Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands S01E08 “Episode 8” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on ITV 1, Sundays
Writers: James Dormer, Michael A Walker
Directors: Stephen Woolfenden, Kerric Macdonald
Essential Plot Points:
- Slean and Kela go through their Shieldlands-style pre-marriage traditions.
- Saray turns up representing Bregan and tries to assassinate Kela, but proves surprisingly inept.
- However, her attempts bring Slean and Kela together; not in love but in ambition. Their’s will be a marriage of mutual aspiration to power.
- This pisses off Abrecan, who’s not having a great time anyway. This year’s fish harvest hasn’t arrived and the Breganites are blaming him because he’s been too distracted by matters in Herot.
- Despite Abrecan giving a rousing speech to the Bregan council, they decide to replace him as Thane anyway.
- Luckily the fish arrive and Abrecan performs a feat of Extreme Fishing Robson Jerome would be proud of to make sure the catch is brought in.
- Bregan now loves Abrecan again.
- Kye, the brother on the guy Breca killed before the series started, comes to Herot with hired help to get vengeance.
- Beowulf steps in to stop Breca being killed. There’s a trial instead where Breca barely speaks up for himself.
- He’s found guilty but will be spared if someone stumps up 50 silver coins. Lila says she will despite being shocked by the revelations about her lover.
- Lila can’t quite fulfil the payment so the odious Arak – one of the guys hired by Kye – demands sex with her in lieu of the difference.
- Breca is freed but Beowulf exiles him from Herot. Breca makes his way to Bregan to catch the next boat out…
- …As does Arak…
- …Followed by Vishka who wants vengeance on Arak for what he did to her mother.
- Breca has to step in to save Vishka when Arak gets the better of her. He kills Arak and takes back the silver coins.
- Breca and Vishka overhear Abrecan’s speech spurring his people to form Cod’s Army and march on Herot. They must warn Beowulf!
We’re a bit worried about Breganomics. It appears to be a society whose main expectation of its leader is to sit on a wooden platform for hours looking for fish. That’s like expecting to David Cameron to spend half his year on the beach. Oh, hang on…
This was an episode of three thirds, of which the Bregan segment was undoubtedly the bluest. The most amazing thing was how it managed to chronicle the entire fall and rise of Thane Abrecan, even though his demise didn’t even kick off until after the second ad break. No wonder it felt a little rushed!
The first half of the episode was mainly dedicated to Kela and Slean’s pre-nuptial ceremonies which included telling fibs in a stone circle and ganging up on a poor troll. Kela and Slean are pretty much “Whatever…” about the whole thing until Saray’s bumbling attempts to kill the bride make them realise they were made for each other. Not in a romantic way, you understand, but they can help each other with their main shared ambition: the acquisition of power.
So yeah, another week another change of sides for the guy who treats loyalty like used toilet tissue. But he’s great fun to watch as he tries to work out the most direct route to his aims. Kela’s also developing into one of the show’s strongest assets: an angelic-looking not-so-innocent child who’ll happily kill her own sister to get what she wants. Take note of that, Slean – she happily killed her own sister. No wonder he’s okay with the fact they’re not sharing a bedroom…
Something in Herot didn’t agree with Saray, causing her to come down with a serious bout of wimpitis. The “trained assassin” who’s been pulling the stings in Bregan seriously loses her mojo in the run-up to the wedding and proves hopelessly inept. It’s a shame, because an early scene in the episode where she tells Rheda that’s she’s never seen such a grand placed “ruled by a woman” hints at her own ambitions. Yet her steely resolves soon deserts her as she’s outwitted with worrying ease by Kela. It’s all a bit of a shame, because it would have been far more fun to see a real battle of wits going on. Instead Saray just ends up looking a little foolish.
She’s back on form back in Bregan, demanding that her rapidly unravelling hubby man up. This sudden languid turn for Abrecan seems to come from nowhere. In all the episodes so far he’s been a strong, commanding figure. Now, one chat about declining fish stocks and he plunges into a slough of depression, bordering on ranting lunatic territory. It’s not an unfeasible development, it’s just that everything happens too fast to be convincing. This feels like a plot that should have taken place over two episodes, giving it time to develop. Instead it all a bit “Abrecan’t to Abrecan in Three Easy Steps”.
Plus, the whole idea they’d expect their Thane to waste time on Fish Watch duties is highly suspect. They may as well elect leaders based on who has the bluest shirt.
Woven through all this is Brecan’s tale of deception. It’s not the most thrilling of subplots, made less interesting by the fact that Breca doesn’t seem to give a damn what happens to him. He’s clearly hiding something but Beowulf doesn’t want to listen because that would ruin a revelation later in the season. There’s a very pretty-looking but utterly pointless flashback that reveals nothing new other than that Beowulf likes apples.
And once again, Beowulf feels like an extra in his own series. He gets a lot of screen time, has a heroic fight with a troll and kisses the female lead (after a rather sweet bit of flirting) but it still feels like he’s on the edges of the action. He’s the star of the show, and yet he drives so little of the plot; too much of the time he’s a reactive rather than pro-active character. Since Kieran Bew can actually act when he’s given a chance, we’d love to see him given more chances. At the moment this is The Slean Show and Edward Speleers is running away with it.
- Aside from Saray’s rubbish assassination attempt the truth ceremony scene is incredibly compelling, and surprisingly long. For once, the show takes its time to make its point.
- Plus both Edward Speleers (Slean) and Holly Earl (Kela) are brilliant throughout the episode. Kela is now one of the best things about the show.
- Both major action sequences – the ceremonial battle with the troll to obtain the bride’s token and the Abrecan’s extreme fishing trip – were top-notch fun.
- There were some gorgeous shots showing off the Northumbrian locations and some new angles on Herot.
- The different levels of intrigue are giving the show more depth.
- Although the Abrecan sequences were a little rushed it’s refreshing to see a villain being allowed to be heroic and shown as a popular leader of his own people, not just as some two-dimensional despot.
- The fall and rise if Abrecan is way too rapid. And his speech during his trial was woefully half-hearted. (Actually, woefully half-hearted trail scenes are becoming an ongoing theme in the show; see also Breca’s trail this episode.)
- We keep getting told that Vishka is a shit hot warrior but whenever she leaves Herot she proves utterly rubbish and has to be rescued by men. Come on – let us see her kick some ass other than Brinni’s (who’s a soft target).
- Gísli Örn Garðarsson – Breca – appears to have given up acting, or even staying awake altogether. He practically seelpwalks through the whole episode apart from the scene just before he’s captured where his “just woken up” acting is so over-emphasised he looks like a mime. Admittedly, he’s supposed to be hiding some big secret about the killing he’s accused of, but there’s a difference between being enigmatic and totally void of human emotion. It’s a shame, because Breca was a promising character in the first couple of episodes.
- Is anyone else mystified by the constant references to Bregan being on the sea when it actually looks like it’s next to a big lake? Presumably it’s supposed to be a natural harbour but it’d be nice to see some actual ocean now and again.
- Saray seemed to change character totally while in Herot. When she’s in Bregan she’s the power behind the throne: strong, scheming and resolute. In Herot she’s an inept, bumbling henchwoman. We thought we were going to get some strong scenes with Kela and Saray trying to outwit each other but Kela outclassed the trained assassin with ridiculous ease.
- Oh, and was anybody else surprised by Saray attacking Kela in broad daylight during the truth ceremony? Presumably the ceremony was being performed away from prying eyes, but there was nothing in the episode beforehand to indicate that. And surely there would be some kind of official presence to make sure the couple aren’t cheating and just having a fag or something for 10 minutes?
And The Random:
- Great to see Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands resurrecting the old Star Trek red shirts tradition in quite such a literal way.
- We weren’t expecting Frodo to turn up. Is this the start of a Middle-earth/Shieldlands crossover?
- The poison from Bregan is, of course, blue.
- On a similar note, Saray wearing red in deference to Slean and Kela’s wedding, but still retaining hints of blue in the design was a nice touch.
- There’s a lovely but subtle piece of direction during the truth-telling ceremony. Before Saray interrupts there are no medium two shots of Kela and Slean. There are two establishing shots – emphasising the distance between them, figuratively and literally – and a series of close-ups, emphasising that neither, yet, has any real bond with the other; they exist in their own worlds. However, Saray’s attack brings them together; if not in love then at least in a common cause. So after that attack there are plenty of two-shots.
- In fact, the whole episode is full of beautifully-framed shots. It’s unusual to see two directors listed for a TV episode (maybe one fell ill?) so it’s impossible to know who filmed what, but we’d like think you could divide them into “guy who like extreme close-ups” and “guy who like low-angle shots”.
- We’re not sure that Arak’s business methods make much sense. He appears to have been hired by Kye to track Breca and bring him to justice. As the law states that Breca’s life can be spared for a payment of 50 silver coins, presumably those coins should all be paid to Kye. So if Lila can’t pay and makes up the difference by prostituting herself, then Kye will receive less coinage than he’s due, and it’s Arak who “benefiting” from the difference. Kye must be regretting hiring this cowboy. Unless Arak gives him a discount…
Review by Dave Golder