A Death in the Family
"Twilight" Plot Summary:
Hercules and Iolaus rush to his mother's home, where Jason tells Hercules that Alcmene is gravely ill. Hercules finds her in the garden she planted when her husband Amphitryon went to war, which she later tended while Hercules fought his first battle. She does not acknowledge her illness to her son, but together they remember that earlier time as she tells him that all she ever wanted to do was to protect him from the pain of the world. Hercules says he knows the feeling from his own children.
In flashback, young Jason and Iolaus arrive to inform Hercules that the Parthans have attacked a nearby province and Corinth might be next. Though Alcmene, who lost Amphitryon to war, warns her son that fighting isn't always noble, he goes with his friends. Jason introduces his classmates to King Antiocles, who's confident of victory and makes Jason his second in command. Hercules runs into another classmate, Calamachus, who's always been a healer and refuses to kill. The four go with the king and several other soldiers into the woods where they discover Parthan traps and other indications of their violent foe's power.
One of the soldiers, Nikos, drags behind, so Hercules goes to find him. He learns that the other man has left his wife behind and fears making her a widow. When they rejoin the others, the group is ambushed. King Antiocles is killed, bequesting his troops to Jason before dying in his arms, while Nikos has his arm cut off defending another soldier. Hercules saves Jason, but when the survivors return to the base, they discover that the entire division has been slaughtered.
In the present, Jason remembers the horror of the war and tells Iolaus he has learned the hard way to hope for the best and expect the worst. He remembers saying that he would kill all the Parthans. In flashback, Calamachus cauterizes Nikos's wound while Hercules asks him whether losing someone he's trying to save might be just as hard as killing in battle. Calamachus reminds Hercules that sometimes he saves lives, and he never lets anyone die alone. Jason has a nightmare about watching his friends die and wakes screaming, telling Hercules he blames himself for not saving Antiocles. Hercules sends him to watch the wall and tries to keep Nikos talking so he doesn't pass out, but the other man dies in the middle of regretting that he never realized how much the little things in life matter.
Continuing that theme in the present, Alcmene stumbles on the way to market and admits to Hercules that she's dying. He recalls waking the morning after Nikos's death to find bodies scattered all over the battlefield. In the distance he hears a wounded man crying whom Calamachus insists on rescuing even though that requires making their presence known to the Parthans. While Hercules and Calamachus drag the man back to the camp, they are fired upon. The injured healer sends Hercules to take care of the victim - a Parthan. Iolaus asks Hercules whether he'd consider asking Zeus to save them all, but Hercules says Zeus never did a thing for him before.
In the present time, Hercules asks his mother whether she resents Zeus. She admits that she was angry at him for taking Amphitryon's form when he came to her, but has loved Hercules since he was born and is grateful to Zeus for her son. She says that her dearest wish is for Hercules to reconcile with his father.
Hercules recalls how his friends were attacked by the Parthans. He watches as Calamachus, knowing he's dying from the arrow in his chest, decides to draw the enemy's fire so the others can escape into the woods, and accepts Calamachus's healer's pouch. After they escape, the injured Parthan and Jason argue about who rightfully owns the disputed land, but Hercules interrupts them to point out that fighting over rocks is despicable and insists that as king, it's Jason's job to find a way to keep the peace. The Parthan, who says his name is Tiresias, agrees to help Jason and Hercules talk to his king.
At the castle, Hercules, Jason, Iolaus, and Tiresias are all dragged on their knees before the Parthan ruler. Hercules tells him that the war has cost both sides too much, and Jason adds that he has the authority to withdraw Antiocles's troops. The king threatens them, but agrees to a ceasefire, and peaceful negotiations to share the land commence. Hercules goes home to Alcmene, telling her that she was right - there's no glory in war - and giving her the healer's herbs.
Alcmene says her goodbyes to Jason and Iolaus and tells Hercules she has something for him in her jewelry box. It's the pouch with Calamachus's herbs, which Alcmene says her son has earned. He says he loves her, and she dies with a smile on her face. Hercules weeps, goes into the woods and smashes a rock...and Zeus arrives to give his son his condolences.
One of the best installments Hercules has done, this episode combined a rousing war story with an emotional plot about the death of an important recurring character. It was very emotionally charged, and the tear-jerker ending really worked, which made the sudden appearance of the oft-mentioned but rarely-seen King of the Gods all the more powerful, even though it was foreshadowed during the episode - it sure happened quickly!
I will miss Alcmene from this series: she was a strong, smart woman who maintained her sexuality despite being over the age at which most women are permitted to behave sensuously. Every time she said something maternally treacly about being willing to sacrifice herself for her son, Hercules came back and said something similar, so the domestic affairs seemed balanced even though the guys did all the fighting while the women stayed home.
Considering how many characters were introduced and killed off in a short time, the writers did a great job getting the audience to care about them. This was a much bloodier war sequence than we usually get on this series, and the fact that it was the younger set of actors dealing with the horrors made it particularly poignant. Nikos and Calamachus were sympathetic yet realistically flawed characters who had nice interaction with hot-tempered Jason and conscience-stricken Hercules, who didn't seem in the least concerned about being called a mama's boy by his best friend.
There were nice thematic details like adult Iolaus asking Jason whether he'd contacted Iphicles, Alcmene's human son, and some interesting parallels in the conflict with current struggles in the Middle East and Ireland - I loved Hercules' outrage that people were killing each other over dirt. The flashbacks were gracefully handled, as a present garden would fade into its past counterpart or a character would stare into a fire which would then transport through time to another hearth. Zeus is going to stick around, according to the previews, so this is shaping up to be the first half of a great multi-parter leading up to the season finale.