And just when it looked like the season was going to be mostly a write off… Xena got good again. Really, really good.
Some of the most interesting stories have been those involving the complex Amazon warrior culture (and Gabrielle’s ongoing ties to them), and the encroachment of the Romans into Xena’s Ancient Greece. In this story, those two plotpoints collide with devastating results.
Ephiny the Amazon Queen, Gabrielle’s dearest friend besides Xena herself, falls in battle against Brutus and the Romans. This isn’t the first time that the death of a queen has led her tribe to demand Gabrielle give up her wandering life to take up the role of Amazon Queen, but this time it’s very, very personal.
Danielle McCormack’s recurring role as Ephiny was one of the most memorable star turns in the series, and it hurts to lose her. But it’s a sign of the changes that will be coming in the season that follows this one – in Xena, we can take nothing for granted.
As Xena herself notes, change is in the wind. She has seen the Amazons go from a mighty nation to “a handful of scattered tribes,” and it feels like the end of an era is coming. But she’s not willing to bow down in submission before the Romans, or to allow the tribes to disappear.
While Xena goes on the attack, defeating Romans who sold Amazon prisoners into slavery, Gabrielle has her own moral quandary. Her way of peace is severely challenged by this situation, and the responsibility that the Amazons have placed upon her shoulders.
Xena takes Brutus prisoner, and Gabrielle is under extreme pressure to have him executed, but can’t bring herself to do it.
And then there’s Amarice, a mouthy teenager from “another tribe” who is constantly complaining about everyone around her not being good enough. She’s quite deeply annoying, in a very similar way to Tara, but Xena chooses to be patient with her, and try to teach her a little something.
Plus, the return of shiny blond Pompey Da Magnus and a tiny cameo by snarky McSnarkface Caesar!
Damn, I enjoyed this story. Xena hasn’t been this good for a long time, and it feels like they have finally found their way again. Massive, epic fight scenes, politics and scheming.
Gabrielle is angry at the vicious tactics Xena uses in battle, including putting the captured Roman soldiers on crosses, but when the heat is on, she leads the battle as a Queen must. No time for pacifism when the arrows are falling… and of course, at the end, she chooses yet another warrior to take her place, because the TV show is not called Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons.
Brutus becomes an ally of sorts, helping the Amazons to defeat their mutual enemy Pompey and taking a peace treaty from the Amazon Nation to Rome, but will not listen to Xena’s urgings to be cautious of his beloved bro Caesar. Back in Rome, when Caesar burns the treaty, we see the first flicker of doubt and disappointment in Brutus’s face.
I WONDER IF THAT WILL BE SIGNIFICANT ANY TIME SOON?
*Checks the title of the next episode*
Oh Callisto, I have missed you so much!
Here’s the rub about living in a world with multiple types of afterlife: achieving death to gain oblivion isn’t necessarily going to work out the way you want. After finally meeting her end back in Sacrifice, Callisto is stuck in Hell (as distinct from Tartarus) and suffering the torture of being mocked by hallucinations of who else but Xena?
She is ripe to be tempted back into the mortal world to do some damage to her old enemy – particularly when she finds out that Xena’s path is earning her a place in the reincarnation queue despite her sins against Callisto’s family and other innocents.
The price is that Callisto has to team up with a certain J. Caesar. She does this with reckless glee, giving him the inspiration he needs to throw down with Xena once and for all. Because apparently it never occurred to him before that putting a bounty on her head would get her attention?
Meanwhile, Xena and Gabrielle are now travelling with Amarice, who making no effort to be likeable. The most interesting aspect of this trio is the way that Gabrielle is using more and more inventive ways to deal with violent situations without actually hurting people.
No wait, forget what I said. Amarice’s first words to the sanctimonious Eli are “If somebody threatened your mother, would you fight to defend her?” What with that and her ‘bitch, please’ expression while sizing him up, I now officially like her. Who’d have thought it?
While Xena goes running off to do violent things to Caesar, Gabrielle and Amarice hang around Eli’s hippie commune, talking about the philosophical significance of apples, and bringing on more of Amarice’s ‘bitch please’ expressions.
Frankly, Brutus and his thugs turning up to break up the party and take all the peaceniks (especially Gabrielle) as hostage comes as something of a relief.
“If you can love your way out of this one, be my guest.” (Amarice with a sword at her throat)
Xena, rocking the Romanpunk armour look, sneaks up on Caesar in his private chambers and sends that chakram to do what it does best… except when Callisto is around to catch it, of course. Cue the awesome fight scenes, with disposable Romans and the completely magical, demonic Callisto in her urchin haircut and bright white tunic.
“They sent me to a place that makes Tartarus look like the Elysian Fields.” (Callisto)
While I love the scenery chewing of Karl Urban and Hudson Leick, it’s actually David Franklin as Brutus who carries much of the dramatic weight of the story, through his growing disillusionment with his precious Caesar, his quiet respect for Gabrielle, and his ability to look terrified of Xena every time she speaks to him.
Amarice continues to be awesome in her legitimate snarking about the incredibly smug and soppy ‘love exchange’ going on between Gabrielle and Eli in their snowbound mountain prison… which as it happens is the same place that Xena saw in her vision of being crucified alongside Gabrielle.
And along comes snow white Callisto with her temptation from the king of hell: her job is to ensure Xena doesn’t earn her redemption via the way of the warrior, and thus the price she demands for Gabrielle’s safety is for Xena to lay down her sword in love, peace and serenity.
I actually kind of love this. After all the angst and agony of this season, Xena now has utter confirmation that her current path – the way of the warrior – is absolutely what she needs to be doing, to make up for her guilt over past actions.
PEACE IS BAD, CHILDREN! HARMONIOUS MEDITATION IS A BIT EVIL.
And Brutus, poor Brutus, has his heart broken when he figures out what everyone else has known for a long time. Caesar is a dick.
“What would distract Xena more than her best friend’s execution?”
The battle is fought, Xena battles with renewed confidence, and the hippies (and Amarice) are saved. But Callisto, furious at her plans unravelling, breaks the rules she was given by directly striking Xena – she hurls Xena’s own chakram directly at her spine. Gabrielle, horrified by the sight of Xena lying helpless on the ground, takes up arms again, desperately hacking and slashing soldier after soldier with Xena’s sword, begging Xena to get up, to run away with her.
Gabrielle has, by the way, a lot of pent up aggression, and is quite good at killing people. Huh.
Xena lies in agony on the ground, horrified at the violence her friend has been driven to inflict. Gabrielle, also horrified, finally drops her sword as more Roman soldiers close in….
Things actually get worse from there. It’s a gut wrenching episode, with the ending that Xena has been seeing in her visions right from the start of this season. But at least there’s time for one more heartfelt, loving conversation to clear the air before Xena and Gabrielle are tied to crosses.
Back in Rome, Brutus confides his fears about Caesar’s ambition to the other senators, ensuring that he also has a pretty unpleasant Ides of March…
The use of white in this episode is pretty striking: from Callisto’s bright tunic to the terribly clean togas of Caesar and the senators, and of course the snow that falls as Xena and Gabrielle are crucified. I noticed this before I remembered reading that in fact there had been a conscious design choice to avoid white in Xena generally, to make sure that the show had a darker palette to Hercules (avoiding togas was also a big part of the original brief). Even Gabrielle’s virginal wedding dress back in season 2 had been more of a creamy gold colour. The dramatic contrast then in the jump cuts between both execution scenes is especially severe, as is the bizarre sight of Callisto dressed like a disco angel while doing the work of the devil.
And thus, the story of Caesar and Xena ends, with their mutual deaths. The difference between this and the first time that he crucified Xena is that she isn’t alone this time; nor is she rescued.
Haloed in suspiciously white outfits, with choral song, the spirits of Xena and Gabrielle find each other…
So, what is it to be? The Elysian Fields, reincarnation or that place with the harps they’ve been hinting at? I guess we’ll have to tune in next week to find out because that WAS NOT IN FACT THE SEASON FINALE.
4.22 Déjà Vu All Over Again
Xena has always done inventive things with the clip show format, the height being The Xena Scrolls. Over in Hercules land, they started something similar. There was a 30 second joke scene at the end of The Xena Scrolls in which a descendant of Joxer played by Ted Raimi (possibly playing his brother Sam?) pitched a TV show based on the lost scrolls of his ancestor to a Rob Tapert (producer of Hercules and Xena, who also married Lucy Lawless) played by Bruce Campbell.
With “Yes Virginia, There Is A Hercules,” (1998) and “For Those Of You Just Joining Us,”(1999) they took the joke one step further, telling the behind the scenes story of the making of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, with the regular cast playing writers and producers including Liz Friedman, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. In this surprisingly coherent ‘future present,’ both Hercules and Xena are hit shows, based on actual historical characters, with the important minor detail that Kevin Sorbo is in fact the real Hercules, immortal, playing himself in the TV show. Oh and Ares (who was freed back in The Xena Scrolls and set loose on the world again) is still making trouble…
Most of which is not especially relevant to this particular episode except to note that this is the same ‘future present’ as the others, which is why Xena: Warrior Princess is referred to both as a hit show and as a genuine historical character.
Unless, of course, as could be surmised, this entire episode is in fact a fevered hallucination by Xena and/or Gabrielle during the many days it would have taken them to die by crucifixion.
So, here we meet Annie (Lucy Lawless), a rabid Xena fan who convinced that she is the reincarnation of the legendary warrior. To the disgust of her boyfriend Harry (Ted Raimi) she insists on seeing past lives counsellor Maddie (Renee O’Connor), to figure out if Annie is the mysterious ‘Xena Vigilante’ who has been running around the city solving crimes.
After an in depth hypnosis session (cliiiip show!), Annie discovers to her deep horror that she was in fact Joxer, not Xena – and, as it turns out, the cynical Harry is the real Xena. Dr Maddie is, of course, Gabrielle, though as it turns out she is not a “genuine” past lives counsellor and has been running a scam. When her partner Marco (Robert Trebor) ties them all up with a literal bomb ticking (yeah that part didn’t make a lot of sense until later), Harry and Maddie explore their past lives so that he can activate his latent Xena powers and save them all.
Considering that the last proper episode climaxed with the deaths of our heroines, and that reincarnation and life after death has been a major, serious theme of this season, it is a bizarre choice to finish up with a slapstick comedy about past lives. On the other hand, it is a very Xena thing to do.
The other very Xena thing to do, of course, is to overtly explore the romantic possibilities of her relationship with Gabrielle via a male avatar, as referenced here with a clip from “The Quest” in which Gabrielle kisses a hallucination of the mostly dead Xena, and ends up with Autolycus’ moustache in her mouth.
So again here, we get one of the more overt confirmations that Xena and Gabrielle have a non-platonic eternal love, as acted out in the most heterosexual way possible, between Harry and Maddie. The old dynamics reassert themselves (including Harry actually hitting Annie to stop her endangering them, as Xena has often done to Joxer in the past), and he ends up fully possessed by Xena’s spirit.
When Harry proves himself to be Xena by saving them all from the bomb, Marco reveals his true self too – he is, of course, Ares. The performances by both Ted Raimi and Kevin Smith are especially good, managing to recreate the steamy chemistry that we usually see between Xena and Ares – and pulls the episode back from the brink of extreme heteronormativity.
Lucy Lawless pulls off a cleverly understated Ted Raimi/Joxer impersonation, but Ted Raimi’s Lucy Lawless/Xena is pretty damn spectacular, mimicking not only her inflection and body language, but also her fighting style.
As the only Xena fan in the room, it’s up to Annie (still smarting from the revelations of the day) to point out to Harry that their relationship is not going to work out, because Gabrielle is Xena’s soulmate. And, you know, that doesn’t ACTUALLY mean ‘platonic best friends’.
So as “Xena and Gabrielle” share a non-threatening M/F kiss at the end, Annie dances off down the street, making up a song about how awesome she is, Joxer-style – proving once again that Lucy Lawless could totally have a career in musical theatre.
It’s all horribly charming, but if I didn’t know for certain that Xena and Gabrielle were coming back next season, I would have very mixed feelings about this episode! I can’t help thinking that when it screened, Xena fandom across the world must have let out a mighty scream of WTF?
People who want romance with Xena: 14
People Xena allows to romance her: 8
Xena dead lovers: 5 (yes I’m counting Caesar)
Gabrielle dead boyfriends: 2/7
“Adorable” children: 39
Babies tossed humorously in the air during fight scenes: 6
Xena doppelgangers: 5
Xena sings a mourning song: 6
Gabrielle sprained ankles: 2
Xena dies: 4
Gabrielle dies: 5 (still ahead!)
Characters brought back from the dead (incl. ghosts and visits to the Underworld): 55 (I don’t remember how many of these are Callisto but it has to be a few by now)
Ares loses his powers and goes all to pieces about it: 2
Xena or Gabrielle earns money: 3
Xena or Gabrielle spends money (or claims to have money to spend): 9
Out of the Pantheons: Morpheus, Ares, Hera, the Titans, Hades, Celesta, Charon, the Fates, Bacchus, Aphrodite, Cupid, Poseidon, the Furies, Discord, Krishna
The Celebrity Red Carpet of the Ancient World: Pandora, Prometheus, Hercules, Iolaus, Sisyphus, Helen of Troy, Paris, Deiphobus, Menelaus, Euripides, Homer, Autolycus, Meleager, Oracle of Delphi, David, Goliath, Orpheus, Julius Caesar, Brutus, Ulysses, Penelope, Cecrops, Boadicea, Cleopatra, Crassus, Pompey, Sophocles
Previous Xena Rewatch Posts:
Warlord is a Lady Tonight
I Don’t Work For Money
Amazon Wanna Take A Ride?
Go To Tartarus!
Swashbuckle and Shams
Death In A Chainmail Bikini
Full Moon It Must Be Xena
How Do You Mortals Get From Day to Day?
The Future is Archaeologists
Divide and Conquer
My Sword is Always Ready to Pleasure You
Hide the Hestian Virgins!
Lunatic with Lethal Combat Skills
Coping with Your First Kill
Sweet Hestia, I’m In a Den of Filth
The Bitter and Sweet of It
Because Caesar Was Taken
Rolling Around Like Weasels
You Killed Me?
My Fungus Is Spreading
Virtue is Its Own Reward
Mr Stinky, I Presume
She’s Responsible For Your Death!
Blood, Sex and a Hot Tub