Whoosh! Issue 26 - November 1998

SALMONEUS:
A MOST PROGRESSIVE CHARACTER

IAXS project #170
By Thomas Stephens Miller
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2214 words



Introduction (01-02)
Heroes (03-04)
Sidekicks (05-07)
Salmoneus: A Huckster? (08-10)
Salmoneus: Wacky Dreamer? (11-14)
Salmoneus and Prince Hal? Hmmmm (15-16)
Conclusion (17-21)
Biography



Salmoneus: A Most Progressive Character



If you like this, wait 'til you see MEN IN PINK!


Even at great personal risk to himself, Sal does the right thing in THE GAUNTLET.



Introduction

[1] Since the first episode of Hercules in which he appeared, I have like Salmoneus. Maybe part of it is rooting for the underdog. He is not the dashing hero type, and he is probably the only recurring character on either Hercules or Xena who does not have a "babe factor" working for him. As a result, he goes unappreciated by many fans of the two shows who favor other flashier characters, like the upstart Autolycus. It does not help that the writers frequently mishandle Salmoneus, playing up the mercenary or buffoonish aspects of his character for comic relief. We have seen his character develop over the seasons, but, as with Joxer and Aphrodite, the development is frequently sacrificed, and he is sent back to square one for the sake of a laugh.

[2] Beyond his appeal as an underdog, I am drawn to him because he is the most human of anyone on either show. Unlike the others, he is not a hero. He's just an ordinary guy working to make a living and trying to be a decent person along the way. He has trouble always living up to his ideals, and sometimes he does less than honorable things that get him into trouble, but his better nature always wins out. He is not an unreachable icon, just the person we could be if we tried to be good. I will illustrate this by comparing Salmoneus to other character types found on the two shows.


Heroes

[3] Most of the characters on Xena and Hercules are derived from one archetype or another. Hercules is the Pure Hero, good and noble all the time. Although he has a dark side, it is not something he struggles with all the time. It is put on display every once in a while to show the audience that the character really has some depth. At the end of the episode, the 'darkness' is always put back into storage, and Hercules goes back to being the upstanding moral light that we have all come to know and love.

[4] Xena, on the other hand, is the Troubled Hero. She is a wanderer, traveling around, around, around, doing good in order to atone for her past sins. The character's lineage can be traced at least as far back as Byronic heroes, although David Carradine on the original Kung Fu (TV 1972-75) might be a closer comparison.


Sidekicks

[5] Despite Hercules's protestations, Iolaus is a sidekick. He helps the main hero fight. He is likable but does not have a sharply defined character of his own. If I were asked to describe him, I would say he is loyal, intelligent, and good to have on your side in a fight. He comes up with some good lines and has an eye for the ladies. If you asked me to describe Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation (TV 1987-1994), I would say the same thing.

[6] Gabrielle gets a bit more complicated. Although primarily a sidekick, she also began life as another archetype: the ingenue. She was full of illusions about the world, about how people were inherently good, about how good triumphs over evil, etc. Now that Gabrielle is maturing some of her naivete is gone, though it is still there when she wants to believe in someone. With Meleager [THE EXECUTION (41/217)], this was a good thing, but with her daughter Hope, it was not so good.

[7] Gabrielle alternates between being a Sidekick, always handy in a battle and ready with a funny line, and being a Symbol. Instead of just espousing positive ideas, Gabrielle has come to personify them. When she fails, she fails because of a weakness brought on by her ideals. In both THE DELIVERER (50/304) and MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311), she was fooled by evil because she wanted to believe in the goodness of others, and that left her defenseless against their deceptions.


Salmoneus: A Huckster?

And if you buy now, I'll throw in a Sunex!


Salmoneus tries to sell Gabrielle his 'Wolf Pack' in THE BLACK WOLF.


[8] For the most part, Salmoneus's character does not have such an impressive pedigree. Instead, he is a mixture of various stock comic characters that frequently recur on sitcoms. The most obvious aspect of his character is the Huckster: fast-talking, always eager to make a buck, usually by dishonest means. The best example of this type of character would be Mr. Haney from Green Acres (TV 1965-1971). He never appeared without selling something or having some sort of scheme to get rich. Danny Partridge [Partridge Family (TV, 1970-1974)] was a junior huckster who always had his eye on the bottom line. If the definition is expanded from lust for money to include lust for women as well, then lecherous characters like Larry from Three's Company (TV, 1977-1984) fit into the type perfectly. (Why should not characters like that be considered? Sal has chased his share of skirts as well as dinars).

[9] None of these characters are strong enough to be the focus of an episode. Their mercenary traits define their personalities, and their appearances are limited to broad comedy. I can remember a few Partridge Family episodes built around Danny, but he functioned merely as a screwed-up kid. The Huckster side of his character was put to the side. Those were not the best episodes either.

[10] At first glance, Salmoneus fits neatly into this character type. He obviously is fond of his dinars, and he has come up with some pretty wild schemes, but two things separate him from the type. First, he is usually honest. The only time I remember him practicing anything dishonest was in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) when he sold Talgamite swords. Second, he always has an enthusiasm that places him in another category.


Salmoneus: Wacky Dreamer?

[11] The second model for Salmoneus, one that is not as obvious but is a deeper part of his character, is the Wacky Dreamer. The most famous example of this character type is Lucy Ricardo (except for Sal, most of the prominent Wacky Dreamers are women; another one was Patty Lane from the Patty Duke Show [TV, 1963-66]). The basic plot of an I Love Lucy (TV, 1951-1957) episode runs like this: Lucy comes up with some ludicrous scheme, and she gets carried away, bringing everyone else along with her. Her defining trait is her enthusiasm.

[12] What puts Sal in this category is the joy he takes in all his maneuvering. Sal comes up with his flights of fancy because (even more than his love of a quick dinar) they are fun. He makes that clear in the Hercules episode REIGN OF TERROR (H55/318). One minute, he is having a ball discussing commemorative coins with Palaemon's daughter, making more and more grandiose plans as he goes along, but the next, he is hit in the face with reality. When Palaemon is killed, Sal has the look of a man who has just been reminded that life is not the game he thought it was.

[13] Deals and schemes are a way of life for Sal, even when there's no profit in it. In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), his immediate response to a threat is to try to negotiate safety for his pals. It is a unique reaction to danger. If he had been purely mercenary or acting out of cowardice, his first thought would have been to do what the villagers in CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102) did, try to buy the warlord off. Hercules, Xena, and even Gabrielle would have tried to fight, or at least fortified the village's defenses. Instead, Sal thought, "I have something they want. They have something we want. We can work this out". It was the deal, and not the money, that was the utmost in his mind.

[14] In LET THE GAMES BEGIN (H29/216), the threat of a warlord was not necessary to spur Sal into action. He threw himself into the spirit of the games, coming up with all the symbolic touches that made the event meaningful: the Olympic Torch, the idea of prizes, and even the name. Aside from a kiss from Atalanta, he did not get anything out of it, but he gave it the same effort he would have given for a dozen bars of Gold Pressed Latinum (sorry, wrong show). Despite there being no paycheck at the end of the day, Salmoneus definitely looked like a man who enjoyed what he was doing.


Salmoneus and Prince Hal? Hmmmm

How DO you get your wigs their whitest?


One of these people is The Chartreuse Fox and the other is an imposter. The answer revealed in the HERCULES episode LES CONTEMPTIBLES.


[15] There is one archetype for Sal that has a more impressive pedigree than sitcom history, that of the character who seems to be inconsequential, immoral, or criminal but turns out to be noble and good in the last act. In TV and movies, this character type is frequently known as the "hooker with a heart of gold", but it is a type that goes much further back. Not only are there numerous characters like this in Oscar Wilde's plays, Shakespeare has a very famous example in Prince Hal of Henry IV, parts 1 and 2.

[16] Although the prince is first seen as the hedonistic drinking companion of the jocular Falstaff, he throws off that aspect completely to live up to his responsibilities when he becomes the King. Salmoneus may not always seem heroic, but no one has ever accused him of grabbing a bag of dinars and running when trouble starts. He will, however, try to run five minutes before trouble starts. In THE LOST CITY (H53/316), he had his gold bars and was almost out the door, but when he saw Iolaus in a fight, he joined in right away.


Conclusion

If I had only taken out that life insurance policy on her!


Salmoneus is overcome at the though of Xena's demise in THE GREATER GOOD.


[17] All of these are stock characterizations that have just as much potential for cliche as the Hero character or the Sidekick. The only thing that gives any of them some meaning is the touch of humanity added to the character. Salmoneus has never had an episode that truly explored his internal workings. Even the workings of Joxer's mind have been made more explicit than the workings of Sal. This is probably because Sal's character is mostly built around such inconsequential models that no one on the Xenastaff has thought his story would be worth telling.

[18] Every so often, however, there is a moment which suggests the unexplored depths of Salmoneus. For instance, the previously mentioned scene in REIGN OF TERROR (H55/318), his moments of doubt in UNCHAINED HEART (13/113) and, the most moving: the scene where he says his final goodbye to Xena in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121). With three words, "Farewell, Proud Warrioress", he conveys a sense of loss that lets us know that he really cared for Xena, that she was more to him than, "Those boots, those legs, that leather..." [THE BLACK WOLF (11/111)]. Touches like that are what raise a character, a script, or a series above being a simple genre exercise.

[19] Where is the character going from here? There are two possible directions. One is, as mentioned before, regression. Sal could go back to being a comic figure: greedy, cowardly, bumbling, a fool merely tolerated by the others. MEN IN PINK (71/412) was that kind of episode. It was hilarious, but it did not give the audience anything as far as Salmoneus' character development. I am not surprised that the writers went that way. Actor Robert Trebor is so good at that kind of comedy, it seems like a waste to have him do anything else.

[20] However, using him that way means wasting the potential of the character. None of the dramatic possibilities in Salmoneus have ever been explored. Except for one scene that has only been shown at Xena/Herc conventions, we have never seen any backstory for him. Salmoneus has a complex and sometimes contradictory personality. What happened in his life to make him that way? What, or who, influenced him? In UNCHAINED HEART (H13/113), he showed that he occasionally struggles with self-doubt. This is another angle that could be explored. Suppose one of his money-making schemes went wrong and caused the death of someone; how would he handle it? Something like that might cause him to become introspective and look at his fundamental beliefs.

[21] If those possibilities are too serious or do not offer enough possibilities for cool fight scenes, why not give him a romance? We have seen him lecherous, and we have seen him infatuated, but what is Salmoneus like when he is in love? There is a wealth of possibilities in the character. Hopefully, the writers will explore a few of them and keep Salmoneus apace with the other characters in terms of development. It might mean losing a few obvious laughs, but it would make for a richer show.



Biography

Thomas Stephens Miller Thomas Stephens Miller

Favorite episode: CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102)
Favorite line: Henchman 2: "Sir? If this doesn't work..." Dagnine: "If this doesn't work? One of you gets my tent, the other gets my horse". ORPHAN OF WAR (24/201)
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST (01/101)
Least favorite episode: THE DELIVERER (50/304)

Return to Top Return to Index