The Madness of Hercules

There was an awful lot of promise behind this week’s episode of Atlantis, The Madness of Hercules, but it ultimately proved too much to live up to. It’s a reasonable entry which does a good job of setting things up for the future, turning the fortunes of our heroes and villains entirely upside down, but it tries to cram in rather too much and comes across as rushed. The result is that some of its content seems rather contrived – though the drama at its heart is still worth the price of admission.

With Jason wrongfully condemned to death for the murder of the Oracle, Hercules has a choice: either watch his friend die, or give up the woman he loves – Medusa, the real murderer – and sacrifice her in Jason’s stead. You might expect this to be the episode’s central conflict given its title, but it is actually swiftly moved past when Hercules, unable to make the choice, tries to break Jason out of prison. For his troubles, he is captured and also sentenced to death.
It is clear that Pasiphae’s plan is coming to fruition; Jason is Ariadne’s greatest weakness, and she hopes to use him against the young Queen. As a servant of the Gods, Ariadne must accept their will that Jason is guilty, but her love for him means that she is unwilling to do so. Soon enough, she risks everything to set him free, and in so doing plays right into her enemy’s hands.

While the premise behind The Madness of Hercules is good, and it is by no means a very weak episode, it nevertheless tries to tackle too much in its short running time. There are a lot of different characters to get through, all thinking and feeling different things, and somehow it fails to balance them quite correctly. Jason, as a prisoner, is unable to take the lead, and though Hercules is set up as his replacement at the start, he soon gives way to first Pythagoras and then Ariadne. There’s also a lot of input from minor characters, particularly Cilix, Pasiphae’s traitor in the court, and High Priest Melas who is being forced to do her bidding.
In its rush to get through everything, The Madness of Hercules doesn’t always fit together as coherently as it should. This was not uncommon in the first season of Atlantis but has become a rarity of late, and it’s a shame to see it return. It most commonly occurs when characters jump to conclusions or overreact; for example, when Ariadne needlessly incriminates herself when a calmer reaction could have spared her any trouble. The ending of the episode also makes little sense: we’ll avoid any spoilers, but suffice to say that the inhabitants of Atlantis change their minds about a certain someone pretty quickly.

All said, however, the central drama – how to save Jason, and the price that must be paid to achieve this goal – is still gripping no matter whose perspective you’re looking at it from. The moral quandaries are intense, and it does keep you from guessing what might come next. The score, which has never been the show’s strongest point, suddenly comes to the fore with a gorgeous arrangement for strings, and the performances are all sufficiently powerful. In short, this is not an episode of Atlantis to be missed – but nor is it the best or the most memorable.

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