By Ben Konuch
“The gods want you to believe that, that they are infallible. But they only want what all bullies want. They want us to blame themselves for their own shortcomings.”
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is officially halfway through its first season (of hopefully many), and as much I wish to be able to call this series great as a huge fan of the books, I have to settle with saying that it is good. The last two episodes of the series once again do a fantastic job at building the magical world of gods and monsters through exposition and plot events. Episode three and four take on the focus of how hard it is to get the attention and the love of the gods in a way that builds on the plotline teased in episode two through Clarice’s story.
Despite this care and intrigue shown to the story and the world, however, “Percy Jackson” unfortunately remains somewhat dull. Proper stakes and tension, as well as improved chemistry between the main trio, finally shine bright in episode four, but a continued reluctance to show danger and darkness properly, as well as frustratingly short episode runtimes, have me worried if “Percy Jackson” has taken too long before it found its footing.
Episode three makes some changes to its source material that I think absolutely work here. First, the episode starts right after Percy is told about the quest he is to undertake, and we see him confront the Oracle and receive an ominous prophecy about what his journey will entail. The series then allows us to see Percy grapple with this warning and promise of failure and betrayal and allows us to better understand why he chooses Annabeth and Grover to accompany him and not someone like Luke, who he respects dearly.
The episode also teases some information about Annabeth and her past via a conversation about Thalia and the barrier from her tree. It is nice to see that the series is laying the groundwork for future stories in a way that feels mostly organic.
The biggest departure from episode three is how Medusa was handled. In the novel, Percy, Annabeth and Grover are lured into Auntie Em’s emporium and slowly start to realize that things are not what they seem. In the series, Annabeth and Grover realize before they even set foot into the building that they’re approaching the lair of Medusa. This change highlights Annabeth and Grover’s wisdom and experience with this world, but it also completely redefines the tension in the scene. Now, the tension and fear come from the knowledge that the characters fully know the danger they’re walking into, but are forced to do so anyway.
This change does allow Medusa’s story to become more fleshed out, defining her mythology more as a tragedy that highlights the gods’ cruelty than a generic monster. I think this change does work for the show, but it’s almost immediately undone by how quickly and anticlimactically Percy and company defeat her once she turns on them.
The fourth episode does finally put some of my fears for the series to rest, as the chemistry between Percy, Annabeth and Grover finally starts to click seamlessly. Moments of conversation between the three seem organic and showcase their different personalities and characteristics, even if the characters have the occasional moment when they feel more like an exposition tool for worldbuilding or sequel setup. Despite these slight bumps, Grover and Annabeth especially start to resemble their book characters far more in an exciting way that brings one of the missing pieces that was holding “Percy Jackson” back.
Similarly improved in this episode is the way that the series handles tension and stakes. As much as I’ve enjoyed following these characters and learning about this world of mythology in the modern day, my biggest critique has been that the show has not felt dangerous. Monsters are introduced only to die extremely quickly without showing much of a struggle, especially for Percy who survives both a minotaur and a fury, all while the exposition continually tells the audience how dangerous it is for half-bloods. The series has had a disconnect from what’s been told to the audience about danger and the actual stakes and tension shown on screen, and the ridiculously quick way of defeating Medusa in episode three felt like insult to injury. Yet, episode four finally establishes stakes of proper danger.
In episode four, our trio meets Echidna, the mother of monsters, who unleashes a terrifying beast to chase down the three demigods. All three recognize that this isn’t a fight they can win, and desperately try to take refuge in the St. Louis Arch, a monument to Athena and sanctuary against monsters. The genuine fear in the trio is palpable, and the tension is finally high as the show introduces a threat that cannot be handled just by three children. The episode ends with Percy being rescued by an act of mercy from his father, but if Poseidon hadn’t intervened, Percy would have died, and the monsters still have not been killed by the episode’s end.
Overall, episode three felt like a mixed bag of good changes and rushed pacing. While episode four started to improve the character dynamics of the main trio by finally allowing them to showcase their distinct personalities, it also effectively increased the threat of danger to keep me invested. Despite these strengths, the series continues to be hindered by shortened episode runtimes that consistently muddle the series’ pacing. The series is improving as it goes and rough spots are being ironed out, but at the halfway point of the season, I hope it isn’t too late. If episodes continue to shorten and the series continues to keep making changes that stray from the source material, it may hinder the phenomenal potential of its world and its main star.
I give “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” episodes 3 & 4 a combined score of 7.5/10
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is now streaming on Disney+
Ben Konuch is a junior Strategic Communication student and the A&E assistant editor for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and swing dancing in the rain.
Images courtesy of Disney