Hercules Goes To Hell
"Descent" Plot Summary:
Hercules prays to the gods of Sumeria, telling them that he has never prayed to his own gods, but Iolaus died fighting for them and he needs Iolaus back. When priests come to prepare the body for burial, Hercules fights them, but Nebula warns him that he can't expect to walk into the Underworld and retrieve his friend. Hercules says, "Watch me." Nebula insists that if Hercules goes, she will go to, and when she finds he has left without her, she follows with a crew in canoes.
In the woods, Hercules meets an old woman with a strange mark on her hand who says that she is a servant of the gods, as is he; she warns him that his eyes are not yet adjusted to darkness, but they will be. Then she vanishes before his eyes. Nebula catches up to Hercules, but he tells her to go away, insisting that Iolaus couldn't have meant anything to her and demanding to know whether she wants only a repeat of her one-night stand with his friend. Nebula hits him, tells Hercules that Iolaus was the only man she ever loved, and demands to know what is happening to him. Hercules doesn't know, and is troubled.
In the canoes, Nebula tells Hercules that they must find the Temple of Dumuze, Sumerian God of the Dead. They see a statue with the same marking as the woman from Hercules' vision in the woods; one of the crew says that it means Hercules is damned, and will damn them all. When Hercules tosses the statue away and tells them he will make his own destiny, the men stay to protect their Queen. Nebula's men are unimpressed and Deneas leaves their camp, but he is found horribly murdered, his skin turned blue. When one of Nebula's men takes this as proof of Hercules' damnation, Hercules nearly chokes him; Nebula insists that he stop, asks him whether he's going to hit her too, and warns him that his grief has clouded his judgement. As he digs a grave for Deneas, Hercules has a vision of pulling Iolaus from the grave, only to have his friend warn him that he should leave him there. The son of Zeus wakes in terror.
Rowing into the mist, the crew finds a wrecked ship with a murdered crew; aboard, there are dozens of vampires, including Deneas, who attack Nebula's crew. The beings can only be killed with fire and one scratches Nebula; her skin begins to mortify as she begins to transform into a vampire as well. The rest of the crew leaves for Sumeria. Nebula attacks Hercules, but he ties her to a table and enters the Temple of Dumuzi. Inside, the Sumerian god informs the Greek hero that he is deluded and is in fact the cause of Iolaus' death. Hercules demands to know whether Dumuzi is the reason for the vampires; Dumuzi admits that he is, because he had to take human souls for sustenance after Hercules led Gilgamesh to the chalice which sustained the gods. The rest of the Sumerian gods are all dead. Hercules battles Dumuzi, but learns that Iolaus is not in his Underworld; in rage, the hero screams his friend's name, shattering the mirrors of the Underworld and freeing the trapped souls which attack and destroy Dumuzi.
Back in Sumeria, Iolaus has been mummified. Hercules tells Nebula that he won't go back to Greece - there's nothing there for him now, because he caused Iolaus' death. He says that he is damned, everyone he loves is damned, all he can do is learn from his mistakes. Nebula, now Queen of Sumeria, sadly gives him a ship and tells him to visit again to return it. She reminds him that he saved her life and freed the souls Sumuzi trapped. Hercules sails north, toward Ireland.
This is the darkest Hercules episode I've ever seen, and I'm including all the ones about Herc's evil twin and such; this is Hercules, himself, having a dark night of the soul. Superbly directed by Richard Compton and written by Lisa Klink - formerly of Voyager, and I am much happier to see what she's doing here - it offers absolutely no comic relief, while the fighting is personal and cruel. Iolaus often provides the comedy and the human touch, so it was nice to see his absence emphasized by the failure to offer those qualities elsewhere.
Nebula was terrific, smacking Herc as hard as we've ever seen him hit anyone and refusing to take any crap from him; I can't imagine even Xena taking him on as well as she did here. The dissenting Sumerians, who were not precisely admirable yet certainly not weak, also provided an interesting contrast to the sullen hero - their abrupt loyalty to a queen when they would not accept a woman in command a week ago seemed rather odd, but worked in the story.
The vampires were creepy and very well-designed; I liked the explosive disappearances when they were exposed to fire. But the visually memorable scenes mostly occurred in the Underworld, which Herc had to walk through a wall of water to enter and realized on the other side that it was a distorted mirror where his body could not follow his soul. The place looked like a house of such mirrors, with Dumuzi at the center in a fading, opulent tomb.
The other memorable image was Iolaus wrapped in a mummy's shroud, looking really - well - dead. We all know that situation won't last, but Kevin Sorbo is doing a very convincing job playing grief and rage, so for that alone, I'm in no hurry for it to end. Next week he takes on the gods of Ireland - it will be interesting to see which era.