This review contains spoilers.
An episode featuring a raid on Herot should have provided a dramatic high point as we move past the midway point of this series, but unfortunately this episode highlighted some of the continuing problems this show has yet to resolve.
One of those problems is that several of the main characters continue to be spectacularly stupid, which makes it hard to care about what happens to them. Perhaps when Vishka stood stock still watching her friend nearly get killed by a giant dog thing, we were supposed to feel sorry for her because she was frozen in fear, but all that really came across was that she’s still as useless as ever. Slean deliberately refused to warn Herot of the approaching raiders, even though he is supposed to be in love with Elvina, who could easily have been hurt or killed in the raid. Even worse is the moment when, having firmly established that their prisoner speaks and understands their language, our heroes discuss their political situation and exactly what they need within his earshot.
The one shining light in all this stupidity is Varr, who continues to be the most interesting, sympathetic and generally intriguing character. Perhaps his blasé attitude towards taking on an enemy with a sword using only his bare hands is a little over the top, but the general sentiment, that thinking faster can be more valuable than physical strength, is a solid one. He is also the only person we have seen truly outwit someone on screen, even if his trick with the supposed ‘poison’ was a fairly basic one.
The other ongoing issue this series has is one of tone, which becomes particularly clear in an episode focused around a violent raid. Beowulf is acted, directed, filmed and sound-tracked in a manner that suggests it is aiming at a ‘grimdark’ tone, presenting a world where death and violence are commonplace. However, the death of Vlade at the end of this episode is the closest the series has so far come to actually killing off a main character. Significant characters have certainly died – Mara and Scorann in particular come to mind – but of the characters we follow week in and week out, Vlade is the first one to be killed off, and he was hardly the most prominent or beloved regular character. The sense of threat or tension is less and less in each battle as we see more and more that the chances are, our heroes and even our primary villains will all make it out alive anyway no matter what, and this is not helped by the fact that the violence itself is also still fairly PG-13, despite the late timeslot.
Of course, a TV show does not have to be horrifically violent or kill off main characters left, right and centre to be a good show. Many of the all-time greatest science fiction and fantasy shows have been family-oriented or at least family-appropriate and some are positively famous for never killing off regular characters. However, those shows tend to have a lighter tone, a greater sense of fun and more levity in their scripts. The problem with Beowulf is that the tone and the seriousness with which the script takes itself suggest that we should expect something darker and more violent than it actually is. This problem is all the worse in an episode entirely lacking in Breca, who usually serves as the comic relief and can at least lighten the atmosphere a bit and bring the tone closer to the sort of adventure show the plotlines seem to fit.
It’s hard not to feel that there’s a wasted opportunity here, if the series could only decide what it wants to be – a relatively light family adventure show, or a grimdark fantasy epic full of battles and stabbings in the back. If the characters could at least engage their brains before their mouths in future, that might be a start.
Read Juliette’s review of the previous episode, here.