Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a rollicking fantasy adventure, complete with frightening monsters, high-stakes battles, and gods pulled straight from Greek mythology. So it may come as a surprise that one of the show’s best — and most talked-about — scenes is a quiet discussion between two parents.
Of course, these aren’t normal parents. One is the Greek god Poseidon (Toby Stephens). The other is mortal Sally Jackson (Virginia Kull), who has spent the last 12 years preparing her son Percy (Walker Scobell) for his heroic destiny — and protecting him from the world of the Olympians.
Like many stories from ancient legends, Sally and Poseidon’s relationship is a tragic romance. Separated by circumstances of literally mythic proportion, unable to raise Percy together because Olympian law dictates that Poseidon shouldn’t even have a child, their story has no clear solution. Sally carries the burden of the truth about Percy’s parentage, while Poseidon is unable to help without endangering both his son and the woman he loves. It’s a tough dynamic to understand solely through Percy’s eyes, but in episode 7, “We Find Out the Truth, Sort Of,” Percy Jackson and the Olympians offers us a bigger window into Sally and Poseidon’s connection, in all its painful messiness and surprising beauty.
“We Find Out the Truth, Sort Of” marks our first introduction to Poseidon and what his relationship with Sally really looks like. Because of this, our first glimpse of Poseidon in the flesh is not some bombastic display of godly power, but of a man and a woman simply talking in a diner about the difficulties Sally faces in raising Percy alone.
“It was a really clever way to introduce their relationship and introduce Poseidon, because it makes them very human,” Stephens said of the scene in a video call with Mashable. “It’s a domestic scene between a mother and father, and at the heart of it there’s this pain. It’s a yearning between two people to be connected who can’t be, but Poseidon is also yearning to be connected with his son but can’t because he’s protecting him.”
The diner scene was the first scene Stephens shot for the series, yet the chemistry and history between Poseidon and Sally were already well within reach for the actors. “I really liked working with Virginia, and she’s a really great actress,” said Stephens. “We found that very quickly. The scene just had a very intimate feel.”
Percy Jackson and the Olympians began creating that sense of intimacy between Sally and Poseidon right from the very first episode, with a scene that sees Sally sitting on her fire escape, taking in the rain.
Kull was incredibly excited to see the fire escape scene when she first read the script. “In television, you typically don’t have time for things like quiet, ordinary moments. And this seems like a humdrum moment, but I think it tells such a huge story,” Kull said. “It’s not just Sally sitting in the rain on the fire escape — she’s sitting in the rain communing with the great love of her life and the father of her kid, and this is the way that she feels close to him.”
The diner sequence feels like a natural progression from that fire escape moment. Sally and Poseidon are connecting in both, but there’s still a distance between them. On the fire escape, Poseidon isn’t actually present. But even when he’s next to Sally in the diner, there’s a tragic divide between them. They’re close, but still far apart.
Director Anders Engström achieved this paradoxical nearness by telling Kull and Stephens to play the whole scene without ever looking at each other. For Kull, that became a key to unlocking the power of the diner scene.
“What that did to us as actors was that all of the feelings of, ‘I need to see how this is affecting the person that I’m speaking to, I want to know what he thinks about what I’m saying,’ we couldn’t act on,” Kull explained. “Therefore, the desire to be heard, to be understood, and to connect was so heightened and so charged, it was electric. It meant that any bad impulse to ‘perform’ went away, and I was just desperately listening to and clinging to what he was saying. Even the silences were powerful.”
In these silences, where Sally and Poseidon sit shoulder-to-shoulder yet never look at one another, Percy Jackson and the Olympians builds an entire world of a relationship that, up to this point, we haven’t fully understood.
“Because Poseidon has been absent for the whole show, the audience is going, ‘What a jerk, this guy is this absentee father.’ And then when you meet him, you go, ‘Right, I get it. It’s much more complicated, and actually he really does care,'” Stephens said. “This scene is not in the book, but I think it’s needed in the TV version, because it gives you much more context.”
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is now streaming on Disney+.