IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL
Season 4, Episode 4
27 February , 1999
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 6.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster; Edited by Rob Field; Directed by Josh Becker.
PASSING PARADE: Ted Raimi (Joxer); Timothy Lee (Acestus); Campbell Cooley (Euraylus) ; Andrew Kovacevich (Innkeeper); Allen O'Halloran (Scythian Soldier) and Albert Sword (Villager).
STORY SO FAR: Joxer needs a hand defending a village and asks Xena and Gabrielle to help. However the dynamic duo are a little seedy due to Xena having lice and Gabrielle having a spreading case of foot-rot. Meanwhile, Argo doesnt seem to want to return to Xena, causing the Warrior Princess much angst.
DISCLAIMER: No Leapin' Lice were beaten, whipped, smashed or scratched during the
production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Hyper bunny wabbit high on widdle wed berries. Now, thats some vicious critter. But fear not, Gabs is up to the task. Thanks to Taras free education in Forgiven she knows exactly what to do: Thats right she bites its ear.
The scene where Xena is throwing lice into the fire. I could be wrong but I swear I heard one lice squeal, in true South Park fashion: "Ohmigod shes killed Kenny." And then another replied: "The bitch!" If my ears arent playing tricks this would make sense as the humor is as close as Xena will get to a South Park homage episode.
For those who like watching hideous car accidents, rewind for the inexplicable all wailing, all moaning Xena, doing everything but chest thump and tear at her bodice, as she sobs: "I cant believe Argo would let some one else ride her. What we had was a beautiful thing; I ruined it."
The rock pool... mmm, now theres a holiday destination. Sure, it has its drawbacks - like the compulsory wearing of goat poo, but nowheres perfect.
The chakram-scratching scene, at the beginning, which makes one wonder if Renee enjoyed When Harry Met Sally a little too much.
QUOTABLE: "Im not asking for much. I just want my pony back." Xena, a warrior of simple tastes. Alas, shes probably living in the past a bit...
"I need a volunteer. Dont be shy. Your mother wasnt." Xena now in total Furies form (remember the tacky weasels line from that ep?), so much so shell turn her back on a strange man holding her sword. Huh?!
Joxer: Your trail was too easy to follow. Any idiot could find you.
Joxer: Xena, if itd make you feel better, Ill go look for Argo.
Xena (sarcastically): Yeah thatd take a load off.
Joxer: I couldnt find Argo anywhere.
Gabrielle: And we had such high hopes.
From the writers of the silly Fins, Femmes and Gems we get an episode so deranged and goofy one could swear were back in season two. Its almost a spoof of a Xena episode, and comes off as though cast and crew are doing up their out-takes show for the Chrissy party. It boasts more bodily function jokes per second than an all-boys boarding school, so if you dont like your drool adrippin and your foot rot flaking then this is most definitely not the episode for you.
Everything is played for laughs - including a feral Monty Pythonesque rabbit with the worst CGI-ed teeth I have ever seen, being taken down by Gabrielle in a unique "death by breast" technique (I kid you not) - which would have had Xena taking notes if shed seen it.
But heres the truly scary thing: throughout it all, it was Joxer was playing the sensible one; the one who remains focused on the job. (Ignore that shudder you just felt. I had it too.)
The critic in me cant ignore one glaring, massive characterisation annoyance about this episode. For the first time ever, Xena allows herself to become the butt of the jokes. Xena becomes Joxer. Xenas the fool. She hams it up so badly, shes due for a guest spot on Hercules.
Theres even a scene where Gabrielle taps Xena on the head and her head echoes hollowly - a good Joxer joke - but for Xena? Imagine if Iolus tapped Herc on the head and it made that wooden noise. Its denigrating the hero. Not good, folks.
Xena The Silly just doesnt sit right for one who is supposed to be our larger than life legend. Doesnt matter how near death she is, our indefatigable Warrior Princess has always in the past been able to drag her creaking bones upright and, like the professional warrior she is, pull off a mighty good, kick ass performance. Or was One Against The Army and The Greater Good a curious hallucination?
Yet, in this episode, a few bugs (which she doesnt even admit to having) have her reverting to her Three Scrooges brain-addled personality from The Furies. She even has the bad hair and Meg bug-eyed looks happening.
But thats ok, right? Its all in the name of humor, right? Who cares if its out of character and makes no sense? The big thing is we all laughed and we needed a few chuckles after so much darkness. Right?
I wont answer that, except to say, Xena can be funny without mocking its hero and turning her into Esre (remember our Bronx speaking, gold statue-buying Xena who had no compunction about bawling publicly if it suited her?). I never ever thought Id see the day Xena - not under the influence of gods, madness, disguises, or mind altering substances - would sit in a crowded tavern and openly and humiliatingly wail like Nanny Fine as she does over Argo. It was a weird and disturbing sight: Youre staring open-mouthed and wishing you could look away soon, before every last precept you hold dear about your hero is shattered forever.
Which brings us to personality transplant number 2. Argo would leave Xena for an apple? Yeah, so Gabrielle was right, but I seem to remember Argo was smarter than your average horse and a bit more loyal to boot. In The Greater Good she refused to tear Xena apart and "told" another horse not to do so, taking a bad whipping in the process. Just strikes me as a little odd such an intelligent animal (well they have spent many an ep telling/showing us she is) would be so easily swayed, particularly by a ruthless man who appeared to plan to break her in by any means necessary. On that note, are we seriously to believe he figured merely having a pretty horse would give him an assured victory? Heres the commanders exact words when he spotted Argo: "With a horse like that under me, Id be unstoppable and evil will rule the world. Ha ha ha..." (Couldnt resist inserting the trademark evil cackle - it was sooo bad!)
Personality transplants aside, which is really my only big gripe about the episode, it was a pretty funny one. It reminded me a little in tone of A Comedy of Eros - not a huge plot but the plot wasnt really the point. It actually had three threads, which is unusual - Xena getting Argo back; Joxer defending the village/stopping the Scythians and Gabrielle and Xenas medical complaints.
I like the way the Argo retrieval became a part of the plot line, in much the same way Xena hunted for Gabrielle. While she could have just turned up this episode on Argo, Xena having to actually track her down made a lot more sense and answered a few unanswered questions: like why didnt Xena stable her (Argo doesnt like being cramped up); where did Xena leave her (at the horses old stomping grounds)...
I couldnt help but laugh at the newest version of water torture - which lead to the mere threat of a Gabrielle kiss being enough to break a hardened killer. If I was Renee I dont know whether Id be offended or not!
The writers of Xenaverse fanfic seemed to have rubbed off a tad on the writers of this episode. For the first time Xena refers to her "bedroll"; both Xena and Gabrielle get to stay over at an inn; Xena tries to get Gabrielles mind off her complaints by citing food - ie "Think about breakfast" and Gabrielles long forgotten issue with Argo in the TV world resurfaces as she questions why the horse doesnt like her. I thought maybe last weeks eerily-close-to-fanfic characterisation of Gabrielles parents was a fluke; but nope, this is now appears the clincher. Bards can now rejoice; Xena bods read their stuff...
There were some pretty well written stretches of dialogue in this , none more so than the exchanges between Scabrielle and Excema on their respective conditions. I am fond of the word games they played "Hey Im not the one with the fungus among us"; "You wanna piece of me???" (Could have done without the flesh offering that accompanied it).
But I think I did a triple take in one scene where Gabrielle is using Xenas chakram as a backrub (cmon, thats gotta hurt - or did she set it to stun?).
The dialogue had a whole other layer depending on whether youre watching what theyre doing (pointing out scabs and the like) or listening to how theyre saying theyre lines, in the "Ill have what shes having" routine of the year:
Gabrielle: Oooh, ahhh, ooooo, yeah...mmmmnnn
Xena: Thats not my... chakram... youre scratching your fungus on, is it?
Gabrielle: Yeah (breathily) it is your chakram. (Pause) Come on I just need some RELIEF. (Her emphasis.)
Gabrielle: Look my fingernails are worn to the nub... Ive got to scratch.
Xena: You shouldnt be scratching anyway, itll only make things worse.
Gabrielle: (Bats eyelashes seductively) Im not going to give it to you...
And so on. I dunno - I think those two were hamming it up so much they just needed the lettuce on the side for the full sandwich. Of course it may have just been a coincidence, all those breathy sighs and talk of fingers worn to the nub... I for one am prepared to believe however you read that scene, Lucy and Renee were certainly enjoying it waaay more than the script called for!
This episode had one slight developmental moment in it: Gabrielle actually saved Xenas life. At the end, Xena is so focused on Argo and so out of it she seems incapable of defending herself against the last bad guy thundering up to her. Our dear bard, she who can still barely hold a weapon in the opening credits and certainly not without tripping on her dress, smacks that sucker right off his horse and makes sure hes not getting up again. Way to go Gabrielle, and timely tongue recovery, too.
Idiot of the week award goes to the army which lets a strange man walk up to them in a non chef-like outfit and feed them from a pail which has been who knows where containing who knows what. They got what they deserved and then some - well, Joxers pail was way too small to feed them all so he was doing a pretty nifty loaves and fishes routine there for a bit.
Inexplicable line of the week goes to Xena establishing Joxers credentials as a food poisoning expert by saying how he made them and the whole village sick. Did you see any sick villagers?
Is it just me, or did it seem slightly weird that anyone would want Joxer standing over them with the loo/scroll paper in hand, at a rather delicate moment of bowel "banshee" attack? Still he did just invent the loo roll holder, so Joxers week is looking up.
And to be fair to Ted, I noted after their first big fight in the village, Raimi was the only one of our beat em up trio who remembered hed been through a fight. He was panting and resting his hands on his knees. Xena and Gabrielle may well have been taking a stroll for how worked up they looked. Or are they just more used to this?!
In sum, here for the first time in ages, is an episode for the youngsters to howl in laughter at and for the adults to pretend they dont find it as funny as they do. Toilet humor abounds - literally and metaphorically - and while Xena has had far too much of a touch of the Furies, its an amusing enough episode, which will transport you back to the silly, happier old days of Xena.
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