[Review] - Atlantis, Series 1 Episode 9, "Pandora's Box"

Courtesy of the BBC

Atlantis returns after a week off, and unfortunately it didn't return on a particularly high note. This week's episode had suggestions of darker intent, but it was all just spackling on too much tree bark. Howard Overman's script was all over the place, running too many potential stories straight into the ground in what seemed like a mad dash to get somewhere. Where exactly, I'm not sure, and I don't think he was either. But it certainly had the feel of an episode that was attempting to cover too much ground, and tripped because of it.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that

The myths were plentiful in this episode, and that was one of the episode's weaknesses. Too much was thrown together, very little of it connected in myth, and none of it seeming to be organically connected within the episode. First up was Campe, and she was perhaps the most traditionally adapted creature of myth the show has depicted yet. Campe was a she-dragon loyal to Kronos during his overthrow of Ouranos, and was appointed to guard the giants in Tartarus until she was killed by Zeus during the Titanomachy. Campe is traditionally a hodge-podge monster, with the upper body of a woman, the lower body of a serpent, feet made of vipers, wings sprouting from her shoulders and a scorpion's tail. Which was pretty much what we got from the Atlantis version of the monster.

Next up, Pandora's Box, which straight away was actually a jar. Everyone knows the story of Pandora, how she was given a box (jar) that contained all the worst things in the world inside, and was cursed by the gods with curiosity so that she would open it and unleash all the worst corruptions of man out into the world, except hope. What isn't as well know is that Pandora and her box (jar) were actually a form of punishment that Zeus gave to Prometheus after he gave humanity fire. Pandora was the wife of Epimetheus, Prometheus' brother, and it was his failure to keep her from opening the box that lad to Prometheus getting chained to his mountain top.

This episode also took us to the show's first divine location, following Hercules and Jason as they descended into Hades. And, like so many writers before him, I think Overman might have been a little confused about the difference between Hades and Tartarus. I say might because, while they do descend into Tartarus through Hades, Tartarus is suddenly added to their journey about half way through the episode despite not having been mentioned at all previously. Hades of myth is the over arching name for the entire land of the dead. This includes the plains of Hades, where the spirits of the dead roam, waiting for judgement, or just carrying on their business. It also includes Elysium, the paradise where heroes and virtuous go, and Tartarus, the deepest pit where punishments are enacted upon the worst monsters and villains. I will congratulate Overman and the set design on their depiction of Hades though, which was shown as in myth to be a barren, mist covered land. Too often is it just shown to be a Christian-style Hell, with fire and suffering souls. The Hades of old more like the reception area of a theatre before a big show: lots of milling about, lots of shuffling of feet, but nothing substantial happening.

The story was all over the place. At the core, a villain holding Medusa hostage while Hercules is forced to perform a task, was a solid set up, though one they only just used three episodes ago, to greater effect (though, that episode seems to have been entirely forgotten by the writers). He must journey into Hades to retrieve Pandora's Box, and again, that's a solid set up. The execution, however, left much to be desired. And it was an odd premise for a show that has shied away from dealing with the properly supernatural elements of myth. Monsters apparently are one thing, but the gods themselves are another matter. How though, are we meant to reconcile a world without the immortals if Jason and Hercules are able to go spirit walking into the land of the dead? And even in that, they tried to have it both ways.

Myth is full of stories of people journeying into the Underworld (Hercules did it, and so did Theseus and Orpheus, etc), but they all physically went went there. There were many paths that led to Hades throughout the Aegean, but they all had to be walked. This dream journey had the feeling of plausible deniability. Except, they were expected to bring something back with them. Physically, they had to retrieve an item from Hades. How they were able to bring it back when they never actually went there, I'm at a loss to explain, and it certainly seems like Overman didn't think about it too hard. It is easy to think that the only reason Overman went with the lucid dream rather than a foot journey, and that was to give Pythagoras something to do, and to add a touch of empty drama right at the end. It was a subplot that was underwritten and should have been removed completely (it certainly lacked any of the humour it was meant to carry).

This episode could have been - probably should have been - a two parter. The first, the trio searching for an entrance to the Underworld, and the second their encounters while there. Journeys in fiction need to have deeper meaning for the characters, and journeys to the Underworld are traditionally used as a means of the characters examining themselves. By encountering those they have lost along the way, the characters are able to reflect on the life they have liven, and if they escape, become better for what they have learned. There was none of that here. In part because the characters haven't been responsible for many deaths of others, so they had to resort to using a character I had completely forgotten about, from the second episode. And in part because, there wasn't an interest here on having the characters learn anything. Jason might have had the chance to learn something about himself, peel the layers of mystery off of his personal onion a bit. What about the old fellow who had been the Earth-Bull? He might have been able to explain some things? The dead have no secrets left to keep, and it might have jump started some of the more stagnant areas of the character arc.

Within the hour, we had an entire trip to the Underworld under dubious means, the retrieval of the Box, the switch out of the Box, the repercussions of the switch out of the Box, and Medusa's seduction of the Box, and I guess her character arc lasted all of seven episodes. I understand that they had to write the entire first series under the assumption that they wouldn't get a second, but apparently they weren't willing to hold out a hope at all, and slow burn that transition. If we're still using Merlin as the comparison, Morgana's gradual transition into the Big Bad should be the gauge by which we measure Medusa's fate, and Medusa falls completely flat. Yes, in myth Medusa was cursed before she became evil rather than the other way, but knowing that her fate was inevitable should have allowed the writers to more room to tease the transformation. And, perhaps give a reason or purpose for it, rather than have it be a random, meaningless event. And, for it to have emotional resonance, they had to fast forward Medusa and Hercules' relationship well past what had previously been established.

This whole scenario felt like something that should be happening a year from now, once there had been more development across the board. Instead, the writers have rushed into it, and are now stuck. Either Medusa stays snakey (which was a horrible CG effect), and has no development left to explore, or she is saved, in which case her future exploits, now leading to nothing, are uninteresting. The writers have written themselves into the most easily avoided corner. And now Jason, on top of having a cursed friend, a mystery father, and a sworn oath to kill the Queen, he's also incurred the wraith of the absent gods. The writers are burning through multiple series-length storylines in one year, and it's all just more stuff being added to a pile of abandoned half notions.

Also, take note that it was said Pandora's Box was irresistible to mortals, and Jason had no problem resisting it. Let's see if that develops into anything.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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