FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*
I don't plan to review other episodes of this 1999-2002 teleseries, which purportedly has nothing in common with the Andre Norton book from which the series took its title. However, though the show was uneven at its best, its writers did attempt to draw from a wealth of mythological motifs to flesh out Beastmaster Dar, the protagonist of a sword-and-sorcery cosmos. For instance, the hero derives his vaunted ability to commune with animals from Curupira, a goddess-like patron named after a Brazilian forest-entity.
"Tears of the Sea" transpires during the show's first season, not long after the hero loses his wife to savage raiders. Accompanied by his intellectual buddy Tao, Dar visits his wife's people, a tribe clearly patterned on the ethos of Polynesia in terms of their attire and their sea-based economy. Local woman Leilani was a best friend to the late mother of Kyra, and so Dar seeks out Leilani, her husband Mataffa and her teenaged son Tusi.
Tusi and Mataffa are actually seen by the viewer in an opening teaser, where Mataffa is manning a canoe while Tusi dives in the sea. Tusi is attacked by a shark but is saved by a helpful dolphin. Once the two men return to shore, another local asserts that dolphins are the reincarnations of the tribe's ancestors, though Mataffa regards the belief as an old wife's tale. Tusi, however, shows a fascination with the sea and later tells Dar that when he was diving, a part of him didn't want to leave.
Shortly before Tusi undergoes his test of manhood, Leilani makes a singular confession to Dar and Tao: Tusi is not her son by Mataffa, but of her late sister Sanu. No mention is made of Tusi's paternity, though one assumes he's dead too, but the narrative emphasis is all on the death of Sanu in the ocean, both the source of life and death to the tribe. Leilani also says that she and Mataffa have never revealed the truth to Tusi, but will do so after he officially becomes a man.
Tusi completes the test, but when told of his true parentage, he becomes disturbed and runs away from the tribe. However, this action spells his doom. He witnesses a local tribe-member, Gilan, club another tribesman in order to steal the latter's goods. Gilan sees Tusi, chases him, and then causes Tusi to fall into the sea from a height, killing him.
The tribe holds a funeral for Tusi without knowing that he was murdered. Dar becomes suspicious and attempts to gain information from one of the dolphins, implicitly the same one that saved Tusi earlier. The hero journeys into the depths, and apparently passes into a realm of death, where Tusi is a spirit and the dolphin is a comely woman who does not give her name. Dar uses the knowledge he gains to expose the killer. Gilan falls into the sea and is drowned by two dolphins, implicitly Tusi and his female companion.
The killer's death is not the pay-off, though, but the revelation that the dolphin-woman is Tusi's late mother Sanu. The two spirits briefly visit Leilani and Mataffa and then return to the sea, and the episode ends on an affirmation of spiritual survival.
One covert aspect of the story, though, causes me to rate this episode higher in mythicity than others. In a deeper myth-reading, Sanu is not just a deceased human being, but a personification of the live-and-death aspects of the sea. Tusi, though brought up by mortals, subconsciously yearns after the sea because it's a part of his own nature as well. The manhood ritual, which would normally lead to a young man finding a young wife, is upset by Tusi's encounter with the killer Gilan, which ironically leads Tusi to a communion with his dead mother, climaxed by Tusi joining his mother in the form of a dolphin.
Tusi's adoption by his mother's sister also reminded me of one of the stories about Adonis, the mortal lover of the love-goddess Aphrodite. Adonis's origin is much more fantastic than that of Tusi, but it's interesting that after Adonis perishes even as Tusi does-- by a male enemy-- he's "fought over" by both Aphrodite and Persephone:
Persephone greeted Adonis with arms wide open as he entered the underworld and her delight knew no bounds. At the same time, Aphrodite, knowing that her Adonis must be in the clutches of Persephone, rushed to the underworld to bring him back. Once again, Zeus had to intervene and stop the women from quarrelling over who would have rightful possession of Adonis. With great patience he told them that henceforth, Adonis would spend half the year with Aphrodite and the other half with Persephone. This last aspect may symbolize the life of a man, who spends half his life with his mother and half his life with his wife. Source: www.greeka.comNeither goddess is technically related to Adonis, even though in a roundabout way Aphrodite is responsible for Adonis's birth. The show does not suggest that Tusi will become any sort of seasonal spirit, spending part of the year with his real mother and the other part with his aunt/adoptive mother. However, when he returns to the shore to speak with Leilani-- and he speaks only to her, not to his adoptive father-- he states that "I have two mothers. How lucky can a man be?" Yet in a sense, it seems that "Persephone" wins the argument. She doesn't do anything to cause Tusi's death-- indeed, at the opening, she preserves his mortal life-- but things work out so that she becomes joined with her son for eternity, rather than seeing him continue regarding Leilani as his mother, or, for that matter, seeing him married to a woman his own age. Naturally, even if the episode's writer was aware that myths like Adonis and Aphrodite have quasi-incestuous content, said writer naturally avoids suggesting anything of the kind for a mainstream television show.