Gabrielle marries her childhood sweetheart Perdicas (yes we’re still forgetting what she said about him in episode one) and leaves her life with Xena to be a wife; meanwhile, Callisto escapes from her life imprisonment even nuttier than before, and goes on a fairly singular killing spree, leaving Gabrielle widowed after less than a day. Xena and Gabrielle fight over whether Gab can take revenge herself and ultimately Xena is the one who does it, allowing Callisto to die rather horribly in a swamp of sadness – sorry, quicksand!
There’s a lot of interesting material in this episode. Gabrielle is unsure about whether she is going to accept Perdicas’ offer of marriage, but his story of how he has tired of being a soldier-for-hire moves her, and later when she sees him freeze in horror after killing a man in a battle, she decides her answer is ‘yes.’ The irony is that Xena had to rescue Gabrielle in that battle BECAUSE Perdicas froze up – if we read this episode (which we are invited to) as being about Gabrielle choosing between two life partners, it leaps out at us that Xena’s competence in battle is what rules her ineligible for Gabrielle’s heart, even as she saves her life. Meanwhile, Perdicas on his knees staring into space is what makes Gabrielle go all soppy.
I always notice the wedding scene in this episode because I remember reading about the costume design – one choice that they made in the design of Xena was to avoid all use of white in order to make the show look extra “dark” especially in comparison to Hercules. This is especially noticeable in this season, which has so many night shoots. Gabrielle and Perdicas wear a cream colour rather than proper white – the whitest thing on screen is the crown of daisies – but it’s still an unusual splash of brightness. (they must have loosened up about this rule by the time the Hestian Virgins go on the rampage in the season finale) I love that Gabrielle looks like a real person, a rare thing in a TV bride – the dress is new, but she wears her old boots under it because come on, it’s not like she has a second pair of shoes.
Callisto is at her wide-eyed psycho best in this season, and this episode has some brilliant fight scenes between her and Xena. There is something about these two with their screaming and hacking at each other that leads you to think Xena is usually holding back, but with Callisto she can be free to be an utter maniac. It’s especially noticeable because when Xena fights men it is often 5-6 at a time – but you completely believe that this slender little waif of a thing in a metal bikini is an equal match for Xena.
The theme of the episode is killing – who can kill, and why, and why you shouldn’t. While the term ‘blood innocence’ which took on such significance in Season 3 is never actually mentioned, it is clearly at the forefront of Xena’s mind as Gabrielle demands vengeance for her fallen husband. There is a quite awful scene in which Gabrielle forces Xena to teach her how to use a sword, and you can see how much Xena is hating it, even as she accepts that it is better than Gabrielle going in helpless – though of course, as Xena knows all along, Gabrielle is not capable of killing anyone, even Callisto.
The final scene is another emotionally wrecking one, despite the fact that Callisto is a stone cold bitch – the idea that doing violence has an effect on your own soul goes very deep here, and we go from a great screamy chariot scene to the two women, Xena and Callisto, trapped in the quicksand. Xena saves herself and Callisto sinks. That choice will have ramifications for the whole season to come. Yay ramifications!
This was one of the episodes that started me watching and loving the show, instead of just being amused/vaguely interested. There’s a whole stretch of very cool episodes coming up, and some very creative uses of Hudson Leick, one of the show’s many great casting choices. Stay tuned.
The usual comedy of errors works to great effect here, and is made especially fun by Meg’s genuine, lusty interest in Joxer. As Xena puts it “if you meet someone who looks like me and she shows any interest whatsoever in you as a man, it’s the Bad One.”
And indeed Meg is bad, in that she is part of a plan to replace Princess Diana and steal the throne. I was uncomfortable though with the way she is identified as a ‘tramp’ and how her sluttiness is constantly held up as an evil character trait. The language used is problematic – it is implied that she might be a prostitute, but so coyly that it comes across as everyone thinking she’s worthless because she puts it about a bit, not because she sells her body for money. Not that it’s a GOOD thing to go around being all judgemental about working girls, but in this case because her profession isn’t specified, she gets all the judgement but none of the respect. Or something.
Also we return to the baby hurling antics of season one, with a baby hoisted in a basket over a fire and flung into the air no less than four times! So glad I kept that line in the Chakram Statistics.
2.7 Intimate Stranger
In the first of many, many, MANY returns from the dead, Callisto visits Xena in her dreams and gets her to admit her guilt for deliberately letting her enemy die – then uses that confession to swap places with her.
Once in Xena’s body, Callisto fools Gabrielle, wounds a suspicious Argo, and starts building an army for herself, when not snogging/shagging Ares’ brains out. Meanwhile, in Callisto’s body, Xena convinces Hades of her real identity and pursues her nemesis – with only 24 hours to send her back to Tartarus in her place.
Body swap is a classic spec fic storyline, and like other classics – the parallel world, the musical, the groundhog day – it works best with an excellent and established ensemble cast. Lucy Lawless has already shown her chops in the doppleganger episodes, and now pulls off a brilliant impersonation of Hudson Leick’s Callisto. Hudson likewise gives Lucy a run for her money with a quiet, understated Xena impersonation.
And oh yes, while Ares has always been obsessed with Xena, this is the first time we see how hot for her he really is – sure, the first time we see he and Callisto all over each other, she’s in her own body, but they most definitely consummate their relationship at least once while she’s “wearing” Xena. (Ick factor to the NTH degree) The clever part is that the script never actually reveals that the two are quite blatantly using each other, but everything we know about those characters and see in the performances makes it very clear that for both Ares and Callisto, sex is just another business transaction.
Joxer also gets a hero moment in this one, standing up to whom he thinks is Callisto to defend Xena’s horse Argo – while Xena has always rolled her eyes at Joxer’s presence before, you can see that this changes her opinion of him and her attitude is a lot more of loving exasperation rather than genuine annoyance in future.
The story is powerful and the acting even better, but the killer twist is at the end of the episode, when Xena is left on earth in Callisto’s body. An accident during a publicity stunt for Letterman had Lucy Lawless dealing with a back injury, and one of the ways the production crew chose to deal with it was to have Hudson continue to play Xena for another episode…
2.8 Ten Little Warlords
Without Lucy Lawless around to steal the show, Hudson Leick continues her excellent Xena performance. It’s to her credit that, as with Lucy in the Diana/Meg episodes, you never forget whom Hudson is playing – every expression, glance and even her vocal tones are Xena all the way. Damn this actress is good – why didn’t she go places?
It helps that this is a good story, revolving around the theft of Ares’ powers. Ares without his godhood is always hilarious, which is probably why they did it so often – though really, by the time season six rolled around, he should have been used to it. This is the first time, though, and it’s lovely.
Hudson-Xena and the bedraggled powerless Ares make a great team, and I would happily have watched them for six episodes – though to be fair they couldn’t have lasted more than three without ripping each other’s clothes off, and it would have turned into a whole different kind of show…
With better material to work with, Kevin Smith is sizzling up the screen in this season! So much better than his shoddy scripts from season one. His performance is in turn soulful, snarky, slapsticky and… colossal arse. He can shift from one to another on the turn of a dime. Also, he looks excellent in leather pants.
Also, while Xena was infuriated with Princess Diana’s mad hairbrushing obsession back in the day, she quite obviously brushes her hair a lot more than Callisto does. This is all I am saying.
Boys who want romance with Xena: 7
Boys Xena allows to romance her: 2
Xena dead boyfriends: 2
Gabrielle dead boyfriends: 2/7
“Adorable” children: 23
Babies tossed humorously in the air during fight scenes: 6
Xena doppelgangers: 3
Xena sings at a funeral: 2
Xena dies: 1
Gabrielle dies: 1
Characters brought back from the dead (including ghosts and visits to the Underworld): 10
Ares loses his powers and goes all to pieces about it: 1
Xena or Gabrielle earns money: 1
Xena or Gabrielle spends money: 3
Out of the Pantheon: Morpheus, Ares, Hera, the Titans, Hades, Celesta, Charon, the Fates, Bacchus
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