I'm getting better! This week I'm posting the review for last week's episode a whole two and half hours before this week's episode airs! \o/ I have to admit at this point, I'm calling them 'reviews', but for the last few episodes they've been turning into something more like a form of extended semi-meta. But I'm having a lot of fun writing them, and if anyone else enjoys reading them that's pretty much a bonus. Feel free to join in with comments, discussion, etc.
I think it goes without saying, but just to be safe - major spoilers for 2.10 behind the cut!
Shirtless Award: no one
Unexpected Betrayal of the Week Award: Icarus
Moody Bastard of the Week Award: Jason
Angst! Darkness! UST! Betrayal! Murder! Prophesy! Long lost relatives! PAIN!!!! This episode was like a hit-list of TV tropes! Joking aside, however, The Dying of the Light is another strong episode, and yet again when the cast are given some good dramatic material to work with they all turn in great performances (although really, I should stop commenting on that, because it is, after all, their job to be good at this stuff!).
Let’s start by talking about Jason’s turning to the dark side. The opening scene with Jason brutally slaying an entire patrol of Atlantean soldiers, including the one unarmed man who was trying to surrender, tells us how far he has strayed from the hero we knew before. No doubt this scene is designed specifically to remind viewers of a similar scene back in episode 2.1, where a Colchean soldier surrendered, and Jason was the one who argued with the others that they could not kill an unarmed man. They let him go, only for that solider to then critically wound Jason at a later date. Jason has obviously learned that lesson now, and now he defies Ariadne, who was assuring the young soldier that he would not be killed, and Jason simply rams a sword into him without a word. When Ariadne protests, Jason responds, “Who are you to give me orders?” Um... she’s your queen?
Which brings us nicely to Ariadne and her place in the group. Yes, the boys still acknowledge her as the queen, but away from Atlantis, Ariadne is now less like their queen and more like one of the gang. The boys are calling her, “Ariadne,” rather than, “your highness,” or whatever the appropriate form of address is. She is mucking in and doing the cooking in Pythagoras’ absence, and getting her hands dirty in the fights just as much as the boys. We have seen this before in episode 2.4 and 2.5 when they had their little adventure on the way to Aegina, but the situation now pushes it much further. I think Aiysha Hart has said in interviews that she very much enjoyed getting to do the action stuff this year, and Ariadne certainly seems to have settled into the group without much trouble.
Pythagoras spends much of the episode repeating (multiple times) that Jason is not himself, that his heart has blackened, and that they must help him and find a way to save him. Pythagoras is actually one of the few people who does not find himself at the receiving end of Jason’s short temper, but that may simply be because Pythagoras barely interacts with Jason all episode, and spends much of the time away from the group on his own mission to save Jason.
Apart from killing unarmed men, Jason appears to be mostly brooding, with a side order of sulking, and an awful lot of heartless, unsympathetic and occasionally downright nasty snapping at his friends. His rejection of Ariadne and all her attempts to get through to him is also surprisingly brutal, but is no doubt also paving the way to what happens later with Medea. However, it is his treatment of the grieving Hercules that is particularly hurtful.
The scene where Hercules goads Jason into attacking him is tense and shocking, and says a lot about the emotional states of both Hercules and Jason. The fact that they have turned on each other so easily is possibly not so surprising give the events of the previous episode. At the start of this episode we saw Hercules making what appeared to be a sacrifice or a prayer for Medusa, and her death continues to cast a shadow over Hercules all episode. It is still too raw for him to be in a fit state to deal with Jason’s breakdown, so instead he lashes out at Jason, and Jason is all too quick to lash out back at him, resorting to violence frighteningly quickly and easily. The two scenes of the slaughter of the soldiers and the fight with Hercules right at the start of the episode serve to set the scene and show the viewer exactly what the situation is, and how ‘dark’ Jason has turned. It’s brutal, but it makes the point very effectively, and sets the tone for the antagonism within the group for the rest of the episode.
It’s worth asking, why does Hercules blame Jason and *not* Pythagoras for Medusa’s death? Especially considering that Pythagoras was actually far more complicit in her death than Jason was; Pythagoras plotted with Medusa, assisted her repeatedly to carry it out, and knowingly kept it secret from Hercules and Jason. The only thing that Jason did was the actual physical act of killing her. So why does Hercules not blame Pythagoras?
I suspect this largely comes down to Hercules’ grief, and to the way his two friends have been behaving in the aftermath. Grief is not rational; it leads people to behave in entirely irrational ways. Assuming that Hercules knows the full truth about what happened and how it happened, Hercules probably knows in his head that Pythagoras is as much, if not more to blame. But in the aftermath, Pythagoras was obviously also grieving when he broke the news to Hercules, and he was utterly remorseful about it. We haven’t seen it onscreen, but I suspect that in the hours and days after Medusa’s death, Pythagoras spent much of that time taking care of Hercules, being there for him, supporting him, not necessarily with words and apologies, but more simply by being there for him in all the little ways that we have seen so much in their friendship. By contrast, since Medusa’s death, Jason has been distant, cold, hard-hearted. I suspect he has not once apologised, or shown any remorse for what he did. Chances are he may not even have spoken to Hercules about Medusa at all.
If Hercules is looking for someone to blame, it is a lot easier to lay it at Jason’s door when he is acting this way, even though Pythagoras may be technically more culpable. It may not be rational, but it is entirely believable.
Back in Atlantis, Pasiphae appears to be getting ever more desperate to kill Jason. She seems to believe that now he knows the truth about who he is, he might challenge her for the throne of Atlantis. Medea, on the other hand, spends much of the episode arguing that Jason will be drawn to them and will join them if they let him. Her main augment for this is that those ‘touched by the gods’ are drawn together and he won’t be able to resist. The fact that Medea also appears to have something of an attraction to him obviously isn’t influencing her at all...
It’s not entirely clear whether Jason’s dreams of Medea are happening because Medea is using her magic on him, or if they are a result of this magical transformation that seems to have happened to him. The fact that Ariadne keeps (unwittingly) interrupting his dreams of Medea does nothing to help Ariadne’s attempts to get through to him.
After Pythagoras’ solo adventures last week, he continues to spend much of this episode acting alone on his quest to save Jason from the darkness. But now Pythagoras also comes to the fore as a leader in a way that we have not seen before. Previously in series 2 we have seen Hercules take charge when Jason was out of action, first in episodes 2.1 and 2.2, and then in episode 2.5 in the necropolis. Now that both Jason and Hercules are out of the running – Jason because he has completely lost the plot and doesn’t give a shit any more, and Hercules because he is consumed by grief and anger – Pythagoras steps forward, and despite the presence of Ariadne, the queen, it is Pythagoras who is the one making most of the decisions, and taking most of the decisive action in this episode. It’s something we really haven’t seen before from him, and is another welcome development after he was neglected and pushed into a back seat for much of the first half of series 2. Arguably the only previous occasion when Pythagoras has taken charge in any way was in episode 1.11, when he was the one investigating and researching and generally being the driving force behind the group. That, notably, was in a situation when Jason was cursed and Hercules was grieving the loss of Medusa. There’s a theme here...
His journey back to Atlantis this week is for the purpose of seeing Melas and seeking his guidance on what to do about Jason. It’s a risk, as both Hercules and Ariadne point out, given that Melas was the one who instigated the entire political coup in the first place, but nevertheless Pythagoras remains convinced Melas is on their side and will help (Melas did, after all, help Pythagoras to escape undetected with Pandora’s Box in the previous episode).
At this point I have to say something about Atlantean security. I pondered last week how Pythagoras was getting in and out of the city without being arrested. It turns out that it largely comes down to the Atlantean city guards being useless. Basically, he waits until the gate guards are occupied with someone else, and slips past them in plain sight. That might work once, or maybe twice, but the amount of times Pythagoras has been in and out of the city now, surely the guards can’t be this unobservant all the time? Essentially, Pythagoras’ plans seem to rely on the guards and soldiers being stupid. It’s a dangerous game.
In Atlantis he meets up with Icarus again, who aids him in getting into the temple for a second time. Icarus puts Pythagoras in touch with one of his more interesting friends in order to help (Galenos the dung collector is brilliant), and he kills a guard up on the ramparts while they are attempting to sneak in. This may well be the first time Icarus has ever killed a man, and he did it without hesitation to save Pythagoras. And let’s not forget, Icarus is willing to hide in a cart full of horse dung for Pythagoras – it must be love!
Joking aside, however, on the subject of Pythagoras and Icarus, in episode 2.9 it was possible to argue that it was simply a very close platonic friendship. In this episode it’s no longer possible to realistically argue that. Now the longing looks and adoring gazes have become increasingly more longing and adoring, the physical contact has become more intimate (I draw your attention to Icarus holding Pythagoras’ face in his hands, and not just for a brief moment – it was prolonged); essentially, the subtext has pretty much become text.
Icarus is showing all the signs of someone who is very much in love, and he knows he is. Icarus is the one who tends to initiate the most intimate contact, and Icarus is the one who looks the most disappointed (possibly bordering on distressed) every time they part, although given the situation with his father, that could simply be anxiety creeping through into his interactions with Pythagoras. But even so, Icarus quite blatantly wants Pythagoras.
Pythagoras, on the other hand, is possibly not quite so on board. Yes, there are the longing looks and the lingering partings, and he certainly isn’t objecting to the intimate touching. Like Icarus, he is acting very much like a man who is in love, and he must have realised that he feels this way. However, it is possible that he may not have admitted to himself just what it is that he feels. He may still be deluding himself that it is nothing more than a strong platonic friendship; Pythagoras has a history of declaring his love for his friends on a fairly regular basis, after all.
Which brings us to the question of whether Pythagoras may actually be as romantically and sexually inexperienced as Hercules has implied on several occasions? It’s unlikely that he has got this far in life still a virgin; even in the absence of teenage fumbles, there are brothels. It’s also possible, likely, even, that he may have had unrequited attractions to people in the past (male or female). But even accepting that as a possibility, the chances are Pythagoras has never had a genuine romantic or sexual relationship with anyone before. That inexperience may be what is holding him back from admitting to himself what is actually going on with Icarus. Or maybe he has recognised it for what it is, and is simply too scared to act on it for fear of rejection or of making a fool of himself or of being hurt (and bear in kind we still have no evidence from canon as to how same-sex relationships are viewed in Atlantean society – that may also be a factor).
Whatever the reason, I suspect that if these two are going to progress beyond the longing looks and pining stage, Icarus is going to have to be the one who makes the first move.
Back in camp, Ariadne and Hercules have some lovely scenes together. Ariadne tries to console Hercules, and to reconcile him with Jason, but her attempts are largely useless in the face of Hercules’ growing disillusionment and resentment of Jason. As last week it was nice to see Medusa interacting with the boys away from just Hercules, this week it’s great to see Ariadne spending more time with Hercules and Pythagoras. We had brief flashes of this in episode 2.5, when they were trapped in the necropolis and Jason was lost with Medea, but now it is clear that she likes and respects them as individuals, not simply as Jason’s sidekicks.
Pythagoras gets to see Melas and Cassandra (so far he is the only one of the core group who has even met the new Oracle), and as he predicted, Melas does agree to help. Pythagoras learns that only Jason’s father can bring him back from the darkness, which seems like a dead end until Melas admits that The Oracle may have been a little misleading with her pronouncement that Jason’s father, “walks amongst the dead.” So Pythagoras sets off on another quest to go and find Aeson.
Once Pythagoras is safely out of the city, we learn that Daedalus has been arrested and imprisoned for his part in the explosion in last week’s episode. Icarus discovers that his father is being beaten up by his cell-mate, and that he is due to be executed the next day. Waah! Not Daedalus! All of which leads to Icarus doing something rather rash, and in an unexpected twist, he betrays Pythagoras’ location to Goran in order to lead him to Ariadne.
Initial reactions from a lot of the audience probably went along the lines of OMG Icarus! Nooooo!!!!! See this post from rushiwck for another extremely well thought out analysis of audience reaction to this. It’s entirely natural; we are rooting for Pythagoras, and a large portion of the fandom has been waiting in anticipation of Pythagoras/Icarus for months, so the possibility that Icarus could do that to Pythagoras is all the more shocking for a fandom that has already built him up into a wonderful character before we even met him.
So let’s stand back and attempt to be rational about this. Firstly, Icarus is in a terrible position. His father is under a death sentence, and there is absolutely nothing that Icarus can do about that. No matter how dysfunctional Daedalus and Icarus’ relationship may have appeared in episode 2.9, this is still his father, and he will do anything he can to save him. The only thing he has to offer which is worth enough to save his father is Pythagoras. No matter how obvious it is by this point that Icarus is in love with Pythagoras, that relationship is, at this stage, still non-existent in a romantic sense. It is unrequited, it is unrealised, it is a potential relationship. His relationship with his father is real, and powerful and binding. Icarus has no choice.
Secondly, it seems that Icarus may be pretty, but he is not necessarily the brightest boy. He is also desperate, which made him act and speak without thinking carefully first. Hence the way that Goran is able to manipulate him into giving up information without then releasing Daedalus. This ultimately puts Icarus into an even more unenviable position, since Goran can now use Daedalus as leverage to get Icarus to do anything he wants. Poor foolish Icarus.
Even so, let’s look at what Icarus actually did. If he wanted to get his father released, he must know that handing them Pythagoras in person would probably be enough to achieve that. Pythagoras is one of the most wanted men in Atlantis, coming only slightly further down the list than Jason, Hercules, and Ariadne. If Icarus had wanted to, and been desperate enough, he could probably have secured Daedalus’ release by giving them Pythagoras. He didn’t. What he actually did was lie to Pythagoras about what had happened to Daedalus (we don’t know why he lied about this, I’d speculate that he withheld the truth because he did not want Pythagoras to feel guilty and blame himself for what happened to Daedalus, and also perhaps because he did not want Pythagoras to be distracted from his greater mission by worrying about Icarus and Daedalus), and then he continued to help Pythagoras getting in and out of the temple again. He then waited until Pythagoras was a good few hours outside the city, and therefore had a good head start, before he went to Goran with the information that would lead them to Ariadne. However stupid and misguided his actions ultimately were, Icarus was in an impossible position, and he did what he could to try to save both of the people he loved. I hope we will see the ramifications of that in coming episodes.
In blissful ignorance of what Icarus has done, Pythagoras finds Aeson, and makes an impassioned plea for him to come and help them to save Jason. Aeson initially refuses; he wants no part of the royal politics and has no belief in his own ability to get through to Jason. John Hannah, like Robert Lindsay, is another welcome return to the cast, and the scenes between Pythagoras and Aeson are great. As with Melas, Pythagoras appeals to Aeson’s sense of love and duty, and again it works.
I wonder if Pythagoras actually appreciates the full truth of who Aeson is – the former king of Atlantis, as well as being Jason’s father? Pythagoras did not grow up in Atlantis, and the political coup in which Aeson was overthrown happened more than twenty years ago, so it’s possible that he has not entirely made the connection of Jason’s father = Pasiphae’s husband = former king of Atlantis. But this is Pythagoras, so he might well have worked it out. If he has, he certainly doesn’t treat Aeson with any greater respect because of it. Pythagoras is a man on a mission, and the concept of power and status no longer seems to be a priority for him. Whether it is a high priest or a former king, all Pythagoras sees is people who can help him to save Jason, and he has the self-confidence to interact with them as equals.
Meanwhile, back in camp, there is a gorgeous conversation between Ariadne and Hercules about Hercules’ friendship with Pythagoras. Ariadne makes another attempt to help Hercules reconcile with Jason, and to Hercules’ credit he does try. For a moment it seems like Jason is attempting to talk to him, and that they might get somewhere, but then Jason responds coldly that Medusa is dead and, “life moves on.” It’s too much for Hercules, and he packs up his things and walks away from the group, leaving Ariadne alone with Jason, and the statement, “In my head, I know he is not himself. But I don’t have the strength to stop my gut, and my gut just wants to kill him.” The scene is incredibly well played by both Mark and Jack, and all the more powerful because of their performances.
As a result of Icarus’ tip-off, Pasiphae learns that Pythagoras has picked up Aeson, and Pasiphae herself sets out with a patrol to be there when Pythagoras unknowingly leads them to Jason and Ariadne. In an interesting twist, Medea opts to follow secretly. Her attempts to talk Pasiphae out of killing Jason have failed, so instead she resorts to outright sabotage, and when the fight inevitably breaks out and Jason is separated from the others, Medea saves his life and sneaks him away into hiding. This leaves Pasiphae pissed off (and going all Darth Vader on Goran), while Hercules, Ariadne, Pythagoras and Aeson manage to regroup but have no idea where Jason is or what has happened to him.
We get the ghost of a smile from Jason for the first time in the episode when he wakes in Medea’s arms. He is obviously wary of her at first, but before long they give in to the sexual tension between them and we finish the episode with Jason and Medea kissing each other. That was all a bit quick! It’s a little unfortunate that in many ways, there is more obvious sexual chemistry between Jason and Medea than there is between Jason and Ariadne. It might just be the ‘dangerous’ element, or simply because until recently, Ariadne wasn’t a very exciting character. Either way, this does not bode well for any of them. And I’m slightly worried for Medea when Pasiphae finds out what she has done.
Let’s finish with some thoughts about the entire central premise for this episode. The Oracle foretold that should Jason ever learn the truth about Pasiphae being his mother, “his heart will blacken, and he will be lost to us”. In my review for the previous episode, I wondered if the death of Medusa may actually have had more of a part to play in Jason’s psychological downfall, but according to what we learn in this episode, mostly from Medea, but also from Melas and Aeson, it seems it is something entirely magical and supernatural, because the darkness is present in all who are ‘touched by the gods’. I have to say I think this is a little bit of a cop out – it would have been far more satisfying to explore a complex emotional crisis brought on by a sequence of terrible events, of which finding out the truth about his parentage was just the final straw that broke Jason’s grip on psychological stability. Instead, we get a, quite frankly, hand-wavy excuse for an explanation that basically boils down to, ‘it’s magic’. How disappointing.
We never saw the conversation where Jason told the others what he has learned about Pasiphae, but I think it’s safe to assume that Hercules and Pythagoras have neglected to mention that they already knew about it. If Jason knew that they knew, I suspect there would have been a lot more violence.
Also, with regards to Hercules and Pythagoras and The Oracle keeping the truth from Jason, I can’t help but feel this is a classic Greek mythology case of ‘accidentally causing a prophesy to come true in attempting to avoid it’ (see Oedipus for possibly the best known example of this). Jason discovered the truth about Pasiphae being his mother at the end of a sequence of very bad events – first the death of The Oracle, Jason himself being blamed and sentenced to death, being forced to go on the run, being unable to rescue Ariadne and forced to remain idle for several days while the woman he loves is tortured, being backed into a corner by his friends and forced to murder a close friend as the only way to save said woman he loves. Finding out that he is related to his most hated enemy quite possibly pushed him over the edge after all that lot. Basically he found out at the worst possible time, from the worst possible person, in the worst possible way.
I can’t help but feel that if Hercules and Pythagoras had told him the truth from the start, we might have avoided all this unpleasantness. If they had told him way back before Telemon and the coronation games, before everything all spiralled out of control, it might have gone quite differently. They could have told him in controlled circumstances, when Jason was in his own home, surrounded by friends who love him and want to support him. Yes, he would probably have had an almighty moody strop, he would probably have shouted a lot, become angry, gone and shouted at The Oracle for not telling him sooner. But without all of the other stressful factors *as well*, and without Medea’s corrupting influence, he might have eventually calmed down and handled it a lot better. Also, his friends might have been better able to focus completely on looking after Jason and helping him get through it, instead of the current situation where, let’s face it, one is busy being consumed by grief, one is busy trying to deal with her evil step-mother stealing her throne, and the other is being slightly distracted by a minor sexuality crisis.
Leaving aside the whole ‘hand-wave hand-wave he goes bad because it’s magic’ thing, you have to think it could all have gone so much differently if they had told Jason the truth from the start.