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Tansy Rayner Roberts

My Sword is Always Ready to Pleasure You [Xena Rewatch 2.16-2.19

November 29th, 2010 at 17:27

2.16 For Him the Bell Tolls

This is the episode that really shows what Ted Raimi can do – a homage to Danny Kaye’s classic performance in The Court Jester, it sets up a situation where Joxer is charmed to become a Hero with a capital H every time a bell rings – and then returns to his own bumbling self when it rings again.

Ted Raimi carries the story off with aplomb, making it that bit more special than its Hercules-lite plot really deserves, and his ‘swashbuckling hero’ persona is both hilarious and weirdly convincing.

Also, damn that man can fence.

This episode also marks the first appearance in Xena of the goddess Aphrodite played by Alexandra Tydings, whose bubbly, bitchy surfer babe persona was one of the highlights of the Hercules series from quite early on, along with her cranky, who-oiled-those-chest-muscles, bleached blond son Cupid, played by… um, Karl Urban.

One of my favourite things about the Herc-and-Xenaverse is the way that the same actors appear over and over, often playing several different characters. It lends a certain theatre rep feel to the whole production, and there is great fun to be had in spotting the reappearance of a favourite performer. Sometimes an actor used in a minor role is cast later in a major or more iconic one (Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor, for example, both played less significant roles in the Hercverse before being cast as Xena and Gabrielle) and often it ends up that the same actor plays a different major roles in each “verse”. The actress who plays Gabrielle’s sister, for instance, has a recurring role as the daughter of one of Hercules’ Argonaut friends, and Gina Torres appears as Cleopatra in the Xenaverse, and pirate/Sumerian queen Nebula in the Hercverse.

The really cool part is that the production crew often chose to bring back favourite characters regardless of who played them, and also switch Herc & Xena supporting characters into the other show. Sometimes they would quite slyly juxtapose one performance up against another – like bringing Hercules’ Cupid into the Xenaverse only a few episodes after Karl Urban tore up the screen as Xena’s Caesar! In some cases, as with Cupid, the character did not noticeably change in the transition from Herc to Xena or vice versa. With others – like Ares and Aphrodite – the show enabled different relationships and aspects of the character to be emphasised.

While I enjoy getting to squee at the ridiculous outfit they put Karl Urban in, for me the exciting part of this episode is actually getting to see Gabrielle and Aphrodite perform together for the first time. The combination of those two characters (often with Joxer in the mix) was comedy gold, and the partnership was used over and over to great effect when a Xena-lite episode was necessary.

Oh and – first appearance of the Joxer the Mighty song! Though not yet bearing my favourite verse about Gabby the sidekick fighting with her little stick… stay tuned for that one.

2.17 The Execution

Gabrielle is reunited with her old friend Meleager the Mighty, and is stunned to find him accused of murder, due to be executed. While she runs around madly trying to prove his innocence, Xena is more cynical. This feels like an average Xena ‘find the bad guy, solve the twist’ kind of story, but it has some rather crunchy themes tucked in between the average. When Xena gently tells Gabrielle that her friends can’t always live up to the pedestal she puts them on, she doesn’t only mean Meleager, but herself.

There’s also a firm reminder that Xena has long escaped justice for her crimes, and she is well aware of the hypocrisy of her own current quest to bring justice to others.

Tim Thomerson plays the elderly, alcoholic warrior with grace and poise, and is particularly good with the dramatic material in this episode. Not only is his paternal love for Gabrielle clear, but he and Xena bounce beautifully off each other – you can see that they both recognise the dark warrior side in each other, something Gabrielle still remains innocently unaware of.

But mostly the episode is notable for the camera shot of Xena catching an arrow in her teeth.

2.18 Blind Faith

AKA the one where Brian from Police Rescue acts like a right little thug. Man, I loved Police Rescue. It was really the best show EVER. I wonder if it’s available on DVD…

Eh, anyway. Xena gets attacked by a thug with delusions of grandeur, Gabrielle gets kidnapped by some people who want her to marry a hot king (and makes the first crack about how all the boys she gets serious up end up dead, all TWO of them, Gabrielle, you’re creating your own fake mythology here), but the whole thing is a set-up to show how Xena can still be awesome without her eyesight.

In the midst of a fight, Xena gets herself doused with Oil of MacGuffin which conveniently blinds a person temporarily unless they leave it untreated for 24 hours. Determined to save Gabrielle at the expense of her own sight, she tows a captive baby warlord around and bonds with him while using him as her seeing eye dog.

Jeremy Callaghan, playing the thug with a heart of gold, pretty much spends the whole episode auditioning for the far greater role of Pompey, next season. And a good thing too. He is my very favourite Pompey. I loved him as Brian, too. Did I mention Police Rescue was an awesome show? I’m very excited Gary Sweet is going to be in the movie of the Dawn Treader…

2.19 – Ulysses

AKA the one with Krieg from SeaQuest, back when SeaQuest was awesome, which was sadly only season one, before they fired all the actors over 30 and repopulated the sub with teenagers. But it was a really good season. I wonder if it’s on DVD…

Despite the highly irritating choice of the Roman name ‘Ulysses’ over the Greek ‘Odysseus’ (yeah, yeah, anything BC is good) I rather like this one. It combines several important elements of the Odyssey and refers to many more. In particular, the use of Xena’s own singing chops to circumvent the Siren song is lovely, as is her involvement in the drawing of the bow. Bonus points also that they came up with a story to use the watery figure of Poseidon who had been in the credits since Season 1 but never actually appeared in a story.

I love the way so many episodes refer back to Troy as a defining event in this world – and that there is no attempt to separate Ulysses from his baggage and backstory, as they grossly simplified the Trojan saga back in “Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts Instead, the complex backstory is embraced with fervour. The ship set is gorgeous – I love the use of ships in Xena, even if it’s probably the same set used over and over.

On a far more lighthearted note, this is the first time we see Gab get seasick, a character trait that is embraced and elaborated upon in future episodes.

But I want to talk about the romance for a minute here. Xena’s love stories are rare, though it does happen to her more often than Hercules, which is interesting in itself! In this case, she and Ulysses fall for each other and hook up while he believes Penelope (Gaby Willis from Neighbours, remember her?) to be dead, and then Xena has to take responsibility for reminding him he should be with the wife he hasn’t seen in more than a decade. It’s not overly believable that she should have fallen in love quite so quickly but Ulysses is a fairly convincing figure of attraction for Xena once you get past the whole ‘Krieg’ aspect – he is a strong, independent fighter who values her own fighting skills, works well at her side, and has a snarky sense of humour along with a hint of a tragic past. He could have been designed for her…

The idea that Xena is more open to love because of what she has learned from Gabrielle is interesting (and kinda creepy if you have read anything romantic into Gab/Xena in the story so far). But I don’t regret Xena losing a chance of love with Ulysses – not once we have the reunion with Penelope, which is one of my favourite classical romantic moments of all time.

Once again, the concept cherished by Gabrielle of the existence of soulmates is raised – Ulysses claims Xena is his soulmate and she does not specifically reciprocate that, though she does later admit to Gabrielle that she might love him. Xena insists that he needs to stay in Ithaka for his people regardless of whether he loves her more than Penelope, which is pretty similar to the argument she used to avoid commitment with Hercules – no settling down for this little black duck!

Xena will have to look elsewhere for a soulmate…

Also, at the end, Xena totally steals his ship. Right? Awesome.

CHAKRAM STATISTICS:
Boys who want romance with Xena: 10
Boys Xena allows to romance her: 4
Xena dead boyfriends: 2
Gabrielle dead boyfriends: 2/7
“Adorable” children: 31
Babies: 4
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

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

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2 Responses to “My Sword is Always Ready to Pleasure You [Xena Rewatch 2.16-2.19”

  1. Liz Says:

    My favourite Aphrodite episode is “The Quill is Mightier…” in Season 3 (“Why won’t my hair stay up??), but I do adore “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Joxer rox!

  2. Nice Ebook Says:

    Great post. I Haven’t had the chance to peruse this all fully but have saved this article and will eventually return back. Keep up the nice work!

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