This review contains spoilers.
After four weeks of rushing through the plot at the speed of light, this episode slows everything down completely. We get plenty of smaller, character-driven scenes as the Trojans deal with the sudden disappearance of Paris and the Greeks deal with the fallout of Achilles’ refusal to fight. We don’t really learn anything about them that we didn’t know before, but we start to feel the length and tension of the prolonged siege.
This episode is largely made up of original material rather than material drawn from surviving Greek plays or poems. It seems that, when the writers are working on their own stories, they are able to give them more space. Having given themselves a complete episode in which the overall plot advances only very little, they are able to take a bit more time over what developments do happen – though rather a lot of time is also given to various shenanigans involving newly invented character Xanthius and his attempts to ‘protect’ Helen, which distract a bit from the main attractions of Hector, Achilles, Odysseus and Paris. When the writers are working on pre-existing stories, they seem to be in something of a rush to get to the dramatic high points, whereas here they seem able to relax a bit and take it slow.
In the Iliad, when Paris runs away from the duel with Menelaus, he is whisked off back into the city by Aphrodite to have more intimate relations with Helen. Seeing him return to his foster father is rather more dramatically satisfying and while Paris does not come out of any of this particularly well, his desperate attempt to return home only to discover that you can’t go home again offers the audience a lot more to empathise with than Homer’s version. These sequences also give us some closure on characters we met in the first episode who dropped out of the story early on, which is nice. Meanwhile, it is confirmed that Hector is a good soldier, but not a subtle one and not good at espionage. There’s no point in obtaining intelligence on your enemy if you immediately go and tell them what you know!
It’s good to see more of Aimee Ffion-Edwards as Cassandra, who is very good and has been a bit under-used so far. The series still hasn’t explained the exact nature of her curse and her tragedy – indeed, most characters do seem to believe her prophecies (in Greek myth, her curse was that she would always prophesy the truth but no one would ever believe her), they just do whatever they want to anyway. The continued talk about Paris having to die is odd though, as it sees far too late for that. The prophecy was originally given when he was a baby, he’s long done the damage now. Perhaps the implication is that the Trojans will return Helen and the Greeks stop the war – contrary to what was implied in Episode 2 – if he is dead, but it’s very unclear.
The portrayal of the gods is still one of the more intriguing aspects of this series, though their very brief, shadowy scenes make it difficult to get a handle on them. Zeus says he gave Paris a chance to seize his own destiny, which is not very Greek god-like. Greek mythology in general is much more interested in the idea of inescapable fate that free will. But he adds that ‘forgiveness isn’t our way’, and that sounds more like a Greek god. It is possible to atone for a wrong committed in Greek mythology (by performing twelve labours, for example) but forgiveness is definitely not uppermost in the minds of your average Greek god.
The short section of this episode that does come from the Iliad is Odysseus and Nestor’s visit to Achilles and Patroclus, asking them to fight again. The characterisation is very here, as Achilles states that Odysseus likes to fight for the sake of fighting while he needs a solid reason, which is the exact opposite of their characterisation in earlier episodes. Achilles’ mythological attempts to get out of the war were left out while Odysseus’ was included, and Achilles was depicted as the character who lives for fighting while Odysseus has a home and family he wants to go back to and little interest in this war. It’s a strange inconsistency for a short, self-contained series.
The negotiation also goes rather differently. In the Iliad, the taking of Briseis functions as a version of entire Trojan War story in miniature. Agamemnon takes Achilles’ prize and Achilles, angry and humiliated, refuses to fight (an inversion of the Greek going to war in the main story). Agamemnon, seeing that he needs Achilles and his Myrmidons, offers to return Briseis but for the ancient Greek Achilles, her presence and well-being is not the point. His honour has been attacked in her taking and simply returning her will not return his honour to him. Meanwhile, Paris and Menelaus fight their duel, but whether the Greeks would really be satisfied with the simple return of Helen at this point is questionable.
A modern Achilles, of course, must be more concerned with Briseis herself, so although this Achilles does not seem overly worried that she is currently a slave of Agamemnon, he does imply that if she is returned, he will fight. However, his sudden insistence on needing a good cause to fight for rather implies that this might not be the case after all.
Overall, this episode has some nice touches (“City of horses no more” is a decent bit of foreshadowing) but doesn’t seem to belong in quite the same series as the previous episodes, with its very different pacing and inconsistent characterisation. The ending of the episode is intriguing, as we see Paris attempt suicide but, importantly, don’t see a body – with a goddess watching over him, who knows how that will go? Stay tuned to find out…
Read Juliette’s review of the previous episode, Spoils Of War, here.