Series 3. Episode 1. In which mythology slams reality over the head.
July 4, 2013 § 16 Comments
It was never going to start happy. The end of Series 2 guaranteed a conflict sourced in both family and mythological adversity. In “An Orchard of Trees”, the Almighty Johnsons owned that trauma, delivering well-grounded tension in a welcome return. For the most part, I absolutely loved this episode. Yes, there were a few weak points as there always are, but they were far outweighed by a beautiful series opening.
The episode started with a lavish and overwrought set-piece introducing Axl’s mindset as he fantasized the upshot of Gaia’s Idunn apotheosis. Axl-as-tree hit me over the head with one of my biggest concerns from Series 2 — that an enhanced budget and a desire to focus on comedy had overshadowed good storytelling. I worried that Gilligan’s-Island-esque goings on would push out the heart of the drama.
For the most part, I need not have fussed.
That over-the-top tree sequence set up the actual tree-in-the-apartment, both with misdirection (who’s tree was it, after all) and with a pay off both earned and satisfying. As the episode closed, an enraged Axl attacked the apple tree, a scene intercut with scenes of Anders and Gaia in flagrante delicto, giving into needs and passions they couldn’t overrule by will. It was fabulous.
I especially liked the point of view shots that led up to that moment, the internal hints that both Gaia and Anders couldn’t quite get past mythology. Gaia and Axl’s forced and desperate attempts to bend reality to their will — even as it became increasingly clear that they could not — were superb. The proposal called back to one of my favorite moments from the last series, when the emotionally destroyed Eva suggested that she and Ty try for a baby. It had that same ring of truth, that same lack of maturity, that same foreshadowing of disaster.
Anders, of course, was one of the best things about this episode. O’Gorman is one of the strongest actors in a good troupe, and I loved that he powered not one but two distinct storylines. The Bragi/Idunn plot is offering him a chance to start exploring the emotional depths that we just got a hint of towards the end of last season. I really hope this isn’t wrapped up quickly.
At the same time, he gets to keep playing jester in the Ty/Dawn thread. Forget Loki, Anders is the true god of chaos when it comes this romance. Seriously, O’Gorman and Turner have the best chemistry on the show bar none. Seeing them play off each other was a delight. The episode last year where Anders decided on a quest of his own, eventually stumbling across Helen in the rest rooms, was another example of how well these two create magic together. I hope there’s more of this going forward.
And who expected that twist at the end? Dawn, remembering the worst possible flashback, transforming the amnesia story (which, honestly, I hated) into something grounded in terror. It was brilliant, especially given the rest of the cringe-inducing stalker storyline that had preceded it. Suddenly Dawn became marginally interesting — something I would not have dreamed could happen. (As some of the commenters here point out, the more common attitude is “Just die already Dawn.” I’m sure the actress is an absolutely lovely person. It’s the character we hate.)
Over in Oracle land, the strange status quo with Olaf paired up with Stacey and Ingrid being ditzily alone still befuddles me. I can only think the writing crew didn’t have a way to bring Stacey into regular contact so they broke up Olaf and Ingrid and decided to have this odd relationship take its place. It just doesn’t make any sense, and it really doesn’t work for me. And Stacey deserves a better story line.
Speaking of couples without chemistry, Mike and Michelle (would that be Mikechelle, CJ?) are bickering about power, evil, and relationships and it’s just…there. I loved when Michelle and Anders were sparking off each other, and I love Mike as a man of passion, principle, and rage (his turn in Ep 7 of Series 1 is my favorite episode bar none) but the two together? They fall flat. Like Olaf and Stacey, it feels more like an attempt to keep under-contract actors engaged in the main story than a natural place for those characters to be.
Worst of all, no guessing contest on earth works like the one at the store did. I’m sorry, but this is where I have a pedantic hissy fit. You know how those jar-guessing-things operate, I know how they operate, and I’m sure that in no part of the world do employees sit, waiting for the exact answer to pop up, with the reward for the contest happening exactly then. I hated Michelle’s little temper tantrum and Mike’s irrational response to it.
In some ways the episode played out as if it were from two different shows. In the one corner, we had Axl/Gaia/Anders/Ty/Dawn. I give that episode an A+. The other episode gets a Gentleman’s B. I’d probably fast-forward through it on rewatch, even as I’m rewinding parts of the main story over and over again.
- I loved how Anders was wearing Idunn’s colors at the end, as he opened the door. I think the green shirt showed up earlier as well, but I wasn’t paying close attention.
- Everyone seems to have the same ringtones now. I found it so confusing. You used to know who was who by their mobile device tones.
- Not enough Zeb.