Why I Love Meg (Disney's 'Hercules' Franchise)
She's proof that no matter how many times life cheats you, you can still choose to be a good person who believes in the power of love.
Disney's Hercules somehow manages to have so many good bits in a wholly convoluted film. What I felt like was supposed to be a sort of follow up to Aladdin ended up being a battle between mismatched motifs, unresolved plot threads, and a few legitimately good characters wallowing in their unrealized potential.
But I'm not going to talk about that here. Video essayist Lindsay Ellis has talked about the film extensively on her YouTube channel, and has done an exceptional job arguing why its narrative and artistic choices don't work in the story it's struggling to tell, to the point where I feel I wouldn't be able to add anything new to the conversation.
Instead, I want to detail my appreciation for the film's heroine, Megara, though I'll refer to her as Meg throughout the rest of this article, because that's what she'd want her friends to call her if she had any. I want to be her friend myself, so I could definitely use the brownie points.
Despite her initial debut as Hades' informer, we quickly realize that Meg doesn't seem as though she genuinely enjoys ruining people's lives like her peers do. It's no surprise either, because we learn she's contractually bound to Hades until she earns her freedom back by charming into submission whoever is currently getting on Hades' nerves—namely, Hercules.
You see, Meg once believed in virtue, and all was right in the world when she had a seemingly loyal boyfriend. However, tragedy befell their love when he was faced with death for unknown reasons, and as Hades explains, she instantly agreed with the lord of the underworld to exchange his life for hers so that he may happily continue living to the fullest, even though she can no longer do the same.
Nonetheless, I suspect that nothing would've brought her more joy than to see someone she deeply cared for making something of themselves while staying true to their character and paying her their sincerest of gratitudes for the rest of their days.
Except that didn't happen, because he had no character in the first place, aside from the fact we never meet him on screen.
He couldn't at least take the time to mourn her ultimate sacrifice before naturally being open to love again over time. No, he couldn't wait to find a girl—any girl at all—to take her place. It wasn't Meg he cared for, and the fact he was brought back to life because of her completely selfless decision evidently didn't cross his mind when he blindly chased after the next toga he saw.
Meg, meanwhile, didn't ask for anything in return. Can we honestly blame her for not exactly being super simpático with the idea of trusting others again right away?
We all want to feel validated and like our needs matter too. There's no doubt that with her smart humour and honest observations Meg would have found worthwhile friends—she'd probably even entertain a crowd as a sardonic, sesquipedalian street comedian—but she chooses to close herself off to anyone that's not an underworld urchin. I'd say this is partly out of obligation, and partly out of skepticism toward others (and a part of it could also be her desire to not burden anyone with her flaws, judging by her wistful interaction with Herc at the garden).
She's from Thebes, and we can seen how quickly the town folks' cynicism turns into delight the second anyone does a good deed despite their openly questionable intentions. She'd prefer to keep her critical faculties intact, maintain her no-nonsense authority, and seriously assess the situation. Yes, Herc is being baited into saving Pain and Panic disguised as innocent children from the hungry Hydra, but he doesn't know that, and still sees it as a means to gain fans. At this point in the movie, she has every right to call him out on his supposed wholesome and altruistic branding tactic, which Ellis had also mentioned in her video. How do they know he will be reliable every time?
She feels that vibe upon meeting him for the first time. When Herc sees a woman who he feels needs rescuing, he really just sees an opportunity for a practice run to show off his "skillful" bravery and build a reputation among new fans. She surely would've found a way to seduce Nessus into "taking it slow" in time for Hades to take up all his attention after his recruitment; it's not Herc trying to help her that bothers her, it's that he think it's his duty to take control over something that was her business because she apparently isn't doing a good job doing that herself when it wasn't the idea in the first place.
Still, she amusedly goes along with it, and finds herself mildly intrigued by him after their first real conversation. Herc is interesting when it comes to his multipurpose honesty: it makes him vulnerable to feeling things, yet detached from how he should be viewing the world. Kind of like her.
Though neither of them realize it yet, Herc and Meg are two sides of the same coin. Sure, they perceive others differently at first, and have their own approaches to seeking validation. But at the core of it all, they want to be loved and accepted for who they are and not how they can benefit someone else's agenda.
That's why the garden scene and Meg's betrayal are so heartbreaking. If she'd brought herself to trust Herc enough beforehand, she could've outright told him about Hades' plan—as well as her backstory—and could have expected an understanding, protective response from him. Never mind her sacrifice for him; she's already forfeiting her second chance at happiness here, because not only is she scared to just be wrong for once, she doesn't want Herc to fall for a lie, even though her love isn't.
However, just because Hades eventually blows her cover doesn't mean Meg's giving up on Herc. Despite her protests, he does for her what she did for her ex at the cost of his powers—he's the real deal. She doesn't even expect him to love her anymore, let alone want to be with her; when Hades eliminates his godly strength from the equation in exchange for her safety, all she wants is to stop him from getting himself killed by a purging Cyclops. He no longer cares for his status or condition, but she knows who he truly is, and that's what the people need.
Releasing Pegasus from his ropes, she's willing to overcome her fear of heights to find Phil and convince him to support Herc in his time of need. Herc's bravery does become skillful when he defeats Cyclops in a battle of wits, but his collapse causes a pillar to almost fall on Herc, and Meg is prepared to die for the second time without a second thought.
This isn't about her, and she knows it.
Taking responsibility for your actions isn't always easy, and more often than not it's a test of your perseverance. Just like how Herc learns to bring about justice for its own sake, Meg learns that regardless of how successful her love life is, it shouldn't lead to generalizations of character. She must be open to dialogue, patient with every individual, and avoid personal interpretations, so that she could try to see things for what they are or understand the other person's position.
In an age where social media encourages one to be passive-aggressive and non-confrontational, adopting these habits for improving relationships is a constant, relatable struggle that I wish was addressed further in the film. In fact, I generally would've wanted it to focus more on the dynamic between Herc and Meg, seeing as the narrative feels more like a representation of their conflict than anything else.
Everyone can do their part in being a hero sans the necessity to drink it from a Herculade cup. For Meg to be the person she always was she had to stop thinking about how her doubts were hurting her and instead think about how gratifying it feels to consider other people's well being. Herc couldn't have saved the day without her, and although cheering him on from the sidelines would've been enough for her bittersweet heart, he reaffirms his opinion of her long before he brings her back from the dead and decides to leave behind his one shot at godhood—what he actually wanted this whole time, though arguably fueled by Zeus—to live out his mortality as her husband.
You don't do that for just anybody. Meg knows this better than anyone.
We oftentimes find we have to prove ourselves to each other due to lukewarm experiences, but the challenges with compromise, self-reflection, and figuring out where we belong make future relationships all the more satisfying. That's why I love how the ending is just as much about Meg's reward as it is Herc's. After everything they'd been through, and the growing up they had to do, they deserve to love each other in peace.
Meg deserves my love too, I'd say. The very notion flirts with our naïvety and entices us to do the unthinkable, but if all we do is listen to our pessimism, we wouldn't change anything in our lives. Or marry dashing demigods, I suppose.