I think it’s fair to say that the first season of Atlantis wasn’t to everyone’s taste. It felt as if the producers had rushed into a new series to capitalise on the success of Merlin, but weren’t quite sure of the tone to take. The final two episodes of that season hinted at a darker tone – and were streets ahead of their predecessors – and that change is clearly visible (or it would be if the episode wasn’t predominantly set at night or within caves!) in the first episode of the new season.
There’s far more of an ensemble feel to the show: it’s not just about Jason, Hercules and Pythagoras. Their exploits are central to the story, but we get to spend a good amount of time with Ariadne, as she comes to terms with her new role as queen, and with Pasiphae, whose desire for revenge and conquest fuels this opening episode (and, I suspect, the whole season). The fighting style is one of the most noticeable changes: Jack Donnelly still demonstrates Jason’s almost superheroic reflexes, but he’s no longer doing a bad imitation of Batroc the Leaper all the time. The combat is down and dirty (albeit still not displaying the gore that would be involved), and the series doesn’t shy away from depicting violent death – nor the consequences of being chivalrous.
For those who didn’t watch (or gave up on) the first series, there are useful reminders of the set up (although not Jason’s 21st century origins, oddly – are those going to be airbrushed out of history?), and the strength of the relationship between the three men. Questions asked by the fans are dealt with head-on, and there’s even a reminder in the throw-forward to the rest of the season (that was on the previews, and hopefully the episode) of the relationship between Jason and Pasiphae, revealed at the end of the last series.
The changes make this opener feel the same way an American programme does when a new showrunner comes on board – taking what is perceived to have worked, and ramping up other elements. It’s important to open a new season displaying what the show is going to do, and with the introduction of Medea, revised roles for both Ariadne and Pasiphae, and a grimmer central trio, it certainly seems as if Atlantis will justify its mid-evening slot.
Verdict: A much improved show kicks off with style. 8/10