[Review] - Atlantis Series 1 Finale, Episodes 12 and 13, "Touched by the Gods"

Courtesy of the BBC
Atlantis had a lot to over come in it's final two part story. Inconsistent tone, pacing, quality of writing, acting and general mediocrity have plagued the series since the start. Some weeks, the show has been great. And some weeks, it really hasn't been. The latter half of this first year has been especially troublesome, to the point that I had lost all faith in the series. But, these last two episodes promised finally to return to the story set up mid series, that had seemed to signal a change of course for the show, only to be absolutely abandoned.

These two hours were the chance for the series to redeem itself, to prove that it was worthy of that second series the BBC rushed to award them. Sadly, it didn't. It is something to say that Touched was not a colossal failure, nor were they aggressive terrible. They were just underwhelming, bland, poorly paced and once again showcased the fact that Overman and the writers seem to be paying no attention to the elements of their own universe. The best sentiment I can muster is that they have brought this laborious series to an end, and for that I am thankful.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are aware that, if you crib from the greatest myth-based film ever made, it'll only make you look bad by comparison.

Finally, after half a series, Circe returns to remind Jason of his oath to kill Pasiphaë, an oath he is reluctant to keep. It's only after Circe threatens the lives of his friends and Pythagoras that he decides to do it. So, part one was set up as something of a heist film, except instead of a daring robbery, Saturday teatime programming devoted an hour to championing an assassination. Like everything else though, Jason faltered and became a wanted man, which was good for him because it meant he could spend a clandestine night in Ariadne's bed, so they could pensively look at one another for a good chunk of the episode. That leaves it open for Pasiphaë to later point the finger at Ariadne, whom she sentences to death for treason.

When introducing big ideas, there is an expectation of follow through. The ability of the writer to set the scene, and then most critically, allow the scene to play out. Doctor Who has suffered from this same problem over the last few years. Boisterous, dangerous villains must be able to prove their danger, and the heroes in turn must be able to rise up and meet that level. Plots that are intended to shake foundations must prove to be earthquakes, not fat guys falling down stairs. And confrontations, the sort of grandiose theatricality that people expect from heroes, must have some tension and some substance to it. And these are all the things that were lacking here. Even in it's first inconsistent year, Merlin managed to pull off a finale that was big, sweeping, emotional and tense. Atlantis managed none of that. Turns out, for all her bluster, Jason's decision to renege on his oath spurred Circe to little more than a shouting match, which he ended without fuss by shivving her in the gut (it also really undercuts his moral stance of being unwilling to kill Pasiphaë when he never hesitates to chuck one of his throwing knives into pretty much anyone's neck).

Overman also seemed to be using Game of Thrones as an influence, with the "big confrontation" happening in the penultimate episode, leaving the finale to resolve the lingering threads. I liked the brazen bull, a clever variation on the mythical fake cow built for Pasiphaë to cure her insatiable lust for Minos' prized bull, which begot the Minotaur (bestiality isn't exactly teatime friendly). So again, there is a daring heist, which makes it the sixth time or so this year that the trio have broken into the palace, which speaks volumes about the ineptitude of the guards. Ariadne is swept away before she can be cooked in her own juices, taken to the woods while Heptarian gives pursuit.

A few weeks ago, when Jason descended into Hades, and I had unkind words to say about the placement and structure of the episode, it was exactly this sort of set up that was required before that story could have taken place. The sacrifice of Ramos to save the princess, in aid of Jason, was the sort of friendly dead they needed to encounter amongst the shades. In the same way, there was an episode earlier in the year that established Ariadne's exiled brother as a soldier of rebellion. Might have he not had an interest in assisting to rescue his sister and vilify his step mother? The way the series was introducing characters, I was expecting the finale to feature a massive call to arms, thus consolidating all of the seemingly random appearances into one big payoff. Instead, we were introduced to even more characters, and even less happened.

Overman and the writers seem utterly incapable of carrying over a concept from one episode into another, and seem equally incapable of being able to plot out events so that they have more than immediate influence. Even with simple things, like character development (this was a massive problem with Dirk Gently as well). One week, Jason is forsaking the Gods and cursing the Oracle, the next he's having a heart to heart with her, like she is mother dearest. When they introduce characters and concepts, they develop no plan on how to best utilise this element down the line, so they just throw it away. Or, in the case of the ridiculous revelation about Jason's parentage, no ability to seed or hint or imply. The reveal that Jason is Pasiphaë's child was so transparently meant to be a "shocker" moment, yet it's equally obvious that it was thought up on the fly as the episode was being written, amounting to little more than "why the hell not." And if it wasn't, if that revelation was planned at any point during the series, then that's even worse, because it was an utter failure of storytelling. Put in veiled references to lost children in those vitriolic dialogues between Pasiphaë and Ariadne. Have the Oracle let slip something close to helpful. Seven hells, Circe would have been his aunt, surely she would have been given over for some subtle taunting about his parentage? You don't have to connect all the dots, but you do have to include dots. Otherwise, it's just a scribble, and that's what we got here: a great big, formless scribble.

For clarification, the history of Atlantis now seems to go like this. Tychon (played with as little enthusiasm as the role warranted by the better-than-this guest star John Hannah) was married to Pasiphaë, and had Jason. Minos was married to someone else, and had Ariadne and her brother. What remains unclear is whether Tychon was king and Pasiphaë queen, or if Minos was already in charge. Based on dialogue from throughout the year, it could go either way, though my feeling is that Tychon was king. It's yet another thing the writers haven't got a clear gasp of, their own story bible. Anyway, Pasiphaë gets rid of Lady Minos, Tychon escapes with the infant Jason into the future (yet another plot point the writers have just straight up abandoned, to the point where that opening scene of episode one isn't just unusual, it is straight up pointless). Does any of that hold together? Not really. When did Tychon return to Atlantis? Why didn't Jason recognise him in the least, when that first episode seemed to suggest that it hadn't been that long since his father went missing. When did Pasiphaë turn Tychon into a leper? Why did she turn him into a leper? Why, of all things, did the writers settle on a leper colony in a silver mine? Who thought that was the cleverest idea in the hat? And what possessed Overman to go through all of that, and end with a return to the status quo. Talk about a Shaggy Dog story: everything ends with nothing learned, nothing gained, and everyone in the exact same position they were in when the series began, except poor Medusa, who got the rancid meat and poo covered end of the narrative stick. I have no time or interest in stories that aren't willing to, at the very least, move forward.

Despite the promise that Atlantis will return, I won't be. Atlantis deserves to sink, and if the Beeb is more interested in putting money into this than it was renewing Ripper Street for another series, then the ratings obsession that has dominated American TV for decades really and truly has taken hold of powers that be. If they want good, family based entertainment, I have no doubt they could find better elsewhere. And if this whole venture was built on the good will and success of Merlin, which it was, than disappointment all around, because Merlin this is not. That series wasn't perfect, but at least it was good. Mark Addy deserves so much better than this, but he's the only one. Everyone else in the cast either isn't putting in the effort because they recognise that it isn't worth it, or lack the capacity. And the writers aren't doing their job. First and foremost with me, it is a question of story, and it is a question of characters, and those both fall to the writers, and the writers haven't earned praise. Atlantis was an experiment, and those are always worth doing, because you never know what will work and what won't until you try. But this didn't work, and the experiment has failed. Except now it'll linger on for a while longer. I only hope that massive change comes, either in the form of a cleansing wave creatively, or a powerful earthquake in the form of cancellation.

Either way, I'm getting clear while I can. I suggest you do the same.
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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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