Netflix’s latest animated show, Blood of Zeus, brings the Greek pantheon back to its dysfunctional family roots. Zeus is an awful husband and a cheater. Hera is scorned, jealous wife who wants to murder her husband’s lovechild. The familial twist is an aspect of Greek mythology we don’t really see that much in film or TV adaptations, and makes the show special. Then the creators throw it away in the last scene of the season.
Blood of Zeus ends with a reveal that the big battle between gods and giants was seemingly orchestrated not by Hera, but by a cunning Hades. The last scene sees Hades greeting the season’s villain, Seraphim, in the Underworld and revealing that it is Hades’ bident that Seraphim has been using all season to kill people and liberate the giants.
The twist falls prey to a common trope in films, TV shows and even games based on Greek mythology. From trying to kill newborn Hercules, and unleashing the Titans on Zeus in Disney’s Hercules, to betraying the god in order to overthrow him in both the Clash of the Titans movies and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Hades is usually portrayed as an evil and jealous god who wants to take his brother’s throne. To do that is to give a shallow read to the mythos, and a desire to turn Hades and Zeus into analogues for Satan and God. Take the Hercules animated movie, where the evil Hades is a decrepit man with blue-grey skin, yellow eyes and sharp teeth, contrasting with Zeus’ blue eyes, stocky muscular body that’s constantly surrounded by a bright, golden aura.
The Hades of the Greek pantheon is messier and more nuanced. By most accounts, including Homer’s Iliad, Hades is not evil, but a stern and passive god that sticks to his job and doesn’t mind other people’s business — probably because he simply doesn’t have time for it due to the constant flow of new souls. In the original Hercules myth, the hero descends to the Underworld to ask Hades for permission to bring his dog, Cerberus, to the surface. Instead of imprisoning him, or trying to kill him as a newborn, Hades agrees as long as Heracles doesn’t harm his beloved dog. Indeed, the best portrayals of Hades adhere to his cold, detached persona, a god that doesn’t care about anything but following the rules and maintaining balance. The recent videogame Hades does its titular god justice by portraying him like he’s Logan Roy from Succession, more focused on his vast empire than caring for his son.
Blood of Zeus complicates the portrayal of Zeus and Hera in tribute to the myths, showing them not as infallible deities, but as superpowered yet flawed beings that cheat and make mistakes. Why, then, did the show not do the same with Hades? Maybe they’ll surprise us when the inevitable season 2 arrives in the future, but if it doesn’t, then it will taint the legwork done by this first season. Having Hades as the evil mastermind makes the show just another interpretation of the Greek myths that treats one god as the force of good and another as the force of pure evil, taking away the nuance and dimensions of the characters in favor of black and white morality.
In an interview with Inverse, showrunner Charley Parlapanides teased that Hades will have a bigger role in season 2, saying “it’s very much a story of Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon. The three brothers,” and that it will focus on “when the brothers divided the three realms of the world.” Now, it’s one thing to show Hades as being resentful over getting the short end of the stick with his realm, as that’s a big part of the mythology, and having Hades and Poseidon react to the new power vacuum resulting from Zeus’ death is certainly interesting. However, if this is all a ruse by Hades to usurp the throne when he already has a bigger domain than any other god, then Blood of Zeus will lose what made it special in the first place.