April 12, 2011 § 2 Comments
Oh Hel yes. The Almighty Johnsons finished its first run on an absolute story telling high note. With Ty’s struggle to break from Dawn for her own good, his and Eva’s low-key goth wedding, Anders’ delicious villainy, Axl’s renewed bond of friendship with Zeb (and his tentative grasp at true love), and Mike’s emotional rebirth, everything came together to allow Episode 10 to deliver a nearly perfect ending to the show’s first series.
Strong writing, great acting, and many other fine touches (including superb music and costuming) contributed to create a truly worthy and memorable experience on this lovingly crafted show. If it truly was Tim Balme who greenlit this production in his role as Head of Development at South Pacific Pictures, then dude deserves a raise.
Yes, I did have a few quibbles about this episode, which I will briefly touch on in a bit, but let me start with what I liked, particularly Ty’s story. Things quickly got rather dark (and cold, of course) as Ty fought his better nature (i.e., not Hod) to break things off with Dawn.
It would have been very very easy for the writers to leave things at that, with a basic “it’s not you, it’s me” scene — but they didn’t. Ty’s agony at ending his relationship and his obsessive need to make things right for Dawn powered scene after scene after scene. Turner didn’t just switch things up, he brought down the house. He attacked Anders. He shouldered the wrath of Dawn. He claimed Hel.
Between his incredible work on episodes 9 and 10, and his earlier strong performances in 3 and 6, Turner owned this series. As his character Ty explained to Mike, he had been following his own path of destiny throughout — regardless of whether his actions eventually provided a get-out-of-jail-free card for his brother. From being dumped in the pilot, to exploring his ability to love and be loved with Idunn, through his sweet yet doomed romance with Dawn, Turner could have simply portrayed a basic tragic character trying to save his brother and make the best of a bad situation with Eva.
Instead the writers and Turner did something entirely unexpected.
They let Hod come out and play.
And, man, was that dark.
We’ve seen Ty-the-human suffer from being afflicted by Hod-the-god but in this episode, Turner showed us Hod unleashed. And that was as welcome as it was shocking. Exposing Hod to the viewer went a long way to explain Ty. It’s not just about accidentally putting your girlfriend in the hospital with an ice-cold touch. Darkness goes well beyond that. It takes a gifted actor to bring that to the screen without going overboard. This wasn’t Ben-singing-and-dancing-naked-with-a-container-of-milk-as-figleaf. This was better.
To hel with the rest of the Johnsons and the quest for Frigg. I can’t wait for Series 2 to see how the newlyweds get along. I’d sacrifice my favorite Oracles to spend more screen time with Hod and Hel. And hopefully Ty won’t be “accidentally” walking into too many doors, if you catch my drift. As his now father-in-law. put it, “Good luck, mate. You’re gonna need it.” Scary emo twin couple powers activate!
There wasn’t much of the Oracular Comedy and Surfing hour, even as they played a key role in the “Spot the Goddess” sweepstakes. That left me a little sad. I did understand how much was going on with the other characters, so there just wasn’t much room for my favorite couple. They didn’t even sit together at the wedding.
In contrast, there was plenty of Axl, once again taking steps forward in growing up. His interlude with Gaia was well-earned and a much-needed reality check for him. Lies and deceit aren’t going to make a god-mortal relationship work. Gaia very properly dumped him. (Go Gaia!) Romantic notions and infatuation are no substitute for plain, decent honesty and a relationship that grows and matures. In the end, I was thrilled that she wasn’t Frigg. Axl is in no way ready for that kind of relationship. This, even as he grew his more important connection: with Zeb.
I wanted to give the writers flowers and cookies and a thank-you-note for pointing out that combining backyard barbecues with copious quantities of flammable alcohol was not only not the smartest move on Zeb’s part but totally explains his visit to the hospital without putting the blame on divine retribution. Zeb’s hospitalization and recovery finally opens the door for a god and a mortal to keep working on a real and meaningful relationship. It beautifully points out the inherent flaws of Rule Number 1. Building walls between these different groups has not worked out at all. Axl needs this friendship with Zeb and this link to his humanity.
Plus Axl does a mean miracle — even if he’s not Gandalf.
What he is, is Odin. And he’s becoming more and more Odin as time goes by — despite Mike’s claims that he can’t grow as Odin until the quest is complete, with a huge number of power-ups from super-strength to healing exhibited over time — perhaps growing into the best Odin ever. And he can’t do that without those ties to humanity because lonely Norse Gods are a proven fail. I don’t think the quest is about finding Frigg, in that you find her you win. Instead, I think his quest is about becoming the man who deserves Frigg. And that Axl is becoming more Odin as he more becomes that guy.
I admit that I cheered when Valerie dumped Mike. Because Anders was right all along. Anders may be evil, manipulative, venal, petty, and shallow, but he totally called how unhealthy Mike’s marriage was. That final scene of paper-rock-scissors perfectly book-ended the one in episode 1, with both Mike and Axl having progressed so far. On Mike’s part, he’s finally starting to accept himself and become the man he should be. Being Ullr is glorious fun — he won the apotheosis lottery (much as someone in Dannevirke won lotto) and he should enjoy some of that, becoming the god he could be as well. Having those two games mirror each other, really worked for me: narratively, metaphorically, and so forth.
Anders played a smaller role this episode, with one glorious moment of drinks with Michelle, and a tie into a less-successful subplot with Agnetha. Logically, Anders should have kept things going with Michelle — building off her contacts to keep the Frigg search online. He couldn’t have known that Mike (who I believe is also the god of finding lost keys, a power I would kill for) would sign onto the search. Instead, he abruptly gave her the heave-ho, even as their relationship teased closer to something real, because you don’t mess with his brothers. Because that’s what Anders does, and what he’s good at. And I admit I cheered when he did it because I love Anders being both heroic and awful. He’s his own worst enemy when he’s not being everyone else’s, but he’s loyal to family.
What failed was the Loki-Agnetha-Anders thread that ribboned through the story. Loki should have played things as he did last week rather than going all cartoon this time. There was no need for the over-reactions. It didn’t fit the story, it wasn’t needed for the story, and he would have been more menacing and his story more powerful if the writers, the director, and the editors had reeled him and Agnetha in. Yes, it was his house, but that scene did nothing but turn his character into trumpery.
The Agnetha plot failed as well. Surely Mike and Anders as the two eldest would have recognized her. You don’t forget what your mother looks like after 15 years — and even if her time as a tree changed what her face looked like, there aren’t god duplicates. Hearing the name Freya, seeing her name tag, would have been a complete tip-off. I’m sorry, but this was just not well done — either in the final reveal or in the party itself.
Seeing how uniformly excellent the rest of the series was, and the strength of the rest of the episode, I’m inclined to simply gloss over these small fouls. It’s not worth taking much time to focus on these storytelling weaknesses when you had powerful scene after powerful scene wrapping up this series.
Here’s hoping for a world-wide release, a quick confirmation of series 2, and that my Region 4 DVD doesn’t take too long to ship once May rolls around.
I’ll probably be back for one more post if time permits to address a few lingering points like the greater story theme and why I was originally hoping that the girl gang were not, in fact, goddesses.
And if you get e-mail from some Kiwi friends telling you that you have to watch a new series and that they’re willing to put their bandwidth where their mouth is (I understand how pricey things can be down there net-wise — in NZ, not in Nifhelheim), do agree. You might end up enjoying a series as good as this one.
Footnotes:  I warn you. There’s going to be a lot of this sort of thing.  You were warned.  The “If you be without sin” a cappella was spot-on perfection. I still need to identify that song Zeb was singing along to in Episode 7 as well.  OMG, Olaf’s formal wear and Var’s special-occasion lingerie! Eva’s bat earrings and Colin’s fox pin and those strong red textural highlights! Plus the bride wore black. And the groom. And most of the guests. Genius.  That Ty had to move from sunny blonde Dawn to darkest Eve/Eva? Nice gracenote.  See footnote 2.  Thank you writers for showing us Axl reacting to his real Mom and Dad’s marriage breaking up; a lot of shows would have glossed over that.