again, being generally good people, in a future episode.

There's something strangely disjointed, almost episodic within its own story, about this episode as short bursts of incident happen in between long shots of everybody riding across the desert. The location shooting in Morocco looks absolutely fantastic though - the scenes of the desert are incredibly beautiful and really breath-taking. The whole thing reawakened my desperate childhood wish for someone to make a film or TV series of my favourite of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia besides The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - The Horse and his Boy. (As a child, I planned to make this myself, with me in the role of Aravis, of course. I am now, I realise, far too old, not to mention the wrong ethnicity...)

I have a feeling, from the way the cast talked when I interviewed them for Den of Geek, that this episode may have been slated to run a bit earlier. Certainly, although Hercules is dreaming about Medusa, any other mention of her, Ariadne, Pasiphae or other on-going story-lines are absent and Jason seemed awfully keen on Baucis before she started flirting with Philemon. It's nice to get away on a road trip, away from the ongoing palace politics, though it's a shame that once again, we're watching a bunch of guys and one woman (repeatedly referred to as 'not a lady' by Hercules and considered bad luck by Philemon, who seems to think he's on a pirate ship). I'm not sure a single episode of Atlantis so far has passed the Bechdel test, unless we count Ariadne and Pasiphae randomly snarking each other - but even then, they're usually talking about Jason or Heptarion. Ah well, maybe next week...

Actually, according to the trailer, next week is the underworld. I love stories about journeys to the underworld - I really hope this is a good one!


Oracle: The question you posed was not plain, neither was the answer. Snarky Oracle! I like it. Maybe she'll start telling them the answer is 42 and they need to find a new Oracle to tell them the question...

Hercules: It’s a sign from the gods!
Jason: It’s a dead bird. The ancient/modern disconnect in a nutshell.

Jason: That food’s got to last.
Hercules: How long do you think we’re gonna live?

Philemon: People make mistakes and they should be punished. They should also be forgiven.

All Atlantis reviews


  1. The Greeks certainly wouldn't have had any problem, beyond those connected with accidental homicide, with Pythagoras killing his stepfather. Orestes never got any grief for doing in Aegisthus (who had a string of crimes far longer than just the seduction of Clytemnestra and the murder of Agamemnon). For them, a simple purification rite would have been enough. If Arcas is his half-brother, that would give him enough justification for his anger, though.

    Eumenides is, of course, an apotropaic name. Meaning "the Kindly Ones", it gave the Greeks a way to talk about the Furies without attracting their attention. Sort of like the wizarding world always talking about You-Know-Who. It also gave us the hoary, old vaudeville joke "Euripides' trousers? Eumenides' trousers."

    1. Did they say it was his stepfather? I thought it was their biological father, but maybe I missed something.

    2. Weird, I could have sworn your review said somewhere that it was Pythagoras' stepfather. Just ignore my whole first paragraph, apparently. Patricide was a huge no-no, unless you were a god of course.

      I wonder if Arcas will get turned into a bear at some point.

  2. I remember the Furies from mythology... I guess I've let myself forget from where they came... or it might be too painful a concept for a guy to keep in his long term memory.

  3. The myth of Philemon and Baucis is interesting in that it is (I believe) a pure invention of Ovid, and sits somewhat oddly in the middle of his Metamorphoses. Having said that, when I first read it, I thought it a rather moving story.
    As for the Furies-their first appearance on stage of Peter Hall's NT production is unforgettable

  4. I can hardly wait for this to start playing in the states. It seems like I have been waiting since forever but it looks like it will start airing this weekend. Then all these reviews will make more sense.


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