Examples of Alternate Reality Stories (07-54)
STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (11-22)
Plot Summary (11-17)
THE BITTER SUITE (23-54)
Recapping "The Rift" (24-26)
Plot Summary (27-44)
Examples of Alternate Time Line Stories (55-100)
REMEMBER NOTHING (55-63)
Plot Summary (55-59)
THE END OF THE BEGINNING (64-76)
Recapping the "Hind Trilogy" (64-67)
Plot Summary (68-71)
ARMAGEDDON NOW (77-98)
Plot Summary (77-88)
Rob Tapert makes his own alternate reality in THE XENA SCROLLS.
Introduction The past two seasons of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess have featured a number of episodes involving time travel and alternate universes. These episodes have proven not only entertaining, but highly thought-provoking as well.
 Alternate worlds and time lines serve a number of functions. Such stories allow the character a journey into a different world, sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstance. Typically, the alternate reality is experienced by only one character, and that character's eyes become the lens through which the viewer undergoes the experience. The character then returns to "reality", having learned valuable and powerful lessons, often with a new appreciation of his or her original circumstances.
 Alternate reality stories allow the viewer a glimpse of familiar surroundings and characters under vastly different conditions. These stories permit writers and producers to stretch their creative wings and explore tangents that would not be possible in the normal parameters of the television series.
 Finally, alternate reality stories give the actors an opportunity to present different aspects of their usual characters.
 Alternate Reality is hardly a genre created by the producers of Hercules and Xena. However, the fantasy aspect of both series allows the writers to delve into such stories, whereas writers of a more serious or dramatic series would not be able to do so as easily.
 Alternate reality stories are generally one of two types. In the first, some part of the established history of the show is altered, and the central character has to deal with the resulting changes. In the second type of story, the characters enter an alternate world, and must somehow make their way back to their own reality.
Examples of Alternate Reality Stories A good literary example of an alternate time line story is the Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol. In this story, the tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley's ghost carries about him a chain "made ... of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel". His eternal punishment for his ungenerous heart is to roam the earth without rest, weighed down by the regret of having never extended the hand of charity. Marley offers Scrooge the opportunity to avoid this fate. Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. The third ghost allows Scrooge a glimpse into the future, where Scrooge has died, "plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for".
 Scrooge asks the ghost, "Why show me this, if I am past all hope?" Indeed, the very message of the story is that Scrooge is not past hope. He awakens on Christmas morning and immediately begins to set about making amends for his selfishness. The reader learns that "Some people laughed to see the change in him", but Scrooge is able to alter his own fate, and by doing so, improves the lives of others. In keeping with the tradition of alternate- time line stories, Scrooge is able to change the future through the specific choices he makes in the present, a recurring theme of this genre.
 A contemporary example of an alternate world story is the classic Star Trek episode, "Mirror, Mirror". In this story, Kirk, Scotty, Uhura, and McCoy are accidentally beamed into an alternate universe where the peaceful Federation is a ruthless and horrible Empire. They eventually escape back to their own universe. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has had a number of episodes, usually one a year, involving the same basic premise: the good people are bad (most of them -- some are good), but the alternate universe is a dirtier, grittier, and more violent place. Similarly, the Doctor Who episode "Inferno" involved the earthbound third Doctor's slipping "sideways" into a parallel universe, where the familiar UNIT characters are part of a harsh fascist regime.
 For this article, specific Hercules and Xena episodes have been reviewed for their usage of alternative reality and are discussed in light of the intriguing experiences they present to both characters and viewers. Four Hercules episodes [THE END OF THE BEGINNING (H56/319), STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (H64/405), and ARMAGEDDON NOW I/II (H72,73/413,414)] and two Xena episodes [REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202) and THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)] are considered.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD
Aphrodite is prim and proper, and Ares is the God of Love in STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD.
Plot Summary This episode, like ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72/413), is a highlight of the fourth season of Hercules. Funny, dramatic, well-written, and superbly acted, this story takes familiar characters and settings, and turns them on their heads.
 The episode begins with Hercules and Iolaus rescuing a young woman in the Temple of Ares. Iolaus fights with a soldier named Gravis. The viewer sees scenes in which a man identical to Gravis is being led to an executioner's block. As the "other" Gravis is executed, the first Gravis suddenly drops dead while fighting Iolaus.
 A moment later Ares appears, infuriated that Iolaus has killed one of his followers. Hercules jumps to the defense of his friend. In the course of their fight, the two brothers hurtle through the wall of the temple. When Ares attempts to slay Hercules, a lightning blast comes out of the sky and hits Ares' sword. A strange vortex opens, from which a man runs, pursued by soldiers on horseback. Inexplicably, the soldiers capture Iolaus and vanish back into the vortex, which then closes. Ares captures the man who had been fleeing the soldiers: a man revealed to be a virtual twin of Iolaus, dressed in a court jester's costume. Iolaus himself is dragged before a man who turns out to be a twin of Hercules, bearded and dressed in black leather. This man strikes Iolaus across the face and seems very pleased with himself.
 As the episode unfolds, the viewer learns that Iolaus has been taken into an alternate world that parallels the "real" world inhabited by Hercules and Xena characters. In this world, Hercules is a petty tyrant called the Sovereign. The Sovereign is engaged to marry Aphrodite, here the queen of the gods, and a model of modesty and decorum. Aphrodite is being forced into this union because Zeus is dying. The Sovereign will provide the cure only if Aphrodite marries him, which will make the Sovereign king of the gods. Iolaus learns that the Sovereign's lover is Xena, who, in this world, is a cold-blooded floozy with a taste for bondage and domination. Xena boasts of having a "secret stash of Hind's blood", with which she is poisoning Zeus. Even more improbably, Ares is the god of love, who tries to enlist the help of Iolaus in defeating the Sovereign. When Iolaus suggests that Ares should try standing up to the Sovereign himself, the god's melodramatic response is, "It is times like this I regret the fact that I'm a lover, not a fighter".
 In the "real" world, Aphrodite tells Hercules that Zeus appears to be dying and that not even ambrosia can revive him. The viewer learns that court jester Iolaus twin is a spineless coward (later described as "the Sovereign's bootlicker"). Iolaus tells Hercules that he had been asked by a group of rebels to assassinate the Sovereign, but he ran away in fear. The viewer also learns that Gravis had been the leader of this rebellion. In their respective worlds, Hercules and Iolaus realize that when somebody in one world dies, their twin in the parallel world dies also.
 As the Sovereign prepares for his wedding to Aphrodite, Hercules realizes that the only way to save Iolaus is to get the gateway to re-open. He provokes a fight with Ares in hope that Zeus will intervene with another bolt of lightning. In the parallel world, Iolaus has been thrown into a dungeon, where he finds that Joxer is part of the rebellion against the Sovereign. In one of the most twisted moments of the episode, Joxer puts a knife in the hands of Iolaus and exhorts him to murder the Sovereign. Iolaus is visibly torn, because to kill the Sovereign in this reality means that Hercules will die in the parallel world. Finally, Iolaus realizes that his choices are limited, and calls for the guards to escort him to the Sovereign's wedding.
 The Sovereign easily thwarts Iolaus, and a huge fight ensues at the wedding ceremony. The odds even up when Joxer frees himself and the other rebels from the dungeon, and Ares weakens the Sovereign's men with thoughts of love. Iolaus fights with Xena, and realizes that her chakram pendant is filled with the Hind's blood she has been using to poison Zeus. In the "real" world, the fight between Hercules and Ares has finally prompted a lightning bolt from Zeus, and the vortex re-opens. Iolaus grabs the pendant of Hind's blood and flees, pursued by the Sovereign. From the other side of the vortex, Hercules and jester Iolaus appear. Hercules strikes the Sovereign in the face. The Jester flees back into his own world, and Iolaus flees with Hercules towards his. Although the Sovereign has wrested the Hind's blood from Iolaus, he pauses, evidently undecided whether he should pursue the Jester to his own world, or chase Hercules and Iolaus back to theirs. While he hesitates, the entrances to the vortex close off, trapping the Sovereign (and the Hind's blood) between the two worlds.
In an homage to the TV series THE PRISONER, Iolaus declares his 'is not a numeral' but 'a free man!'.
 STRANGE WORLD (64/405) is so full of intricate twists and subtle humor that the episode cannot be fully appreciated without two or three viewings. Not a detail is overlooked. The directing, editing, and even the music and sound effects all mesh perfectly.
 The viewer experiences the parallel world through the eyes of Iolaus. The stellar directing by Michael Levine enables one to identify with Iolaus, to feel his shock and confusion at having stumbled into this bizarre universe. At every turn, familiar things turn out to be the exact opposite of what he expects. Iolaus can depend on nothing. He can barely comprehend Hercules as a tyrant, and he certainly cannot convince the imprisoned rebels that their Sovereign is a good-hearted hero in another world. He expects Aphrodite and Xena to help him and is genuinely flabbergasted to see their incarnations in this universe. Iolaus is dumbfounded by the appearance of Ares as the god of love, and even more amazed by Joxer as a hardened, fast-thinking rebel. The peace-loving Gabrielle is here the dispassionate executioner.
 Iolaus becomes the viewer's "tour guide" of the alternate world, but the viewer has the advantage of being able to laugh at his astonishment, and to admire his resourcefulness in negotiating the alien environment. The viewer also has an appreciation of Jester Iolaus, who is equally dumbfounded by his sudden arrival in a world so utterly unlike his own, although filled with seemingly the same people. He keeps expecting Hercules to punish him, he is rendered speechless by the scantily-clad Aphrodite, and his first comment upon viewing Ares is "what's with the basic black?" Jester Iolaus becomes the source through which Hercules learns about the parallel world, and this information enables him to find a way to get the twin Iolauses back to their respective homes.
 This episode introduced a number of factors which would play important roles later in ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414) including: the Hind's blood that Xena procures in the alternate world and the no-man's land between the two worlds where Hercules traps the Sovereign. Further, the viewer can happily imagine future episodes dealing with the alternate world. The possibilities presented by the parallel universe are almost without number.
 Mention should be made of the splendid performances by the entire cast. Kevin Sorbo clearly revels in the opportunity to be the villain for once, and he plays the Sovereign with an over-the-top flamboyance that contrasts wonderfully with his down-to-earth portrayal of Hercules. Michael Hurst, always a pleasure to watch, is outstanding in his dual role of a man suddenly adrift in an unknown land. But the real scene-stealer is Kevin Smith, whose skillful rendition of the effeminate, white-clad god of love provides such a wonderful antithesis to the bristling machismo of the war god.
Table of Contents