The Day of the Dead

It’s hard to believe that the second season of Atlantis hasn’t even reached its midpoint. Its latest offering, The Day of the Dead, is only the fifth episode but seems like the climax of a long running story arc. It is also the best – and darkest – episode the show has ever produced, a pulse-pounding 45 minutes full of action, horror, romance, heartbreak, and treachery. It’s certainly too scary for younger children, but even in its stellar second season, Atlantis has never reached such heights as these before.

Having taken shelter from Pasiphae’s army in an ancient necropolis, our band of heroes find themselves in even deeper trouble than ever. Jason is separated from the rest and has only his enemy Medea to help him reunite with his friends. Worse is still to come, however. Pasiphae uses her sorcery to raise an army of the undead – and if they bite you, you become like them.

The atmospherics of the necropolis are unlike anything Atlantis has produced so far. From the first moment we see a mummified hand punch its way out of a sarcophagus, the tension is wound so tight it’s a wonder the episode doesn’t simply explode. What follows is wonderfully shot; the passages of the necropolis are lit only by our heroes torches, and the deep shadows makes the shuffling hordes of the dead seem truly nightmarish.
In many ways, The Day of the Dead is zombie-horror at its finest. For example, the undead seek to feast on the flesh of the living, and can only be killed by one method: a strike to the heart. Despite this, the show makes them uniquely its own; while the influences are obvious, they never overwhelm the mythology of Atlantis itself. Young children will likely find much of the content too frightening – this is, without doubt, the darkest episode yet – but the horror fits in naturally and doesn’t seem forced.

There’s a good deal more to this episode than action and horror, however. Jason’s storyline sees him uniting with Medea to survive, and the interplay between them is excellent. Their fragile trust in one another is believable thanks to strong performances from the actors; Amy Manson particularly shines as Medea, granting the character a humanity and vulnerability we haven’t previously had a chance to see. Jack Donnelly still has the occasional tendency to rush his words, but this is still his best performance as Jason to date.
There is plenty of drama elsewhere, too. It’s been a constant theme of the second season of Atlantis that it has flawlessly balanced action and humanity, and that trend continues here. It is Ariadne’s fear that Jason has died before she can confess her love to him, and the fear of elderly couple Orpheus and Eurydice that these may be their final moments together, that give the episode its heart. Meanwhile, Hercules and Pythagoras have some wonderful comic moments together that keep events from ever becoming too grim.

In many ways, The Day of the Dead is a simple survival story: our heroes (and villain) must survive the necropolis. It’s how that tale of survival unfolds, and the motivations behind each character, that make it so brilliant. No fight scene is meaningless, no spoken word is there to fill the silence. The undead are unrelenting, and the characters can only resist them by standing together, forging emotional bonds that death cannot break. In short, The Day of the Dead is a true tour-de-force in storytelling, and ends on yet another cliff-hanger that will leave you begging for more.

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