Wizards Vs Aliens series 1 episodes 5 and 6 review: Rebel Magic
Wizards Vs Aliens delivers a morality and magic tale episodes 5 and 6. Here's Pete's review...
This review contains spoilers.
1.5 & 1.6 Rebel Magic
After the lightweight 80s-inspired hijinks of last week’s episode, Wizards vs Aliens adopts a more serious tone this week as we meet Jackson Hawk, a young wizard with a cool name and a dark secret.
Jackson, played by Andy Rush, is instantly likeable in his opening confrontation with the Nekross, proclaiming himself to be the ‘slayer of Angry Birds, devourer of pizza and chips’ as he transports Vark to an impressive recreation of Egypt. With his arrogance and rogueish grin, there’s a hint of Robert Sheehan’s character from Misfits about him.
Elsewhere, fellow wizard Tom is having a few problems of his own. Not only is his friendship with Benny getting him ostracised from his other friends (who, if the series is any indicator, he’s almost completely abandoned - even third wheel Katie doesn’t bother to show up this week), but his dad’s just found out he’s been using magic to do his homework, and he’s not best pleased.
It’s interesting to note that, three stories in, Tom still isn’t a tremendously likeable character. His friendship with Benny has done him the world of good, but he’s still just as loose with his morals and desperate to be one of the cool kids as he was in the first episode, when Benny later tells him “I never saw you as a bully, Tom”, I’m not sure how true this rings - he was initially quite happy to insult Benny if he thought it would ingratiate him with his friends.
Harry Potter, he ain’t. But there’s a touch of Draco Malfoy about Jackson when the two of them meet, namely in Jackson’s attitude towards Benny and the other ‘unenchanted’ (read: Muggles). It’s been brewing for a while, particularly in goblin Randall’s dialogue, but there’s definitely a Rowling-esque vibe to the interactions between wizards and non-magic folk; Jackson’s disdain for them seems to be placed in there in order to let us know that he’s a bit of a bad person.
What follows is a bit of a predictable morality tale, with Tom getting led astray by this cooler, older kid and ditching his well-meaning and sensible friend Benny in favour of danger and excitement. At its core it’s an age-old story, and if this were any other show you could quite easily substitute the Grim Magic of the piece for cigarettes, drugs or alcohol and have much the same story.
This does mean that Benny’s role in the story is rather thankless; having started to loosen up a little in Tom’s presence over the past couple of weeks, he’s forced into a more straight-edged Jiminy Cricket role here, lecturing Tom and Jackson and acting as Tom’s conscience. If I were Tom, I’d probably be inclined to go off with Jackson and steal some pizza (Why did the £20 note they conjured up need to disappear so quickly, anyway? Couldn’t they create a real one?) after a while too.
Eventually the pair get sick of Benny and send him away, bringing Tom’s dad and gran into the story; Annette Badland continues to do great work on this show, even if she overplays a lot of her dialogue. The same can’t be said for Michael Higgs, who still fails to bring much life to the by-the-numbers role of Tom’s well-meaning but authoritarian father. There’s a nice moment of concern, though, when the two of them ponder the all-too-believable notion that Tom might have been the one to put the spell on Benny.
The most interesting character work in this episode, though, comes from the Nekross, as King Brian Blessed threatens to throw his son to the ravenous creature below decks for his failure. The relationship between these three characters (and in particular, between Varg and Lexi) continues to be one of the more complex on the show, and even when Lexi steps in to save Varg there’s an ambiguity over her actions which helps keep the Nekross from just being “the baddies who are there in order that stuff can happen”.
Naturally Jackson and Tom decide to don ridiculous Rambo bandanas and take on the Nekross. It’s quite an exciting prospect, since they finally have something in their arsenal that can harm the aliens, but Benny is forced to ruin everything by revealing that the magic/narcotics are tearing Jackson apart, and that Tom will end up the same way. These final scenes are really well-written and acted to make them poignant as Jackson reveals that he banished his parents, but you do have to wonder why they couldn’t use just one more Grim spell to take care of the Nekross king when they have the chance; presumably it was because Brian Blessed is contracted for all twelve episodes.
Rebel Magic is a very different story to last week’s mad romp, and certainly there seem to be no signs of the show becoming stale or formulaic any time soon. But whilst more serious in tone, it also felt less ambitious in its storytelling. With any luck these stories are going to follow the pattern of the Star Trek films, and the even numbers will be the better ones...
Read Pete's review of the previous episodes, Grazlax Attacks, here.
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