The Fifty Best Episodes of HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS (1-3)

Welcome to a new Xena Thursday! As a result of the popularity of my Hercules reviews and some requests I’ve personally received, today’s entry, echoing our initial Xena offerings, is the final in a series of posts counting down my picks for the fifty best episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (which also celebrated its 20th anniversary this year). While each of my initial posts on every Herc episode listed a few MVEs, you’ll notice that some seasons are much better than others — they’re not of equal quality. In other words, all the MVEs (and some non-MVEs) from early Season Two may be listed before any of the MVEs from the second half of Season Five, and because all of those choices were designed to represent only their specific season/half-season, the accompanying posts cannot properly reflect the true determination of qualitative preference and strength. Instead, these seven entries can serve as a reference for both hardcore fans, curious Xenites, and anyone interested in partaking in the fun that is Hercules. While Xena is far and away my preference, this series has such a lot to offer, and I’m certain that if you want to find it, you will. (Unlike the last six entries, we’ll be counting backwards in today’s post, starting with #3 . . . )

 

03. Season 6, Episode 8: “Full Circle” (Aired: 11/22/99 | Filmed: 05/04 – 05/14/99)

The fate of the world rests with Hercules when Zeus releases Hera from the Abyss of Tartarus and inadvertently lets loose the Titans.

Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman | Directed by Bruce Campbell | Production No. V1103

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Series premieres and finales are so difficult to appreciate on the terms with which we would adjudicate a normal episode, because they have a mission — either set up the premise or conclude it. This installment is the series finale, and surprisingly, it manages to be a near perfect episode of the series. The first three years of Hercules dealt almost exclusively with Hercules delivering humanity from the wrath of the vengeful Gods, including his estranged father and vengeful stepmother. With the apparent end of Hera in the important (but not stellar) fourth season finale, the above angle, which I still maintain is the series’ most important construct, seemed to dissolve. Well, the finale brings it back in full force, incorporating Hercules’ past with Nemesis, his fractured relationship with his half-brother Ares, the mythology of Zeus and the Titans, and the incomparable chemistry between Herc and Iolaus. If it wasn’t the finale, it would be EVERYTHING that a marvelous Hercules episode should be. But it is the last episode of the series, so the fact that the script resolves itself so perfectly is even more special. Although I wouldn’t recommend for new fans to start here, this will be a reward for those who finally reach the end. Check out more of my thoughts here.

 

02. Season 5, Episode 3: “Resurrection” (Aired: 10/12/98 | Filmed: 05/22- 6/03/98)

Hercules faces the evil female demigod Morrigan, an assassin sent to destroy the Druids.

Written by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci | Directed by Philip Sgriccia | Production No. V0703

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Much has been written, by people like myself, regarding the strength of the first half of Hercules‘ fifth season, which took the Dahak arc that was supposed to pick up in the middle of the fourth season (right after Xena’s “The Bitter Suite” put a temporary capper on the storyline over there) but was shelved due to a catastrophic illness sustained by star Kevin Sorbo. Fortunately, the idea was eventually put to use here in Season Five, during which the show relished in darkness and finally succeeded in presenting a protagonist whose emotional flaws, predicated by his unconfined grief at the death of Iolaus in the premiere (and the eventual trauma of having to defeat his possessed body), made him a character with a depth that matched the heretofore superiorly complex Xena. This installment, the third in the arc, has always been my personal favorite for several reasons. Principally, it’s the moment in which Hercules is emotionally reborn — coming from an ugly depression and loss of purpose to a spiritual peace and a resolve to continue his crusade for justice. Additionally, we are introduced to Morrigan, a good match for Hercules, whose quiet intensity is gripping. And as an episode, its look and sound is unlike anything else seen from this series. It’s unique, it’s intelligent, it’s one of the best. Check out more of my thoughts here.

 

01. Season 2, Episode 8: “The Other Side” (Aired: 10/30/95 | Filmed: 06/12 – 06/21/95)

The abduction of a goddess’s daughter leads Hercules to the underworld– and a family reunion.

Written by Robert Bielak | Directed by George Mendeluk | Production No. 876802

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While my choices for the second and third best episodes of Hercules came from the last two years of the series’ run, in which the creative team was finally forced to embrace the notion that the only way to make Hercules as beguiling as Xena was to emulate her show in stories and tone, the best episode of the series comes early in its run. The second season is perhaps the most disjointed of the lot, for the variations in style are jarring; one week we have a goofy kids show in which Herc runs around fighting monsters, and the next features an emotional journey in which Hercules’ relationships with those whom he holds most dear is singularly explored. Both are fine options, but the extremes in presentation are unfavorable. Balance is desired, and this offering does a fine job of combining both of the show’s hallmark styles. The story involves a cool (and kid friendly) plot taken right from the myths: Demeter creates winter when Hades kidnaps her daughter Persephone. Herc is brought into the mix when Demeter begs our hero to go down and rescue Persephone, which allows for another appearance by both Charon and Cerberus, one of the series’ iconic CGI beasts, and a chance for Hercules to visit his deceased wife and kids in the Elysian Fields. This is particularly resonant, because several of the movies chartered his courtship with Deianeira and entire series began with her being smote (along with the children) by Hera. So the incorporation of this emotionally evocative theme, with the great myth and its exciting plotting, is the ideal example of what made Hercules different from Xena, and why it was so special. Easily the best of the series. Easily. Check out more of my thoughts here.

 

 

Come back next week for another Xena Thursday! And stay tuned tomorrow for another Blondell Pre-Code Film Friday!

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