Saturday, 2 November 2013

Atlantis: The Song of the Sirens

Atlantis starts to get going as it introduces an ongoing plot for Jason beyond the mystery surrounding his parents, and gives Pasiphae a real reason to be scared of him...

This week's plot revolves around a love spell. Love spells are tricky things. The problem is, they sound quite amusing and like a fun idea, but, like some bodyswaps and telepathic mating rituals, the writers don't always entirely think through the implications of what a person casting a love spell on another is doing. They more or less get away with it here - although we don't see Medusa's reaction when she finds out, she does say she thinks a pig is too good for Hercules, so I think we're clear that what he did was wrong, mysterious disease or not.

I confess I wasn't entirely comfortable with Jason and Pythagoras regretting the whole mess being kicked off 'for the love of a woman,' because I never saw Hercules actually asking Medusa out without drugging - sorry, enchanting - her. Either she would have loved him anyway, and the whole thing was unnecessary, or she wouldn't, in which case there's more wrong with Hercules' actions than being carried away by love. On the other hand, it is very Greek - after all, the Greeks attributed the entire Trojan War to Paris being excessively enamored of Helen (whether Helen felt the same way varies between different versions). I found Jason and Pythagoras' conviction that no woman would be interested in a man with no money or prospects - aside from sounding like something out of Jane Austen - rather depressing too. Maybe some women are like that, but you'd hope Jason at least would know that some of us read Little Women and don't put money first (and might even want to earn some ourselves...)

It was nice getting to know Hercules a bit better in this episode, though. In mythology, Hercules' biological father is Zeus, though he's raised by Amphitryon. Since there are no gods in Atlantis, it remains to be seen whether there'll be any great mystery attached to his father, or whether he'll have been an ordinary man who, like his son, was a bit overly fond of telling tall tales. There was a nice nod to Hercules' mythology too, as he claims to have strangled a snake when only a baby (though he obviously doesn't want to push it too far just yet - in Greek myth, it was two snakes). I'm still really enjoying this interpretation of Hercules, though I confess there's a part of me that still finds it a bit weird when characters dismiss the idea of 'Hercules the hero' and tell him things like 'strength isn't everything' - it takes me out of the story for a moment while I process just how different this Hercules is. I think I'd have preferred the cowardly, braggart Hercules to be someone who actually is quite physically strong, just to keep him a little bit connected to his own mythology.

Great to see a witch of Colchis, though still no Medea - hopefully the repeated references to the witches of Colchis mean we'll eventually meet her in season 2. In Greek mythology, Circe is Medea's aunt, and she really is Pasiphae's sister (their brother Aeetes, king of Colchis, was Medea's father - is he the father of Pasiphae's nephew she's trying to marry Ariadne off to?). It's nice to see Circe's maintained her primary ancient characteristic - turning men into pigs. If only Jason had read The Odyssey before letting himself get sucked into the Land Of Something Vaguely Resembling Greek Mythology. I'm not sure what the random scarring down her face was in aid of, though, other than a rather out-dated implication that scars are evil - perhaps they're a result of whatever awful thing it was Pasiphae did to Circe and her family.

By the end of this episode, we find Jason finally facing a truly interesting and difficult dilemma. He clearly doesn't want to commit murder, but he doesn't want to let Medusa die (or leave Hercules as a pig) either. It's a genuinely tricky question. It's tempting to say that murdering people in cold blood is really never OK, but this is the sort of moral dilemma Greek tragedy is built on, and they would certainly sympathise (though Greek writers might be confused at a) why he feels so guilty about having to murder a woman and b) why he's so desperate to save a woman in the first place...).

I was quite glad that no actual Sirens appeared, as they're a bit over-done in popular culture, and they never appear in their ancient, monstrous form. Here, they're vaguely associated with romance and seduction, but only their voices are heard, so I can continue to imagine them as monstrous bird-woman creatures whose voices are the only attractive thing about them.

I enjoyed this episode a lot. I like Korinna, who hovers in the background delivering everyone's messages every week. I can’t help thinking she’s inevitably doomed to a horrible death at some point. Medusa looks very pretty, all done up for her date, and later when she's sick the make-up department do a great job. Poor Pythagoras is still stuck playing doctor, I guess because they can't afford an actual physician - though if Atlantis exists in a time pre-Hippocrates, it does actually make sense that a philosopher would be their best source of medical theory. As long as he doesn't do actual operations, a surgeon should do those. There were also some very rude jokes I caught about getting wet in there somewhere... We heard last week that Atlantis is going to get a second series, and that John Hannah will be in it (if he doesn't organise an orgy or two I'll be disappointed). Since it's definitely improving week on week (and still gorgeous, even if Greece has a few more pine trees here than I remember seeing when visiting it), I'm going to say, for the moment, that this is a good thing.


Hercules: Even as a baby I strangled a snake with my bare hands!
Jason: Is that true?
Pythagoras: [Shrug]

Random guy whose name I can't remember: You have heard of the witches of Colchis?
Hercules: I’ve heard nothing good.

Jason (trying to find an ancient equivalent for 'Is the Pope a Catholic?): Are the gods Greek?
Pythagoras: Well, they have a variety of complex roots...
This is officially my favourite joke Atlantis has ever done, and it will probably stay that way.

All Atlantis reviews


  1. The complex roots joke would be good... if complex numbers had been around in Ancient Greece. They were in fact first used by Cardano in the 16th century.

    I seem to remember another historical error by Pythagorus in an earlier episode (maybe more dubious); the use of probability theory, which wasn't invented until the 17th century.

    1. I don't think it was a reference to complex numbers, he meant that the gods have complicated origins. It's a reference to the history of myth and religion (Pythagoras, as an ancient philosopher, was an all-rounder, it's just he's best known for his mathematical discoveries).

    2. unless it was a maths joke I didn't get because I'm not that great at maths! I just appreciated the reference to how complex the Greek gods are! :)

    3. I think it was meant to be a maths pun with a double meaning (the other meaning being the one you explained). "Complex roots" are solutions to an equations with imaginary components.

    4. Oh, I didn't know that, that make sense! It's an even geekier joke than I thought...

  2. Great review Juliette! The episodes are definitely getting to be more interesting, although I thought the music was a bit heavy-handed in this one... too overtly "ominous" at times! :o(

    We now have two things to be intrigued about: What did Minos do to be king? And what (and why) did Pasiphae do to her sister?
    And why is it so dreadful Circe has her claws on Jason?

    Loved her turning Hercules into a pig!!!

    As for the trees Juliette... The countries around the Mediterranean basin would have had a lot more forest cover 3000 years ago! Less population means less deforestation (particularly in pre-industrial societies). Spanish legend has it that a squirrel could cross the Iberian peninsula hopping from tree to tree in Roman times. It's hard to find a decent forest around here nowadays! :o(

    1. Thanks Cris! I remember seeing a programme about Roman pollution once, it was really interesting... or maybe I went to a paper on it... For me, pine trees are the trees that the Welsh forestry people want to get rid of because they killed off all the native trees, having originated in Scotland and Norway, so seeing pines in what's supposed to be Greece looks really weird! But maybe they lived further south back then.


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