Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands S01E10 “Episode 10” REVIEW

Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands S01E10 “Episode 10” REVIEW

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stars 3

Airing in the UK on ITV 1, Sundays
Writer: Jack Lothian
Director: Cilla Ware

 

Essential Plot Points:

  • Beowulf tells Rheda of Abrecan’s plan to march his fishy army on Herot.
  • Rheda doesn’t believe it but rides off – alone – to confront Abrecan in Bregan.
  • Abrecan makes a feeble pretence to act the innocent but soon he has Rheda locked up and he’s demanding she sign over the Jarlship to him in return for her life.
  • Rheda not-so-politelty declines, but just as Abrecan is about to kill her, his wife, Saray, helps Rheda escape.
  • Abrecan files for divorce… by sticking a sword through Saray.
  • (But she’s only playing dead, it seems.)
  • Abrecan’s not too worried because he’s made a pact with the Wulfings, who will aid the Breganites in their attack on Herot.
  • The Huskarla train the civilians of Herot how to fight (apart from the truculent smelters who get trained by Breca).
  • Bewoulf is once again consigned to the B-plot, which once again finds him wandering around the woods waving his sword about.
  • The excuse this time is that the smelters’s troll has had a strop because nobody fed it, and so scarpered off into the forest, accidentally killing an extra on the way.
  • Beowulf and Huskarla commander Gil are all for some revengey trollslaying but the Smelters want him back alive, so Vishka tags along like Jiminy Cricket to appeal to the mudborn-hating warriors’  better natures. And to carry the salt lick.
  • Vishka, amazingly, succeeds and Beowulf – looking slightly embarrassed – brings the toll back to Herot.
  • Also back in Herot is Elvina… and to Beowulf’s shock he learns that Slean knew she was a skinshifter all along.
  • Beowulf grudgingly agrees not to reveal this secret but warns Slean that the people of Herot will turn on him if they ever find out.

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Review:

There’s a definite feel of a series gearing up for a climax here as various plot start to come together; some less elegantly than others, admittedly, but at least there’s some tangible urgency, energy and tension that was largely lacking from the listless early episodes. On the other hand, the episode would have fared a lot better if one dodgy decision made in the opening moments didn’t still have you distracted by its monumental stupidity at the end of the episode: why did Rheda ride to Herot alone?

Oh, sure, there’s some throwaway line about people being needed to defend Herot (but clearly not needed so much that three of them can’t be spared for a game of hunt the troll). This explanation is, however, bobbins. Beowulf, as Reeve, should have hopped straight on a horse to obstinately follow Rheda, no matter how much she objected. And he should have demanded three Huskarla come with him. Because no “honour guard” would ever let its leader ride off on their own like that. Regardless of wether the rumours Rheda’s heard  about Bregan are true, we’ve been told there are all kinds of other dangers out the beyond the fence… wall. If Varr hadn’t been off tending his bonsai trees or whatever he was up to, he would never have let Rheda get away with it.

But the usually politically astute Rheda appeared to have had a lobotomy between episodes. When she gets to Bregan, she see a once-trusted advisor nailed to a wall after which Abrecan’s wife Saray, urgently whispers, “Run!” into her ear, so what doesn she do? She practically offers herself up for sacrifice! By the time Abrecan delivers he 200th “I would make a better Jarl than you!” speech of the season you’re beginning to wonder if he might not be right.

He certainly has little competition from Beowulf who spends another episode stomping around B-Plot Woods. If defending Herot was such an issue, how come the place can spare its Reeve and the commander of its army, to spend the afternoon hunting a troll that, “Might kill again”? To be honest, Vishka’s argument that they need the beast back because it’s a valuable work horse make more sense, but both Boewulf and Gil flatly state they intend to kill it which would be a terrible waste of man hours.

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In the end, they don’t kill it. Beowulf has a change of heart. You never know, he may even be likeable by the end of the season.

At the moment, although he’s lied and cheated and betrayed his own mother, Slean is the most competent guy in the show and by far the most interesting. Abrecan says he’s been taught a lesson that a good man and a good leader are not necessarily the same thing and Slean shows signs that he could become the embodiment of this wisdom. He’s the one spurring his people on with motivational speeches. He’s the one that could create harmony between mudborn and humans. Not for altruistic reasons, mind – just because be fancies one).

Yeah, what a leftfield revelation that was: Slean has known Elvina was a skinshifter all along. That’s probably more of a twist her being a skinshifter. It certainly makes you reassess what you think you know about Slean. It does make you worry about what might happen when the ruthless Kela finds out, though.

The training scenes were entertaining as Lila’s “army of barmaids” (and others) are taught how to fight the Huskarla way while Breca trains the smelters how to make their fighting as dirty as their undies. Training montages are a cliché you never mind being subjected to again, as they usually work. And some of Breca’s advice was amusing: “Let them come at you. If you’re running at them you’re not thinking. And if you’re not thinking, bad things happen.”

The mystery surround Saray, meanwhile, is actually deepening. She’s an assassin who fell in love with her target, who then urged him to come out of the shadows and seize power but who now thinks he’s gone too far in pursuit of that power. It’s certainly great to see her kick ass with a rake when she comes to Rheda aid – but why? Her motivations are murky. Plus, she’s not dead when she should be. Either Abrecan somehow missed anything vital with that sword (which is possible because in TV land fatal wounds need not be fatal if it suits the plot), or she’s some kind of mudborn too, with special recuperative powers. There certainly didn’t seem to be much blood but initially we just put that down to “pre-watershed”. Maybe there’s something more to it?

 

The Good:

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  • Saray going all Brienne of Tarth with a rake.
  • Breca going all the Hound with a spade.
  • It was a good week for gardening tools  wasn’t it?
  • The training montage; especially Breca’s sage advice to the smelters (“This is the perfect weapon. And it won’t just kill a man, it’ll bury him too.”)
  • The hungry troll’s tantrum. Always let the wookiee win and always feed a troll on time.
  • The troll slurping his salt lick like it’s an ice lolly – this was so cute.
  • Slean telling Kela, “Just don’t poison anyone.” We think he actually cracked a joke!
  • The revelation that Slean knew that Elvina was a mudborn all along, and didn’t care. He’s fast becoming the most sympathetic character on the show.

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  • Abrecan showing his disdain for his sister’s rule by using her “pillar of laws” as firewood.
  • Insult of the week…

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The Bad:

  • Rheda riding off the Bregan on her own. Even if she didn’t believe the rumours, and even if people were needed to defend Herot, what regime would let its leads just ride off on their own like that?
  • Is there any point in mentioning what a dull hero Beowulf is yet again? Once again, all he gets to do is play Vikings down the woods.
  • Why did Gil, the leaser of Huskarla, accompany Beowulf on the troll hunt? Surely he has better things to? He’s totally superfluous anyway, and vanishes for much of the hunt.
  • Why doesn’t Saray kill Abrecan when she has the chance?
  • Why is Elvina acting like a zombie?
  • Why does Slean look only look vaguely puzzled and suspicious when Elvina reappears, not happy?
  • Why doesn’t Rheda run when she’s warned?
  • Does Abrecan even need to kill Rheda?
  • There wasn’t enough of the fight training montage.
  • The shot of the Wulfing ships arriving is underwhelming.

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And The Random:

  • The writer of this episode, Jack Lothian, was the main writer on Sky’s better-than-you-might-remember Sinbad series.  He has also written 16 episodes of Doc Martin, and the TV movie Harry Price: Ghost Hunter that aired last Christmas.
  • Cilla Ware, meanwhile, directed nine episodes of Primeval.

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  • Poor Harken. When he said he wanted to be a pin-up this wasn’t quite what he had in mind.

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  • Did anybody else think the mudborn-hugging smelter lady was channeling the Rancor keeper from Return Of The Jedi?
  • We’re reliably informed that the Wulfings are landing at Marsden Bay in South Shields with its lighthouse digitally removed.
  • Is Abrecan’s speech (“ I see a land… where the mudborn roam freely”) supposed to be a twisted inversion of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream?” speech, where the dream is actually one of racial hatred?

Review by Dave Golder


Read our other Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands reviews

 

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1 Comment

  1. Saray is extremely beautiful

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