Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands S01E06 “Episode 6” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on ITV 1, Sundays
Writers: Guy Burt
Director: Colin Teague
Essential Plot Points:
- A troll attacks the miner, Greff – an odd occurrence as the miners usually keep the trolls docile by leaving them salt to feed on (if they can’t get salt the easy way they’ll get it from human blood).
- Greff apparently kills the troll, and Rheda worries that when the other trolls find out they may take revenge. So she sends Beowulf to investigate. Breca tags along to add some quippage.
- Unfortunately the troll wasn’t as dead as Greff made out. Cue another troll attack which Breca – somewhat surprisingly (and accidentally) – deals with; the troll falls down a mine shaft.
- Investigating further, Beowulf discovers that someone has been deliberately replacing the salt with sand. The same has happened back at the stores in Herot. The salt comes from Bregan, where Rheda’s brother is Thane. Is someone there a traitor?
- Kela arrives in Herot (armed with a secret knife hidden in a doll) and briefly meets her husband-to-be, Slean.
- However, when she tells Rheda of the warig prophet who’s stirring the warig into action, Rheda dispatches Slean to Bregan so warn Abrecan.
- But Slean learns that Beowulf and Elvina have become an item while on their trip to the Mere. He’s furious and blames his mother for engineering the relationship.
- So Slean arrives in Bregan in a frame of mind that makes him easy for Abrecan to manipulate. Abrecan and Slean hatch a plot to make Abrecan Jarl and Slean Thane of Herot; but Slean insists that his mother is not harmed in the coup.
- Wulfing raiders attack Bregan, and do some serious damage (including stabbing Abrecan, but not fatally) before being repelled. They decide to attack Herot next, using their big CG dog this time.
- Slean tells Abrecan not to light the beacons that will warn Herot there’s danger on the way. If the Raiders do significant harm to Herot it will discredit his mother and Beowulf.
- Meanwhile, Elvina travels through some nicely-lit forests with a picnic for the mutant mud born that captured her in episode one.
Y’know, we so nearly gave this action-packed episode an extra half star, but the show’s criminal treatment of its star – its eponymous star – means we have to be cruel to be kind. Please, please, please Beowulf writers, STOP MAKING BEOWULF LOOK STUFF A WUSS. Last week he was bested by a guy who was old enough to be his granddad, and this week Slean is beating him in a fight until Varr breaks things up and then he gets knocked unconscious by a troll and leaves Breca to save the day.
It’s not like he does anything else interesting the rest of the time. He’s currently coming across like a bit-parter in his own show. It’s great to have some rampaging trolls livening things up, and the various action/effects scenes involving the CG beasts are great. But the comedy stuff with the guy-linered miners (they looked like they’d wandered in from an ancient Adam And The Ants pop vid) amounted to little more than filler. And when the big revelation in a plot line is, “We need more salt!” you can’t help feeling that things have taken a worrying turn for the mundane.
Elsewhere, though, the episode’s on much better form. Slean is currently a much more interesting character and the writers are taking full advantage of him and Edward Speleers’ wonderfully sulky face. His plotting scenes with Uncle Abrecan are setting things up nicely for future intrigue and skulduggery. Saray, Abrecan’s better half, immediately piques your interest too. She seems to really enjoy her stabbing session. A little too much. And though she keeps getting sent out of the room whenever the men need to talk, we reckon there may be a little bit of the Lady Macbeth to her.
Another woman to keep your eye on is Kela. After that enigmatic smile at the end of last episode, here we see she armed with a lethal doll. Who’s she planning to stab with that. She also seems to take an instant shine to Brinni; despite Vashka’s protestations that she hates the idea of being in love you have to assume she’s not going to be happy if Kela start having a sly affair with the Huskarla behind Slean’s back.
And what’s Elvina up to with her picnics for the mud born? Is there a whole Stockholm syndrome situation going on after it captured her in episode one?
All this, plus each new director is finding new ways of making the main hall set at Herot look amazing.
But Beowulf himself seriously needs some scripting TLC. And a partner who can deliver a joke.
- Slean has a great right hook on him. It knocks Bewoulf right out of his hut and into the street. Very impressive.
- It’s great to see Varr and Breca get some action (though it’s a bit of a shame that in both cases it’s at Beowulf’s expense).
- Breca: “I don’t think you killed it enough.”
- It might be schoolboy humour but we did like the way Greff’s brother proudly announced that they distilled the alcohol from a vegetable that looked like “horse’s tackle”.
- The effects were pretty decent, especially the burning troll.
- Varr: “Is it strictly necessary for a groom to be present at a wedding? I can imagine things would be a lot simpler without him.” From the Next Week preview it looks like Varr is going to have a decent-sized role for a change. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose his droll wit.
- We honestly don’t know if Greff running into the camp shouting “TROLLS!!!!” like something out of Monty Python is a great or awful moment but it amused us much so it’s going in the Good section.
- Slean has an unfeasibly wide range of grumpy faces throughout the episode but this was the best. Great shot.
- The final battle scene was pretty good too, directed with a sense of urgency and power that pretty much disguised the lack of blood and the lack of raiders. There was still a little bit a “Sealed Knot slumming it as Vikings” vibe but overall it was an exciting sequence. And we got another expression to savour from Slean…
- Beowulf is getting beaten up by everybody! Why has our hero become such a wuss?
- The family tiff at the smithy was cringingly stilted.
- The campfire camaraderie scene with the miners, Beowulf and Breca was pretty awful too. Breca’s anecdote was hardly the stuff of legend… Maybe it’s the way he tells ’em (like he’s learning his lines phonetically because he doesn’t actually speak English).
- Bregan looked a little like Disney’s Viking World area in a theme park.
- There’s something inherently anti-dramatic about salt. The more times they said the word “salt” the more ludicrously mundane it sounded. “We’re going to need more salt,” doesn’t quite have the same clout as “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
- There was an awful lot of padding in the troll storyline; Beowulf felt like he was being fobbed off with the B-plot.
And The Random:
- So Varr was once with the Varni? Maybe his name is a nickname, in that case: he’s a “var” in Herot. It’s not clear if he was born Varni or merely served with them for a while. Either way, this unexpected piece of information about his past is clearly paving the way for something significant in the next few episodes.
- The Wulfing raiders are based on the Wulfings or Wylfings (the name means “wolf clan”) who are a powerful clan in the original Beowulf poem.
- Saray, Abrecan’s other half, is clearly a woman with a shady past, though if she’s as hard and worldly wise as she makes out why does she keep letting Abrecan send her away when the men need to talk?
- It’s amazing how colour coordinated all these Viking clans are, isn’t it? Bregan is obviously situated near a plentiful supply of woad.
- Cliché of the week: in any fight scene that takes place in a historical period before the invention of the fridge a table of fruit must go tumbling. And this was the guy who was later grumbling about their attack being a failure. Maybe if he’d wasted less energy intimidating apples things would have gone better.
Review by Dave Golder