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.
We do get Xena playing dress up which is always fun, and Gabrielle trying to communicate with a troublesome but weirdly intelligent donkey, but none of these things make up for the sheer awfulness of the episode’s saccharine message. Which is, you know, that it’s REALLY important to have toys and nice things one day out of the year, and if your inhumanly high expectations for that day aren’t met, you should probably just hurl yourself off a cliff. Or something about orphans.
This episode is another game-changer, which sets out exactly what kind of program Xena is. Which is to say, batshit crazy. It has to be the most expensive clip show of all time, featuring all new sets, costumes from a different historical era, vintage cars, and explosions.
The premise is simple, and yet awesome: it’s the late 1930’s, and Janice Covington (Renee O’Connor/Gab), an Indiana Jones style rogue archaeologist adventurer is searching for the legendary Xena Scrolls. Teaming up with bumbling and sweet linguist Mel (Lucy Lawless) and the worst French spy impersonator of all time Jacques S’Er (Ted Raimi/Joxer), Janice swashes, buckles and machine guns her way through a rollicking Temple of Doom style adventure, with occasional snippets from the legendary scrolls, hampered at times by mistranslations and unreliable narration.
In the climactic showdown, Ares turns up, demanding to be freed from his cavernous prison, and Mel is possessed by the spirit of Xena…
The thing about clip shows, a tradition which DVD box sets have pretty much forced into obsolescence, is that they enabled the show in question to define its own mythology. Sure, it was a cheap way to make an episode to fill out an over-long TV season, but it also gave them a chance to tell the audience which parts of the show were most important – which character arcs, which B plots, which themes, which snarky lines uttered by Alex P Keaton…
With the Xena Scrolls, the whole ‘cheap’ thing is thrown out with the bathwater, but it is very much an episode that works hard to define the mythology of the show. Indeed, from this season onwards you can point to several meta-episodes per year which do the same thing through a variety of techniques including flashback, self-referential comedy and in many cases, the use of Gabrielle’s scrolls to commentate on the action.
This is the first of the ‘futureverse’ episodes – and far from being a one shot, the events of this Indiana Jones parody will cause ripples in the ‘modern day’ setting which remains surprisingly consistent in many Hercules and Xena episodes to come. The most constant element in those stories is Ares, and I always wondered if the show would end up honouring or contradicting these visions of the future.
While we have seen Ares being all seducy-face pretty much since he first turned up in the show, this is the first episode which explicitly tells us that he desires Xena, and that he sees their emnity as a love (or at least lust) story. Just as explicitly, we see her roll her eyes at him and refuse to dignify it with a response. Honestly, it’s like kicking a puppy. A sexy, leather-clad, all-powerful puppy.
Speaking of sexy, both Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor are awesome in this episode, playing strongly against type – Renee as the butch, devil-may-care, whip-cracking Janice, and Lucy as the sweet, glamorous and soulful Mel. By the end, they are hesitantly agreeing to stick with their “friendship” and stay together.
You know, it shouldn’t BE a revelation that Xena is actually one big subversive feminist queer-friendly narrative, but honestly. It’s not like they were ever subtle about it.
2.11 Here She Comes, Miss Amphipolis
This is a beauty pageant story, which should be stupid, but somehow gets away with it. Xena gets to play dress up again – other actresses simply could not get away with saying ‘don’t hate me because I’m beautiful’ with a straight face in the middle of a fight scene while wearing a blonde wig. Ultimately the whole thing turns into a story about how beauty pageants are done entirely for the benefit of men, the climax consisting each of the women bowing out of the competition for the sake of their dignity, choosing to seek what they need through different, less sensationalist means.
And then the prize is taken out by a drag queen. Who celebrates by putting on a tiara and snogging the hell out of Xena. Did I MENTION that Xena is one big subversive feminist queer-friendly narrative?
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: 31
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): 11
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): 4
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
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?