The End And The Beginning
"Full Circle" Plot Summary:
Clouds obscure Mount Olympus on an otherwise beautiful day as Hercules and Iolaus travel to visit Nemesis. Hercules has a theory about how the Earth goes around the Sun rather than vice versa, but Iolaus says only a child could believe that. They plan to test the theory out on Evander - son of Nemesis and Ares - but when they arrive, the magically gifted child has been kidnapped. Hercules suspects Evander's father, but Nemesis says Zeus took her son to raise him on Olympus.
In a nearby village, pandemonium erupts when a purple dinosaur shooting flames out both ends wreaks havoc. Looking at the ridiculous monster, Hercules wonders, "Ever get the feeling the gods are running out of ideas?" As it turns out, though, the purple monster was the idea of a child - Evander, who is traveling with Zeus. "Say goodbye to your grandson," the hero advises his father, who claims to have taken the boy from Nemesis for her own protection. Zeus reluctantly agrees that Hercules would make a better teacher because the king of the gods can be rather indulgent. "That's what grandfathers are for," admits Hercules.
But after Hercules gives Evander lessons on helping the needy by putting himself in the shoes of those less fortunate - repairing houses, restoring wells - Zeus takes the child while Hercules and Iolaus sleep. They wake to find an irate Ares there to inform them of their father's true intentions: he wanted Hercules to teach Evander control so the boy could get Hera out of the Pit of Tartarus. Hercules says that's ridiculous - Zeus and Hera tried to kill each other the last time he saw her, and the Titans might escape from the pit if Hera got out. Yet once Ares makes himself disappear, Hercules has to admit to Iolaus that his brother may be crazy...but sometimes he's right.
At the entrance to Hades, Zeus tells Evander that they are there to rescue the boy's grandmother. She is down below, all alone in a dark place with the Titans. Using the power of his mind, Evander rescues Hera from the pit. She has no recollection of Zeus when she appears. A furious Hercules confronts his father, drawing Zeus' ire so that the senior god draws a thunderbolt, but he decides not to use it, instead begging his son to understand that he wants to make amends with the wife he betrayed by fathering Hercules. "Someday your selfishness will destroy the world," Hercules snaps. As if on cue, the ground shakes. Recalling his grandfather's words about how dark it is in the Pit of Tartarus, Evander has decided to rescue the Titans, too.
The huge proto-gods of fire and water appear on the surface of the Earth, but like Hera, they remember nothing from before the pit. Ares pops up to introduce himself, reminding them that they want to kill the Olympians. The god of war offers a deal to the big men with small brains: he will help them destroy Olympus if they promise that he will be the only Olympian left at the end. The first step is to free their forgotten brother Atlas, whom Zeus has imprisoned in a mountain of ice. The fire Titan, Helios, turns into a sheet of flame to free the giant, who thanks his brothers and declares death to the Olympians.
Meanwhile, Hercules condemns himself for not predicting Zeus' selfishness, but Iolaus implores his friend to think of his father as a fallible, lonely old man. Arriving in time to hear Atlas' plans to destroy Olympus, Hercules sighs that now he has to throw the Titans off the mountain. Atlas leaves his mentally deficient brothers to deal with Hercules, but the two giants run into each other, turning one another into steam. "Maybe it's time to start thinking about retiring," complains Iolaus. In a rare show of weariness, Hercules agrees.
Zeus is enchanted by amnesiac Hera, who adores Evander and reminds her husband of what she was like right after Aphrodite's birth. Nostalgically, he asks whether she remembers creating the world with him. The pair discover Evander weeping over a dead bird. The god of thunder explains that even he cannot bring it back to life - all things have a beginning and an end - but when Hera offers to combine her powers with his, the king and queen of the gods reincarnate the animal, proving to Evander that all things can start over again.
Ares offers to help Atlas despite the deaths of his brothers, showing the Titan the secret entrance to Olympus. "You'd sell out your own family? I always did like you!" the giant smiles. "Open, says me," calls Ares in return, demonstrating that one side of the mountain can be walked right through. While Atlas enters to tear down the pillar holding up the mountain, Ares promises to go stall Hercules.
The god of war's brother has figured out that if the pillar of Olympus is brought down, it might throw the Earth off its orbit, crashing it into the sun or forcing it into freezing deep space. Even though Iolaus doesn't believe his friend's theories about astronomy, he agrees that Atlas must be stopped. The two accidentally stumble upon the secret entrance to Olympus, where they find Atlas shoving the pillar of the world down.
Zeus is distracted wooing Hera, promising her that they can start over. But Ares has visited the Fates and gotten his mother's memory back. As his parents kiss, Ares shoots the memories into Hera's mind, causing her to remember shooting fireballs at her husband's bastard Hercules, who forced her into the pit. Furiously, she shoots a fireball at her husband which turns him to stone, then vows to find Hercules and let him share his father's fate. "Oh, I love you, Mom," sighs Ares.
"Now you die," Atlas says to Hercules, but trips and crashes to the ground. Iolaus complains that the battle was very anticlimactic. Just then Hera shows up with Evander, shooting fireballs at the pair. Hercules offers himself in trade for Evander, but Hera is quite attached to her grandson and doesn't want to let him go. Hercules argues that their war hurts everyone and that Zeus really loves Hera. Still, the queen of the gods is determined to regain her dignity, and believes she can do that only by destroying Zeus and the evidence of his infidelity - Hercules.
Seeing Atlas rise and crack the pillar, Hercules changes tactics. "Give me your best shot!" Hera's fireball misses the hero, hitting the Titan instead at the moment the pillar falls. Atlas turns to stone, his head holding up Olympus and thus the world. But the falling column of rock kills Evander. "Is this what you wanted? Was your vengeance worth it?" Hercules demands hoarsely. Because she cannot save the boy alone, Hera revives Zeus, accepting the responsibility along with her husband for having caused needless suffering. The two save Evander, who returns home to Nemesis.
"That's it?" asks Iolaus as the pair walk away, pondering how fitting it is that Atlas must hold the world up for all eternity. Ares pops up to express his displeasure that Hercules got his parents back together, since he learned everything he knows about hatred and spite from Hera. When the god of war bemoans the lack of heroes, Hercules says his brother always has himself and Iolaus, which makes Ares throw up. While their old foe walks off in tears, Iolaus asks Hercules if he was serious about retiring. "I guess we're retired," says Herc, and the pair sit on a rock to practice whistling. A minute later, they're standing again. "This is my life," says Hercules. "Care to join me?" The two head back toward the road and the next adventure.
An amusing but hugely anticlimactic finale, "Full Circle" was at once nostalgic and the best possible argument for taking the series off the air. It's not only Sorbo who seems to be burnt out; if this season's eight episodes are any indication, the writers are as well. They hauled out the family drama at the center of the Hercules myth, which was pretty necessary considering that the opening voice-over still invokes Herc's wicked stepmother Hera although she'd been in the pit for years.
The struggle lacks bite, though, now that Alcmene is dead and Zeus' power has been diminished by the presence of deities like Dahok. Even Ares seems like a pussycat these days. The Titans were scarier in the animated Hercules and Xena: The Battle For Mount Olympus than they are in "Full Circle." Hera was much scarier in season four finale "Reunion." There was a bit of the trademark humor, such as Iolaus thinking Hercules is making a pass at him when he wakes him up, but there's not much new energy in the jokes.
And I can't help thinking about all the things we didn't see: a reunion with Salmoneus, a visit from Aphrodite or Apollo or any of the other pesky siblings, any reference to Xena or Morrigan, any tribute to Jason and the characters from Young Hercules. For a final episode, this feels very unfinished...which I'm sure is intentional, since I expect many of the aforementioned characters to show up on Xena, in addition to Hercules himself (reportedly Herc shows up for the birth of the warrior princess' baby). I guess that after nearly ten years of the franchise, no one was ready to write a definitive concluding arc. Yet one wishes for a resolution that feels more like an ending, at least for now.