‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ faceplants but gets back up fighting in its final two episodes

By Ben Konuch

“I warned you, if you’re not careful, you’ll find out who I am.”

“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is officially over. Or at least, the first season of hopefully many seasons finished airing on Disney+. While its penultimate episode was the season’s worst at building tension and establishing the on-screen presence and impact of the gods, the season finale was the best episode of the entire series. With foreboding gods who feel powerful and intense, exciting fight scenes with well-crafted choreography and intense betrayals and plot twists, the season finale gave Percy the story that he deserved since the beginning.

The opening scene of episode 7 perfectly illustrates my frustration with the series. It adapts a seldom-remembered scene from “The Lightning Thief” where Percy & Co. accidentally discover Procrustes, a monster who was a son of Poseidon and lured victims into laying down on his beds, only to restrain them and cut off whatever didn’t fit. In the novel, Annabeth and Grover fall for his trap and Percy’s quick thinking and subtle manipulation frees his friends from danger. Yet in the series’ portrayal of events, Percy and his friends already know exactly who and what Procrustes is from before they even enter his Waterbed Palace. What ensues is an anti-climactic, one-dimensional encounter with a monster who’s regulated to just another minor speed bump and defeated before we even understand who he is or what he’s attempting to do. Tension? Nonexistent. World building? Rushed.

In fact, in what should be one of the most tense and scary episodes of the entire series as Percy, Annabeth and Grover descend into the Underworld, just feels so unbelievably empty. The visual design of the sets and the aesthetics of the Underworld itself is well done and unexpected in an exciting way, but it feels so empty and without life (or death). Worse still, it lacks danger. When our characters are  pursued (sort of) by Cerberus only to escape without a scratch, a friend of mine I was watching the episode with turned to us and said, “Man, this show really doesn’t know how to build any tension, does it?” And I couldn’t have agreed more.

The Underworld feels a little bit… dead

I’m tired of hearing some fans give the excuse that this danger problem is because “the series is a show for kids” when I grew up watching children’s movies and shows that had a real, tangible sense of danger. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” or even “How to Train Your Dragon” balanced making sure children weren’t afraid while still showing a genuine sense of peril for the characters on screen, which “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” cannot nail down. There are brief moments in this episode where I thought the showrunners finally cracked the code, such as the surprisingly intense moment where Grover starts to get pulled down into Tartarus or the foreboding and menacing design of Hades’ Palace – which was far from anything I imagined reading the book as a child in the best possible way – only to immediately get thrown out the second Hades himself arrives without any intensity or screen presence. It’s not “subverting expectations” anymore, it’s just bad filmmaking.

That’s why I was so surprised when I started the season finale and found myself completely captivated. In one episode, so many of my criticisms were completely fixed. Adam Copeland’s portrayal of Ares in his villainous return was dripping with menace and intimidation, finally showing a god that feels actually powerful. Percy does best him in a fight, but the episode shows how clever thinking paired with his natural advantages such as agility and speed can overcome a bigger, tougher threat without ever diminishing the sense of danger from Ares. They don’t have to make the myth smaller to make Percy’s victory bigger, which is something that “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” has done since its first episodes with the Furies, with Medusa and even with the Lotus Hotel.

But in the finale, everything is as big and as dangerous as it can be. Mount Olympus is gorgeous as a frantic Percy arrives to deliver the master bolt to Zeus, portrayed by Lance Reddick with a captivating and commanding presence. When Zeus speaks, Reddick pours every fiber of kingly regality and tyrannical power into each syllable, once again showing the power and force of the gods that was missing up until now. Percy’s confrontation and the danger from Zeus creates all the more impact when Poseidon finally meets his son, and the moment of confrontation and tension between gods contains all the reverence and electrifying potential that it should, mixed with the awe and cautious excitement of a child meeting his father for the first time.

The series concludes with a fantastic, narratively satisfying implementation of the twist that shocked middle schoolers everywhere. The way the real lightning thief is revealed and confronted is a tense, emotionally charged fight that conveys a real, tangible danger to Percy physically, but most importantly, thematically. The way the season ends forces Percy and the audience alike to grapple with the question that the series has asked since its start: are the gods worthy, and which side of the coming war should the demigods be on?

Overall, the excitement for “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” leading up to its release was monumental, but for me, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. There’s a lot the series gets right in its worldbuilding and character focus, but filmmaking issues such as uneven pacing and a minimal sense of danger keep the series from fully feeling like the adventure millions of fans fell in love with on the page. It’s nowhere near reaching the peaks of Mount Olympus, but season 1 of “Percy Jackson” at least laid the groundwork for future seasons that can take the series’ strengths and improve on what didn’t quite work. Percy Jackson never gets knocked down when he can’t get back up, and I hope the upcoming season two covering “Sea of Monsters” comes back stronger than ever.

I give “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” an overall season rating of 6.5/10

All episodes of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” are now streaming on Disney+

Ben Konuch is a junior Strategic Communication student and one of the A&E editors for Cedars as well as the social media lead. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and swing dancing in the rain.

Images courtesy of Disney

1 Reply to "'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' faceplants but gets back up fighting in its final two episodes"

  • comment-avatar
    Janie February 12, 2024 (8:17 pm)

    you know my thoughts

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