Atlantis series 2 episode 12 review: The Queen Must Die

The 90-minute Atlantis finale is a powerhouse of storytelling and intrigue, marked by some exceptional performances...

This review contains spoilers.

2.12 The Queen Must Die

The finale of Atlantis is feature length, bringing together a two-part story into one last episode written by series co-creator Howard Overman and entitled, quite ominously, The Queen Must Die.

With Jason and Hercules off to break a prisoner out of the cells, Pythagoras and Icarus share a tender moment talking about stars and maths, whilst they hide from a patrol. So focused on their plan are they that they remain unaware of Icarus’ deception as he attempts to secure the release of his father, Daedalus, by leaking the rescue plans to Pasiphae.

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Rescuing his fellow slaves, Jason inadvertently leads them into an ambush. As the bodies pile up, Jason realises they have been betrayed and Pythagoras knows by whom. As they escape Atlantis, another betrayer is openly revealed and Pasiphae may have to deal with more than just one family member, while Jason is revealed as the true King of Atlantis and the remaining slaves pledge their allegiance to their new ruler.

Realising that her time is short, Medea gives Jason the means to destroy Pasiphae before leaving, heartbroken by the loss of Jason as he is now betrothed to Ariadne. Despite Jason’s confidence in Medea, the friends are not confident in Medea’s plan, believing it to be another double-cross.

In a temple into which only those “touched by the Gods” can enter, Pasiphae worships, unaware that Jason has already delivered the payload of Medea’s plan, leaving her powerless as Jason captures her.

As news of the missing Queen reaches Atlantis, Cilix and Goran discuss the future without Pasiphae, with each on opposing sides. All this, while Pasiphae takes the opportunity, while captured, to feed half-truths to Ariadne about her new husband. 

Left with no choice if they wish to restore stability, and despite the verbal manipulation of the Queen, she is finally executed, but the road to restoring Atlantis is still a long one. Cilix chooses this moment to make a powerplay of his own, convincing Goran that they should be in power. Goran, however, turns out to be a more noble man than previously thought and a new agreement for the future of Atlantis is struck.

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However, things don’t run smoothly where the Gods are concerned and, thanks to a winged beast collecting the body, it’s not long before Pasiphae continues her reign of terror, returned from the dead and more dangerous than ever before.

The resurrected Queen’s assault on the temple sees Melas killed by Pasiphae, Cassandra on the run, with Jason, Hercules, Pythagoras and Ariadne. With Pasiphae now returned to power, the truth of Medea revealed, things have never looked darker and we finally see Icarus take to the air to save the day.

And, we end as so many episodes have ended this season, with the heroes on the run and darker days to come.

Ninety minutes of dramatic brilliance, exceptional performances and fantastic storytelling bring the story of Atlantis to a premature end. The series had a rollercoaster ride during its first season, but was successfully ‘rebooted’ into a much darker show, with less focus on mythology and more on the drama, though still with magic and fantasy as an underlying force. The shift towards power plays and character development breathed new life into the series and it really felt that, during series two, Atlantis had finally found its feet and the actors had finally settled into their characters.

The powerful performances continue with every actor this week. Jack Donnelly has the most complex of the roles, torn between the love of three women and doing what is right and what is just, while playing the role as both action hero and thoughtful saviour. Mark Addy provides moments of light-hearted relief, but continues to be the father figure to the younger characters. It is, as has often been the case, Sarah Parish’s performance – from callous ruler to cruelly caring to broken woman – that stands above all others, thanks to her powerfully charismatic portrayal.

The slow-burn reveal to the (not entirely subtle) Icarus and Pythagoras friendship is well handled, with Hercules – the manliest of men – being the one to break through to the truth. Robert Emms, broken as he figures out the truth about Icarus, is heartbreakingly subtle. This whole thread is beautifully handled, even if the build-up has been somewhat heavy handed. The strength of the relationship is brought to an end after the flight of Icarus and it’s somehow fitting that Hercules is the only one to see them share a moment, which he nonchalantly brushes off.

While there’s plenty of well-choreographed combat in this episode, including a few moments of the slow-motion jumping that only Jason seems able to execute, the episode is at its strongest is in the drama – from the capture of Pasiphae, the shifting power of Atlantis (“loyalty is a fickle notion,” notes Pasiphae) and the love of all the key players, it’s all so beautifully played that it’s hard not to feel emotional. The marriage of Jason and Ariadne is a high point, with very little said – aside from Hercules’ chanting – but so much emotion. Looks and expressions tell the story that needs telling and it shows the sheer, deserved confidence of Overman that this works so well. The series has become more about the nuance of performance than overt explanation.

Weighing in at ninety minutes, The Queen Must Die doesn’t disappoint as it builds upon the strengths of series two as a powerhouse of drama, storytelling and intrigue. So many threads needed to be brought together for series two, which doesn’t stop where one would expect. For everything tied up, there are more loose threads with which to deal – the resurrection of Pasiphae and what this means in light of the Gods; the tension between Jason, Medea and Ariadne is still in its early days; and the strife that is consuming Atlantis under the undead Queen has far-reaching implications.

It’s disappointing that the BBC chose to cancel Atlantis during the early days of its second series, just as the show really found its feet. With the series already finished, there was no opportunity to bring the story to a close, so we’re left with a build-up that has so much potential and a cast that has never been stronger.

In an ideal world, we’d see the series follow in Pasiphae’s footsteps and return resurrected for a shorter run or TV special to properly conclude things (especially now that Jason is left with the notion of a quest for the golden fleece!). Just tell us which Gods we have to pray to for that to happen.

Read Dave’s review of the previous episode, Kin, here.

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