THE BITTER SUITE
Episode 12 15 August, 1998
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 9.5 chakrams.
SCRIBES & SCROLLS:
Written by Steven Sears and Chris Manheim;
Edited by Robert Field;
Directed by Oley Sassone;
Lyrics by Joseph LoDuca, Pamela Phillips Oland, Dennis Spiegel; Musical Staging by Jeff Calhoun;
Supervising Music Editor Philip Tallman.
Callisto (Hudson Leick);
Ted Raimi (Joxer);
Kevin Smith (Ares);
David Taylor (Solan);
Ephiny (Danielle Cormack);
Karl Urban (Julius Caesar); Marton Csokas (Khrafstar); Willa ONeill (Lila); Daniel Sing (Ming Tien).
STORY SO FAR: Gabrielle and Xena blame each other for their pain. An enraged Xena seeks revenge by dragging the bard behind a horse and trying to hurl her off a cliff. They both fall and enter the world of Illusia. In this musical world, they are faced with their pain and guilt and have to work out their feelings, acknowledge their mistakes and seek forgiveness to emerge through the other side.
DISCLAIMER: The musical genre was not harmed during the production of this motion picture. In fact the producers sincerely hope you were A-MUSE-D by this episode.
REWIND FOR: Did we just see Xena whipping Argo?? - she must be cross; Remember that happily deranged look on Xenas face after MLila died in Destiny/Quest and she promised Hades a bumpy ride? Well check out her giving it to Gabrielle after she kills the phantom bard in Illusia - very different from her cold rage on the mountain; During the purification ritual Gabrielle screams YES, yet outside the hut Joxer and Ephiny hear NO; Gabrielles magic modesty skirts are at it again - after being pulled along behind a horse, Gabrielles toga should have been up around her ears, but look at where the hem is when Xena reigns in the horse - pristinely tucked around her ankles!; Check out Xenas fabulous lip curl in the Amazon village just after she asks Wheres Gabrielle - you just know shes not asking for the bards health; spot the Entertainment Tonight co-host playing extra - Ill give you a hint, she has the biggest hair in Poteidaia; Joxer does some pretty incredibly things with his lyre given he doesnt changes his fingering; Xenas got an unusual view of the world it seems - check out the bit with the army chanting Xena - the set is dark and foreboding, yet when the pair get sent to their next scene Xena comments that the new place is to frighten them because the old place was bright and colourful. (Hmm - I do not want to know what she thinks is dark.) Finally, in the penultimate scene, was this the birth of acid rain?
This whole atonement kick youve been on lately is not you - youre full of fire, bending the world to your will, full of rage, revenge. Accept it Xena, embrace it. Ares with his usual chatup line to Xena.
Because of Xena you had a daughter: her hatred for Caesar took you to Britannia, straight to Dahak, where she deserted you, Callisto to Gabrielle, and who is taking such a long bow I feel obliged to point out it was really Hercules who killed Solan - for if he hadnt turned Xena to good, she wouldnt have been wandering aimlessly around Poteidaia one day, in time to discover a certain bard who, by travelling in Xenas exotic circles, would end up in the family way, producing a child who would kill Solan. Soooo - I trust we will see Herc in the Amazon pain hut soon? Hmm?
The Elysian Fields! Only heroes wind up here. Dead heroes. Dead naked heroes. Gabrielle to the bush - and youd think by now both she and Xena would be getting used to winding up naked...Sheesh, Ive lost count.
Youve not lived till youve been gored by Xena - a groupie from Xenas army.
Did that fill you with glee to kill your little friend; did that ease your suffering or bring it to an end? Callisto - who would more than anyone else know the answer to that one.
Nothing more need be said. Ding dong the bitch is dead. Ares, a sore winner.
I hurt inside... dont you? Gabrielle to Xena... wow, now thats a line.
SLKS REVIEW: I never thought Id come across a Xena episode as good as The Debt/s but this one is right up there. Okay, hands up everyone who cringed when they heard the Xena bods had done a musical. Yeah, me too. But when they raise the bar they certainly go for broke. Not only wasnt this a cringe ep with cheese on top, it was downright gripping. The budget for this episode was 50 per cent more than usual, they probably *did* kill a few frock tarts this time round by the look of those stunning costumes, and the music - well - two songs got an Emmy nomination, so that says something. Ill begin at the beginning which I thought was one of the lamest scenes in the show - I mean I dont care if you are getting whipped for three days -do it with palm fronds and theyre still just palm fronds - it seemed pretty silly. It would have had more impact (and been more logical) if Gabrielle had locked herself away for days and wouldnt see a soul, even to eat or drink. Still Renee managed to keep a straight face and the tear slipping down her nose was sad.
Interesting that Gabrielle should conjure up an image of Callisto to manifest and breathe life into her darkest thoughts - as though these are thoughts so dark she wouldnt dare believe they had come from her, let alone be expressed by her. Now thats suppression on a grand scale. (You cant imagine Xena conjuring up Callistos image just to think a really bad thought.) But back to her choice of images: perhaps Callisto to Gabrielle does personify darkness more than anyone else she knows - husband killer that she is and all. So she would be the perfect choice to help focus all of Gabrielles guilt and pain and blame it on someone else - Xena (just as Callisto did). As an aside, I note the warmth of the colours in the hut and the fact Gabrielle was getting her butt whipped (literally) means we are meant to feel heat - a nice contrast for the cold rage Xena was trying and failing to swallow on an icy white mountain top. Ares serves the same purpose as Callisto - to give Xena a focus for her pain - thereby also ridding himself of an annoyance in his plans to reclaim Xena - Gabrielle. Less said about the horse drag scene the better and I have little doubt Australian viewers saw one tenth of what American viewers did. But for the record - that bard got dragged through wood and rock, fire, air and water - all the elements. Literally.
That vengeance; I hate you nose to nose bit was the most chilling scene of the show. Made the hairs on my arm stand on end. I do believe Xenas going to have a hard time explaining this one later: Heck, here Xena is deliberately about to hurl her best friend off a cliff - this is no intervention from the gods; no dream. She is just... angry. We always knew she had it in her but we never *really* dreamed she would do such a thing. Now we know. Xena co-executive producer Steven Sears says that when Gabrielle screams I hate you that is her equivalent point of hitting rock bottom to Xenas rock bottom (the horse drag etc)... I guess its all a matter of interpretation but even though the good bard Gabrielle would never scream: I hate you at anyone ordinarily, so it *is* undoubtedly a huge thing for her - I think theres a grave difference in rock bottoms between the two womens behaviours. They hardly seem comparable. I suppose herein lies the intrinsic difference between the two women.
Another aside: Steven Sears tell us the reason Xena wasnt on Argo was that Argo wouldnt have dragged Gabrielle. How comforting. Still on the explanations, youre probably wondering where the heck Illusia came from. Me too. Sears tells us it was created by Solan who wanted Xena and Gabrielle back together. Something to do with the power of love. Uh huh. Okay. I wont comment on the fact half the population of Ancient Greece should theoretically be spending most of their lives in Illusia for every time someone dies and wants to fix the unfinished business for the sake of love. But perhaps Solan was special?
I dont really mind where Illusia came from, it certainly livened things up in the Xenaverse. The entry via water - a cleansing substance - was inspired; the lack of clothing to signify they have been stripped of all that they were and are ready to start anew, equally thoughtful. I dug Callistos opening voiceover and, in fact her whole getup as a tarot card character guide. Her lithe dancer like movements were perfect for this part. But her quote of the day was to Xena: Youre wrong not to trust one who knows you so well... Its true. Xena is currently as bent out of shape as Callisto ever was and thus knows precisely all the roiling anger and hatred coursing through Xenas veins. Furthermore, Callisto spent her life studying Xena - she would know her better than anyone. Later, when Xena has killed the phantom Gabrielle, Callisto proves that her earlier line was very truthful indeed: Did it fill you with glee to kill your little friend; did that ease your suffering or bring it to an end? Oh yeah, Callistos been there too - in last weeks show and her moment of awful realisation (alas cut by Channel 10) that taking revenge on the person she perceived caused her pain (Xena) did absolutely nothing whatsoever. This is exactly where Xena is at now. Callisto is indeed Xenas ideal guide. Of course that left them in a quandary for Gabrielle. Who is her ideal guide? Someone who reflects who she is as much as Callisto reflects Xena. And they came up with... Joxer. If I was Renee, Id sue. Seriously though, Joxer does apparently have a heart of gold so hes close enough. But the other reason for Joxer is that he is the light element to contrast the dark going on in Xenas army world. I thought Ted Raimi did a pretty good job - this time he pulled back on the ham just enough to not overpower everything. I laughed at the dead naked heroes line; and the special effects department earns a nod for their grass dress.
Its fascinating looking at Xena and Gabrielles respective true homes. Xenas home is an army, people chanting her name (of course); power, might, strength and people to lead. Gabrielles home is Poteidaia - a place where people love her unconditionally and see things in the same way she does. For instance, Lilas line is most telling: If your child had lived we would have made her welcome too. That was one of Gabrielles biggest beefs with Xena - that she couldnt see the joy Hope represented for her; only the evil she was. But her family and friends would have known - or rather seen Hope the way Gabrielle wanted Xena to see her. But it is also a bitter sweet (sorry) reminder for Gabrielle of the downside: Hesitate until you die; sing the folks; Nothing changes but the tide, we dont even change our minds. Its friendly, its bright and yet, she observes with confusion, dull, unchanging. Small note on Willa ONeill (Lila), because she was surrounded by professional singers, she came off sounding worse than she probably was. I think they could have done Willa a favor and dubbed her as they did Renee and Hudson Leick (Callisto). And speaking of the pros - whoohoo - has Lucy got a set of lungs on her or what???
And Kevin Smith (Ares), what a surprise! No wonder so many fans are going gooey for him. Funnily enough I hear hes quite shy about his singing voice - heavens knows why when you can resonate a sensuous rumble like that. And speaking of sensuous, his dance with Xena was beautiful to watch - it was hard to tell where his body ended and hers began. Kevin, again modestly, apparently does not dance and took many lessons before this scene. Well it obviously paid off. Kudos also for Lucy for making that scene an absolute winner - from the moment of her mad excitement and adrenalin surge for having finally done what she set out to do - kill Gabrielle - to her confusion at what she has done, to the horror as the realisation sinks in and finally - and we dont see this look very often Xenites, her *fear* when an angry and very much alive Gabrielle confronts her. She looks frightened and guilty that Gabrielle has caught her doing something so unspeakable, that she knows shes in very deep water. I also liked the scene for one other reason - Gabrielle is now on the front foot again and no longer fearful of Xena. Actually shes beside herself with anger and incredulousness. The point is, they have moved beyond the self preservation (such as the cliff battle) and we know theyre on their way to the start of some very serious patching up. On that note, the turning point of the show is Gabrielles answer to Xenas question - How do you feel right now, nothing about the past, right now. I hurt inside... dont you? she asks tremulously. Heck - that hits the spot. The rest is fairly straightforward - they confront their demons one by one. For Gabrielle it is Dahak and her first kill; for Xena it is Caesar et al. The song Hate is the Star is the only one I didnt really think too much of - especially coming after such a powerful one. I noticed to my pleasant surprise that during this redemption phase not once but twice Xena moves to try and protect Gabrielle - once when Gabrielle is being pulled into the flames; and the next time to scream a warning when evil Xena tries to stab Gabrielle on the altar. Interestingly, Gabrielle did not try to call out to Xena to warn her about her legs being imminently crunched. Ah well - old habits maybe? Xena always was more the protector, and Gabrielle more often on the receiving end to pain.
The closing scene with Solan was just a joy to watch - the lighting, the final cleansing water - which Gabrielle goes through, changing her clothing, her hair, but Xena, still dishevelled, can not. What a great way to tie up a loose end with Ming Tien from The Debt. Fantastic. And Xena down on her knees begging for forgiveness from Gabrielle and Solan. I ask you: who could say no to that? Certainly Gabrielle caved and forgave her very quickly, but in all honesty, who can blame her?! It was heartfelt and touching. The hug was sweet, but this rolling around in the water business as they both laughed in relief seemed silly. Xena will be plucking sand out of her wet leathers for awhile yet... but oh well, Im a softie - alls well that ends well. They even had the setting sun. Awww. Lets hope Xena does indeed take home those two Emmys for that stunning, surprising effort. And may the rift, finally, end here. Forever. Amen.
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