How Percy Jackson and the Olympians changes the books: Episode 7

My least favorite episode of the season still managed to make me cry with a surprise addition.

The seventh and penultimate episode of the first season of Percy Jackson and the Olympians is now on Disney+, and what a rollercoaster it is.

Differences between Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the books: Episode 7, "We Find Out The Truth, Sort Of"

“We Find Out The Truth, Sort Of” follows chapters 17-19 of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. The show makes various small changes and a couple of significant ones. Let’s start with the minor changes. In the book, by the time Percy, Annabeth and Grover make it to Los Angeles, Percy is a wanted criminal, with his photo being shown on the news in every state. People start recognizing him; our main trio often have to hide from cops. As they run from the police during their search for the entry to Underworld, the trio is attacked by mean kids. To escape, they tuck into Crusty’s Waterbed Palace, not knowing who or what awaits them. The salesman, Crusty, tries to kill Grover and Annabeth by stretching them before Percy outsmarts him at his own game.

In the show, Crusty's sequence is shortened; Percy and Annabeth go into the Waterbed Palace with a plan, fully aware of who they will encounter and what he’ll try to do, because the entrance to the Underworld is in the back of his shop. In the book, the entrance is a block away, and Crusty just takes commissions for every soul he sends to Hades rather than being a guardian of sorts.

Therefore, we don’t get to see the lobby of the record company, and we meet Charon — the mythical boatman who ferries people across the River Styx to the underworld — in a different way. In order to gain passage to the underworld in the book, the trio pretend to be dead, citing a horrible bathtub incident. When Charon figures out they’re living demigods on a quest, he denies them passage, but they bribe him with golden drachmas and Percy promises to ask Hades to give Charon a pay raise — which he actually follows up on, twice!

Through Percy’s narration in the book, readers get a glimpse of all parts of the Underworld: the fields of Asphodel, the fields of punishment and Elysium, with the Isles of the Blessed. As on the show, Annabeth distracts Cerberus with a plastic ball, but it’s comedic and not at all dramatic like on the TV series. Grover is not taken, and he doesn’t lose his pearl when the three-headed dog nearly eats him.

On the show, the trio's trip into the Underworld needed more tension, so we have Grover losing his pearl, which is his ticket to leave the realm of the dead. In last week’s article, I mentioned that Episode 7 would need to make a pearl disappear, since Percy only receives three in the book but gets four on the show. This led to an action sequence with a cool monster, increased the length of the episode, and provided drama and conflict. Our heroes now know they cannot finish both sides of their quest: if they manage to save the world, they have to leave Percy’s mom behind, or one of them will have to give up their pearl and stay in Hades.

In this episode, Annabeth is held back by regret in the gloomy fields of Asphodel. In order to avoid having to stay there permanently, she has to use her pearl and be transported to safety in the mortal world. In the novel, nothing of this sort happens; Annabeth stays with Percy and Grover the whole time. She’s there when the flying shoes pull Grover towards Tartarus, which is described as a huge chasm in a dark cavern, rather than an open desert. Since — for once — Annabeth's absence doesn't make a big difference plot-wise, I have to believe the show added this new plotline to intensify the drama, just like with Cerberus.

Jay Duplass as Hades in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Image: Disney+. /

In the book, like in a classic comedy of errors, our heroes only find out about Zeus’ master bolt being in Percy’s backpack once they get to Hades’ hall, before the lord of the Underworld, as they accuse him of stealing the magic object. When Percy, Annabeth and Grover vow to find Hades’s helm of darkness and use their remaining pearls to go aboveground, they resurface in the sea near Los Angeles. The three teenagers are rescued by the coast guard, which takes them to shore. The whole city of LA is in visible panic, as Hades caused an earthquake during a heated moment in his conversation with his nephew. On TV, instead of surfacing in LA, the land on a beach in Montauk, on the opposite side of the country in New York.

War is looming, and it's up to Percy to stop it, even if he’ll never reach Mount Olympus in time to return the bolt to Zeus. But first, Ares, god of war, is ready to fight. 

At first, I wasn’t sure we needed to see flashbacks from Percy’s childhood. The audience has no trouble believing that Sally Jackson is a wonderful mother, and that she loved Percy more than anything else. None of this is in the books. But the last flashback really got me. I felt Sally’s frustration and the enormity of her worry; her determination to raise Percy to change the world: "I want him to know who he is, before your family tries to tell him who they want him to be. He is better than that. He has better things in him than that."

The talented Toby Stephens finally appears as Poseidon, not as an almighty god, but a man who is powerless to help those he loves. I appreciated the choice of introducing him this way; it definitely subverted expectations and made us privy to his own dilemma. He has a line he will not cross. For now. 

Despite this last emotional addition, this episode might be my least favorite of the season so far, but that’s simply because everything that happens is just there to delay the inevitable. I didn’t have a problem with anything specifically, and Hades was amazing. But having seen the finale, it’s clear that they could not have merged these two episodes together. So to have a perfectly balanced finale, we get a less-than-perfect episode preceding it. I can live with this choice.

Episode Grade: B+

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