This is an episode I remember hugely disliking and being bored by on my first run through season 2, and never watching again. All I remember is it being one of those that’s all peril and no humour, but looking at it now I can see other reasons that would have turned me off, even if I wasn’t alert to the reason why.
The Horde are basically voiceless savages, and while I enjoy Xena facing her past and a bit of grim backstory, I much prefer it when she has to face antagonists with personality to them. And, you know, dialogue. I am a fiend for awesome dialogue and I have a tendency to bounce completely off stories that have none. This is a very male-heavy action story which has nothing about it that feels especially ‘Xena’ and offers nothing to our female leads other than the opportunity to act tough or look horrified.
Also there’s something grotesque and pretty damned offensive about the racial stereotype of the growling, murderous savage, and little is done to mitigate the using of this antiquated trope. (this is I think later addressed in the far better episode Daughter of Pomira though I didn’t love that one either) I found it interesting that the use of Maori costume and iconography with the all-male Horde is used to emphasise them as being violent, ugly and terrifying – the contrast being the way that the costume and iconography were used to add to the mystique of the Amazons, who also have a scary, dramatic appearance but are shown to have complex characters, a history and society rather than just being “monsters”.
Okay, it is kind of cool to see Xena taking on the responsibility of yelling at a bedraggled, heartsick Athenian troop of soldiers to shape them into a force capable of fighting the villainous Horde, and I can see the main point of the story is how easily Xena can slip into her own war-hungry maniac self when the threat is bad enough. Seeing Gabrielle’s calm competence in getting a sickbay organised, and later standing up against Badass Xena to be merciful to the wounded Horde, effectively shows how far she has come. But the whole thing is so shouty and violent, I still can’t love it.
Playing on the Flying Dutchman story with an Ancient Greek twist or two (oh how I love any mention of Scylla and Charybdis!) this nautical tale makes use of a couple of the elements from Ulysses – namely the boat set, and Poseidon the CGI water god. Again, the production values of this one are excellent, and the figure of the lonely, cursed Cecrops is played with great power and charisma by Tony Todd.
I loved the fact that Xena, realising Gabrielle has been picked up by the cursed ship, was so determined to join them and save them all rather than to consider the possibility that the curse might get the better of her. Gabrielle’s seasickness is again played for humorous effect, with Xena teaching her a pressure point to use against it – only for Gabrielle to end up so robust that she can happily eat raw squid!
Rather more icky was the “puppy love” angle where Gabrielle, the first woman any of the cursed sailors have seen in decades, is followed around by a gross old man who obviously fancies her. They treat it as if it’s a comic situation whereas the whole situation screamed ‘potential rapist’ to me, and I resented the coy tone of the script, where Gabrielle regularly has to laugh uncomfortably, put up with the situation, and play it down when discussing it with others. Icky.
I very much liked the way that the ‘curse can only be broken by love’ trope was taken apart, first by Xena and then by Cecrops himself, proving a) that it’s a stupid trope and b) the only way to make it not a stupid trope is to include all kinds of love, not just the very narrow definition of heterosexual romantic happy ever after kind of love.
This has always been one of my favourites. Unrequited love, Hestian virgins, farce comedy, Joxer and Draco… sad, but true. Jay Lagai’ia continues to be the only actor to have made a random warlord character interesting, so it’s exciting he was finallyinvited back. Having said that, at least one line (about how he once told Xena about his attempt to go straight) does suggest that the scriptwriters confused Draco with Marcus.
The premise for the plot is simple: Xena has heard that big bad Draco plans to kidnap the Hestian virgins (cough, y’all know I wrote a thesis on Vestals, right? Trust me when I say how much wrongness there is in importing them into Ancient Greece, just cos Hestia had similar domestic god-duties as the Roman Vesta and their names sound a bit similar, geddit?) and she plans to stop him. Joxer has also heard of this rumour (obviously he’s on the warlord mailing list) and bounces along to help. And then… Cupid shows what an appalling parent he is by leaving his baby Bliss unsupervised in a room full of cupidy weapons because he just *has* to have sex with his wife right now. And make more babies. Yep, cos you’re SO GOOD AT LOOKING AFTER THE FIRST ONE RESPONSIBLY, CUPID.
Xena is enchanted into loving Draco. Gabrielle is enchanted into loving Joxer. As their artificial adorations get seriously in the way of saving those virgins, Draco gets the arrow treatment too and falls in love with Gabrielle. There are hijinks. Many, many hijinks.
It’s an odd choice for the season finale. It’s fluffy and enjoyable – Xena’s battle to retain her own personality in the face of her unexpected love for Draco, and the way she stays totally in character while incorporating that love is very well done. But considering some of the epic adventures from this season that could have been placed here – The Xena Scrolls, for instance – it sits at the end of the season like a fluffy marshmallow someone has dropped on a meat pie. For the second time in a row, there is no “proper” season finale, just another episode apparently chosen at random to close out the season.
(I have to keep stopping to remind myself that this is pre-Joss American TV, when the whole Babylon 5 season arc thing was still an oddity rather than an expectation in spec fic television)
Where this one differs from the other comedy episodes of season two is that instead of hitting the reset button, it leaves us with two actual ramifications, significant changes that will come back to bite in future episodes. Firstly, when Cupid is putting everyone back the way they should be, Xena requests that he leaves Draco the way he is, still enamoured of Gabrielle. Obviously this is a major dick move on behalf of our heroine – sure, he’s a bad guy, but letting him stay enchanted to be in love with someone who has no interest in him? That’s a special kind of cruelty. I do like that as with Xena herself, being in love does not change Draco – he’s still trying to weasel out of “going good” at the end, and his natural inclination is still to burn villages and kill people, though he knows the woman he “loves” does not approve. It also can’t be overlooked that Gabrielle is blatantly being set up with her very own stalker, which is not very foresighted of Xena. Thank goodness they did address Draco’s enchantment in a later episode, even if it took them three years to get there. It was, despite my reservations, entirely worth the wait.
The other ramification is that Joxer, believing the enchanted Gabrielle to be in love with him, has joyfully reciprocated her feelings, only to have his heart broken at the end when he discovers it wasn’t real. This is apparently very funny – or at least, the script, Cupid and Gabrielle all seem to think so. (to be fair Gab is unaware Joxer is now in love with her, and is trying to come to terms with the fact that she has been throwing herself at him for most of the episode) The saving grace is that Xena takes Joxer seriously and recognises this for the small but affecting tragedy that it is for him – and her knowledge of his feelings will affect her own relationship with him in the coming season.
This episode is the point at which I really started liking Joxer the first time around (I hate this, but I am a sucker for unrequited love plots), something which has retroactively influenced my response to his earlier episodes. Joxer is much more interesting as a character when he isn’t being written as a total fool, and this little love story grounded him somewhat, for a while at least.
Also the scene where an enchanted Gabrielle happily sings the lyrics to his “Joxer the Mighty” song is a thing of beauty.
Boys who want romance with Xena: 10
Boys Xena allows to romance her: 5
Xena dead boyfriends: 2
Gabrielle dead boyfriends: 2/7
“Adorable” children: 31
Babies tossed humorously in the air during fight scenes: 6
Xena doppelgangers: 3
Xena sings at a funeral: 2
Xena dies: 2
Gabrielle dies: 1
Characters brought back from the dead (including ghosts and visits to the Underworld): 13
Ares loses his powers and goes all to pieces about it: 1
Xena or Gabrielle earns money: 1
Xena or Gabrielle spends money (or claims to have money to spend): 5
Out of the Pantheon: Morpheus, Ares, Hera, the Titans, Hades, Celesta, Charon, the Fates, Bacchus, Aphrodite, Cupid, Poseidon
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
SEASON TWO OVERVIEW:
This season feels a lot more like “classic Xena” than the previous one, bearing in mind that the “classic Xena” period really only lasts up until the end of season three, at which point the show starts reinventing itself so hard it’s barely recognisable at times. The emphasis on repeat characters, the design elements introduced here like Gab’s costume, the full moon night shoots and the pretty pretty boat set, the continuation of Gabrielle’s Queen of the Amazons plot arc and the Callisto plot arc all contribute to a series that feels like it has a strong identity.
Having said that, the actual balance of this season is all over the place. I wonder how much of it was caused by having to film/screen episodes in a different sequence than originally planned thanks to Lucy Lawless’s injury (I have heard this mentioned as an excuse for why there were so many Joxer eps so close together, leading to fan panic and wrath). After a flimsy first few episodes, the season takes off with a bang and continues to be very strong for some time, particularly the run of episodes involving Callisto, and the sort-of-three-parter consisting of Destiny, The Quest and A Necessary Evil. The problem is that every episode after A Necessary Evil feels disposable. The episodes are all either comedies or one-shot drama eps, which could be shown in any order. After teasing the audience with character development and story arcs, the season ends with far less oomph than it really should at this point.
On the other hand, this season gave us Julius Caesar, allowed Ares to be awesome, and turned Callisto into a goddess. The good news is, it’s all about to get pretty damn excellent… stay tuned!
Return of Callisto
Ten Little Warlords
The Xena Scrolls
A Necessary Evil
Orphan of War
A Solstice Carol
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