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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Armageddon When?? [Xena Rewatch Interlude]

November 14th, 2012 at 12:51

It’s been a while again! Apparently I don’t have the stamina to watch my way through all six seasons of Xena in one go. Before I move on to finish off the last disc of Season 3, though, there’s a crossover I need to discuss from Xena’s parent/brother show, Hercules the Legendary Journeys.

Hercules had got pretty awesome by its Season 4 (concurrent with Xena’s Season 3), moving away from dull monster-or-god-of-the-week stories to make the most of its adaptable, talented New Zealand cast and crew. Season 4 was when they really started having fun and experimenting with the format, not only in the outrageous comedy and musical episodes, but also with some audacious and epic drama. Yes, really, Hercules.

This was the season that gave us such classics as Stranger in a Strange World (evil universe of Evil bearded Dopplegangers), “…and Fancy Free,” (Hercules dances and acts out sexy Coke ads while Michael Hurst drops his usual role of Iolaus to play a credible and authentic pantomime dame), “Men In Pink” (Salmoneus and Autolycus do Some Like It Hot), and the ultra classic “Yes Virginia, There Is A Hercules” in which the regular cast play the modern day team of writers and producers. I can never see Liz Friedman’s name in a set of credits without remembering Hudson Leick’s psychotic performance as her, and as far as I’m concerned, the Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who wrote the new Star Trek movie? Will always be Ted Raimi and Robert Trebor. Not to mention the disturbing mental image of Lucy Lawless being married to Bruce Campbell in a red wig…

But I digress!

Among the crazy, innovative and just plain fun wacky episodes, Season 4 of The Legendary Journeys also brought some high drama, and it’s to the show’s credit that it actually resolved the original Zeus-Hera-Hercules plot in a high stakes finale, leaving Hercules to move on with some epic reworking of Celtic and Mesopotamian mythologies in the next season, free of family baggage.

Before that, the show also produced a massive two part action spectacular which, like Surprise a year earlier, contributed so much to the Callisto arc (not to mention the Gabrielle-Hope storyline) that no Xena rewatch is complete without it.

Which brings us to Armageddon Now, Parts 1 & 2.

A funeral, and a corpse burning. Glittery particles swirl and eddy and form into a broken, charred body wrapped in a cloak. In between jolly scenes with Hercules, Iolaus, Herc’s mother and a drystone wall, the cloaked figure goes to the rockfall which took Callisto out of the equation not so long ago… and a cranky Callisto is released, by Hope.

For some reason, probably because she realises what show she has turned up in, Hope is ignoring the mother who murdered her and the hated figure of Xena, and has decided that Callisto’s new job is to go after “the greatest hero who ever lived.” Hercules, in other words.

Should Xena be offended?

The opening story is complicated, involving kings and Ares and plots of war, but as far as I’m concerned is an excuse to watch (yet again) the late and much-lamented Kevin Smith strutting his stuff against his hated brother. I love the fact that this excellent villain works completely differently in both shows, and yet is utterly consistent.

It’s also fun to see Ares working against (never with) his nephew and irritating leather-clad sidekick Strife, who I’m pretty sure never appeared on the other side of the pond in Xenaville. Callisto is always good value too. Hope is terribly dull but gives Callisto something to snark about.

Because, as it turns out, the story isn’t about Hercules or Ares or King Whatsits at all. It’s about Callisto, the angry self-hating goddess, who longs to end her own suffering, and the one thing that Hope can offer to tempt her with – a chance to change her own past.

DID I MENTION THIS WAS A CRACKED OUT TIME TRAVEL ADVENTURE? Possibly I should have done.

Things really kick off when Callisto turns up back in Ares’s life, and the two of them flirt shamelessly while taking turns to beat up the pitiful Strife. You’re never sure if they want to shag like bunnies or just cut bits off each other. Probably both, but it’s a highly entertaining dance which culminates in them both releasing another former villain out of his eternal prison – in this case the Sovereign, AKA Evil Hercules From the Universe of Evil Beards. Yes, he has an evil beard, just like Spock and yes, television was making meta jokes long before Community. But more importantly, the Sovereign has the McGuffin of the episode, a locket filled with blood of the Golden Hind (Herc’s second dead wife), the only thing that can kill a god.

Which explains why the production team were so willing to let Callisto and Hope go visiting The Other Show – this script doesn’t require Hercules and Iolaus particularly, but wouldn’t make sense as a Xena episode because it requires so much Hercules-specific backstory.

IOLAUS: Hercules, he’s the same strength as you, this could take forever!

The Sovereign is not the amusing red herring that he appears to be. Instead, he’s an excuse to take Hercules entirely out of the action – this isn’t his story. Thanks to the unholy alliance between Ares and Callisto, both the Good and Evil Hercules are trapped in a dimension between worlds, unable to do anything but beat each other up in an endless loop, and watch the events unfolding in a conveniently tuned Television Pond.

This leaves the stage clear for Iolaus and Callisto to carry the rest of the story, in which he is John Connor and she is the Terminator. No, wait. He’s Kyle Reese and she’s the Terminator. No, wait, he’s Sarah Connor…

Callisto and Ares have a bitchslap-and-punch-and-lighting fight to the not-death – he thinks it’s foreplay, she just wants the blood hanging in a locket around his neck. After beating Ares down (with some help from Hope), Callisto tries out her new toy, dipping her knife in the blood and killing Strife. It’s interesting that the death of a god is such a huge deal at this point in both the Xena and Hercverse – it’s going to be a major theme later! And it’s oddly touching how devastated Ares is to lose his useless lackey nephew. Strife is gone, and while they later bring the actor back in a similar role, the character is allowed to be dead.

It has to be something this big, for Ares and Iolaus to end up on the same side.

So Ares puts on his Big Boy Panties and decides reluctantly to be Original John Connor, sending Iolaus back in time to follow Callisto on her quest to change history Terminator-style.

Luckily, Young “Herc’s Mum” Alcmene (okay, she’s the Sarah Connor) is already pregnant when Iolaus crashes into her life, because she’s kind of young and hot and given that I saw him checking out the older version of her earlier in the episode, he could so easily have ended up as Herc’s real Dad. I so hope that was in an early draft of the script. That would screw with everyone’s head, wouldn’t it?

Callisto torments and hunts the young, pregnant Alcmene, while Iolaus tries to save her and by extension his unborn best friend. Of course, he ultimately fails, because Callisto is a goddess and a vengeful one at that.

This is where the story gets interesting – not because Hercules is now trapped forever in a bubble between worlds with his evil self, but because of where Callisto goes next: to claim her reward for destroying Hercules, she gets to visit Cirra, her home village, and the source of her childhood torment origin story.

It’s the era of Evil Bad Hair Xena (there’s our girl!), who lays waste to the land, kicking arse and taking names, enabled by Soppy Young Ares.

Xena’s army is about to attack Cirra, which we know to be the one time her soldiers did kill women and children, the war crime that made Callisto into the stone-cold monster she is today. Only, the first thing we see is Xena’s standing order to let the women and children live.

This is the first time we see Callisto vulnerable, as she tries desperately to save her family from the horrors she imagines Xena’s army will visit upon them. But all she knows is how to kill, and her vicious instincts lead her to kill her father by accident and then, once she has accepted the awful truth, her mother in “self-defence”. Turns out that she is the only reason that women and children were killed that day. Devastated, Callisto embraces her own unconscious teenage self and leaves her to die too.

That way, it will all be over.

But do-gooder Iolaus, who followed Callisto to this time in order to kill her, manages instead to save her younger self girl from a burning barn. The look on his face when he realises what he has done is one of those marvellous Michael Hurst moments – subtle and world-weary.

Then we have one more time jump into the “present day” – an alternate present where Hercules died in the womb and missed out on all his great heroic adventures. In case you’ve forgotten, one of the prime good deeds of Herc’s past was turning Xena good with his magical wang. This future therefore is ruled by Conquering Tyrant Xena, and also features Gabrielle as an angry revolutionary, plus a whole lot of hopeless misery.

I don’t know why Gabrielle’s life as an angry, outspoken rebel involved a session of salon hair crimping. Best not to ask.

Oh, and the Ares of this reality is a rabid Empress Xena fanboy who has never heard of Iolaus, and is now no help whatsoever to his former ally. Luckily, Xena is unknowingly in the possession of a shiny time travelling doohickey, the Chronos Stone, yet another leftover from an old Hercules story.

LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN!

This time around, Iolaus saves Alcmene and fetus-Herc, and restores the timeline. Hercules manages to get home without bringing his beardy friend with him. And, oh by the way? Callisto is PISSED OFF at Iolaus.

But let’s not stop and stare at yet another brilliant fight scene – these episodes are full of those! The key thing is that Callisto claims she never went to Cirra – that timeline was closed off because Iolaus saved Alcmene. So that amazing moment of self-realisation in which she created her own future self… never happened. Hmm. Not sure if the story holds together if you’re going to do that. She should remember, surely? It’s a brilliant character development and makes later events so much more inevitable. Ah, well.

Two things are in vital places at the end of this story. Callisto has been chucked into the bubble universe with evil beardy Hercules. And Iolaus’ knife, the one he managed to daub with hind’s blood during one of Callisto’s more distracted moments, has been pushed into the stone outside Ares’ temple. No way that could turn out to be a really bad error of judgement…

Wait, I’ve got it now. Callisto is the Terminator, Iolaus is Kyle Reese, Hercules’ mother is Sarah Connor and… Xena is SKYNET!

Join me next time for the last disc of Xena season 3, and the final piece of the Callisto pie.

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

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