This review contains spoilers.
1.7 The Rules of Engagement
Heptarian and Ariadne are betrothed and everyone is rejoicing. Except Ariadne. She’s a bit unhappy with all this. Pasiphae is convinced that, once Heptarian wins the Pancratium, all will be well in the heart of Ariadne. But everyone’s favourite Atlantean villain hasn’t counted upon the interferencing ways of everyone’s favourite Atlantean hero… Jason.
He’s still very much in love with Ariadne and, despite her Pasiphae-influenced protestation that she doesn’t love him, he’s intent on entering the competition to risk his life and prove his love.
Pasiphae continues her descent into darkness, thanks to her manipulation of Ariadne and Heptarian and a poison that she administers to her own husband. If it works as it should, it’ll be a slow death for the King and she will be able to take her rightful place in the bosom of power.
In the Pancratium, Jason’s injured body and pride won’t stop him showing his love, but Greek tradition must win out, with a bittersweet victory for Jason, Ariadne and Heptarian that sees Ariadne continue to grow in confidence, whilst Pasiphae shows just how vindictive she can be.
Once again Jemima Rooper and Mark Addy are wonderful together and the character of Hercules continues to be fleshed out – we discover that Jason is the man that Hercules never was. Sarah Parrish is cold as Pasiphae and Oliver Walker puts in a decent, though underserved, performance; the same of which can be said for Alexander Siddig. Aiysha Hart also manages to pull a confident performance out of the bag, though her “wracked with emotion” scenes don’t feel as authentic as they probably could.
In effect, what we have here is an episode of Atlantis that focuses on three key characters all fighting for Ariadne. Jason is fighting for his love of her, Heptarian is fighting for love and the power she will bring, whilst Pasiphae is fighting for power with Ariadne as the proxy. By the end of the episode, Heptarian is the one that comes off as the loser, with the others all facing up to their futures and the choices they have made.
Again, the underlying story is strong, with committed performances from all, including Donnelly and Emms, though Pythagoras is, once again, watching from the sidelines, contributing medical knowledge, a witty quip and quick barb from time to time.
If there’s a real weakness in this episode; it’s the fight sequences in the Pancratium tournament. It’s a first blood match, where the warrior who picks up the knife and draws blood first wins… except it’s not particularly brutal and, especially in Jason’s case, a fight that should be the Greek version of a bare knuckle brawl ends up with a bit too much athletic showiness. Obviously, it wasn’t going to have UFC level violence, but it’s been clearly influenced by Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films – lots of close up work – just without the frenetic energy, which leaves it feeling a bit tame and lifeless. It’s an ideal opportunity for Jack Donnelly to get his top off, along with the other mostly nameless fighters.
Too much of the episode is spent on the Pancratium sequences that it feels like it breaks the pace of the performances around it. Sarah Parrish is marvellous in this episode, with her plotting and duplicitous ways, yet between these scenes, we have to put up with her giving concerned stares toward her hero. In between being torn between two lovers, Aiysha Hart has to stare, concerned, at both her would-be lovers. Then we’ve got Addy, Rooper and Emms who, whilst the fighting is going on… stare, concerned, at Jason. Too much staring taking up too much time.
Atlantis seems to have, just over half way through its first season, found its footing with a story that doesn’t rely on magic or mysticism. This episode offers something far more meaty, a much more intriguing tale of a power play that could engulf Atlantis far quicker than the surrounding sea.
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