Tag Archives: xena rewatch

Because Caesar Was Taken [Xena Rewatch 3.16-3.19]

3.16 – When in Rome

Pompey the Magnus. Oh my yes.

I was excited to see this was a Rome episode and even more excited to realise it features Crassus, a historical character who has always interested me. But then Caesar turned up, stealing all the oxygen in the room, except that which is pinched by his rival and “ally,” Pompey THE Magnus. And I really stopped caring about Crassus.

Jeremy Callaghan, who will always be Brian from Police Rescue for me (last seen in an earlier Xena episode as a thug who might possibly have a heart of gold under his grubby armour), does a good job of balancing out Karl Urban’s shall we say High Acting, and has good sinister chemistry with Xena, too. He takes it a bit too far at times with the grape sucking and furniture chewing, but that sort of thing is what Xena is all about.

“So why do they call you the Warrior Princess?”
“Because ‘Caesar’ was taken.”

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The Bitter and Sweet of it [Xena Rewatch 3.12-3.15]

3.12 – The Bitter Suite

I have listened to the soundtrack to this episode so many times that I think it’s imprinted on my skin somewhere. Fair warning, I really love this one, and it’s probably one of the episodes I have most rewatched, though not in recent years.

Xena and Gabrielle are broken apart, forever. Both are lost in grief and despair. What could possibly heal the rift between these two?

A kooky comedy musical!

No, seriously.

In an era of brilliant kooky musical episodes (and other kooky gimmick episodes, remember Farscape’s animated episode, or the Angel muppet experiment), The Bitter Suite leaves Buffy’s Once More With Feeling in the dust. The music is bizarre and beautiful, the imagery is surreal, and the characters drag themselves through every painful emotion that they have.

We see Joxer come into his own in the opening scenes, trying to protect Gabrielle from a murderous Xena, who actually goes so far as to rope Gabrielle’s ankles and drag her in the mud behind her horse. But when they stop on a cliff’s edge, it’s Gabrielle – in touch with her own previously-suppressed anger thanks to her inner Callisto – who pushes her friend over the edge…

And into the pretty, song-obsessed fantasyland that is Illusia.

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

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.

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Coping With Your First Kill [Xena Rewatch 3.5-3.8]

Sorry, this is a long one! I might have to start doing one post per episode if they get any longer…

3.5 – Gabrielle’s Hope.

Yes, it’s been a long time between drinks. I think I put this one off because it’s a very emotionally tough episode, and one I never particularly enjoyed. Apart from anything, there are – violence and pregnancy and baby themes in this one. When it comes to SF/fantasy TV, that’s rarely a good thing.

The episode opens with a moment of deep hurt/comfort. Gabrielle is disturbed by dreams of her first kill from the previous episode – and has turned the whole thing around in her head so her victim was a sweet, innocent flower as opposed to a calculating religious obsessive who tricked Gabrielle into taking her life. Gab’s reaction is not just emotional, but physical – she keeps feeling nauseated. Xena is certain this is a normal part of the healing process.

But then things start getting screwy. Banshees attack them, only to profess worship of Gabrielle. Villagers gather, determined to burn Gabrielle as a witch… and, oh yes. She has food cravings. Weird, icky food cravings.

Can anyone else see where this is going?

Yes, Gabrielle is great with child – one of those speedy demon babies who whips through the system in under 24 hours (oh, the STRETCH MARKS) and isn’t going to stick around long. Unlike Deanna Troi in Star Trek: Next Gen though, this one is going to have long, long ramifications.

[Note to all, the review for this ep was written a million years ago, or possibly about six months, but it ties in beautifully with the discussion we had on the last Galactic Suburbia about mystical pregnancy, so yay!]

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Lunatic with Lethal Combat Skills [Xena Rewatch 3.1-3.4]

Season Three is upon us! Is it me, or is Gabrielle’s top getting tinier? Also, her boots this season are awesome.

3.1 – The Furies

Unlike last season, which ran through a few ‘meh’ episodes before hitting its stride, season three opens with a bang, presenting us with a powerful story that shows Xena in a whole new light, and potentially adds a whole lot of baggage to her mythos, while drawing a sharp line under one previously important element of her backstory.

Ares, that sexy snarky bastard, sics the Furies on Xena. Reimagined as a trio of New Romantic stripper babes with spiky hairdos, the Furies curse Xena with madness until she brings justice against a member of her family whose death was never avenged: her father.

The madness plotline is where the story could really have gone off the rails. Indeed it looks at first like they are going that route, with Lucy Lawless enacting her “madness” in a manic eyerolling, pantomime style. They make up for this unpromising start with some quieter scenes between Xena and Gabrielle as Xena tries to make sense of what is happening to her, and particularly where Gabrielle takes on the role of carer to her confused, hallucinating friend.

It is worth noting that, as with Callisto, Xena’s state of sanity/insanity is conveyed through the degree to which her hair is unbrushed.

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Hide the Hestian Virgins!

2.20 The Price

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.

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

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.

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Divide and Conquer [Xena Rewatch 2.12-2.15]

2.12 Destiny

As far as best episodes of Xena ever go, this one makes a good case for itself. In the pre-credits sequence, Xena does her usual thing of trying to save a bunch of villagers (and Gabrielle) from some big meanies. Only this time, she manages to get herself seriously wounded. To the show’s credit, they don’t let her fall thanks to an ordinary fight, or an error in judgement.

No, to get the better of Xena it takes a massive great tree on a pulley system cracking her against another massive great tree.

In any case, she manages to give Gabrielle instructions on where to take her to get help (a mountaintop, that won’t be hard at all!) and lapses into unconsciousness.

As Gabrielle struggles to get Xena to her destination, we are treated to a flashback story about how Xena crossed over from a bad-ass woman with a mission to protect her village, to an evil warlord who cared about nothing but power and screwing people over and KILL KILL KILL.

Naturally, it’s because of a bloke.

At this point, if someone were describing it to me, I would be very annoyed that our major subversive feminist hero went to her darkest place ever because of a man. I might in fact want to kick, bite and break things. But we are not just talking about any man here. We are talking about (drum roll) JULIUS FREAKING CAESAR, thank you very much, and as the episode demonstrates, it’s not just any love story gone bad. It’s far more interesting than that.

My favourite Caesar anecdote of all times, made especially glorious in Colleen McCullough’s retelling in (I think) Fortune’s Favourites (a novel rumoured to have inspired this very episode), is about how as a young man he was captured by pirates. He not only demanded that they ask a much higher ransom than they originally intended, but also promised that he would come back and capture them all in return, and that when he did, he would crucify them honourably rather than selling them as slaves. They laughed good-naturedly, knowing he could never find their secret cove again, but he was true to his word, much smarter than they gave him credit for, and duly had them all executed.

In this version, Xena is the pirate captain. And Caesar is devastatingly charismatic, while at the same time giving the overall impression that he is a smug, privileged private schoolboy with delusions of grandeur. Caesar is played by Karl Urban. He is smarmy, irritating and supremely confident, and Xena pretty much wants to rip the clothes right off him. So she does.

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The Future Is Archaeologists [Xena Rewatch 2.09-2.11]

2.9 A Solstice Carol

I’ve talked before about the weird juxtaposition of Christian mythology in with the ancient Greek stories in Xena. Peter M Ball also singled it out as one of the aspects of the Xenaverse that jars badly. This episode is the worst offender, and it is the closest I have come to skipping one in this rewatch. I was determined to find some redeeming feature, though I figured a naked fish fight was too much to hope for…

What I did find was an answer to why, perhaps, the more Christian/Biblical stories of these early seasons don’t work. I think it’s because they’re just so BADLY WRITTEN. In particular, they tend towards sentimentality, as if they’re so desperate not to offend that they end up being like one of those awful moralistic made-for-TV Christmas movies.

In this case, we actually have a Christmas story, something I think was only done this once, and thank Ares for that. Apart from the substitution of language so we get ‘winter solstice’ instead of Christmas and ‘fates’ instead of spirits, it’s basically an amalgam of all those really bad 80’s holiday movies and Dickensian cliches, complete with ragged, good-hearted orphans, a sad old toymaker, and a mean king who needs to be taught a lesson. Yes, really.

At the episode’s lowest point, we have Santa Claus using a crossbow armed with candy canes, Gabrielle bell-ringing on the helmets of the naughty guards, an unhappy ex-wife forgiving her husband with very little reason to do so. Oh yes, and a gratuitous Mary & Joseph cameo.

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How Do You Mortals Get From Day To Day? [Xena Rewatch 2.5-2.8]

2.5 Return of Callisto
This episode is a real game-changer.

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.

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