How Percy Jackson and the Olympians changes the books: Episode 5

A new god shows up and Annabeth finally gets it.

Adam Copeland as Ares in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Image: Disney+.
Adam Copeland as Ares in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Image: Disney+. /
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I know I said this about last week’s episode too, but I must repeat myself, and say it louder this time: this latest episode of Percy Jackson and the Olympians is the most different from the book so far, in a good way.

“A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers,” the fifth episode in the Disney+ series, follows the end of chapter 14 to the beginning of chapter 16 of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, with a few detours along the way.

In the first article in this series about the differences between the Percy Jackson books and the show, I mentioned a missing moment that chronologically should have been placed in Episode 1: Percy and Grover encounter the Fates early on, the day before Percy meets the Minotaur; the Fates stare Percy right in the eyes and they cut the thread they are working with. This scene finally happened in Episode 5; seeing the Fates makes Annabeth more nervous that they will lose Percy. I’m glad that this tiny (inconsequential but ominous and powerful) moment made it into the show, especially in this episode. The tension is much higher and Annabeth starts to realize she would actually mind if Percy were gone.

A missing moment from the book that didn’t make it onto the show: Annabeth, Grover and Percy perform an Iris Message (the Olympian equivalent of a video call) to talk to Chiron, but they reach Luke instead. Luke gives them bad news from Camp and makes Percy uneasy by first suggesting that Hades stole Zeus’s master bolt himself, and then hinting that somebody much closer to them might have done it.

A big difference in this episode comes after the trio encounters Ares, the god of war. He takes them to a diner, buys them cheeseburgers, and then sends them on a quest to claim his shield. In the books, all three of our lead characters go on this trip, but on the show, Grover stays behind with Ares. This was a great way to show a different side of Grover; he's cunning and able to manipulate the god of war into divulging information about the situation with Zeus' stolen lightning bolt. I was impressed by the impeccable acting in this scene: I know who is responsible for stealing Zeus’ master bolt from reading the book a dozen times, yet in the span of five minutes Aryan Simhadri -- who plays Grover -- had me believing half a dozen different stories… was it one of Zeus’s own children? Or worse, Annabeth? Or was it Grover himself, this 24-year-old master manipulator with the face of a twelve-year-old angel?

A million bonus points for whoever came up with the concept of Ares, mighty god of war, starting fights on Twitter, because that's pure genius.

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Timothy Omundson as Hephaestus in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Image: Disney+. /

Differences between the Percy Jackson books and Episode 5: Hephaestus and Annabeth

Percy and Annabeth track the shield to an abandoned theme park they reason was built by Hephaestus, the god of artisans and husband of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Things really get going when they venture into the tunnel of love. In the book, the tunnel of love is a trap Hephaestus built to catch Ares and Aphrodite having an affair and broadcasting their indiscretion for all Olympus to see. The throne he built as a trap for Hera that we saw in this episode isn’t in the book, and neither is Percy sacrificing himself for the sake of the quest.

In fact, in the novel, the shield Ares sent the demigods to retrieve is too easy to reach. As soon as Percy touches it, it triggers a net that traps Annabeth and Percy. And then an army of spiders shows up, triggering Annabeth’s arachnophobia. With her in a panic, it’s up to Percy to figure out a way to get out, so the son of Poseidon summons water to shoo the spiders away and the two escape to safely with Grover’s help.

In the show, the only way to get the shield is to sit in the cursed chair. Percy volunteers for the sake of the quest and, by extension, the fate of the world, since the longer the lightning thief remains unfound the better the chances the gods will go to war. Annabeth unwillingly lets him and regrets every second. In the end, the Olympian who built the trap -- Hephaestus -- is the only one who can undo the trap, and it just so happens that he sympathizes with Annabeth's mistreatment at the ends of his kin. He acknowledges Annabeth when even her own mother Athena won't.

Readers don’t meet Hephaestus until the fourth Percy Jackson book, The Battle of the Labyrinth. The show brings him in much earlier, played masterfully by Timothy Omundson, who bares the god’s dignified eternal pain. This episode reveals the truth that can bring Olympus to its knees, and Hephaestus gets it. He’s a victim of it too. It’s poetic that he would be the first god to acknowledge Annabeth, to finally pay her a compliment she’s longed for her entire life. Hephaestus is a mirror for Annabeth, another victim of their family.

The TV show is doing a great job at showing rather than just telling us about Annabeth's motivations and unpacking everything she’s ever believed about the gods. In Episode 3, Annabeth had full faith in the Oympians. Last episode, Athena let the mother of monsters inside her temple, risking her daughter’s life as payback for Annabeth embarrassing her. Still, Annabeth believed in her mother without fail, and it’s only through knowing Percy -- a demigod who doesn't play any of the messed up games the other Olympians play -- that she’s realizing how misplaced her belief is.

The turning point for Annabeth is when she retracts her previous statement that Sally Jackson shouldn’t have sent Percy in the world of Olympians and demigods unprepared; now she realizes that Sally made Percy a hero simply by raising him right, teaching him love and compassion and empathy, so he would one day question the cycle of systemic violence in which the Olympians are caught. Annabeth sees it all: “She did prepare you, so that when you came to us you wouldn’t be like this." Her epiphany is later echoed by her foil, Hephaestus, "Some of us don't like being that way either."

There is now a crack in Annabeth’s life: the collective that she has wanted to belong to for as long as she can remember is something she doesn’t want to be a part of anymore.

In the book, all this is barely hinted at. We see little of Annabeth’s internal turmoil, other than how loyal she’s becoming to Percy. I am infinitely grateful to the tv series for giving us all this, for digging deep. This also means that the dynamics between the two of them might be progressing faster than in the books, but it makes sense considering that Percy keeps on dramatically sacrificing himself for others. The trust built between them feels more solid; these two 12-year-olds are quickly heading for the biggest crush any two 12-year-olds have ever had. 

Episode Grade: A

PS: The line Hephaestus says to Annabeth -- “You’re a good kid, Annabeth” -- has got to be a nod to The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical; “Good Kid”  is Percy’s song as he begs to be seen for what he is.

In her own song in the musical, “My Grand Plan,” Annabeth sings about wanting to be remembered. In this episode, all she needed was to be reassured that she, too, is a good kid. 

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