This article contains spoilers for season 1 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
The relationship between Sally Jackson (Virginia Kull) and Poseidon (Toby Stephens) has always been a little complicated – as one would expect a romance between a mortal and a Greek god might be. Thanks to a pact formed by Poseidon and his brothers Zeus and Hades, he was never supposed to fall in love with Sally and he definitely was never supposed to have a son with her. Because of this pact, and Poseidon’s nature as a god, this meant a future without the traditional happily ever after that a romance of this magnitude might elicit in other tales. However, just because Sally and Poseidon don’t get a fairytale ending doesn’t mean that their relationship isn’t an important part of the story.
In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, it’s clear that they still hold feelings for each other years later, but have put those feelings aside to raise their son Percy (Walker Scobell) the best that both of them can. One of the biggest changes from the books is the addition of a flashback scene between Sally and Poseidon when Percy was a small child (young Percy is played by Azriel Dalman). Sally is struggling with her decision to send Percy to a boarding school for gifted children in upstate New York. She knows it’s the best thing for him, to keep him safe from the mythical creatures that are drawn to his demigod nature. But Percy believes that she’s tired of dealing with his quirks and is trying to get rid of him.
She calls out to Poseidon while taking Percy out for ice cream, having no one else to talk to about why this is such a big decision to make. He arrives moments later, and the two have a brief but important conversation about Percy’s future.
When talking about this scene with Den of Geek, Toby Stephens said: “I think [this scene] really gives them a real relationship. You know, it wasn’t just some sort of Fly By Night kind of thing, you know, [it’s not a] fling or fad, he’s invested. He’s invested in her, he loves her. And he is invested in a son who he loves, but there is this pain that he cannot be part of their life in a more present way and in a more permanent way. But that whenever she really, really needs him, he’s there for her. And whenever Percy really really needs him, he’s there for him.”
This isn’t necessarily a romantic scene, but it’s still an important moment in their relationship. Sally is clearly doing the brunt of the work raising Percy and preparing him for the world he’s destined to be a part of someday, but this scene makes it clear that Poseidon isn’t quite the neglectful, absentee father that he’s been made out to be either. They are both trying to do the best they can to support this child they’ve created together, even if that means they can’t be together as a couple. There’s certainly still a yearning there between them though, and the series makes it clear that, even though Sally and Poseidon have accepted their roles as co-parents, they haven’t fully moved on from each other either.
When we first meet Sally, she’s sitting on her fire escape in the rain while a Olivia Rodrigo song plays in the background, as if she’s trying to connect with Poseidon through the droplets. She doesn’t disparage Poseidon in the brief moment she tries to tell Percy about their relationship. And when Percy finally gets to meet his father face-to-face and ask him about Sally, he sends Percy away with a pained expression of loss and longing rather than answering his question.
But just because the show has managed to leave the door cracked open a tiny bit for Poseidon and Sally to rekindle their romance, doesn’t mean they will. In the books, Sally has a conversation with Percy after she returns from the Underworld about Poseidon. She tells Percy that Poseidon offered to whisk her away to his palace under the sea so that they could be together, but that she refused, opting to hold onto a mortal life for her and Percy for as long as possible. While this conversation doesn’t explicitly appear in the series, Virginia Kull makes it clear that her version of Sally wouldn’t take the deal either.
Kull told Den of Geek that “Sally likes the mess of life. Because she can see through the mist, because she recognized beside [Poseidon] for who he was. It’s less impressive to her. She adores him and she loves him and she had a profound connection with this god. But I think Sally sees just as much wonder and power and glory in all of the things in everyday messy human existence. And if getting my immortal castle in the sea means losing out on human life. No, thanks.” Sally may still have feelings for Poseidon, and vice-versa, but she’s focused on raising Percy and maintaining their connection to the mortal world.
Sally and Poseidon may not have the most fantastical love story, but they do have a mutual respect for each other that most of the gods don’t even have between themselves. They may be little more than co-parents in the present day, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have a deep, meaningful connection with each other.
While neither the books nor the series have gone into great detail over what Poseidon and Sally’s early relationship was like, before Percy came into the picture, Stephens appreciates how it’s “left open” and allows the audience to imagine and “romanticize” what this relationship might have been like. Just like Poseidon’s reaction to Percy’s question, it leaves the audience guessing.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians has shown that it’s not afraid to bend or change the events of the books as long as the series remains faithful to the heart of the story, so it doesn’t seem entirely outside the realm of possibility that we could see more flashbacks with Sally and Poseidon in the future. Should the show be renewed, there’s potential for the writers to expand on the layers added to their relationship, especially since Poseidon and Sally aren’t featured heavily in Sea of Monsters, the next book in the series. Neither Stephens nor Kull were privy to any conversations being had about what their roles in season 2 could look like, but they both enjoyed working together and bringing this complicated relationship to life.
The show has added dimensions to Sally and Poseidon’s relationship that weren’t really there before. Because the book is told through Percy’s perspective, we really only get to things through his thoughts and feelings. Through the show we’ve gotten to see more of Sally’s strength, Poseidon’s vulnerability, and the deep love that the two still have for each other, despite everything. It may no longer be an “I’ll whisk you away to my sea palace” kind of love, but it’s love all the same.
All eight episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians season 1 are available to stream on Disney+ now.