"Stranger In a Strange World" Plot Summary:
When one version of Gravis is executed in an alternate version of the universe, the one dueling Iolaus drops dead. Ares, enraged, tries to punish Iolaus and ends up doing battle with Hercules, angering Zeus, whose thunderbolts open a portal and cause the Iolauses to switch universes. On the other side, Iolaus is a jester to sovereign Hercules with a beard, who's about to force virginal Aphrodite to marry him, then take over the universe by murdering Zeus.
While heroic Hercules attempts to figure out what happened to his missing friend, with the help of the cowardly Iolaus from the other side, nasty Herc kills people at whim and flirts with kinky Xena, who's been providing the hind's blood he's using to poison Zeus. Ares, who's the God of Love over there, is sympathetic but helpless; Joxer, who's the heroic leader of a rebellion against Sovereign Hercules, wants Iolaus to murder Evil Herc during his wedding ceremony.
The ceremony degenerates into bedlam after the attempted assassination, with burly Hercules attacking Iolaus while Xena and Aphrodite engage in a catfight in the wedding cake. Finally, heroic Hercules gets Zeus to re-open the portal and the Iolauses can switch back, while Evil Hercules is caught between the worlds with the hind's blood, thus saving Zeus and the familiar universe.
Put simply, this episode is a scream - the kind where you keep catching yourself howling aloud, it's so funny. There were lots of inside jokes, not just for regular Herc and Xena watchers, but for all science fiction fans - Iolaus shouting, "I am not a number! I am a free man!", Ares declaring "I'm a lover, not a fighter," and lots of subtle references to Star Trek's famed mirror universe, especially the bearded hero-turned-villain. Much of the humor was visual, and director Michael Levine played it for all it was worth.
It's always fun to see characters acting ridiculous as long as the setup is plausible; this one is hokey but it certainly works. Love God Ares, who looks ready to disco, shudders in fear at the mention of Cupid, God of War; Dominatrix Xena uses her athletic skill to knock Warlord Herc flat on his back in preparation for seduction. And there are a few ennobling moments - I liked Joxer better here than I ever have on Xena, he showed real potential as a leader. Nice to know that Ted Raimi can act. Gabrielle appeared only in a gimmick cameo, but it's a hilarious one.
The ending reminded me a lot of Trek's "Mirror, Mirror," with Iolaus realizing that the only way to set matters right may be to murder the alternate version of his best friend, which might cause his own Hercules to die as well through the ripple effect which killed Gravis. It wasn't precisely moving, since there was no doubt that everything was going to turn out all right, but it was a strong moment for Iolaus, who often gets stuck being Herc's comic relief rather than getting his own character-building scenes.
This is the sort of episode which a show can only get away with doing once every several years - Deep Space Nine has done the concept to death already with three shows in four years - so, while I don't hope to return anytime soon, I have hope of seeing Ares, God of Love, again. I sort of wish the two Kevins could keep the doubles' hairstyles for awhile. They looked mahhhvelous.