"War Wounds" Plot Summary:
Hercules plans to sail for Corinth with Nebula the pirate, but when he finds an innocent suffering, he sends Iolaus ahead without him. In Corinth, Ajax is trying to erect a war memorial, but soldiers stop him. A fight ensues. Iolaus arrives and warns the guards that Ajax is a hero, but then Hercules' brother King Iphicles rides in and tells Iolaus to stay out of this. The king threatens to send Ajax to prison at Golgoth.
Iolaus tells Iphicles privately that he knows the king is grieving over the death of his wife, but he shouldn't blame the war heroes. Iphicles says that since they got back from the war, the soldiers have done nothing but cause trouble; they were the reason he wasn't at his wife's side when she died. He thinks the warriors believe that they're above the law. Iolaus begs him to talk to Ajax, but a guard overhears Ajax accusing the guards from back home of being too scared to fight the war and announcing that not even the King of Corinth can beat them. When Ajax is arrested for treason, he takes Iphicles hostage and his men take over the castle.
Ajax takes Iphicles with him to Golgoth to demand the freedom of warriors who have already been imprisoned there. Iolaus follows on Nebula's ship, blaming himself for Iphicles' peril. At Golgoth, the warriors discover that the warden has been abusing former soldiers, and kill him by throwing him out of the prison to the sand sharks which devour him. A prison rebellion ensues, and Hercules arrives to find Iolaus trying to save Iphicles from the sand sharks. Hercules tells Ajax that any fight with his brother is a fight with him and reminds Ajax that he's not a soldier anymore, but Ajax says that Iphicles and his men won't let him be anything else. In the prison, Hercules tells Iphicles to stop blaming the war heroes for his wife's death and start thinking of solutions to the problem.
Hercules agrees to Ajax's demand to rob the treasury of Corinth in exchange for Iphicles' safety; Ajax says he wants the money to buy new lives for his men. But once Hercules goes, Ajax declares that Iphicles will die to avenge the murdered soldiers. The war hero prepares to kill the king, but Iolaus warns him it's dishonorable not to let Iphicles have a fighting chance, so Ajax lets Iphicles, who has apologized for his mistakes, fight his way to the sand sharks. Iolaus tells Ajax that the warrior is no longer the man he respected, and jumps into the sand with the king.
When Hercules returns with Nebula and the ransom, he fights Ajax so that he can rescue his brother and his friend, then drops a pillar on a sand shark. Ajax tells Hercules that Iolaus was right, he failed his duty as a soldier - he didn't recognize the enemy when it was within him. Ajax sacrifices his life to the remaining sand shark to save Iphicles, and Hercules declares that he will be remembered as a hero. Iphicles agrees to make a place for the displaced warriors in his kingdom, giving them the land to the north to farm and defend.
A really superficial version of Coming Home (which thankfully didn't have sand sharks), this episode tried to take on a subject a little too serious for Hercules - soldiers trying to deal with civilian life after the horrors of war (and sand sharks). Of course it got reduced quickly to excuses for fight scenes (and sand sharks). I wasn't very comfortable with the ending, where the king essentially solved the problem by banishing the soldiers to the north rather than working with them and with the society to reintegrate them (and to get rid of the sand sharks). Hercules didn't have much useful advice either for his brother or for Ajax (or the sand sharks); Iolaus did better in that regard.
I like Iolaus a lot. Too bad Nebula thinks favors from a son of Zeus are more important than a pretty regular heroic guy (who's not afraid of sand sharks). Iphicles, played by Kevin Smith (a.k.a. Ares who IS a sand shark), sadly didn't have a lot to do other than moon over his dead wife and break a leg - yes, literally.
There were some funny moments, like when Nebula asked Hercules to enlarge a hole in a wall and he grumbled, "They always want it bigger," as well as when Iolaus stumbled upon a naked Nebula taking a shower on the deck of her ship. And there were of course many gratuitous gross shots of people being eaten by sand sharks and sand sharks being crushed by people. The episode had a lot of potential, but much too much air time was squandered on - you guessed it - sand sharks, rather than the serious issues raised by the plot. Now that Golgoth is empty, maybe we won't ever again have to see those darn sand sharks.
Are you sick of hearing those words yet? Now you know the tone of the episode. Then again, maybe all the sand sharks from Hercules could eat all the fish from Xena, and both series will be reinvigorated.