THE END OF THE BEGINNING
Hercules and Serena marry but their joy is short-lived.
Recapping the "Hind Trilogy" This episode is a sequel to the Hind Trilogy (ENCOUNTER [H50/313], WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN [H51/314], and JUDGMENT DAY [H52/315]). The Trilogy centers around the meeting, love affair, and marriage of Hercules to Serena, the last Golden Hind. Possibly one of the best Hercules story arcs, these three episodes adroitly blend action, humor, drama, and romance. The Golden Hinds were fantastic creatures with the upper bodies of women and the lower bodies of deer. The viewer learns that Hinds are much sought-after by poachers for their hooves and horns of pure gold. But the real threat to the Hinds is Zeus, who destroys the creatures because their blood is capable of killing gods. Serena, however, has been 'rescued' by Ares, the god of war, who intends to use her blood to intimidate the other gods. Ares has trained Serena to use a longbow to protect herself. In fact, the first time the viewer sees her, she is tracking down and killing a poacher in the forest.
 Hercules meets Serena when he journeys to the forest in an effort to save the Hind from Prince Nestor's men. Serena has a human form, in which she appears as an ordinary young woman, but at a mortal's touch, she reverts to her Hind form, a fact which prevents her from being able to live among mortals. Hercules, as the son of a god, can touch her without affecting the transformation. This phenomenon enables the two to interact, and they quickly fall in love.
 Ares is not surprisingly displeased to have his prize weapon wooed away from him by the half-brother he despises. When Hercules proposes marriage to Serena, Ares insists that both must surrender their special attributes and become fully mortal. Hercules and Serena reluctantly capitulate to the war god's demands.
 Without the advantages provided by his godly blood, Hercules quickly falls prey to the machinations of Ares. The war god sets his nephew, Strife, to torment Hercules with fits of anger and nightmares of harming Serena. Hercules awakens one morning to find his bride stabbed to death beside him and a bloody knife in his own hands. Further, Strife has incited the local villagers to rise up in anger against Hercules, who they now believe has killed his wife. It takes the intervention of the fast-witted Xena to expose the treachery of Ares and Strife, and clear Hercules of the crime. At the end of JUDGMENT DAY (H52/315), Zeus appears and restores his son's powers, but he refuses to return Serena to life.
Plot Summary THE END OF THE BEGINNING (H56/319) opens with Hercules back in the village where he and Serena had lived. Despite the tragedy of his short-lived marriage, Hercules continues to help his friends in this village. A scuffle breaks out among some local thugs. While Hercules tries to put an end to the fight, everything suddenly freezes around him. The reason for this circumstance is that Autolycus has stolen the Cronus Stone, which he believed to be merely a valuable gemstone. The thief quickly learns the Stone's time-altering properties and uses them to his own advantage.
 Hercules confronts Autolycus and attempts to take the Stone from him. In the ensuing fight, both men inadvertently travel backward five years in time, whereupon the Stone is trampled and destroyed. Hercules determines that the Stone must still exist in this time period, and Autolycus proposes to steal it again. Hercules cautions that they must not interfere with anything that has happened in the past, however, he cannot stop himself from saving a young boy who originally had drowned in a well.
 Hercules is thrown into a quandary when he witnesses the last Hinds being blasted to death by Zeus with lighting bolts. He also observes the "adoption" of Serena by Ares, who offers to protect her from Zeus. Hercules confronts Ares, but the war god refuses to surrender his new acquisition. Later, Hercules encounters Serena in the forest and tries to dissuade her from accepting the patronage of Ares. When a poacher wounds Serena, Ares offers to teach her to defend herself, however, she is also swayed by the kindness of Hercules, who tries to reassure her that she can survive without Ares' help.
 At the end of the episode, Serena decides that her destiny is to accept the assistance of Ares. Hercules is visibly tormented, knowing how the woman he loves will die, but he seems resigned to not altering her fate. Meanwhile, Ares decides that Hercules must have traveled back in time to acquire the Hind's blood and use it against the war god in the future. Taking no chances, the god stabs Serena with a knife. Enraged, Hercules fights his half-brother to a standstill, then uses the bloodied knife to force Ares to spare Serena's mortal half. Hercules leaves the now-mortal Serena in the village, and returns to the future with Autolycus, who has re-captured the Cronus Stone. But heroism comes at a high price: Hercules discovers Serena now happily married and the mother of a young child. In saving Serena's life, Hercules obliterates his own relationship with her.
Ares and Strife plot wickedness, unaware that Strife's lifeline is shorter than either one of them realised.
 Like Xena in REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), Hercules is forced in this episode to grapple with conflicting desires. On one hand, he clearly wishes to spare Serena from the cruelty and deviousness of Ares. This hope is made more urgent by the role Hercules himself played in Serena's death in the other time line. On the other hand, he seems to feel an obligation to not tamper with destiny, nicely illustrated when he saves the boy from falling into the well. Hercules seems to feel that he can perhaps change events in this time period enough to save Serena from Ares, without causing any damage to history.
 In contrast to Xena's heroism, which is fueled by her quest for personal redemption, the heroism of Hercules more often sees him cast in the role of mentor to other characters. This is certainly true throughout the four-episode Hind arc, where he tries to convince Serena that she is strong enough to defend herself, that she has free will, and that although Ares has saved her life, she is not obligated to be his servant.
 But END OF THE BEGINNING (H56/319) shows Serena's vulnerability: she is alone and afraid, hunted by mortals and persecuted by Zeus. The viewer sees how easy it is for her to be lured into gilded imprisonment by Ares. She has virtually no other options. This episode reveals that Serena's Hind/mortal duality is not a natural state (although she herself believes so: in ENCOUNTER [H50/313], she tells Hercules that she is "a freak of nature"), but a condition created by Ares to render her incapable of living among or accepting the assistance of mortals. This is not unlike THE RECKONING (06/106), in which Ares thwarts Xena's chances of clearing her name in order to force her dependence on him.
 END OF THE BEGINNING (H56/319) provides Hercules with an opportunity to set things right. In the Trilogy, his love for Serena and his desire to save her from Ares ultimately cost the young woman her life. In BEGINNING, he is presented with the unique opportunity to re-write his role in her fate. He takes it, despite his misgivings about interfering with the time line. Hercules pays the price of losing his own chance at a happy life with her. However, he clearly seems to feel that his sacrifice is worth sparing Serena from death, calling their now-lost marriage "the best thing that never happened to me".
 BEGINNING (H56/319), like the first three Hind episodes, blends humor and drama very effectively. The scenes involving Hercules, Ares, and Serena are balanced out with more comical scenes in which Autolycus meets and teams up with his younger self to re-steal the Cronus Stone. The possibilities created by the existence of god-poisoning Hind's blood and time travel enabled by the Cronus Stone would become critical factors in the 1997-1998 seasons of both Hercules and Xena. The only drawback to BEGINNING is that Sam Jenkins, who played Serena in the Trilogy, was not available for the sequel. The role of Serena was filled by the less capable Kara Zediker.
Ares hangs out in front of his digs, the Halls of War.
Plot Summary ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414) is an alternative time line story that continues the "demon baby" arc begun on Xena, and presents a grim view of a world without Hercules.
 The two-episode story begins with the funeral fire from the end of MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311). Hope's ashes drift through the sky, then land in a town, where they assume a spectral form. This ghoul kills an old man, "consumes" him, and becomes more human-like. Hope steals the man's cloak and leaves. Alcmene tells Hercules and Iolaus that King Tyndareus is infuriated with his daughter for getting married. He has been making offerings to Ares and raising an army. Hercules and Iolaus leave to investigate.
 Hope releases Callisto from the rock pile under which she had been buried at the end of MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311). She tells Callisto to kill Hercules. Ares and Strife give special Hephaestus-forged weapons to Tyndareus, telling him that waging war is the only way to get his daughter back. Hercules turns up and persuades Tyndareus that he should be celebrating his daughter's marriage, not going to war over it. Hercules then buries the store-room of weapons, much to the anger of Ares.
 Callisto turns up in the temple. She and Ares talk about killing Hercules. Callisto proposes "getting rid of Hercules in a way Zeus would never notice". They open the vortex from STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (H64/405) and the Sovereign emerges. Ares steals the pendant of Hind's blood, then he and Callisto vanish. Hercules and Iolaus learn that the Sovereign has escaped. They find him demolishing a marketplace. They drug him and carry him back to Ares' temple. Callisto and Ares turn up and re-open the vortex. The Sovereign is pulled back into the vortex. Unfortunately, so is Hercules.
 Hercules and the Sovereign emerge together in the netherworld between their two worlds. They fight. Callisto and Ares celebrate, but Callisto tries to steal the pendant of Hind's blood. Iolaus hears the two gods fighting and sneaks into the temple. The fight goes very badly for Callisto until Hope turns up and revives her. Then Callisto beats the stuffing out of Ares and steals the Hind's blood.
 Ares yells at Strife to deal with Callisto. She coats her knife with the Hind's blood and uses it to kill Strife. A great rumble of thunder is heard all around. Iolaus tells Ares that Callisto had help. Ares responds that, "the one great evil is here ... it's part of that creature that was with her. We've sensed it. Everyone on Olympus has. This force of darkness spells the end of all of us, gods and men". Iolaus says they have to stop Callisto. He and Ares follow Hope and Callisto into the woods. Hope sends Callisto back in time to kill Alcmene, Hercules' mother. Ares sends Iolaus back in time to follow Callisto. Iolaus emerges in Corinth. He tries to warn Alcmene, but Callisto appears. Hercules watches all this via a pool in the netherworld.
 Alcmene does not know if she can trust Iolaus, but has no choice when Callisto comes after them. Iolaus temporarily halts Callisto by deluging her in water. Meanwhile, in the netherworld, Hercules and the Sovereign keep fighting. Iolaus tells Alcmene that her unborn child is the son of Zeus, and that he will grow up to be a hero. He hides Alcmene in a barn. He gets the pendant of Hind's blood away from Callisto and coats a knife with it, but he is unable to use it before Callisto torches the barn. Hercules, observing through the pool in the netherworld, sees Iolaus at Alcmene's grave, swearing to find Callisto. Hercules tells the Sovereign that if either of them leaves the netherworld, they will both cease to exist.
 Iolaus follows Callisto into the future. He arrives in Cirra, right before Xena and her army attack. The villagers are fleeing. A king grovels before Xena, offering her the Cronus Stone in exchange for sparing his people. Xena takes the Stone and has him killed anyway. Ares is with her. They discuss how much more interesting it would be if a hero came forward.
 Iolaus tries to kill Callisto, but he is nabbed by Xena's men. Callisto tries to persuade her family to leave Cirra, but they will not listen to her. Iolaus is taken before Xena. He tries to convince her she is destined to become a hero, but she does not believe it, even when he tells her he knows about Solan. Iolaus manages to escape. Xena's army attacks Cirra.
 Callisto goes to the barn where her mother and younger self are hiding. The goddess accidentally kills her father, then her mother, while her younger self watches in horror. Callisto tells her younger self, "You have to die for both of us now", and leaves the girl in the burning barn. Iolaus fights his way through Xena's men and is poised to kill Callisto, when he hears the younger Callisto screaming in the barn. He goes in and saves her, then gives the dazed girl to her uncle.
 Iolaus is transported back to the present. He finds coins with Xena's image on them, and sees a field full of crucified men. Xena herself emerges from a palace, now an empress garbed in Eastern robes. As Iolaus watches, Gabrielle is dragged before Xena. For the crime of speaking out, Gabrielle is put on a cross and her legs broken. Iolaus goes to Ares and tries to convince the god to send him back in time again, but Ares has no idea who Iolaus is, let alone Hercules. He tells Iolaus that Xena rules the entire known world, including the Far East, the Roman empire, and Gaul. Ares has no reason to stop her.
 From the netherworld, Hercules "talks" to Iolaus, and tells him the Cronus Stone is in Xena's scepter. Iolaus steals the Stone and returns to the past, at the moment before Callisto burns the barn. He gets Alcmene to safety. Hercules has constructed a lightning rod, knocking the Sovereign unconscious in the process, which he uses to open the vortex. Iolaus returns to the present, but Callisto destroys the Cronus Stone. Since Iolaus saved Alcmene, Callisto never got to Cirra. The goddess attacks Iolaus, but Hercules emerges. He fights Callisto and throws her into the vortex. Hercules embeds the Hind's blood knife in a stone wall. Hope remains at large, and Hercules knows that her evil will have to be dealt with eventually.
Xena as an alternate reality empress.
 This episode is a true apocryphal story in the best sense. It combines so many threads from the Hercules and Xena mythology that a viewer needs to have been following both series since Xena made her first appearance as a villain on Hercules. The most obvious result of Hercules having never been born is that Xena's transformation from heartless criminal to a champion of the people in THE GAUNTLET (H12/112) never takes place. The viewer sees the result: a world in which the "evil" Xena has run rampant.
 The story skillfully pulls in elements of many prior story arcs: the "warrior princess" arc, the Callisto arc, the Dahak arc, the Hind arc, the Xena episodes DESTINY (36/212) and THE DEBT (52,53/306,307), and finally, the Hercules episode STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (H64/405). With no Hercules, indeed, no heroes whatsoever, to slow her down, Xena is virtually unstoppable. She laughs when Iolaus tells her that Darphus will one day lead a mutiny against her. In this reality, such a thing is unlikely. Viewers can see that Xena still has her mad ruthlessness from THE DEBT. By the time Iolaus turns up in the altered present, Xena has absorbed the worst characteristics of Julius Caesar and Ming T'ien: she is shrewd, heartless, and indifferently brutal. She deals with her foes by having them crucified. Hers is a true reign of terror. Little wonder that Ares shouts her name with such relish.
 The viewer also gets a look at the burning of Cirra, the event that transformed Callisto from an innocent girl into a killer and psychopath. The destruction of the village is shown to be utterly barbarous, with men, women, and children being slaughtered left and right. Hudson Leick turns in perhaps her strongest performance as Callisto in this sequence. Even as a goddess, Callisto cannot persuade her family to believe her. They have no idea who she is. Callisto is so accustomed to lashing out with violence that she inadvertently kills her own father. When Arleia, her mother, tries to avenge her husband's death, Callisto kills her also, then is clearly devastated. In her effort to save her parents, Callisto only brought about their end.
 This episode also reveals that Hope is still alive, although in a badly-burned form. Ares makes reference to the "one great evil" that she embodies, and is clearly frightened of her. Hope manipulates Callisto, luring her with the promise of ending Callisto's pain. Callisto's reward for eliminating Hercules is the opportunity to re-write her own history.
 The interactions between Ares and Callisto are amusing, but as in the Xena episode INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207), their partnership does not last long. Both gods clearly have their own agendas, and they are using each other. It is difficult to tell whether Callisto wants the Hind's blood to use as a weapon against other gods, or as a means to end her own life. In a nice bit of character development, Ares demonstrates considerable grief and outrage over the death of Strife.
 ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414) features a second appearance of the Sovereign, and it shows the "between-worlds" realm where he has been trapped. He and Hercules have some interesting arguments, in between bouts of pummeling each other. One sees that the Sovereign fails because he has relied solely on brute force, whereas Hercules has learned to employ his wits.
 Throughout most of the time-travel in this story, the viewer is again guided by Iolaus. One senses his frustration at not being able to save Alcmene, at not being able to stop Callisto, and at not being able to dissuade Xena from attacking Cirra. In the end, his own resourcefulness, and a bit of critical prompting from Hercules, enable him to set things right again. Iolaus becomes the viewer's link to normalcy during the second episode.
 The story is marred by a couple of continuity breaks. In prior Callisto stories, she had only mentioned her mother and her sister. In ARMAGEDDON (H72,73/413,414), her sister is nowhere to be seen, and she suddenly has a father and an uncle. Also, the beginning of DESTINY (36/212) suggests that the raid of Cirra took place at night, whereas in ARMAGEDDON, it takes place during the day. The other gaffe is that Iolaus knows about Solan. Even if Xena had told Hercules about her son, it is doubtful that Hercules would then have told Iolaus. The only other possibility is that Gabrielle told Iolaus about Solan, but given Xena's desire to keep her son's existence a secret, this also seems unlikely.
 Unfortunately, many of the intriguing possibilities in this episode are not followed through in SACRIFICE (67,68/321,322), the sequel to ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414), and the Xena season finale. The Hind's blood dagger has been removed from the stone wall, whether Hercules or Xena does this is never made clear. Callisto escapes the vortex without any real explanation, and once again allies herself with Hope, despite Hope's prior manipulativeness. Ares' horror at Hope's evil, and his anger at the death of Strife are abandoned to have the war god join forces with Dahak.
 The inclusion of Hercules in the Dahak arc is rather puzzling. ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414) makes Hercules aware of Dahak, and yet no subsequent Hercules episodes even mention the demon. It is very out of character for Hercules to know of such an evil, yet do nothing to stop it.
Conclusion Alternate reality has proven to be a fruitful genre for Hercules and Xena. Not only are these stories thought-provoking and entertaining, they have also provided opportunity for character growth, and have added much to the mythology of both series. The major drawback of such stories is that they might introduce too many details for which there is no subsequent accounting. ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414) is a high-impact episode, but many aspects of the story are not resolved later. Similarly, such episodes carry the danger of trying to dramatically accomplish too much at once (e.g., BITTER SUITE [58/312]).
 However, when attention is paid to fine points, when the plot is well-crafted and the characters ring true, alternate reality stories work well on many levels. REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), THE END OF THE BEGINNING (56/319), and STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (H64/405) are arguably among the best episodes seen on Hercules and Xena to date.
BibliographyDickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Holiday House, New York, 1983.
Grey, Eden. The Tarot Revealed. Signet, New York, 1988.
THE BITTER SUITE, Xena, Episode No. 58. Review from Whoosh! Online Edition Episode Guide.
Table of Contents
BiographyE. A. Week
If you're riding public transportation in Boston and hear a maniacal cackle of laughter, it's not the Boston Strangler, it's just E.A. Week thinking about some humorous aspect of Hercules or Xena. E.A. "discovered" both shows in the spring of 1997, and quickly became a hard-core nutball. She enjoys writing fan fiction and revels in creating silly stories about the Herk-Xenaverse. Her work can be found at Tom's Xena Page and Lessa's Smithsonian Page. She has also contributed to traditional 'zines: The View From Olympus and The Daily Muse (forthcoming). In mundane life, E.A. holds bachelor's and master's degrees, is gainfully employed, and an avid swimmer. When not otherwise occupied, she devotes her time to reviving the Cult of Ares for the 21st century. Feel free to leave a donation on your way out.
Favorite episode: TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208)
Favorite line: Ares: "What is this infernal throbbing in my head?" TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208)
First episode seen: GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204)
Least favorite episode: THE DELIVERER (50/304)