Hercules vs. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
"Revelations" Plot Summary:
In a dream, Hercules recalls the death of Iolaus, then pictures a powerful man speaking in Latin, creating flames. Awakened by a girl calling him for help, the hero discovers that a nearby town plans to sacrifice a virgin to the God of War. Hercules stops the killing, disbelieving Ares when his brother appears to say he didn't ask for the sacrifice. Iolaus' face and voice call Hercules from a nearby fountain, murmuring warnings about the end of the world. Elsewhere, the man from Hercules' dream lifts a stone tablet, reads the Latin inscription, and smashes it. Flames appear, then a dark rider with the face of a demon shoots an arrow from the back of his horse.
At Hercules' behest, the leaders of two armies meet to discuss a truce. But the magical arrow pierces the general of one of the armies, and a battle ensues. Ares appears gleeful, saying he didn't schedule this battle until next week. Later, Hercules walks among the corpses, hearing Iolaus' voice tell him it will only get worse. His friend's face appears in a pool of water. "Help me," it says. Hercules pulls Iolaus' arm and drags the man out, alive and intact, so that they fall together in an embrace. "Hi, buddy," says Iolaus.
Hercules demands to know who this impostor is, but Iolaus insists that it's really him - he has been living in a place of perfect light, experiencing bliss, but has returned because of the broken tablet which Iolaus identifies as a Seal of the Light. Originally, the Light had four guardians, but when others achieved that position - Iolaus being one of the newest additions - the original four turned away, becoming the four plagues of Armageddon - War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death. These Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are being set free by a servant of the Light, giving them the power to destroy mankind. Iolaus admits that he can't stay - when the struggle is over, he must return to the Light.
As Hercules and his friend talk, War takes the servant of the Light - the archangel Michael - to the hiding place of the Second Seal, where Michael dispatches War to get rid of Hercules before smashing the Seal. Ares pops up before Hercules, gloating that the world is filled with wars he didn't even start, but his half-brother says he hasn't got time to talk. Iolaus scoffs when the god feels left out from knowing about the end of the world, but it's no laughing matter when the horseman War comes after the sons of Zeus, swinging his axe. "You know the routine," Hercules tells Iolaus, but though he knocks the horseman off his horse and stabs him with his own sword, the horseman vanishes, reincarnated at the side of Michael when he summons Famine into the world.
Crops die and people kill one another over food. Hercules begs people to help one another, then demands that Iolaus explain why a guardian of the Light is summoning the banished plagues to destroy the world. Iolaus says that the Light sent Michael because the Light is not happy with the way people are acting towards one another...robbing, killing...someone is keeping track of all the evil. As a mystified Hercules tries to puzzle out why the Light would think mass extinction a valid solution to mankind's misdeeds, Ares returns, complaining that people are too hungry for war and insisting that he personally will punish whoever is responsible.
When Michael reaches the Third Seal, Ares pops up "to crack open a barrel of whoopass," but is zapped by his own bolt of power shot at the first horseman. "Et tu, War?" he whines. Michael ignores him, summoning Pestilence, which breathes insects carrying plague into the air. As people drop like flies, Michael calls Ares a godling. "Kiss my ass!" responds the former God of War, who finds himself flying through the air to crash unconscious near Hercules and Iolaus. Michael tells Hercules that the hero's place in the Light is already assured, but now he's interfering. "I could say the same to you," snaps Hercules. Michael then condemns Iolaus for betraying the Light by warning a mortal until Hercules points out that he's only half-mortal and he won't let Michael kill the humans for the crimes of only a few. "My place is among people," he adds, saying that it's a faith he's willing to die for. "Then you will," promises the archangel.
Ares regains consciousness and wants to go after Michael, though Hercules insists that they work as a team following his rules. They realize that Pestilence arose out of air, War out of the earth, Famine out of water - one element is missing. Sure enough, they find Michael on his way to a volcano to summon Death from fire. "And so it ends," the archangel says, preparing to smash the Fourth Seal. "You got that right," Hercules replies, fighting the much more powerful force which explains that mankind has brought these plagues upon itself. Responds the half-mortal, "I'm one of them, and I didn't choose this...who will judge you, Michael?"
Just as Ares and Iolaus arrives, the archangel smashes the Fourth Seal, bringing Death incarnate into the world. An eclipse covers the sun. "Start with the traitor," Michael orders the last horseman, but Hercules won't allow Iolaus to be killed again: "Over my dead body," he grates, dragging Death with him into a lava pit. Hercules finds himself in a temple filled with light, where Michael sits on a throne, congratulating the hero for succeeding in his challenge. If one man was willing to sacrifice his life, the world would be given another chance, and it has. Hercules points out that Iolaus was willing to sacrifice his soul to warn him, impressing Michael with his humility and with the power of human friendship. The archangel announces that Hercules will be sent back to the world to serve the Light leading by example...and for his actions, Iolaus will be expelled from his role of guardian, condemned to continue to live at Hercules' side until he can be judged for a second time. "So it is, and so it shall be," says Michael.
Back in the town torn apart by plagues, Iolaus rejoices that he's back - there was no food in the realm of the Light, nor any women. Ares drops in to say he doesn't mean to interrupt their fuzzy little celebration, but he wants Hercules to know...that his toys better not be broken. "You finally kept your word for once, Ares," says his impressed brother. The god of war sneers and vanishes, leaving Hercules and Iolaus to enjoy mortal life together.
And Hindus were mad at Xena's treatment of their mythology! Hercules' producers were smart enough to use nondescript terms like "the Light" and to keep concepts like archangels vague, but it's pretty clear what "Revelations" refers to...and all I can say is that the rather familiar God at work in this episode makes Dahok look like a reasonable guy.
But then, we are in a parallel universe, so I am sure we are dealing with a parallel Lord our God as well. The girl Hercules saved at the beginning said she lost both of her parents in the Trojan War, yet Hercules met Julius Caesar in series time a few short months ago. We're obviously dealing with a condensed span of history, possibly being distorted by some god or other. (The all-powerful Rob Tapert - father of the Child who will soon be born to Lucy Lawless - seems a likely candidate.)
Whatever the reason, Michael's Latin comes from a different world than Hercules' Greece. It's too bad that everyone - the Sumerians, the Celts, the Norse, the Irish, the Chinese, etc. - can't seem to get by without Hercules and Xena setting their societies and their deities straight, but at least we don't have to take them seriously.
On a purely fictional level, this was quite a satisfying episode, bringing back Iolaus without resorting to anything particularly hokey. He was exiled from Heaven rather than given life as a reward, which is what I figured would happen through the Dahok arc. The season ends with a nice sense of closure, though all those Greek gods are starting to look a little wussy and ineffectual in the face of the more powerful upstart deities from other parts of the worlds.
It's nice that Ares got involved, but where the heck was Zeus when his supplicants were on the verge of slaughter? None of these people are going to get sacrifices for much longer. Ares brought a sarcastic lightness which this episode needed: "They could go all the way!" he announced Chris Berman-style when his generals went to war without permission, while Hercules made cracks about his brother's small-mindedness.
We knew Iolaus would be back eventually because Hercules said he lived to be an old man, and in the same episode we learned that Hercules masquerades this century as "Kevin Sorbo." Now we've learned from the papers that Kevin Sorbo intends to leave The Legendary Journeys to enter Gene Roddenberry's universe. So I know the last thing I would like to see Hercules do: Discover the New World. Rewrite the history of conquest with a happier ending for the original inhabitants. It's not any farther-fetched than anything he's already done.
Oh - and I'd like him to take Iolaus with him.