One Dead Hercules, One Live Iolaus
"Stranger and Stranger" Plot Summary:
After Hercules narrates a brief history of the alternate universe, he arrives at a village where the portal between the worlds has been opening and creating tornados. The hero, who has been wondering where the gods of Olympus hid from Dahok and why they have not returned, suddenly thinks he has the answer, and dives into the portal. Inside, he finds the Sovereign unconscious and the duplicate Iolaus cowering, having hidden from the evil Empress who now controls the Sovereign's domain. That Iolaus - the court jester - is angry at Hercules for trying to make a hero out of him, but shows him the portal to the other side. Hercules cannot understand how the jester Iolaus can be alive if his own Iolaus is dead. Back in Greece, Ares realizes that Hercules has figured out where the gods are, so he follows him.
When Hercules and Iolaus arrive outside the Sovereign's palace, the hero tries to build up the jester's self-esteem and asks him to be his guide so that he can save both worlds. Inside, the new Empress Nebula is playing "Wheel of Misfortune," in which contestants are asked a paradoxical question ("How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"), then executed according to a spin of the week which chooses the method of execution. Nebula dresses much like Alternate Universe Xena, in red leather corset, fishnets and heels, though her S&M paraphernalia is even less subtle. Iolaus admits to Hercules that Nebula gives him the willies - at least the Sovereign laughed at his jokes.
That former ruler awakens and is confronted by Ares, who reveals that he has stolen the hind's blood pendant, which can be used to kill a god. The God of War puts some blood on his dagger and attacks his alternate universe half-brother, stabbing him. As the Sovereign dies, calling Nebula a traitorous wench, Hercules feels a stabbing pain in his chest and realizes that someone must have assaulted his double. Nonetheless he sneaks into his double's bedroom, where Ares, God of Love, warns Hercules to use protection if he intends to impersonate the Sovereign and seduce Nebula. The Ares from Hercules' own universe has been dating the Empress, and Hercules says he has a gut feeling Ares killed his rival, the Sovereign.
While the God of Love worries that his pants make his butt look big, Hercules strides into the throne room and convinces Nebula that he is the Sovereign by pushing people around. She tells him that the gods are trapped in the Labyrinth of Eternal Memory, so Hercules has her locked in his bedroom while he heads with Iolaus to find them. Iolaus warns Hercules that in that universe, Zeus is insane, and laments again that he's not as courageous as the dead Iolaus. Hercules insists that he must find his courage and defends his friend's double when they are attacked by a giant serpent.
Meanwhile Ares, God of War, appears in that universe with the knife covered in hind's blood. He visits Nebula in the Sovereign's bedroom but she tells him that it's over now that the Sovereign is back. Ares says that's not possible because he killed the Sovereign, reminds her that he can "stay up" all night, and warns her that in his world, she's a do-gooder. The snooping God of Love weeps as they argue, then visits Hercules and Iolaus in the labyrinth, telling them how glad he is that the two of them are finally getting close. He also warns them that their Ares is planning to kill the gods. Then he returns to the Sovereign's bedroom to distract his evil double by using his love vibes to make Nebula lust after Ares.
Hercules learns from Iolaus that he got many people killed in a rebellion against the Empress, and realizes that the memories are being projected on the walls of the Labyrinth of Eternal Memory. When the two start to sink into quicksand, he warns Iolaus that his regrets are pulling them down, so he must think of something to look forward to. As they rise back to ground level, Ares begs for a break from all the fun he's having, but Nebula tells him that the tenth time's the charm. Unfortunately, they both spy the spying Alternate Ares, whose love charm no longer works on them. The evil Ares thanks his twin, but Nebula calls him a moron, pointing out that the God of Love was just trying to distract them so that Hercules could rescue the gods.
Hercules and Iolaus have found the gods in an orb at the center of the labyrinth, but when they try to exit, they keep coming back into the same room. As they wonder how to get out, Ares suggests in an urn as ashes. Hercules tosses the orb to Iolaus and fights his brother, ultimately kicking Ares out one door and in another until the God of War is too exhausted to stop Hercules from taking the hind's blood from him. Hercules frees the gods, buries the knife in the central pillar, and follows the powerful beings out the one true door of the room, taking Nebula prisoner. Ares reminds him that if he could kill the Sovereign, he can kill Hercules, too.
Hercules tells Iolaus that he acted like a hero, and Iolaus admits that when Hercules asked him to find something to look forward to, he imagined finding a new life in a new world - with Hercules. It takes the son of Zeus a moment to agree to take this Iolaus with him, but he reflects that if people are lucky, they get second chances, and leads him to the portal. Iolaus says, "Let's go, partner."
Ahh, NOW we know how Iolaus is going to come back! This was a pretty thoroughly enjoyable episode with some fun Fellini-esque carnival at the Empress' court, but I have mixed feelings about this turn of events. It's very Trekkish - right now we have an a/u Harry Kim alive and well on Voyager, and an O'Brien from several hours in the future who had to take his own place in the past on DS9 - but it's also an overused plot device which really cheapens death, and that's bad for drama as well as for reality.
Iolaus' death was played out as a moving and painful arc this season; if the a/u Iolaus starts turning into Hercules' best friend and ultimately replaces him, I am not going to be happy at all. Hopefully he will remain a completely different character - less a heroic sidekick, more the silly and scared jester he has been most of his life, though that will certainly change their chemistry - much as I will miss the original Iolaus, I would hate to think Hercules considers him so easily replaceable. And if the writers screw up and have this Iolaus remember something which happened to the other Iolaus with Hercules, I will never forgive them.
We are going to see that hind's blood knife again; the long fadeout with it at the center pretty much guarantees it, as they did the same kind of shot with the knife Hercules embedded in the temple wall which eventually killed Strife and Callisto. I guess they need some sort of out in case one of the actors playing a god doesn't want to return, or something. I sure hope it is never Kevin Smith, however. I love Ares, God of War, but I REALLY love Ares, God of Love and bad Elvis impersonator. Empress Nebula was rather fun cutting loose - she reminded me of the pre-reform Pirate Nebula from the original universe - but I am a bit tired of comlpex sexuality being permissible only to bad girls, both on Deep Space Nine this week and now Hercules.
Hercules pointed out that while the gods have reason to hate Ares now, they owe him big time. Maybe he can get his own Iolaus brought back...or maybe he will do what Hercules should do, and demand that they treat the people of Greece with more respect. Best scene, the God of Love resolving a dispute between two lovers who were quoting lines from the Xena musical "Bitter Suite": "'How could you?' How could you?' 'It's all your fault!'" Best exchange, Herc and Nebula: "I get your point." "But when do I get to see yours?" Best line: "It better be me, or someone else is wearing my underwear."