Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, Season One, Episode Two

They should call this episode no closer to finding Grendel.  Sometimes watching a show based on something as well known as Beowulf can be frustrating because it comes with certain expectations. What we got in this episode was a lot of political intrigue, incompetence on Beowulf's part if you ask me and world building.  We also get to learn more about the mud-born.

The episode begins with the funeral pyre of Hrothgar.  Rheda is quick to exploit this opportunity by telling her people that Hrothgar isn't really dead and in fact lives on in Slean.  Rheda is very direct when she orders Slean to pick up his fathers sword and hold it in the air for the people to see. Unfortunately for Rheda, Slean really does look like the incompetent weasel he is holding Hrothgar's sword. The mourning doesn't last long because it's time to investigate the murder of Bayen.  This is of particular importance because the Thanes are gathering for a Moot at Herot, and there's a concern that if the other Thanes find out that there is a skin-shifter running loose that it will undermine Rheda's chances of being chosen as the next Jarl.  This issue intensifies when the skin-shifter kills an emissary of one of the Thanes.  Rheda decides to ride off with her brother to meet and hopefully slow down some of the incoming Thanes and sends Slean off in the opposite direction to do the same.

Rheda is clearly aware of the power dynamics in her hunt to ensure that she is able to become Jarl. She takes the time to go over the various factions with Slean and this feels very much like the info dump that it is.  I wonder if the writers have heard of the concept of show and not tell because there was a lot of exposition in this episode? That being said, it seems that Rale in particular, is not pleased with the idea of a female Jarl and seeks to have a vote of no confidence, thus forcing Rheda to defend her position in battle - a battle she cannot hope to win.  Rheda is also very aware that some of the other Thanes want to marry her and take power for themselves, or at the very least use the opportunity to their advantage and force her into having sex.  Rheda speaks repeatedly of wanting peace but it's clear that in this testosterone filled world, peace may not actually be what's wanted.

All of the men in this story have agendas.  Beowulf Return to the Shieldlands wants to make sure the audience is aware of this. Yes, I'm talking about the poorly written seen between Slean and Scorann in which Scorann discuss his hatred of Hrothgar. While it's not surprising that there would be people who would want the former Jarl dead, it could have been handled differently.  As aforementioned, we are lead to believe that everyone has an agenda, even Beowulf and Brecca to some degree.  The only exception to this is Rheda's brother Abrecan.  The two seem very close and Rheda clearly trusts and relies on Abrecan.  Under normal conditions, I would not wish for a male character to betray what is clearly a strong female character but the slowly plodding pace of the plot and the plebian political intrigue needs a good shake up.  I can only hope they decide to skip the incest since Beowulf Return to the Shieldands is so determined to copy The Game of Thrones.

Thus begins Beowulf's time as an investigator. For the most part he seems to run in circles with the only benefit for the audience being that we get a really good look at the set. Beyond costuming ( this btw excludes Breca's little leather outfit which had me saying really Beowulf?), clearly some good money we spent on the sets and serves to give the audience a good example of time and place.  When Beowulf headed to the smelting area, I could not help but notice that all of the people of colour were iron workers.  They work extremely hand and most who choose to stay die there. We did get an interesting shot of the smelt workers using trolls to aid their labour.  It's a typical fantasy shot which served to remind us that beyond all of the political drama, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands at its heart is supposed to be a fantastical story.

We also see class again in the discussions about the Huskarla.  Lila is quick to point out to her Huskarala friend that he doesn't know the privilege that he has while he is quick to dismiss it because it's something he inherited.   As a woman of colour, Lila has to think about the place she occupies in this world while many others (read: white men of power) don't have to.

Beowulf's hunt takes him to see Elvina and she starts to strip down to prove that she doesn't have any wounds and is not in fact the skinwalker.  Clearly this is a play on the sexual tension between Beowulf and Elvina, particularly given that earlier in the episode, Beowulf took the time to ask Elvina if she's Slean's woman.  Elvina declares that she belongs to no man.  I must admit that their chemistry is good but I simply don't care about this aspect of the storyline. It did however have me wondering if Elvina is also a skin shifter because unlike Varr, she didn't take the option of burning herself.  Yes, stripping did increase the tension between her and Beowulf and give her the upper hand but it also had the advantage of keeping her identity secret, if she is indeed a skinwalker as well, though she claims to be a member of a lost tribe.  Since skinwalkers can hide in plain sight, it's clear that there might be more than one. So, why exactly did Elvina choose to strip?

I have begun to wonder whether or not Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands is trying to explore the idea of colonialism.  There's very much the sense that the original inhabitants of this land are lesser than and don't belong there.  It's clear that mud-born is meant to be some sort of epithet. Rale's reaction to seeing a mud-born is to scream at it and chase it away. Clearly the humans have conquered the area and have a sense of ownership that they very well might not be entitled to and we have seen that at a minimum, they have enslaved at least one of the mud-born. We are reminded repeatedly of their differences like the fact that they apparently don't have mothers and cannot be burned.  This however raises an interesting question about how closely Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands is going to follow the original poem, given that Beowulf's second big challenge is when he fights Grendel's mother.

This episode ended in a cliffhanger to some degree because Slean's horse returned riderless to Herot.  In the clips from next week, we see Beowulf tasked with finding Slean.  Thus far, Slean the least likable character and I hope this is one mission that Beowulf is not successful with and that it won't be the sole point of episode three.

I'm still waiting for Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands to bring the epic.  The best thing about the show thus far are the interactions between Beowulf and Breca, which largely serve as comic relief. What fight scenes happen are far too short and the political intrigue bores me. The characters all need more fleshing out but given the heavy handed exposition this week, I suspect that this might be painful to watch.  It's still as a whole, far too reminiscent of The Game of Thrones, which is a big disappointment.  Yes, Beowulf: Return the Shieldlands is less gory and isn't filled with rape the way that The Game of Thrones is but there's absolutely nothing to get excited about this far.  It's not as bad as watching paint dry but that isn't saying much is it?