Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ premiere, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher,” begins our journey with Percy as he explains that he’s always seen what others swear isn’t there. At the age of seven, he saw a Pegasus atop a building and was hurriedly rushed off the school rooftop to the counselor’s office where he was assured he wasn’t alone. Not because others have seen what he does but because there are children that have an active imagination like his own. However, he was also directed to tell someone if he continues seeing imaginary things, the implication being that Percy could be hallucinating which could mean he has serious mental health issues that need to be addressed.
Fast forward five years, Percy is 12 years old and used to being bullied but at least now he has Grover, the one student at Yancy Academy who understands him. Grover, like him, isn’t treated well by their peers. Lunch time, while playing with cards depicting mythological creatures, can mean a backpack to the face as everyone else in the cafeteria laughs at the moment meant to be humiliating.
What Percy doesn’t know until a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is that he hasn’t been seeing the impossible. His eyes are fine, he’s simply peering past the veil or “the mist” as Grover calls it later in the episode. It all starts when Percy and the rest of his classmates are directed by Mr. Brunner to choose a piece of art in the Greek wing that speaks to them. They’re supposed to fill out their worksheet and describe how the art makes them feel.
Percy stops in front of a statue of Perseus holding the severed head of a gorgon. Looking at it transports him back to a memory of him and his mother, Sally Jackson, standing before that very statue as she explains two very important things to him that are certain to come back in the plot of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The first is that not everyone who looks like a hero is a hero and not everyone who looks like a monster is a monster. It’s a lesson about character and letting a person’s actions define who they are and not their appearance.
Sally goes on to tell Percy that she didn’t name him after Perseus because the demigod was a hero but rather because of the bond he shared with his mother. When he was only a child, Perseus and his mother, Danaë, were thrown into a wooden chest and thrust out to sea by an angry king. At night, Danaë would whisper, “Hold fast, Perseus, brave the storm that was made to break us for we are unbreakable as long as we have each other.”
Though Sally doesn’t mention this, it’s clear that the story gave her hope for herself and her own Perseus. She also bestowed the demigod’s name on him because in spite of everything he managed to have a happy ending. In essence, Percy’s name is a blessing as well as a prayer, it’s Sally’s wish for him: strength, perseverance, survival, and ultimately happiness. But, as we are only at the beginning of Percy’s story, first must come adversity.
When Percy’s mind returns to the present, he’s instantly mocked by his bully Nancy Bobofit. One teacher, Ms. Dodd, doesn’t come to his defense. In fact, she blames him for the interaction. Mr. Brunner intercedes and comes over to Percy in his wheelchair. He hands Percy a pen to fill out his worksheet with since he broke his pencil and tells him that it’s a mighty weapon. In any other context the well used proverb “the pen is mightier than the sword” would be apt but in this case, the pen is the sword!
While they’re having lunch by the fountains, Percy tells Grover that he’s tired of letting Nancy’s behavior slide. He understands she has issues, but it doesn’t give her the right to harass either of them. Grover tries to dissuade him, pointing out that it could make things worse, but when Nancy once again demeans his friend, Percy leaps up to take action. What happens next surprises her, him, and everyone around them.
Somehow, Nancy winds up in a fountain with the merest shove of Percy’s hands in front of himself. They didn’t even touch her but she went flying into the water. Shocked, Nancy begins to holler that Percy pushed her but at this point he has bigger fish to fry. Ms. Dodd is making her way through the crowd and what was once his unfair, mean spirited teacher turns into a creature that stalks him like prey. No one else seems to notice.
Scrambling backward, Percy fumbles for something to defend himself with and finds the pen Mr. Brunner gave him transformed into a sword. When he shoves it through her chest, she crumbles like dust before his eyes. Befuddled and bewildered, Percy asks after his teacher when he comes to surrounded by his classmates. Mr. Brunner tells him there is no one by the name of Ms. Dodd.
Back at school, Percy and Grover are brought before the principal. He wants to know how Nancy ended up in the fountain and clearly doesn’t believe Percy’s story that he never touched her. When Grover is asked he flips on Percy, telling the principal that he did see his friend push the bully. This leads to Percy’s expulsion from Yancy Academy but before he leaves for home, he does have a conversation with Mr. Brunner who says that he does believe him. Or rather he believes that Percy thinks that he didn’t touch Nancy, which isn’t at all what Percy wanted to hear.
At home, Percy comes face to face with his layabout stepfather, Gabe, who is vegging in front of the TV and, as Percy puts it, losing badly at online poker. The scene is meant to be comedic but we do learn some things from it. Gabe has no sense of boundaries as he answered Sally’s phone, he wants to see himself as the disciplinarian parent figure but he really isn’t, he seemed impressed by Percy being expelled for “attacking a classmate,” and Percy doesn’t care for him.
Wandering further into the apartment, Percy finds his mom on the fire escape sitting in the rain. She turns when she hears him calling her and immediately pulls him into a hug, which surprises her son. It’s obvious Sally isn’t bothered by his expulsion, she believes him when he says he didn’t attack Nancy and she’s aware he feels betrayed by Grover.
Sally gifts Percy with a bag full of his favorite candies. She also tells him they’re headed to Montauk. His mom commandeers Gabe’s car for the trip promising him she’ll be back for the upcoming Knicks game and that she’ll bring sandwiches as long as he doesn’t kick up a fuss. It’s storming at the cabin in Montauk which is perfect for a world shattering revelation.
His mom tries to explain to him that years ago she met a mysterious, wise man unlike any she’s ever known and he’s the reason they come to this cabin every year. At first, Percy’s very confused since his mind leaps to Jesus when she says the man wasn’t a man at all but rather a god. She clears that up quickly but isn’t quite able to gently guide him to accepting he’s a demigod and that the Greek myths are real because time is of the essence.
Grover arrives unexpectedly, at least to Percy. Sally was expecting him but not until the morning. She was supposed to have the night to explain things to him but instead Percy gets a crash course in what she tried to tell him because Grover’s no longer presenting his human form and Percy can see that he’s a satyr.
Before too many questions can be asked, the trio are forced to leave the cabin because of the danger Percy is in which is why Grover arrived earlier than planned. As they’re on the road toward the boundary between the ordinary realm and Camp Half-Blood, Percy is brought up to speed. He’s informed that Grover is meant to be his guide and his best friend apologizes for the appearance of his betrayal but it was the only way to make sure there wasn’t anything impeding him from coming to camp. Also, he reveals that he’s actually 24 years old!
Sally floors it when the Minotaur in underwear from Percy and Grover’s card game comes charging down the road after them. When the creature comes beside the car she rams into it in a feat of defensive driving. It causes a car crash and buys them minimal time as they work to get to the boundary but it’s still not enough.
The Minotaur has Percy’s scent so Sally takes her son’s red jacket intending to confuse the beast. Percy doesn’t want to leave her but she makes him. Their parting, though rushed because they have virtually no time, speaks to their relationship and the love they have for one another. Sally ultimately sacrifices herself for her son.
Using his jacket like a matador against a bull, she distracts the Minotaur as Grover and Percy try to get to safety. But she’s bested by the creature after a brief, evasive face-off. The beast grabs her and Percy watches in horror as his mother crumbles into dust just like Ms. Dodd did at the Met.
Furious, Percy charges after the Minotaur. Once again he has his sword but what’s fueling him is rage, devastation, and grief. It’s a potent combination and it’s what carries him through a clash where he should be outmatched. At one point, Percy loses his sword but he doesn’t let it stop him. In a feat of athleticism not seen until this point, the preteen scales the creature and begins yanking on the horn he’d struck several times with his sword. He manages to tear it free and then stabs the Minotaur in the head with it. Then, the beast crumbles, ending their battle.
Percy passes out from the exertion. He comes to, somewhat, while surrounded by Grover, the demigods from Camp Half-Blood, Annabeth who says, “He must be the one,” and Chiron who welcomes him before Percy passes out again.