How Percy Jackson and the Olympians changes the books: Episode 6

Hermes isn't really supposed to show up, but who doesn't want more Lin-Manuel Miranda on their screen?
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hermes in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Image: Disney+.
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hermes in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Image: Disney+. /

The sixth episode of Percy Jackson and the Olympians is out on Disney+, and it’s hard to believe that we’re already closer to the end than the beginning of the first season. 

“We Take a Zebra to Vegas” takes many liberties with the plot while staying true to the spirit of the book. The episode follows chapters 16-17 of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

Differences between Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the books: Episode 6, "We Take a Zebra to Vegas"

In last week’s article, I mentioned a moment from the book that was missing, and I’m glad it made it into this episode instead: Annabeth and Percy try to Iris-Message Chiron back at Camp Half-Blood but reach Luke instead. On the show, the trio now believes that Clarisse LaRue, Ares’ favorite daughter and bully supreme, might be the lightning thief, and Luke seems to accept this notion. In the book, the call goes a bit differently. When Annabeth needs to step away, Luke says some things that seem to point to Annabeth being the lightning thief. This disturbs Percy, who is finally letting himself trust the daughter of Athena, despite the rivalry between their godly parents. 

Once in Vegas, our heroes free the trafficked animals they were stowing with and enter the Lotus Casino. In the episode, they puzzle out the nature of the casino by referencing The Odyssey: it's called the Lotus Casino because if you eat any of the food, you forget your past, just as how eating lotus flowers made characters forget things in The Odyssey. So on the show, they know the place is a trap, avoid eating anything, but still forget their memories because lotus dust is being pumped into the air. In the book, the teenagers pay less attention; they get a hotel room, use the amenities, start playing games… and end up staying for five days. I have to admit that I found the book version more convincing.

Something that we don’t see in the book is Grover running into a fellow satyr, a family friend named Augustus who has lost his memories in the casino. Grover brings up his uncle Ferdinand and his failed quest, the one he mentioned back in Episode 3. Augustus uses this as an in to lure Grover deeper into the casino. The look of unabashed hope on Grover’s face preludes a long stay at the Lotus.

As they look for Hermes, Annabeth mentions Luke’s mom, a mortal seer whose visions must have driven her insane. In the books, we don’t hear about Luke's mom May Castellan until the fifth novel, The Last Olympian, when we also learn that since she had the gift of prophecy, she tried to become the new host of the Oracle of Delphi, but because of a curse, the passage went horribly wrong and May lost her mind. Luke hates Hermes in part because he believes his father responsible for what happened to his mother. 

The biggest difference between the book and the show in this episode involves the gang looking for and meeting Hermes, who doesn't show up at all in The Lightning Thief. Lin-Manuel Miranda dazzles as the playful god who turns serious and pensive the minute Luke is mentioned. Turns out Hermes cares about his son a great deal, unlike some other gods and their children. The last time he tried to help, he and Luke had a falling out, so Hermes believes he is fated to make things worse. Therefore, the god claims he can’t intervene, despite how much he says he wants to. In fact, he does help Luke’s friends: he lets Annabeth take his car keys.

I want to dedicate one moment to the perfection of this interaction. Though not yet mentioned, Annabeth’s fatal flaw in the books is her hubris, her pride, believing that she can be better than everyone else. This episode, she convinced herself she had pickpocketed the god of thieves without him noticing. A+ for showing us her flaw in such a fun way.

Hermes’ car being a cab is a nice nod to the book; at this point in the novel, when the trio realizes they’re running out of time, they hail a cab in Vegas and pay with their unlimited Lotus Casino credit to take them all the way to Los Angeles. On the show, Percy attempts driving (very badly) and once out of the Lotus parking lot, the car transports them to their destination of choice: Santa Monica, where Percy thinks he’ll meet his dad. In the book, he’s not sure what awaits him there, but once on the pier he dives into the ocean.

In both versions of the story, a Nereid meets Percy at the bottom of the sea. In the book, she says that Poseidon is forbidden to help Percy directly, while in the episode she tells Percy that Poseidon wanted to meet him and waited as long as he could before going to rally his troops. He left a message for Percy, telling him the war isn’t his fault and that he is proud of his son, and releases him from his quest. But Percy has no intention to go back to Camp, he is determined to see this through.

The last difference, which will prove to be major in the next episodes, is that the Nereid gives Percy four pearls to escape the Underworld. He only gets three in the book. We’ll see how that plays out. 

Episode Grade: A-

Next. Percy Jackson. How Percy Jackson and the Olympians changes the books: Episode 5. dark

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