Altair: A Record of Battles Episode 3
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Altair: A Record of Battles ?
Doing what looks like the right thing doesn't always bring you praise. That's the lesson Mahmut has to learn this week as he faces the Divan, the ruling council of pashas, alongside Zaganos and Ibrahim. The Divan has assembled to pass judgment on their actions concerning the city governed by Ibrahim that was saved by Mahmut and Shara, and if you're expecting Mahmut to receive praise for his quick thinking, you've got another thing coming – in the game of government, the rescue of one city by the unsanctioned actions of a small band of heroes isn't necessarily a good thing.
Compounding the fact that Mahmut acted alone is the fact that he ultimately let the Araba people go – his reasoning being that they would spread the word among the diaspora that the Empire can't be trusted, which is pretty sound, but on the surface it doesn't do much for Türkiye's image in world politics; to the surrounding nations, it simply looks like the invaders got off with a slap on the wrist, implying that Türkiye is weak. The end result is that Mahmut is demoted to binbashi, which during the Ottoman Empire was the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. Given how high a rank pasha is, that's a very serious demotion, although he is thankfully put under the command of his mentor Halil Pasha, who at least can be counted on to not bully him.
In terms of plot progression, that makes these first three episodes feel like a prologue to the story that will now unfold, especially since the episode ends with Mahmut and his eagle heading out on their own. (I hope that doesn't mean we've seen the last of Shara.) Now that he's been given the task of figuring out how to think of the country (which feel like code for “within the political system”) and freed from his more stringent duties as a pasha, Mahmut has the space to really figure out what's going on, as well as how best to accomplish his goals while still maintaining a high enough rank to be effective. It definitely helps that Zaganos gave him a brief lesson on why he got off scot-free when he reveals his spy network and offers its use to Mahmut. Not only does that give Mahmut a better idea of more sophisticated methods to work within the system, it's also a gesture of goodwill from someone who's been consistently antagonistic toward him from day one. Perhaps Zaganos saw Mahmut's fall as inevitable and decided to wait until it happened before offering his input. Selfish? Maybe. But it's certainly a canny move, which allows Zaganos to retain his power while also helping Mahmut.
In terms of actual action this week – wow. This was one of the fastest and most impressive battle turn-arounds I've seen, especially when the convocation of eagles swooped in and pulled away the tent. (I had hoped they'd dropped the one-eyed blond somewhere horrible, so I'm sorry to see that she's back next week.) Not only is it a terrific move on Mahmut's part, both visually impressive and utterly unexpected, but it also clears the way for Ibrahim and Zaganos to act quickly and decisively while the Empire's goons are still trying to figure out what just happened. It also made Mahmut's torment at the hands of the other one-eyed blond worth it, because the way Mahmut turned the tables on him before either strangling him or breaking his neck with his beaded cord was impressive. I'm not usually a bloodthirsty viewer, but I have to admit that I was really glad to see that guy go down.
Alongside the action, this third episode is also visually impressive in terms of design, although that does require us to ignore the red-haired Empire lady's steel bustier. (That thing looks incredibly uncomfortable.) But the designs on the ceilings of the building where the Divan meets is gorgeous, the sway of Shara's skirt when she's dancing looks much better than last week, and my nerdy little heart beat faster when I saw that the dining scene didn't include forks, which weren't in use until the mid-to-late 18th century. Hooray for research!
I wasn't sure after the first episode if I'd be pursuing this show, but now I'm definitely glad that I am. Each episode has built on the previous one to make this an engaging story with a fascinating political and historical fantasy background. I know it's only episode three, but right now this is well on its way to becoming my favorite title of the season.
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