22. "Hercules," season four:
The Kids Are Alright


The image of the tree in Mircea Eliade's books plays a significant role in both "Hercules" and "Xena," I believe, and as both shows prepare their season-long arcs, "Hercules" launched its fourth season with a lighthearted episode featuring one of these tree images. "Bad Eggs and Beanstalks" features previously used comedic figures Autolycus and Typhoon, only slightly altered from the giant Typhon appearing the season before, while "Xena" used giants Goliath and Gareth, all of whom the show associates with the giant's revolt against Olympus, but only Typhon was actually named by Graves as a participant. Though "Bad Eggs and Beanstalks" was an effects-laden comedy, it had a more serious grounding. It was borrowed from the "Jack and the Beanstalk" fairy tale, of course, but the beanstalk vine is considered a religious tree image by Eliade. In his book, "The Quest," (which I believe inspired the title for the episode following "Destiny," last season), Eliade writes: "Indeed, the original myth of Paradise spoke only of a sort of Island of the Blessed, in the middle of the ocean, where death was unknown, and which one reached by a rope or other such means (let us note that images of rope, or liana, or steps, are frequently used to represent the passing from one mode of being to another--from the profane to the sacred world)."01 "Liana" is a term he uses frequently in all his books, and we'll find it in "Bad Eggs and Beanstalks": it's the name of the young woman, Lianna, who has been the prisoner of Typhon in his castle in the clouds for a century, but is still young: "Time moves very slowly up here." She must act as caretaker of harpy eggs until they hatch; one harpy is named Alyssa, which should sound familiar: it no doubt comes from Euripides' "Herakles," when Iris is sent by the gods to drive Herakles to kill his family: "Don't be spooked by us, old men. This is Lyssa--her nickname's Madness--the child of the Night." Iris instructs Lyssa: "Virgin daughter of black-shrouded Night. Madness, you have no children. Don't let your heart go out to him. Wind it up tighter and tighter in your breast until it lets loose such fits of madness the soles of his feet burn and tingle to leap after his sons!"

This is very serious stuff, of course, but in "Bad Eggs and Beanstalks," it's put to comic effect, and eventually, a heartwarming story about accepting one's family. The goddesses who were sent to drive Hercules mad are transformed in this story into children who drive their caretakers mad with their antics. We'll see the same story presented on "Xena" in season five, in "Married with Fishsticks," though combined with other mythic patterns from the Odyssey, among others. The image of the eggs may have been a driving factor in putting this story right before the Dahok arc: Dahok's daughter will be seen hatching from an egg, and we've seen this image before in the final Hercules movie, "Hercules and the Maze of the Minotaur."

It's not possible to discuss this episode's meaning without looking at Rob Tapert's comments for Prof. Weisbrot02:

Rob Tapert: "So it was meant to be the jovial retelling of a known story-a fairy tale this time as opposed to a myth, so we just wanted to do something big and fun and light. That said, it didn't work...we tried to give it some heart with the girl who was up there. But ultimately it didn't hang together because it wasn't about anything. I mean, it wasn't about Hercules, it wasn't about Autolycus, it was about--

Robert Weisbrot: "Muppets?"

Rob Tapert: "Yeah. So, looking back on it, I'd say it's not what I do best."


These comments seem to indicate that we're not to examine it too closely, because it was merely about doing something light, and wasn't intended to have any larger connection to the show worth noting. After all, if it did include the elements I talked about, wouldn't Rob have mentioned them in his defense? I think that would be a misinterpretation of what he said. For one thing, he may well have been intending to say something vaguely to that effect, had he not been interrupted. Taking his words at face value, though, he's not saying the episode lacked meaning or a conceptual side, but rather that this presentation of the story didn't have heart, and therefore didn't resonate with the audience. It ended up being a stand-alone oddity without visible connection to the main characters--as if they were guest stars on their own show. The story itself probably had great significance for Rob Tapert because he used it repeatedly, in the same fantastic, bold-colored style: in season three, with the giant Typhon in "Monster Child in the Promised Land," (in which the story had "muppets" and heart), and later on, as mentioned, in "Married With Fishsticks." In that latter example, it was intended as a potential pilot for a spin-off series, so obviously Rob felt it was an idea that not only had appeal, but good potential for further mining, if only the right way to present it could be found. Since "Married With Fishsticks" stands as one of the most roundly criticized episodes by fans, it seems his assessment in Prof. Weisbrot's book (published in 2004, 3 years after the end of the series) reflected a hindsight view that the audience never warmed to the idea. So, in his interview, trying to justify the episode once more time on the idea that it contained references to Euripides and Eliade would have been a pointless gesture; readers would only conclude that he should've stayed away from such conceptual nonsense and stuck with what worked, since it obviously didn't work in "Bad Eggs and Beanstalks." It would be an unfair conclusion, but you can't sell eggs once they've gone bad, no matter how you dress 'em up.

The third "Hercules" episode of the fourth season, just one episode before the beginning of the Dahok arc on "Xena," was "Regrets, I've Had a Few." This was a flashback episode serving two purposes: to allow star Kevin Sorbo time to make a feature film (as his contract allowed), and to introduce an idea in the works for a while, a spin-off based on Hercules' days as a student of Cheiron, "Young Hercules." The concept of a band of young people led by a mentor goes back to the first season of "Hercules," and we see an adaptation of it on "Xena" in "Athens City Academy of the Performing Arts." As I mentioned then, it's derived from the sequel to "The Bride With White Hair," and the impetus for Rob Tapert in applying it throughout each series was to find a way to keep the shows' appeal for new, younger viewers, while they continue to track with the older viewers who stayed with the shows from the beginning, to avoid a drop-off in viewership. As a result, more episode were done appealing to the younger crowd, while the show generally developed more sophisticated shows to retain the older crowd.03

"Regrets, I've Had a Few" was originally to involve a story with young Atlas, and this was probably as a framing device. Remember what I said about pilots containing their endings? The labor of Hercules involving Atlas was his final one, and the last episode of "Hercules" features it. We also heard Homer reciting the story of Atlas in the related episode "Athens City Academy of the Performing Arts." The episode on "Xena" airing alongside "Regrets, I've Had a Few" was "The Dirty Half Dozen," with a similar situation: instead of school-age students, however, Xena finds herself leading her former "students" from her evil warlord days, all of whom have fallen from grace, and now offers them a chance at redemption working alongside her. One of these students is named Agathon: he's not mentioned in "The Greek Myths," and he's not a made-up name, either. He was a playwright, a contemporary of Euripides, and Aristophanes makes fun of both of them in his play, "The Thesmophoriazusae," having both of them trying to sneak their way into a secretive women's festival. This play will be used as inspiration for the fifth season "Xena" amazon episode, "Kindred Spirits," combined with the idea of a band of young people being led by Xena and Gabrielle. Agathon would've come from the research done for first season's "Athens City Academy of the Performing Bards," and since it's unlikely the name came from anywhere else, it's one of many indicators that the influences used in the fifth season were introduced long before. With the absence of RJ Stewart during that period (at work on the spin-offs), it would be more important, not less, that they stick closely to their original influences, and this would've likely have been led by Rob Tapert.

Young Hercules

The pilot for "Young Hercules" was already filmed at this time, and uses the same sources as Rob's previous directorial efforts, "Once a Hero," about Jason recovering the Golden Fleece; "Destiny," the pirate theme (Captain Attica of the Argo bears a strong resemblance to a dandy pirate), and the Calypso/Cyclops/Siren motifs in "Ulysses." It will also use the Medea story found in "Once a Hero" and "Destiny," which will be reprised later on this season in "Medea Culpa," and will also rely heavily on the Young Hercules cast, since Kevin Sorbo was too ill to participate fully in the show at this time. The "Young Hercules" pilot shows us the original voyage to steal the Golden Fleece referred to in "Once a Hero." The Argonauts at one point are lured to a seaside cave (from "The Cyclops") by a Siren's voice (strongly resembling the Siren scene in "Ulysses," though this is probably the Circe scene from the Odyssey, in which men are turned into swine), which transforms the Argonauts into wolf-like hybrids while they drink wine (influenced by "The Bacchae"), in a sequence that resembles "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and the shamanic scenes in "Adventures in the Sin Trade." Later on, they'll encounter a giant whose vulnerable spot, like other giants on these shows, is right between the eyes, where a cyclops' eye would be. The giant manages to fatally injure the lone female member of the crew, Yvenna. Her character is based on the lone female member of the band of youths in "The Bride With White Hair," named Moon, a character who will influence others, such as Otere in "Adventures in the Sin Trade." Yvenna's quest to gain the healing Fleece to help her village is unfulfilled, and this inspires Hercules to use his powers to help others when he visits her village at story's end. We can see Sam Raimi's involvement in the quote at the beginning of this story, when Alcmene tries to get Hercules to use his powers responsibly: "To whom much is given, much is asked," a variation of which we'll hear in his "Spiderman" film, but which doesn't fully hit home until young Peter Parker's uncle dies from his inaction.



Young Hercules
3 groups of students from: "Xena:" The Athens Academy, "Young Hercules," & "The Bride With White Hair 2."


Around this time a female version of "Young Hercules" was developed, "Amazon High." Rob Tapert had felt this should have ideally premiered a year after "Xena" did (which in turn premiered a year after "Hercules"), but by the time it was ready, his competitors were ready to capitalize on "Xena's" success (something he had been warned would happen ever since Xena first guest-starred on "Hercules"). "Amazon High" would never officially be released; it would be recut and used as flashbacks in "Lifeblood," the episode preceding "Kindred Spirits." Rob felt that "Lifeblood" was not a successful experiment of using footage from another show, but this should not lead us to think "Amazon High" wasn't compatible, or wasn't based on the same sources as "Xena." As we'll see later, the choice to use "Amazon High" as an aboriginal version of the amazons on "Xena" was a fitting one, not a forced one.



01"The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion," p. 107
02Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, An Insider's Guide to the Continuing Adventures by Robert S. Weisbrot, p. 25-6
03AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT TAPERT, Paragraph [97]

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