31. "Hercules," season five:
Light and Dahok

While the season four opener to "Xena, Warrior Princess" borrows from "Black Orpheus" in its story of Xena's search for Gabrielle in the afterlife, the concurrent season five of "Hercules" takes the same idea and extends it to the entire season. Originally it was to have been during the sweeps period of the previous season, so as we'd expect, what happens on "Xena" was actually anticipated on "Hercules." Season five begins with "Faith," with Hercules traveling to Sumeria to aid Gilgamesh, his Sumerian counterpart in the myths. Sumeria should remind us of "Evil Dead" and its Sumerian Book of the Dead: in fact, the follow-up episode, "Descent," reinforces this association when Hercules goes into the Underworld to rescue Iolaus, and encounters "Evil Dead"-like zombies. There, an orphic god, Dumuzi, has swallowed human souls which Hercules causes to be released after the god's defeat, an ending which foreshadows the series finale of "Xena."

We've already mentioned "Render Unto Caesar," which is followed by the Norse arc; this anticipates the Ring cycle on the sixth season of "Xena," and, along with the opening episodes of this season, continue the themes of "Adventures in the Sin Trade." Hercules' rescue of Baldar recalls the Nordic myth of Hermodhr descending to Hel to rescue Baldar's soul: this is, according to Mircea Eliade in his book on shamanism (p.383), an orphic mission, and is "definitely shamanic." This same chapter will tie in with the Ring cycle on "Xena;" additionally, this episode's source (according to Paul Robert Coyle01) is Michael Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead," which anticipates the "Coming Home" arc in the sixth season of "Xena," as we'll see. All in all, the fifth season of "Hercules" is a significant one, not only for Hercules's story but for Xena's.

Two episodes in particular stand out this season, and they comprise the finale for the "Rosemary's Baby" arc that began in the third season of "Xena," though it was set up as early as first season's "Altared States." That's a four-year long set-up, so we'd expect the wrap-up to employ all the major themes and motifs. "Let There Be Light" and "Redemption" mirror Xena's previous season-ender, "Sacrifice, I & II." Dahok's appearance on earth was to be accomplished by mass human sacrifice, overseen by his villainous daughter, Hope. With that plan scuttled, Dahok inhabits the body of Iolaus, who had sacrificed his life for Hercules. Dahok himself now preaches his own faith on the streets of Greece, taking the form of a charismatic revival-tent healer. The Olympians have fled, he declares, and Hercules is a villain. Only Dahok and his Warriors of Light protect Greece now. Four episodes before, on "Xena," we saw Autolycus playing much the same role, for comic effect, as a Dionysiac preacher, and now we see the payoff, as Dahok's religion spreads through Greece like the rites of Dionysus were spread by the Stranger in "The Bacchae." We even see women accompanying Dahok/Iolaus as he preaches, waving palm fronds very much like the maenads waved the thrysus in Euripides' play.

Let There Be Light

Presenting Dahok in the form of a televangelist follows the pattern set way back in "Altered States," in which the one God to replace the Olympians seems to be the God of the Bible--of course, by this time, we're not fooled, so the comparison is now played up to comic effect and with loud tones as we see how easily Greece is fooled by a demon who rivals the Bible's Satan. Given that the overall arc is inspired by "Rosemary's Baby," it's only fitting that its conclusion will have a similar Christian horror theme, and accordingly, these two episodes are modelled after "The Exorcist." In keeping with "The Bacchae," and with "The Exorcist," the demonic antagonist is a truth-teller, whose power lies not in physical strength but in the ability to perceive and exploit his opponents' psychological weaknesses.

Though this episode has religious trappings from Christianity and Zoroastrianism, it's heart lies in Greek myth. Dahok is a seducer, like "The Bacchae's" Stranger (Hercules even accuses him of it), and his warriors bear the Cyclops radiating solar image on their robes.The exorcist here is Zarathustra, but we shouldn't get too distracted by his famous name: his real inspiration is Cecrops, from "Lost Mariner," in season two of "Xena." He's been cursed by Dahok to live forever, but his immortality is a curse, separated from those he loves. This also evokes the Hercules movie, "Hercules and the Circle of Fire," in which his mentor, Cheiron, is fated to live forever wounded. His death is an act of mercy, and so is Zarathustra's here. Once he's dead, the mechanism for expelling Dahok's spirit from Iolaus's body is gone, and we're left with the show's primary themes to work their magic here. Chief among these is the theme of friendship, as dramatized in Euripides' "Herakles." We'll recall from that play that Hercules had been driven mad to kill his family and thereby destroy his reputation in Greece; his redemption came from the offer of unconditional friendship from Theseus, whom Hercules had previously rescued from Tartarus, while chained to a chair. This story's elements appear all over these two episodes: Hercules' friend, Iolaus, has his body chained to a table while his soul is trapped in the underworld, needing rescue by Hercules, and Hercules himself has seen his reputation destroyed by Dahok throughout Greece. Dahok managed to win over Iolaus as his host by giving him the power to save a wandering man: that man turned out to be en route to killing a family in cold blood. Iolaus himself regretted he never had children, but now finds himself the unwitting accomplice of a child-killer: this recalls the scene in "Herakles," in which Lyssa, the spirit of Madness, is told by Strife to drive Hercules to murder:

"Madness, you have no children:
Don't let your heart
Go out to him."

Dahok enlists his help against the Olympians, but Iolaus hesitates at first to take on this responsibility: "No one should have that kind of power." We'll hear that quote again...from Xena in season five.

Iolaus fell from grace when he succumbed to temptation, but Hercules is prepared to offer unconditional forgiveness. In "Redemption," Zarathustra is doubtful: "Perhaps the light that restrains Dahok is indeed a force beyond our reckoning. Even so, it could be dangerous to rely on what we cannot see." Hercules replies: "But the things that make us human can't be seen: trust, friendship. If I can remind Iolaus what they meant to him, we might have a chance." Dahok, in the guise of his friend, mocks Hercules, after Zarathustra's death: "Now it's just you and me...buddy!" Hercules proves he can outmatch Dahok when it comes to understanding psychology: speaking directly past him, he tells Iolaus: "You obviously don't know Iolaus very well. You're too selfish to understand. Whenever I lost sight of what we were fighting for, Iolaus reminded me through his own courage and strength. I don't know what his life would have been like without me, but I can't imagine my life without him." This causes Iolaus to reach out for help, re-introducing another motif of the belly of the whale, this time from "Hercules and the Lost Kingdom." It also evokes the "Black Orpheus"/shamanism motif, with the rescue of the lost soul. The final illustration of friendship is the death of Dahok, which is brought about when Hercules and Iolaus fight back-to-back in their signature fighting style, surprising Dahok with a somersault over their backs into a fiery pit, which bears strong resemblance to the lava pit of "Sacrifice." This theme of friendship is reinforced by the cast: Hercules is aided by his old friend, Jason, along with the two successors of Xena on this show: Nebula and Morrigan. And it's fitting that "Redemption" was directed by Rob Tapert's old friend and colleague, Bruce Campbell.

If there's any doubt about Ares' role on the series, these two episodes make it clear: he's the Dionysiac figure when he dons the robes of Dahok's followers and preaches against Nebula and Morrigan; he's also the false mentor, when we glimpse the frozen yoga practitioners of "Paradise Found" in his temple02: their presence doesn't make sense, otherwise, since Ares was no yoga teacher, but we'll recall that the stone motif first introduced in "Hercules and the Lost Kingdom," reappeared in "The Lost City," was continued with Aidan's turning his yoga students into stone--and it's continued further here with the gemstone that channels the light during the exorcism of Dahok (These stone images come from Mircea Eliade, which I'll cover in a separate essay). Finally, we have Ares as the hirsute goat-man, Silenus, the overpowered mentor of Dionysus and star of Euripides' "The Cyclops." Ares has no power here, except when he play-acts as Dahok's preacher, and he rarely takes action either: it's the job of Morrigan and Nebula to make sure he doesn't do anything, not even to die, since his departed spirit would feed Dahok's power. Ares displays the randy nature of the goat-man when he attempts to fireball Nebula unsuccessfully, and she makes an impotence joke at his expense; later, as she walks away from him, he ogles her: "Yeah, mama!!" Even when he regains his powers, he's not a threat they take seriously. To be sure, he's the god of war: a powerful title with a powerful history behind it, and Kevin Smith's comedy is laced with a menace that keeps every scene on its edge, but strictly in terms of Ares' dramatic function, he's more closely related to Joxer or Salmoneus, both of whom are also likely derived from Silenus, than with the Dionysiac villains. This final confrontation with Dahok should have brought out his most lethal side from the writers; instead, it demonstrated his true nature as a comic foil, and an exceptional one at that, in an otherwise very serious two-episode arc.

"Fade Out," one of the final "Hercules" fifth season episodes ties in with Euripides' "The Cyclops," as well as continuing the stone theme. Hercules discovers that villagers are disappearing...literally! They've been cursed by a cyclops eye, and as Ares' henchman, Deimos, explains: "When the Cyclops died, they curse their blind stone eyes: 'Let those with sight, be taken from sight, as sight was taken from us!'" This refers to the story of Zeus defeating the cyclops by turning them into stone, in Thrace. It's also a variation on the cyclops' curse that takes place at the end of "The Cyclops," calling on Poseidon to prevent Ulysses from returning home for many years. The motif of the blinded cyclops is inverted: instead of the cyclops becoming blind, the blindness is inflicted on others. To remove the curse, Hercules must go to the stone quarry where the cursed eyes are, and use them to transfer the curse to someone else: these curses never die, they just cause others to fade away.

Fade Out

The cylcops eye in "Fade Out" resembles the radiating solar image of the Hephaestean Cyclops guild in "The Greek Myths."

Hercules delivers the moral of the story when he says "We are who we perceive ourselves to be." This is a variation on the cyclops theme on an earlier "Xena" episode in season two: "Blind Faith," which aired just before "Ulysses." That episode was based on Clint Eastwood's film, "Unforgiven," in which the young gunslinger who's eager to make his first kill is also nearly blind. He sees at the end how terrible it is to kill another person. Xena's moral for that story is a dark spin on Hercules': "We all eventually become what we pretend we are." The themes that the Cyclops represent began on "Hercules," were developed on "Xena," and echoed once again on "Hercules."

01These episodes predate "Paradise Found" on "Xena," which they were constructed for, so I'd guess these episodes were all filmed around the same time, and perhaps they were originally meant to take place at the same time, which would explain why Xena and Gabrielle never encounter Dahok the Preacher's conquest of Greece: they were in India while all this was going on


The Types and Patterns of All Things Xena  > Free To Be Euripides: Chapter Index

Back to Home menu