Atlantis episodes 5 to 9

Finally, Atlantis springs to life in `Pandora’s Box` the best episode of the series so far. After 8 fair to middling episodes each of which nonetheless contained tantalising glimpses of potential the series explodes into life with this Howard Overman penned story of how Medusa became the legend we know. It’s surprising that the writers played this card relatively soon as we have barely got to know her but it is an ace that unlocks the show’s own Pandora’s Box. The tag line for the episode is that things will never be the same again and this turns out to be refreshingly true. 

"Gosh, is the episode really that good?"  "Yes, I think it is!"

Where previous episodes have seemed too restrained and played rather too easily towards the comedic at the expense of tension, `Pandora’s Box` is full of danger and excitement. The comedy is woven skilfully through in a way that can be difficult to pull off but works a treat here. What makes the narrative even stringer is that the dilemma or heroes face is mostly of Hercules’ own making. Medusa us kidnapped by moneylender Kyros and the price for her return is a mysterious box that has been hidden in Hades, land of the dead. You don’t have time to wonder just how he knows of this box because the episode moves at speed.
To find the box Jason and Hercules must become almost dead themselves, drinking a poison that seems related to that at the climax of Romeo and Juliet (even if Hercules makes an unlikely Romeo) to be revived by Pythagoras on their signal. Right away things go wrong when the latter inadvertently causes a fire and is knocked unconscious. When he wakes the `bodies` have been removed to the mortuary- but which one?! Pythagoras’ vigorous dashes about the city to find them- amusingly they are always “on the far side of the city” – plays against the grim journey Jason and Hercules take.
Much of the imagery is taken from established mythology but is rendered with enough dark portent as to be totally effective. The boatman of the dead, the fog and dark caves and the terrifically realised part scorpion creature that guards the box show off the advantages of the show’s later time slot. It’s darker than anything in Merlin was and demonstrates the appeal of mixing and matching mythological monstrosities. Direction and editing are razor sharp realising both scenarios with the flair of a feature film.
If some of the dialogue is still a little on the flat side, it is more than made up for by the performances of all three lead actors. Mark Addy sells Hercules’ desperation to complete the quest with a gruff determination while Jack Donnelly pitches concern for his friend and the heroic boldness of the character perfectly. For Robert Emms the episode shows off his comic skills, rarely seen in his choice of bleak indie films, and though it is very early to be even thinking about this also demonstrates why he would be a brilliant choice to play the lead in Doctor Who one day.
Having been rarely sparing with effects recently this episode really pushes the boat out. As mentioned the creature is a frightening combination of decaying man and scorpion which is despatched all too quickly. The realisation of Medusa’s startling new hair stays traditional but framed in the reflection of a shield or semi darkness looks terrifying. We also get brief glimpses of people that have been turned to stone. Overall the episode looks expensive with a rich sense of place; as Pythagoras is running around the city it really does look busy and bustling.
Jemima Rooper is not given a lot of time but when she is on screen at the end Medusa’s shock and sadness is powerful enough. We all know what’s going to happen but the moments when she is about to open the box as the others rush to try and stop her confirms this as the series’ first brilliant episode.  

Episodes 5 - 8:
"Don't worry mate, the series gets better in episode 9"

Episode 5: White Lies
A reasonably robustly directed if hackneyed scenario sees Jason and co helping Princess Ariadne rendezvous with her long lost brother who has been in exile since being framed by Pasiphae who naturally wants to kill him once she finds out. It’s not bad and there’s some good direction from Alice Troughton but somehow matters never seem to get beyond first gear. Only five episodes in the series’ motifs are already seemingly set in granite as solid as anything in the city of Atlantis itself. It is very much the Merlin template mirrored in the comings and goings in nearby woods, people finding inventive ways to escape the city, a villain forever flashing angry eyes at subordinates who fail to kill / capture someone, a simmering love story between two people who simply can never be allowed to be together because of social status plus comic asides accompanied by comedy music. Oh and a hero with a destiny. There’s nothing wrong with these elements per se, it’s just that while in Merlin the cast and writers were often able to breathe some life into them, here everything seems somewhat flat and uninspired. If anything the story potential is smaller than Merlin afforded and key moments too easily willing to tip over into “the Gods have spoken” waffle. Even the comedy sub plot this week involving Hercules’ training a beetle seems tired. Jason appears to have forgotten his quest and his 21st century origins to settle down and have adventures come to him rather than the other way round. Given the time slot and the talent involved this is tame material.

Episode 6: The Song of the Sirens
If Hercules’ pursuit of Medusa has seemed rather awkwardly delivered it proves to be the unlikely catalyst that suddenly livens up the series.  By the end of this episode it seems as if some sense of direction has been reached with the revelation that disfigured sorceress Cerce, who lurks in a cave, is Pasiphae’s sister. She wants to use Jason to murder her regal sibling though quite how she comes up with the plan she does is less clear.
Nonetheless what starts as a light hearted exchange of banter – and includes a sequence where someone becomes a pig- concludes with a weighty warning from the Oracle. In between there is some fun to be had at Hercules’ expense which again shows how Mark Addy and Robert Emms have gelled. Its Addy’s episode really as Hercules uses Cerce’s spell to make Medusa fall for him only of course it’s a trap. He has clearly forgotten that old warning about mysterious scarred women in caves! Gruff and caring in equal measure he delivers as you might expect suggesting that the more Hercules centred episodes the better. Emms meanwhile shows a light touch that counterbalances the other man. Lucy Watkins’ script gets good results from a scenario that needs to cover ground quickly and gives Cerce suitably distracted menace.

Episode 7: Rules of Engagement
With its witty title and lively delivery, this story manages to be better than you’d expect. Episodes involving tournaments are the stock in trade of the team, as they were in Merlin, so the prospect of lots of scenes of people grappling over a knife does not seem to be a riveting prospect. However these scenes are despatched quickly conveying all the risk that might be involved.  Aiysha Hart as Ariadne also gets more screen time and proves herself to be good at conveying the nature of her situation.  Oliver Walker’s Hepterion remains something of a none character so the episode is rather one sided; it would be more interesting if he were made more interesting perhaps causing Ariadne to at least think he might be ok. What the episode does achieve is showing just how evil Sarah Parrish’s Pasiphae can be. Relishing the role she has been the stand out performer of the show to date and this episode displays all her manipulative behaviour. There’s even a sub plot where she is slowly poisoning the King! Her look at the end of the episode is priceless. There is also a well-played development in Hercules and Medusa’s relationship that acknowledges what happened a few episodes ago and moves on in a mature manner. Medusa remains under written though Jemima Rooper makes more of her than the dialogue offers and Mark Addy is always entertaining.

Episode 8: The Furies
Pythagoras at last gets an episode where he is more than comic relief though it is another staple plot- the returning brother with issues. Julian Jones’ script offers nothing new- indeed you guess its big revelation almost as soon as Arcas turns up- but makes up for in incident what it lacks in originality. The trio along with several other travellers are crossing the dessert and director Alice Troughton milks the Western imagery for all its worth, the incidental music straying into American influences at times. The barren vistas look great and there is enough intrigue between the travellers to provide interest. One strand about a girl thief pretending to be a noble is underdeveloped though so we never discover why she is behaving as she does. The main plot gives Robert Emms and guesting Will Merrick plenty to chew on and they do their best with a script that insists on talking mostly in clichés. Just as in Merlin the dialogue never quite seems to match a more serious turn of the plot and it’s to both actors’ credit that they deliver it. The Furies themselves are depicted as mini dust tornados, which suits the landscape and with some excellent sound effects make for a powerful threat.

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