If you’re ever unlucky enough to find yourself chained up in a cyclops’ cave, you’ll be happy you watched the first episode of Syfy’s Olympus. The opening few moments of the mythological adventure series introduce us to an unnamed hero (Tom York) caught up in just such a predicament, his feet bound in stocks just a stone’s throw from a gigantic monster who’s busy sharpening his curved blade. Hero, as our mysterious protagonist is referred to, attempts to reason with the cyclops, revealing that he’s there on behalf of the monster’s mother Gaia in order to find her missing oracle. When reason fails to aid his escape, Hero resorts to bloody violence, a pattern that’s repeated throughout the hour.
Olympus clearly uses Greek mythology as its muse but doesn’t shy away from forging its own narrative path. (One great example of this is the design of the cyclops himself, whose solitary eye actually resides within its gaping tooth-filled maw. Unfortunately it looks like this monster also ate up the entire visual effects budget.) Hero’s anonymity allows him the freedom to channel any or all of the mythological heroes, retracing their adventures in his own way (even if his escape from the cyclops isn’t nearly as clever as that of his Odyssean inspiration). So what is this Hero’s particular journey all about? Well, like he told the cyclops, he’s looking for a missing Oracle (Sonya Cassidy), but bringing her home proves more difficult than he imagined.
One of the show’s strengths in the early goings is its female characters. Oracle – another unnamed character referred to by her station – is clever, resourceful, and beautiful; the former qualities allow her the ability to read people and talk her way out of trouble, but the for latter trait captured the attention of the temple priests who had imprisoned her. It’s tough being a beautiful woman in ancient Greece, tougher still when you have divine visions that the poor and powerful alike seek to use for their own gain. So while Oracle uses all of her Gods-given talents to earn her freedom, she’s still pulled from one end of the Peloponnese to the other against her will.
Perhaps the strongest character in Olympus is that of Medea (Sonita Henry), wife of King Aegeus and Queen of Athens. Not only does she have her husband (and his army) wrapped around her little finger, she also holds sway over their son Lycos, who is destined to inherit the throne … if he can manage to decipher the cryptic Lexicon, that is. Medea uses her own powers as a sorceress to aid in the Athenians’ battle against King Minos’ siege, and to force her son’s precognitive abilities to the surface. And while his visions are amateur at best, Medea’s ambitious machinations are almost on par with Cersei Lannister herself. But what does all of this have to do with our hero?
It turns out that both parties are questing after the Lexicon, an artifact that will lead mortals to the steps of Mount Olympus and allow them to enter the realm of the Gods. Medea seeks its power to enhance her own control over Athens, while Hero is just beginning to learn about his place in this world, and his connection to the Gods. Ten bucks says Oracle can help clear all this up in time.
Olympus is most definitely a Syfy production, and I say that as a sometimes fan, sometimes critic of their series. The network’s offerings are hit-or-miss, and Olympus feels like it’s going to fall on the miss side. However, if you are looking for a budget version of Game of Thrones, need your mythological adventure series fix, or just really miss Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, you can do worse than Olympus.
Rating: ★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated
Olympus premieres on April 2nd at 10/9c on Syfy.