A Very Complex Complex
"Rebel With a Cause" Plot Summary:
Blinded and miserable, Oedipus sees the ghost of his wife and mother Jocasta, who is pale because she has slit her wrists. "Look at me, husband," she hisses, telling him that taking his own sight can't cure him of his visions of the past. "I loved you, and it killed me." She warns him that the curse on their family will never be lifted while his brother Creon is king. Only their daughter Antigone can break the curse. Otherwise, Thebes will be torn apart by civil war and more innocent blood will be on Oedipus' hands. "I can't," Oedipus howls.
Outside the gates of Thebes, Hercules sees the corpse of Polynices hanging from the wall and asks what happened to Oedipus and his family. He is told that Polynices was a traitor against Creon, who is king now. Hercules looks up to see Oedipus preparing to hurl himself from the top of the palace. Using levers and his own strength, the son of Zeus rescues the former king, telling him that he came to Thebes after hearing about what happened to the royal family.
Saying he doesn't deserve pity, the blind man suggests that Hercules pity instead the people who have suffered for his sins. Oedipus relates how his birth parents gave him up for adoption to evade a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Since he never knew who his biological parents were, he inadvertently did just that. "The gods set you up," Hercules snaps. Creon, however, set Polynices up in order to seize the throne, and now a rebellion is brewing in the dead prince's name. Princess Antigone is alive, but her father believes she is too far gone to conquer her demons.
The princess is outside flirting with a soldier, announcing that a hard man is good to find before stealing his coins. Creon comes outside to find his niece in trouble again. "Why am I not surprised?" "One kid down, one to go," mutters Antigone. Hercules asks whether she's going to let her uncle get away with it, telling the disgraced girl that her father asked him to watch out for her. She sneers that he probably thinks she needs a boyfriend. Leaving to get drunk, the princess wonders what she has in life besides the opportunity to star in her own Greek tragedy.
After passing out in a bar, the rightful queen of Thebes wakes at home, but leaves to race carts with a soldier. Meanwhile Creon plots against the son of Zeus, who has been seen talking to both Oedipus and the rebels. Creon has a new weapon in the works that he hopes will neutralize all threats to his reign. Hercules is busy rescuing Antigone after her cart nearly drags her over a cliff. He says she acts worse than a child, but she insists that this is the hand fate has dealt her. She’s going to die, her only choice is how. "You're trying to take control of your life by killing yourself?" demands an incredulous Hercules, who has never believed in that sort of fate, despite what happened to Antigone's parents.
Going back to Thebes, Hercules finds Creon about to execute a rebel without a trial. "Justice or murder?" the hero demands, fighting off guards while Antigone helps free the prisoner. Creon sneers that Hercules will soon suffer the same fate as Oedipus, whom Hercules and Antigone find moments after the former king ingested poison. They take Oedipus to the rebels' hideout in the forest, where the rebel leader scorns Antigone as unworthy to have been Polynices' sister. Antigone tells Hercules privately that she agrees, and says there is one act of defiance she owes her brother--a proper funeral! Hercules believes this is madness, but the rebels agree with Antigone that letting Creon display Polynices’ body like a trophy is intolerable.
Meanwhile, a bored Creon is given an explanation of the chemical specs on the new weapon devised by his strategists. The king perks up when he sees a demonstration of the grenade-like device. When Hercules and the rebels approach Thebes, they are repelled by a fiery attack and must turn to rescue the suffering Oedipus. Antigone suspects that her uncle sent all his troops to pursue the rebels, leaving the city gates unguarded. This is the perfect time to recover her brother's body. But when she arrives, she learns that the gates have been surrounded by land mines, and Creon takes her prisoner. As Hercules tries to approach, he’s wounded by a mine and cannot rescue Antigone before Creon takes her within the gates.
"You surprised me," announces Creon, telling his niece that he didn't expect her to care enough to get involved. Antigone warns that the rebels may surprise him too, then says that if she wants to die a martyr like her brother, that's her choice. "Execute her immediately," the king replies. At the public execution, he announces that he is saddened to have found another traitor in his own family, but Antigone speaks over him. "How long will you take this?" she demands of the people of Thebes, warning of Creon's taxes and weapons. She admits that she may have been irresponsible, but Creon has betrayed them all. As the axe comes down, Hercules races through land mines to rescue the princess, while the rebels take on Creon's soldiers. The king flees, only to be trapped and killed by one of his own land mines. The crown falls at Antigone's feet.
Polynices is cremated at a public ceremony where Oedipus tells his daughter that he's proud of her. Antigone dedicates her reign to the people of Thebes, telling Hercules she wishes he could stay to help her lead them. As the blind Oedipus turns away from the pyre, he sees the ghost of Jocasta bowing and blowing a kiss before she disappears.
A creepily charming rewriting of Antigone, minus two siblings and a host of other figures, I'm not even going to attempt to figure out where this episode fits into a timeline that has featured Roman centurions and Julius Caesar. I doubt Sophocles is rolling in his grave, though he certainly would be rolling his eyes over this rewriting of the fall of the House of Thebes. It's entertaining to see righteous Antigone played as a drunkard with a death wish. Without Ismene, she must play both the good princess and bad princess roles in turn.
In Disney's Hercules, girlfriend Megaera takes the hero to see the play, leading him to comment that he thought his own family problems were bad! We've seen Hercules in the role of the chorus before, but "Rebel With a Cause" could have used a little of that sort of parallel, or some insight into the relevance of this story to Hercules as a whole. Hercules comments to Oedipus that the King of Thebes was set up by the gods - something he could have reiterated to Antigone, along with some of his own experiences in that position, to convince her that fate can be defied.
Oedipus was played purely as a tragic fool. That’s a pity. The mythological figure is a lot more complicated, and there's usually a perverse pleasure in his passion for Jocasta, which is largely absent here. And Creon was a pretty standard Evil Usurper. But the explosives? I guess someone other than Xena has been visiting ancient China.