This post continues with an analysis of episode 2. I previously discussed the way in which this episode makes a strong foundational contribution to the Secondary World via history and enchantment. But we also see foundations being laid for key relationships in this series – of both friendship and rivalry. Zia, the young inca girl, gets special attention in this post.
Episode 2, Part 2: ‘Crossing the Atlantic’
The Esperanza sets sail on its long voyage to the New World amid cheers and fireworks from the harbour. The sailors are heard reflecting on what lies ahead, and wondering whether they’ll ever see Barcelona again – the danger and uncertainty of sea-travel is realistically conveyed right from the start. Mendoza, experienced in such voyages and the fleet’s navigator, inspects the ship and discovers the poor state it’s in – the timbers are rotten; Perez the Captain of the ship was evidently hoping no-one would notice.
The children, Esteban and Zia, are still in hiding below deck. In his boredom, Esteban paces back and forth; he notes the poor condition of the ship (it’s interesting that he and Mendoza are the only ones to do so). He then notices something highly peculiar – Zia is wearing a golden medallion identical to his! Except Zia’s still has the gold disc in the middle. When Esteban tells her that Mendoza has the middle part of his medallion, the usually quiet and mild-mannered Zia becomes angry at the mention of his name:
Zia: I don’t like Mendoza; he’s a wicked man!
Esteban: He’s not as bad as all that! After all he saved my life, and arranged for me to hide on board the ship to make the crossing.
Zia: Maybe, but he’s the man who kidnapped me so he could steal the treasure from my people.
Zia: He’s like all the spaniards, all Mendoza cares about is his gold!
Of course, she is not the first person to observe that Mendoza’s chief motive in life is gold…But Esteban is shocked on hearing this; to reassure Zia of his own trustworthiness he vows they will always remain friends and that from now on, he’ll be there to protect her (!! though he is just a child himself). They shake on it – it’s seems like a trivial exchange, but it will end up carrying greater meaning.
As the voyage gets under way, Esteban is consumed by seasickness, and he ventures towards the upper deck with Zia to get some fresh air. But at that moment they are discovered by a big burly man at the top of the ladder. We are introduced to Gaspard for the first time, Governor Pizarro’s Captain of the Guard, an army man and expert swordsman. He assumes they are stowaways, and ruthlessly decides they should be thrown overboard. There’s a funny moment when Gaspard is shaking the two children about, and an already nauseous Esteban unintentionally starts retching in Gaspard’s face, unable to hold it off any longer. Angered further by such ‘insolence’, he carries the two children up on deck and dangles them above the water…
Without a moment to lose, Mendoza intervenes in dramatic fashion. He grabs a rope and swings across the deck (some serious badassery), planting his feet firmly in Gaspard’s face. Gaspard is knocked over, his head getting stuck in a bucket; the kids fall from his grasp and on to the deck.
By now all the crew have gathered around to spectate – Mendoza uses it as an opportunity to reveal to everyone that Captain Perez and Commander Gomez (remember them from episode 1), knew of Zia’s presence on board. He explains that, in fact, it was on their direct orders that he kidnapped the girl. Mendoza also argues that the presence of Esteban, whom the sailors now all recognise as the Barcelona boy who can command the sun, will be useful in the event of a storm…
Gaspard is furious at Mendoza, and demands to know who he is to challenge his authority in such a way; Mendoza declares that he is the navigator of the fleet, and points out that only he is able to guide the ship through the treacherous Straits of Magellan. To save further embarrassment and exposure from Mendoza, Commander Gomez agrees the children can stay on board and are to remain under Mendoza’s protection. The children are saved and Mendoza’s importance is asserted – but he’s also earned the ire and suspicion of all three senior men, Gaspard, Gomez and Perez.
“A clever fellow your navigator, my dear Perez – a bit too clever for my liking…” Gomez confides to Perez once everyone is out of earshot.
Later, during another bout of seasickness (and just after he wakes from his surreal dream), Esteban overhears Gomez and Gaspard plotting to dispatch of Mendoza once they reach Lima, along with plans to make Zia show them the way to the Cities of Gold. “Oh, the monsters! I must go and warn Mendoza!” and with that he returns to Mendoza’s cabin and relates everything he heard. Mendoza confidently reassures the children: Gomez and Gaspard won’t do anything to them as long as they are with him; as for the threat to himself, he laughs it off saying “It’ is going to seem a long, long time before we get to Lima. Try to amuse yourselves!”
Much of the rest of the episode shows the different ways in which the children and the crew do exactly that, from whale-watching to sparring to navigation tutorials, while the Esperanza slowly progresses south through the Atlantic. All seems relatively calm, until the ship reaches the southern tip of South America, a graveyard for voyagers; to make matters worse, a terrible storm is brewing. The episode ends with mountainous waves crashing against the ship; the crew look out in fear: “The Straits of Magellan…it’s like the end of the world!” …Will the galleon survive?
**Comments and Analysis**
Children of the Sun: Zia and Esteban’s friendship
There’ll be plenty of Esteban-analysis for episode 3, so I’ll focus here on Zia. She’s
certainly an interesting character: though she is quite reserved, we get to learn quite a lot about her already. She is a calm, thoughtful and quiet persona, about the same age as Esteban. Zia’s measured and observant nature is first shown as she saves Esteban from revealing himself on the top deck and pulls him back just in the nick of time; at that point he is forgetful about Mendoza’s instructions to stay hidden, and acts impulsively – Zia, however, is the mindful and cautious one. She also is very attentive and kind towards him when he feels seasick. We learn that Zia is more knowledgeable than Esteban in sea-travel as she’s made this crossing before. This theme continues throughout the series, in fact: as they arrive in the New World, Zia (being a native to South America) generally knows far more about the culture and geography of the land than Esteban and indeed the adults.
She often divides opinion among fans of the series. Some see her as being too passive and conforming to stereotypes of ‘demure’ female characters. For example, in this episode she is often found with her eyes downcast. However, rather than a sign of meekness, I’d say she does this in contemplation. It may also be a defensive habit, to avoid prying questions and unnecessary conversation. She was stolen from her family by the Spanish and made a slave at a very young age, so I can fully understand her wish to remain unnoticed and untroubled by people she doesn’t know. As we will see in later episodes, she is certainly not weak in mind or spirit, and is capable of showing a tough resistance. Nevertheless, I agree there are some limitations to her character, but they don’t emerge until later on in the series.
In terms of her relations with others, Zia strikes a close friendship with Esteban relatively quickly. The simplicity of their interaction and ease with which they make friends can be seen as normal for children. However, it also demonstrates there is a complexity to Zia’s character (again, challenging those who see her as too one-dimensional). She generally maintains discretion in what she says and who she speaks to, and doesn’t befriend people easily. Naturally, given her bitter experience, Zia hates all things Spanish – to her, the place and its people represent oppression and deceit; such is her disdain that she refuses to believe that Esteban is really a Spaniard – she cannot trust anyone associated with the place.
And yet it seems she has decided to trust Esteban fully, partly because he is another child like her, but also because this is the one person she has met since coming to Spain who does not seek to use her for material gain. Esteban simply offers her friendship, he feels as lost and detached from his family as she does, and in addition to this they both have these mysterious gold medals. The latter creates a bond between them – a sense of shared history, although no-one really knows anything much about Esteban’s background; and a sense of shared future, since they now know their medallions are of interest to Mendoza, who is emerging as something of a guardian for them both.
Zia is an important voice in this series, a sort of moral compass. Though she is mild-mannered, you wouldn’t want to cross her, because if she doesn’t like you, she will really, really dislike you. And there’s usually a good reason for it. Speaking of which…
Zia and Mendoza: friend or foe?
Mendoza is the one subject that creates a complete divergence of opinion between the two children. This point of conflict will be an important theme in the series. Esteban seems to really trust Mendoza, to the point of naivety, whereas Zia utterly and vehemently does not. She said it very plainly – she believes he is a “wicked man”. Their different views of him to some extent reflect the different ways in which Mendoza encountered them: one was asked and persuaded to join the voyage, whereas the other was bound and kidnapped. Perhaps Mendoza tried to persuade Zia too – he seems to be the kind of person who prefers to get his way through subtlety rather than force – but her mistrust of Spaniards could not be allayed. So, we see in this instance, first impressions count for a lot.
A really interesting exchange occurs, when Esteban returns to the cabin to tell Mendoza and Zia about the plots against them. “I also heard them say they plan to make Zia show them the way to the Cities of Gold!” he announces. To this, the young Zia responds with impassioned rebellion: “I will never show them the way! I will never betray my people!”
As mentioned above, Zia is usually quite restrained in front of people she doesn’t know or trust, and would usually only speak so openly in front of Esteban. But in this scene she momentarily forgets Mendoza is present. Mendoza is clearly surprised to hear her speak so boldly, with such anger and determination – he glances at her, trying to weigh up how serious she is in her words. Unlike Esteban, Mendoza realises that the ‘them’ Zia is referring to here is not just Gomez and Gaspard; he (rightly) suspects that it refers to the whole lot, all Spaniards….including him.
In a curious twist, Zia suddenly becomes self-conscious, sensing that she has said too much; Mendoza is standing right there, has understood the real meaning of her words and now knows that she intends to oppose his plans. The expression on her face changes from defiance to confusion as she looks up and sees Mendoza listening intently; she clutches protectively at her medallion, as if he might snatch it away from her there and then, and turns her face away in fear. Mendoza, never one to react much to people’s emotions, also turns away in reciprocation. What exactly is this exchange about? Especially as it seems Esteban is oblivious to it. (When I first rewatched this recently, I was trying to figure out the significance – would love to hear different views on this).
I think when they both turn away it symbolises and confirms a breach between them – both know where the other stands and that they’re unlikely to get along. Mendoza has supreme confidence in his abilities to manipulate people, but he realises here that he may never win Zia’s trust – she seems immune to his influence. Frankly, it’s a blow to his ego; it also complicates his plans, like Gomez he too is plotting to use Zia to lead him to the Cities of Gold; and finally, he’s used to concealing his intentions from others, but it would appear he’s been sussed out by this little girl – so his reaction reflects some (momentary) guilt.
It’s significant because Esteban thinks all three of them are on the same side, and treats Zia and Mendoza equally as confidantes. He assumes it’s the same for them – Mendoza has protected Zia just as much as he has Esteban; and Zia for her part doesn’t have a problem turning to Mendoza for physical protection, which masks her deep lack of trust in his morals. Hence Esteban doesn’t yet realise the extent of the personality clash between the two.
The start of a beautiful rivalry: Mendoza and Gaspard
From the first moment Mendoza and Captain Gaspard meet, they harbour an intense dislike for the other. Gaspard was humiliated by Mendoza, and cannot abide him. At the end of their first encounter he vows “We’ll meet again Mendoza! One day I’ll make you pay for this!”, and for the rest of the series he tries to get his revenge. Mendoza for his part, does nothing to hide his contempt for Gaspard. To everyone else he speaks in an authoritative but quite courteous and even noble manner – he’s pretty careful not to get on people’s bad side; but he openly mocks, provokes and laughs at Gaspard, who always falls for it and this only encourages Mendoza even more.
Sometimes rivalries are intense because the two in question are in fact quite similar; not in this case – Mendoza and Gaspard are polar opposites. It’s an alpha-male competition in which they try to outdo the other with very different means – one constantly tries to assert his superiority through physical combat, while the other resorts to intellect. In the scene where the children are about the be thrown overboard, Gaspard is seen sparring ridiculously and jabbing his sword in the face of an unperturbed and unflinching Mendoza – it’s quite hilarious, and it also perfectly captures the contrast between the two personalities.
In another exchange, Gaspard tells Mendoza he should be teaching the children how to use a sword for self-protection, rather than the finer points of navigation. To which Mendoza replies that to protect yourself you also have to learn how to use your head – adding with a grin while tapping his finger on his forehead: “but I’m afraid that might never have occurred to you, Gaspard!”: cue the obligatory outrage and insults from his target. It’s funny to watch, but maybe we can sympathise a bit with Gaspard. Mendoza is the kind of person who, if not on your side, would be seriously annoying with his smart-aleck jibes.
Mendoza often plays people off each other to gain an advantage. He pits the crew against Gaspard and Gomez by announcing that Esteban is the ‘Child of the Sun’ – the sailors immediately recognise the benefit of having Esteban on board, especially in the event of a storm, and would probably oppose Gaspard if he throws him overboard. Mendoza then tries to sow conflict between Perez and Gomez – he exposes Perez and reveals that the ship is in a terrible state; Gomez looks surprised and irritated by this new news and demands Perez to explain himself – in that instance the minor conflict initiated by Mendoza allows him to gain the advantage and get his own way again. Mendoza uses this trick quite often, and it usually works. There are only two people with whom he realises this won’t work: the children! and he has to find a different strategy to deal with them…
Would be really interested to hear your thoughts on character development so far! Next up is the recap on Episode 3, “Heroes Again” – keep reading to follow Esteban and Co. on their journey 🙂 .