Atlantis 1.07 “The Rules Of Engagement” TV REVIEW
Writer: Richard McBrien
Director: Declan O’Dwyer
THE ONE WHERE Jason enters a combat tournament called the Pankration in an attempt to win over Princess Ariadne.
VERDICT Now it all becomes clear. The reason the producers of Merlin wrapped up that show and embarked on Atlantis instead is clearly because they can now have their beefcake and eat it. In Merlin , whenever there was some big tournament set piece, all the knights had to be encased from head to foot in armour. In Atlantis , on the other hand, every time there’s the tournament, the men strip to the waist. Pecs and violence, indeed.
In so many ways “The Rules Of Engagement” is one of Atlantis ’s most impressive episodes yet, with much to commend it. It’s so very nearly a four star episode, but there’s one gaping great flaw at its heart: Jason spends most of the episode acting a complete tit. Sure, at the crucial, climactic moment he makes the noble, clever and selfless choice, but until that point he just seems a bit thick. And more than ever before, the fact that the show totally ignores his "man out of time” nature becomes a real issue. During his first conversation with Ariadne in the episode you’re crying out for him to say, “Where I come from arranged marriages are regarded as barbaric,” or something similar. Instead he acts like his whole cultural upbringing was formed by watching Disney fairytales: “If I want something hard enough it will become true!” The idea that he thinks the Atlantean King and Queen would say, “Bye, Heptarian! Welcome, Jason, my son!” if he won the Pankration makes him, frankly, look a bit credulous. Even Ariadne looks appalled he could be so naive.
It’s not the scene’s only problem. Jason is also given some cringingly clichéd lines to spout, and poor old Jack Donnelly doesn’t have the acting chops yet to make them sound otherwise. Compare it to wonderful bonding scene between Hercules and Medusa later (when Hercules reveals why he’s so devoted to Jason and unwittingly wins Medusa’s heart back); Mark Addy and Jemima Rooper so effortlessly make you care for them, it highlights the chasm in quality between these two heart-to-heart moments.
If you can try to ignore Jason turning into Mr Thicky-thick-thick, then there’s loads here to enjoy (if enjoy is the right word in some cases). The fight scenes are brilliantly staged, effectively tense and pleasingly physical and you could almost hear the Rocky music during the training montage. The rift between Hercules and Medusa may be repaired a tad quickly and tidily, but it’s achieved with such with, heart and good acting you don’t really mind. You end up with a warm grin by episode’s end when Medusa grabs the big guy’s hand and backs up his tales of derring-do in his younger days (though… how would she know?).
Also, Jason’s solution to his moral dilemma in the arena provides an intelligent, satisfying and logical climax (see Best Line below), only eclipsed by Ariadne’s clever bit of sophistry to claim the outcome means the Gods don’t want Heptarian to marry her. In fact, the whole battle-of-wills between Pasiphae and Ariadne steps up a gear, and Sarah Parrish is better than ever. Looks like Minos is going to be pulling his hair out soon if her edgy scene with the poisoner is anything to go by.
Pasiphae also has the last word. Ariadne may have outmanoeuvred her, but it seems Pasiphae is most dangerous when backed into a corner, and she retaliates by killing the rather sweet Korrina. It’s a shocking moment, and completely out of the blue for this show. It’s certainly a way to make sure we’ll be back for the next episode.
TITLE TATTLE Just checking: you did get the pun in the episode title, right? Engagement as in engaging in battle, and engagement as in a pledge to get hitched.
SOCKET TO ’EM While the scene in which Hercules pops Jason’s arm back into its socket is a tidy means of getting Medusa to start admiring the tubby warrior once more, it’s unlikely that the more knowledgable Pythagoras (who was only boasting that he understood how the human heart worked – medically speaking – a couple of scenes beforehand) wouldn’t have known the procedure as well.
STRANGE ATTRACTION While everyone else is keeping their eyes on the action, Pythagoras seems distracted by something else – the pattern of a triangle in the sand, maybe?
BROMANCE SPOTTING “Are you checking this out, Medusa?” thinks Pythagoras.
EVERYONE'S A CRITIC “The occasional headache, some pain, then more. After several months the hair may loosen, the skull itch… the mind become confused, all brought mercifully to an end by a sleep from which no-one can wake.” Has he been watching Syfy’s Flash Gordon ?
Jason: “Kill me and they’ll hate you forever.”
• Atlantis is currently airing in the UK on BBC One, Saturday evenings
• Read our other Atlantis season one reviews