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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Sweet Hestia, I’m in a Den of Filth [Xena Rewatch 3.9-3.11]

August 22nd, 2011 at 21:59

3.9 – Warrior, Priestess, Tramp

The small gene pool of the ancient world has struck gold again, with yet another perfect replica of Xena running around impersonating her. Princess Diana has been retired due to being a bit dull, and instead we have the British, lisping Hestian virgin Leah.

Actually, I want to know how come there are so many sets of Xena’s armour lying around, available for purchase… she should totally be getting a royalty for all sales.

Leah’s rather cute in a judgemental kind of way – I rather love the way she calls Xena and Gabrielle wanton strumpets and replies to Gabrielle’s defense that she was married at the time with “well, we all have our little excuses, don’t we?”

And of course we get Meg again, the raunchy lush who is always up to something dodgy. In this case, we have a mystery surrounding the Hestian virgins and a conspiracy against the head priestess. It’s a pretty slight mystery, though, and mostly there as an excuse for lots of bawdy jokes and an entertaining musical number when we see Joxer being greeted as a regular in Meg’s tavern.

When I say ‘tavern’ of course, it’s blatantly a brothel, though the usual Xena Curtain of Subtext is lowered so that the transactions are referred to quite obliquely, the working girls are all terribly jolly and adore their work, and the whole thing is there largely so we can laugh at the prudish priestess’s reactions.

Also, how is it that Leah has to be de-modested in order to impersonate the slutty Meg, and yet all the other Hestian virgins have dresses which are shorter and lower cut than Meg’s tavern girls?
Joxer does himself no favours in slut-shaming Meg, and getting all confused as to which Xena-looking women he is supposed to respect, and which ones he is supposed to sexually harass. Dude. Respect ALL THE WOMEN. It’s not hard.

(All the more confusing, of course, the girl he actually likes, Meg, is also the one he slut shames for having been ‘around the block a few times.’ It’s an insight into his personality in an ‘I don’t want to join any club that would have me as a member’ kind of way.)

All in all, a fun romp with some good comedy fighting. I think this is the last of the Warrior…Etc. comedies, the three Xenas plotlines having now been thoroughly milked, though Meg still has a few plot threads to come.

3.10 – The Quill is Mightier

This one is my favourite Xena comedy episode of all time, it balancing many of my favourite things about funny Xena episodes, without the worst aspects. So we get Ares, Aphrodite, Gabrielle and Joxer – even a bit of Xena herself – all playing themselves absolutely straight, and thrown into a comedy of errors in which their characters cause quite natural comedy.

Aphrodite is cranky at a group of hooligans vandalising her temple in Xena’s name, and Ares takes the opportunity to set her against Xena – or rather, against Gabrielle, whose scrolls he blames for Xena’s growing popularity. Aphrodite puts a spell on Gabrielle’s scroll to make everything she writes come true, just as Gabrielle has decided to try her hand at fiction (or, rather, Real Person Fanfic). Hijinks ensue.

It’s a classic story of wishing magic – where you have to choose your words carefully, because the magic will try to screw you at every opportunity. Gabrielle tries hard to do good with her new powers, but chaos keeps piling up.

Ares and Aphrodite both end up without their godly powers thanks to an accident of scroll, and spend the rest of the episode bickering with each other, which is one of my favourite things in the universe.

Joxer is still in love with Gabrielle, and at one point tries to write a poem to her on the enchanted scroll, which leads to three naked Gabrielles go-go dancing behind a washing line. I was always very sympathetic to Joxer’s ongoing arc, being a bit of a sucker for unrequited love stories, but this time around I teeter between feeling sorry for him and just wanting him to get a life! In this case, he morosely sells his beloved family scabbard to fulfill Aphrodite’s advice and buy Gabby a trinket.

Gabrielle is horrified – not because she realises the significance of his sacrifice, but because she took him at his word when he said how much he valued the scabbard, and had hidden the enchanted scroll there. I have to say, Joxer normally gets stiff upper lip points for keeping his love secret, but this time loses major points for feeling the need to tell Gabrielle (sadly) that the pretty necklace he bought for her was at the cost of his family treasure. Sure he needed to for the story, but it still makes him look like a dick.

Ares and Gabrielle share one of my favourite scenes, where the two of them have an unexpectedly warm conversation about how awesome Xena is – and then are equally consternated at the thought that they might have forgotten to hate each other for a minute there.

Xena turns up in the last five minutes, to save the day, which leads to another great classic fight sequence of all time: let me put it this way, she has a wagonload of fish, and an army of warlords to fight. The combination is awesome, especially when we get to the squid.

The moral of the story, of course, is that Gabrielle is a hack. Every time we get an insight into her writing process, we realise… she’s not a great writer. At all. In this case, we get an embarrassed confession that she’s not very good at writing action scenes, something that dumbfounds Ares – and leads to a very entertaining collaboration between them all.

3.11 – Maternal Instincts

This is the story which totally justifies the existence of the awful mystical pregnancy plot back in The Deliverer and Gabrielle’s Hope! Amazons, Centaurs, the return of Callisto, and one very evil little redhead girl. Tragedy and bloodshed.

This story presents one of my most hated tropes in all fiction, and I still love it.

The Centaurs and Amazons gather with their children to forge a peace treaty. Xena is reunited with her secret son Solan, who sadly hasn’t got much better at acting in the last year and a half. Gabrielle falls into Ephiny’s arms and is finally able to talk about what happened in Britain.

Oh, and a little redheaded peasant girl releases Callisto from her fiery prison… and, it turns out, gives Callisto a run for her money. It’s delicious seeing Callisto finally paired with a partner in crime who is a match for her – even better that the actress in question is about nine years old. They’re adorable together, Callisto’s childishness balancing against Little Red’s sinister maturity.

Gabrielle comes to the slow, horrified realisation that the cute little redhead running around the camp is in fact her lost baby. Could she be… Hope?

WHY YES, YES SHE COULD BE VERY MUCH.

Renee O’Connor gives a fabulous performance of Gabrielle’s conflict, trying to convince her prodigal child that she still loves her, and that she has a choice other than the path of evil. Meanwhile, Xena is distracted with protecting Solan from a vengeful Callisto. Damn, it’s good to have Callisto back. She vibrates with evil charisma and sinister smiles – plus, godlike powers, remember? Hooray!

Callisto taunts Xena that she can’t be in two places at once, and her tiny sidekick goes on a killing spree. When Solan’s foster father is murdered, he begs to live with Xena, and she decides that she will take responsibility for him…

So, you know, his days are numbered.

I have a particular loathing of the killing of babies and children in fiction – and the death of Solan is one of those instances where a child is far more interesting to the story dead than alive, which is a hard thing for me to support. The story is told so well, though, with the double bluff of Callisto threatening the children when in fact it’s Hope who is the cause of Solan’s death – and with the ‘maternal instincts’ of the episode title, we find the one thing that will cause an irretrievable rift between the two best friends forever: Gabrielle takes the side of her daughter, and causes the death of Xena’s son.

It’s awful, and wrong, but also one of the most powerful moments of the Xena saga so far. It’s a far better and more convincing cause for a rift than in any of the previous flirtations with the concept… How on earth can Xena forgive this?

Callisto is almost but not quite overshadowed in this story, but Hudson Leick puts in another blinder of a performance. You see how much she is enjoying Xena’s pain, and how unsatisfying it still is to have caused such a great hurt, but to still… be Callisto.

There’s one last act to come, with Gabrielle trying to decide whether she can actually kill her own daughter this time around, desperately wanting to be wrong about the necessity of it. Chilling work, and it shows how far Gabrielle and O’Connor have come from being Xena’s cute, ditzy sidekick. After this story arc, Gabrielle and Xena will always be equals… assuming they can find their way back to each other.

It won’t be today.

“You want to kill me. Wish y’could.
” (Callisto)

You were wrong, Callisto. You let your pain kill you for years. I’m gonna live with mine.” (Xena)

CHAKRAM STATISTICS:
People who want romance with Xena: 12
People Xena allows to romance her: 7
Xena dead lovers: 3
Gabrielle dead boyfriends: 2/7
“Adorable” children: 36
Babies: 5
Babies tossed humorously in the air during fight scenes: 6
Xena doppelgangers: 4
Xena sings at a funeral: 3 (she doesn’t sing for Solon, Ephiny does)
Xena dies: 3
Gabrielle dies: 3
Characters brought back from the dead (including ghosts and visits to the Underworld): 21
Ares loses his powers and goes all to pieces about it: 2
Xena or Gabrielle earns money: 2
Xena or Gabrielle spends money (or claims to have money to spend): 6
Out of the Pantheon: Morpheus, Ares, Hera, the Titans, Hades, Celesta, Charon, the Fates, Bacchus, Aphrodite, Cupid, Poseidon, the Furies, Discord
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

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

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