City on the Edge of Forever
"End of the Beginning" Plot Summary:
After closing time in a king's treasury, Autolycus steals the Qualus Crystal, which he thinks is just a pricey gem. Hercules, who once lived in the same town with his wife Serena, is outside trying to stop a fight from breaking out. Inside the castle, a guard realizes that there's an intruder and barges in with backup, but in the midst of the struggles both in the castle and out in the market, the combatants freeze. Autolycus thinks he's the only one in the whole town who can move. When he comes across a "frozen" Hercules, however, the half-god traps Autolycus into admitting that he stole the Chronos stone, which has the power to control time.
Autolycus restores the thugs, who distract Hercules, and decides to travel back to steal the stone again from right under the nose of Qualus. Hercules catches him, but they are both thrown into the past. A horse tramples on the Chronos stone, destroying it and trapping them there. Autolycus realizes that he can steal the stone from the same castle, though he wonders about the existential dilemma of how he'll be able to steal it in the future and travel back if he steals it in the past...it gives him a headache. Hercules reminds the King of Thieves not to tamper with the timeline, then promptly does so himself, saving the life of a small boy who fell in a well.
Hercules insists that he and Autolycus are going to work as partners, but then unearthly lightning crackles across the sky which Hercules recognizes as the work of Zeus. He takes off in time to see Zeus killing all remaining Golden Hinds in the world with lightning bolts. Ares watches the slaughter, explaining to Strife that Zeus fears the Hinds because their blood can kill a god. Once the conflagration ends, Ares and Strife realize that Serena has survived the attack. Ares transforms her into a human woman and sends her to his temple. Hercules steps forward, but when Ares sees him, he laughs maniacally.
Autolycus's attempts to break into the castle are foiled by...himself, or a younger version of himself who is also trying to steal the crystal. After some initial debate about who's the better thief, they join forces, calling themselves The Two Autolyci. The elder assures the younger that he knows how to break in to the castle without setting off alarms, but the two are quickly captured and thrown in a dungeon where they quarrel over which of them is stupider.
Meanwhile, Hercules tries to persuade Ares to let Serena go, but Ares announces that she's his new secret weapon. He realizes that this man is a Hercules from the future - the Herc of his own era is hunting boar - and chastises his brother for traveling in time: even gods are forbidden to do that. Outside the temple, Serena finds a wounded hunter and saves his life through her empathic touch, but when the man touches her, she turns into a Golden Hind. The hunter tries to kill her, but Hercules shows up in time to save her. He explains that she has more strength than she knows and that she need not serve Ares, but she panics and flees, still in Hind form. She is shot, but Ares pulls the arrow from her and tells her he can help her.
Back inside the temple, Ares shows the blood-soaked arrow to Strife and suggests that Hercules has come back in time to get Hind blood to use against the gods in the future. He adds that it's too bad they can't do unto Hercules as he's going to do unto them. Strife takes this as a hint and shoots the arrow at Hercules, who nearly dies before Serena comes and saves him with the empathic touch. She realizes that she can make contact with Hercules without becoming the Hind, and also that she knows him from somewhere, though she also knows that that's impossible. He asks her to think carefully for a day before she decides whether or not to join Ares.
The Autolyci work together to break out of jail and hide in the castle to steal the stone, but are discovered, so the elder Autolycus must cover for the younger one so that they can escape. They set up camp and their banter degenerates into a slugfest when Hercules discovers them and helps the elder King of Thieves tie up the younger one so he won't trip over his own four feet while stealing the Chronos stone. Meanwhile, Ares screams at Strife for nearly killing Hercules and bringing the wrath of Zeus down on all of them, but the close call makes him realize that the Hind must die before anyone else can take her blood to use against him.
While Autolycus breaks into the castle, confounds the guards who are looking for his double, and steals the stone, Hercules says goodbye to Serena and then watches in horror as Ares stabs her, turning her back into the Hind. The two sons of Zeus fight over the bloody knife, which could kill either of them, and Hercules ends up victorious. He threatens to kill the god of war unless Ares spares the human Serena, shouting, "She was my wife," so Ares turns the Hind back into the human woman, declaring that the Hind is no more. Hercules takes Serena to the village, where Serena discovers that she can touch people without turning into the Hind, but also that she no longer has her powers of healing.
Hercules and the elder Autolycus return to their own era, where Hercules destroys the Chronos stone. A little girl passes in front of them, followed by her mother. It's Serena, happily married to another man: her life and love with Hercules never happened in this timeline. Autolycus points out that at least Hercules saved her life, even if he had to wipe out what they shared to do it. Hercules says, "She's the best thing that never happened to me."
A very nicely balanced episode, juxtaposing the funny Autolycus plot against the sad, serious Hercules story. The only thing better than Bruce Campbell is two Bruce Campbells, and watching him fight himself both verbally and physically was a hoot; the directing on the scene where he gave himself a noogie was particularly stellar, but I also enjoyed the assorted insults in which the younger King of Thieves accused the elder of being a has-been while the elder says he can't believe he turned out so wonderful from such an inauspicious beginning. My favorite line was, "I should offer to hang myself to put you out of your misery!"
The story about Serena was far more serious. Hercules has been grieving for her since her death, so I expected more overt emotion from him upon seeing her alive, just moments after the slaughter of her entire species by his detested father, the king of the gods. I also expected him to try harder to kill Ares, though we all knew he wouldn't succeed at that. Hind's blood is too valuable a commodity to be used often on this series, but it's also too wonderful a plot device not to bring back. The Golden Hind may be gone, but Ares is right: that blood is going to keep haunting the gods.
I liked the Ancient Greek equivalent of the Prime Directive - no interfering with the timeline, which rightfully gave Autolycus a headache - and which Hercules promptly broke by saving a child, which made it all the more ironic when he screamed, "It's not supposed to happen this way!" after Ares stabbed Serena. The Chronos stone, too, is a great device, and since it can travel through time, I expect we'll see it again; if Autolycus could steal it twice, I'm betting he can steal it again if he really needs it.
We learned two important things this episode. One is that gods are forbidden to travel through time: I'd like to know who's in charge of punishing them if they do. The other is that Zeus is so afraid of his own kids, he'll kill an entire race to protect his life. Twilight of the gods, indeed.