Monday, October 7, 2013

Atlantis, Season 1, Episode 2: A Girl By Any Other Name

In the thick forest, in the middle of the night a woman runs from a creature that growls and, presumably, chases her. Until she trips over a log and cowers. C’mon woman, get up, grab the log and poke the beast at least! It’s only when she slowly, shakily, pulls herself to her feet that the hairy goblin thing appears and growls at her

In the city, Jason and his friends have been hired to guard a merchant’s shipment of frankincense, something Jason hates because he’s bored but the, drunken, Hercules points out if you’re bored at work, you’re being paid to do nothing (a special bonus if you’re guarding something)

Jason strops his way to the Oracle to have a little temper tantrum at the vague and cryptic Oracle being, well, vague and cryptic. There follows… more vague and cryptic stuff. When he complains about being lost and out of place in Atlantis she rambles about Destiny and apparently the people who want to kill him.

Well, that was enlightening. She could have at least thrown in next week’s lottery numbers.

To more mundane problems – the drunken, useless clown, Hercules fell asleep while on guard and the frankincense was stolen. The merchant will not be pleased – Pythagoras certainly isn’t. But dealing with that waits while an old man recruits them to find his daughter, Demetrea, who came to the city looking for work (and found it in the palace) and is now missing. He wants those who slew the Minotaur to help her – Hercules is at first eager then backs out when he realises the old man doesn’t have much money to pay them but Jason offers to help.

A servant, Korrina, sneaks Jason into the palace (which is forbidden) and he runs into Ariadne – who, of course, turns a blind eye. Jason talks to one of the cooks who tells him Demetrea disappeared while fetching herbs – no-one looked for her because servants have little value and the servants themselves are so busy. Still, with poking from Korrina, she agrees to show Jason where Demetrea would have gathered herbs.

Jason is surprised at how far away the herbs are (me too, what with there being a busy, thriving market and everything – sending kitchen maids hiking miles out of the city seems far less cost efficient than buying locally grown herbs from a merchant) but the cook merely answers that the king wants herbs and doesn’t care how far they are. When the cook finally leads him to a clearing in the woods, she draws a knife and tries to stab him

Yeah, that doesn’t work. When he knocks the knife aside, she runs. She takes poison before telling Jason that Demetrea will not be harmed, she’s in a better place and her god will provide for her – before dying.

He takes the empty phial to Pythagoras who identifies the poison – the Phial is marked with the thyrsus, the symbol of Dionysus (something Jason has to be told, to Hercules’s disgust). The cook was a Maenad, who would rather die than reveal Dionysus’s secrets – they tell Jason of a temple where the Maenads worship Dionysus, that is guarded by flesh eating satyrs. Demetrea is probably being raised as a Maenad.

To the temple which is all kinds of shiny and impressive, where the Maenads gather in ritual (which looks awfully staid for a Dionysian ritual) where a nosy man is thrown to the Satyrs for dinner.

The old man is quite upset at his daughter being kidnapped into the Dionysian cult and needs to rest. After a talk with Jason and Jason drawing parallels to his father, Jason decides to go with Pythagoras to rescue Demetrea. While Hercules doesn’t agree with risking their lives for a penniless old man, he’s still dodging the irate merchant so goes with them.

They travel, filling Jason in on the Maenads, until they have to camp for the night. While distracted, one of the satyrs throws something into their pot of soup. Jason and Pythagoras sleep while Hercules stands watch – and drinks all the soup himself.

Drugged and confused he starts following a white robed woman who appears and disappears in the blink of an eye. After staggering after her for some time, she turns and reveals a monstrous face. He falls and when he rises again he faces several satyrs and several maenads – including the chief maenad. He runs through the woods, barrelling past one of the satyrs, to be pulled to safety by a woman, a Maenad recruit. She hides him and then tells the other Maenads the satyrs killed him and she drank his blood in the name of Dionysus – having cut her wrist and put blood in her mouth to prove it.

Hercules regroups with Pythagoras and Jason – now eager and determined to rescue the girl, much to Jason and Pythagoras’s shock. He leads them straight into an ambush of dagger wielding Maenads.

Meanwhile the Maenad recruit is still trying to dig her way out of her cell when she is called into a meeting with the high priestess who is not amused that Hercules is alive when Demetrea said she’d sacrificed him. She defies the priestess and declares she doesn’t want to be a Maenad – and is thrown to the satyrs, with Hercules roaring his protests and offering himself instead. Jason, the Big Damn Hero, knocks the dagger of the Maenad guard aside and leaps in after her. He clubs one satyr with a bone from the pit – but they all cower away from him, refusing to attack him as he stands between them and the woman. Jason tells the woman her father sent them to rescue her; which surprises her since her dad is long dead. She isn’t Demetrea, she is Medusa (a name even Jason recognises but covers well).

Medusa has been held for 10 days, but has managed to resist enchantment by putting wax from her candle into her hears, preventing her from hearing the rituals. When a maenad comes to… I don’t know, clean out the satyrs? Anyway, she’s shocked to find Jason and Medusa alive – and Jason knocks her out. They escape and rescue Pythagoras and Hercules – but Jason is determined to find Demetrea.

They find Demetrea and she won’t return, she has been initiated, she’s a Maenad. Jason tries to reason with her and Hercules clonks her on the head with a bronze bowl. Jason carries her. The High Priestess is Not Amused.

On the way back Jason quietly asks Pythagoras if Medusa is a common name (it isn’t), while Hercules is well and truly smitten, when they have to hurry to escape the hunting satyrs. Unfortunately, Demetrea wakes up and runs from them – Jason chases her and is led into an ambush. But, again, despite the High Priestess’s commands, the satyrs won’t go near Jason. Jason decides to bluff, he tells them he slew the Minotaur, that they should fear him like the satyrs do or he will destroy their temple.

The high priestess and several Maenads attack, but he knocks two down (showing considerable combat skill) and manages to stab the High Priestess. With her down, the other Maenads and satyrs turn and walk away, leaving him with Demetrea.

But Demetrea still doesn’t want to return to Atlantis, she says there’s nothing there for her and her father is already dead to her. While his back is turned, the High Priestess manages to get to her feet and smack Jason with something heavy – only to be stabbed again by Medusa behind her. The High Priestess curses Medusa before she dies.

Back in Atlantis, Jason prepares to tell Demetrea’s father, Itheus, that Demtrea is still a maenad – but Medusa cuts in with a comforting lie; Demetrea is in Helios, with a boy, happy and alive. Medusa offers to care for him in Demetrea’s place.

Jason is confused and goes to see the Oracle – he failed in his quest. She points out his path lead to rescuing a girl, albeit not the one he expected. He asks about Medusa since he knows the legend and the Oracle tells him he knows what’s going to happen to her, that she can’t escape her destiny any more than he can escape his – and that they’re linked. Also, Jason is a super-important person needed to save the city from doom and peril. Because Jason is special (ya think?)

Well, that was marginally better than the first episode, with a more coherent plot and some more polished acting.

While I was initially intrigued to see Hercules cast as a fat man – it’s so rare to see fat people presented in a heroic light – that quickly collapsed the first episode and this episode sealed the presentation Hercules is a clown, a greedy, drunken, cowardly clown there for comic relief and propping up just about every stereotype there is.

I liked Medusa, even if she had to be rescued, she was still pro-active, determined, clever and capable and able to rescue the men on more than one occasion. Also Jemima Rooper is always a plus. I also liked that Demetrea stayed with the maenads. After all, she is (as has been drilled home not-too-subtly), a very undervalued servant in Atlantis, with a not very happy life or prospects for one. As opposed to a Maenad, a sisterhood, respected and feared and likely considerably happier. Was it possible she was brainwashed? Certainly – but also possible that she genuinely wanted to be where she was and didn’t need rescuing against her will.