The next recap of ‘Mysterious Cities of Gold’ is finally here! I figured it was high time I returned to the the 16th century and our voyage to the New World…so here we go, and it’s an especially dramatic episode this time!
Episode 3: “Heroes Again”
Episode 2 left us on a cliff-hanger. We learnt that Mendoza, as navigator, would have to stay ‘at the wheel’ for 4 days and 4 nights to guide the ship through the dreaded Straits of Magellan. As the ship jolted – an ominous sign of the storm the come – we saw him comfort the frightened children. The episode ended as a crew-man banged on the cabin door in a panicked state, yelling at Mendoza to take control of the ship as they entered the Straits.
On to episode 3, and we’re immediately thrown into a sense of danger, heightened by the dramatic soundtrack. This is no small event, there’s no glossing over in order to speed up the plot. The characters almost take a back seat as all focus is on the storm. Waves pummel the ship from all sides; we see panic among the sailors; the snapping of masts; the crew and the children are tossed to and fro as the ship gets battered.
Pedro and Sancho take to the crow’s nest to act as look-outs and struggle to confront their fear. A sailor is suddenly thrown overboard in an especially turbulent moment: a loud cry as he crashes into the ocean, and he’s gone, perishing in the sailor’s grave-yard. No-one thinks to rescue him as they fend for themselves. This is the first ‘on-screen’ death, depicted without fanfare as a harsh and precarious reality of a sailor’s life in the 16th century. There is little sugar-coating for the children who might be watching. This adds to the tension and further raises the stature of those who manage to keep their heads in the midst of this crisis.
And thus the stage is set for Mendoza to assert his indispensability in the eyes of the crew. This episode, and the next, basically belong to Mendoza; they are essential to his characterisation and the plot. He spends four days and four nights at the helm without sleep, but remains calm throughout, either steering the ship or giving clear commands to the rest of the crew.
The other sailors and indeed even the antagonistic Captain, marvel at his stamina. “How do you manage on so little sleep?” Pedro asks as he offers the navigator his meal – just a few measly morsels and a sip of water. “This is when it begins to get difficult Pedro” admits Mendoza, before telling Pedro to change shifts with Sancho and take his turn to sleep, though he himself must remain awake.
In the midst of this marathon, we have another scene of surreal enchantment where the children, bumped and bruised by the storm, wait anxiously in Mendoza’s cabin.
Cowering in blankets to keep out the fear and the antarctic chill, they sense a brief silence, and clamber up to the window to see what’s going on. They see a frozen wilderness as they traverse the Southern tip of the Americas.
Esteban imagines the jagged rocks as stone monsters, gaping wide to consume countless vessels betrayed by the Straits.
At that moment he and Zia witness the beauty of a massive ice berg breaking up. It is a moment of the sublime, in the philosophical tradition – sublime, that in the epicentre of peril, the children, and we the viewers, are able to recognise beauty in something that is also the cause of destruction for so many ships.
“We have won, we have cleared the Straits of Magellan”.
All the sailors jump for joy and celebrate with one another. The two children fling their cabin door open and run out to join them. Even we feel relieved, the tension seems to have gone on for an age. Mendoza sits down in exhaustion, head bowed.
“Truly wonderful” mutters the Captain to himself, “He’s been up there for four days and nights and only now does he begin to show how tired he is”. As Esteban walks up to the navigator, the sun miraculously comes out from the clouds, and Mendoza deflects attention from himself onto the boy: it is because of the boy and his powers to command the sun that they were saved, he tells the crew. A sincere belief? Humility? Or a cunning move?
Despite his attempts to escape credit, he is suddenly hailed by the sailors: “Hooray for Mendoza!!” they cry out jubilantly as they carry him back to his cabin for a well earned rest. For once, the usually calculating and undemonstrative Mendoza is taken by surprise, as is Esteban. They turn to each other, unsure what to make of this unfamiliar praise, before breaking out in smiles.
Meanwhile, Gomez, Gaspard and Perez look on with disdain. “Long live Mendoza!” drawls Gaspard sarcastically. “Watch out” warns Gomez, “he’s getting too popular…”
The calm after the storm..?
Later, all is still and calm once more, as Esteban and Zia observe the ocean from the upper deck. Esteban spots a flying fish, it’s the first time he’s seen one and he’s puzzled by it. Mendoza shows up and in (by now) familiar fashion, educates them about the creatures. Chuckling at their curiosity, he tells them that flying fish jump out of the sea when they sense an oncoming storm (I didn’t know that!).
He advises them to be careful – many a sailor has become dizzy just from watching them.
All of a sudden, he becomes pensive – the light-hearted conversation shifts to a more serious tone. “This is where I rescued you, Esteban….”.
We see a flashback of that fateful day, accompanied by a haunting soundtrack: a vision of a dishevelled, desperate young man handing his baby over to Mendoza, just a lower-ranked sailor himself back then, before tragically disappearing among the waves.
Esteban downcast, ponders on the father he never knew. For the first time we see Esteban’s grief over his loss. Previously shielded from his sad past by father Rodrigues, he had no reason to miss his real father; but ever since Esteban learned of the truth, it seems he has been wondering more and more about him as the voyage progresses. Mendoza and Zia try to console Esteban and give him hope that he might find his father – one day.
We are left with a poignant shot of the three voyagers looking silently out into the ocean, each lost in their own thoughts and memories.
Here is a link to the score – titled ‘Esteban’s Dream’, one of the most evocative and memorable tracks from the series – there is something mysterious, sombre and other-wordly about it.
While the rest of the crew have to put up with pitiful rations, the officers expect, and are still treated to, good and plentiful meals. We hear their raucous laughter and high spirits drift down from the elite cabins above.
While Esteban complains to a sympathetic Sancho about this unfairness, Zia unwisely drinks from the dodgy-looking cup of water she’s been given (goodness knows what was floating around in there). She immediately starts to choke. Esteban, in his resolve to protect Zia, defiantly goes down into the hold to collect clean water from the officer’s private supply.
But in the dark depths, he hears strange scuffling sounds, red eyes peer out at him …he is attacked by rats! His cries of horror attract the attention of Gaspard. On finding Esteban down there (and in turn, also getting attacked by the rats), he has the excuse he has been looking for to punish the children for his past humiliation, and no doubt to take his revenge on Mendoza.
Gaspard drags the children in front of all the crew and accuses them of stealing. Sancho bravely tries to defend the children, but is silenced by Gaspard’s threats. Just as Gaspard orders for the children to be imprisoned in a cage in the hold, Mendoza arrives to see the commotion, and prepares to defend the children – but he discovers that his sword has been taken and he is defenceless, much to Gaspard’s goading delight.
Mendoza protests to Perez and Gomez, but a soldier points a rifle at his chest, while Perez grins. They have no more use for Mendoza, he explains, especially as they’ve now passed the Straits. The Captain reveals Gomez and Gaspard’s malicious plans to kill him. Mendoza turns to Gomez. Commander Gomez doesn’t deny it and remains poker-faced: no joy and yet no remorse at this betrayal, just a cold look of indifference towards the navigator. I will discuss them both in more detail in a later post, but there’s an intriguing rivalry developing between these two proud men – far more complex than the rivalry between Mendoza and Gaspard.
Esteban and Zia are roughly yanked away to be locked up, while the officers prepare to carry out their murderous plan against Mendoza. But just then, when we think it couldn’t get any more dramatic, an army of flying fish crashes onto the ship, smacking into the sailors’ faces and causing utter mayhem.
Mendoza, ducking down in time to avoid the onslaught, warns Captain Perez that this a sign of an imminent storm. Sure enough the wind picks up, threatening black clouds gather, and in the ensuing darkness, a tornado is seen in the distance, bearing down on the ship.
With this sudden turn in fortune, Captain Perez ashamedly begs Mendoza to take ‘the wheel’ – Gaspard angrily protests, incredulous that Mendoza will escape again. But Perez will have none of it, pushes him away and beseeches his “dear friend Mendoza” to help once more.
Mendoza hardly hears him, his eyes on the approaching tornado, but eventually he obeys and gives the orders in an and attempt to save the ship. Even as he does, the hull of the ageing ship starts to crack, and the sails are utterly destroyed. The episode ends and we’re left on the edge of our seats…another cliff-hanger!
The way episodes 3 and 4 tie in and follow on from each other, I tend to see them as one continuous bumper episode. So I’m saving more extensive comment and analysis for when I’ve recapped episode 4. But there are a few ideas and questions I’ll throw in now.
The title of the episode, for starters: Heroes Again. Who are the heroes that the title is referring to? It’s obvious, one might say. But actually, there’s some ambiguity. I might guess who the hero is supposed to be – but what about heroes in the plural? The entire crew? Also, how can the obvious candidate be a hero when he has been built up in the first two episodes to be a villain? This is an unusual formula – we’re not supposed to be rooting for the bad guy, are we? …
Find out more in the recap for episode 4. As ever, I welcome any comments – it helps to get my brain working for the next instalment!