Season 3, Episode 15
12 September, 1998
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 4.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Chris Manheim; Edited by Robert Field; Directed by Janet Greek
PASSING PARADE: Ted Raimi (Joxer); Patrick Fabian (Rafe); Cameron Rhodes (Eldon); Justin Curry (Leo) and Stig Eldred (Titus).
STORY SO FAR: When Joxer is badly beaten up, Xena sets out with two conmen and Gabrielle to scam the man behind it.
DISCLAIMER: No Con Men were conned during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Gabrielle taunting Xena with how well she knows what shes thinking, in the opening scene; and was that techno music and disco lights in the casino? How very progressive. How sad history should retain this particular knowledge to inflict on future generations...
QUOTABLE: "Trust me Rafe, no man can make her." Eldon to Rafe about a certain recalcitrant Warrior Princess - giving the subtexters some fun.
"Lucky nine, momma needs a new pair of sandals..." Was Xena taking notes off Meg during Warrior Priestess Tramp? Or were the writers? One way or another it was virtually the same line.
"Its my fault; I should have hogtied him when he asked me to." Gabrielle, miraculously straightfaced, to Xena about Joxer. Perchance he wasnt as delirious as everyone thought? Hehehe...
After last weeks "nice idea, didnt work" effort we have an episode which is more "bad idea, trying to make it work". I know inconsistencies riddle the Xenascape, and most of the time I turn a blind eye to it all because the episodes usually find a way to redeem themselves somehow - maybe through a good laugh or a nice dramatic moment. King Con, alas, despite valiant efforts by all in it, offers no redeeming moments to make us forget the plain ridiculousness of an out-and-out bad plot that was inexplicable; contradictory and illogical.
To start at the start, there was the dialogue. Here is but a joyless cross-section: "Well see about that"; "So long, Mr Lucky"; "When youre hot, youre hot"; "Im going to take you down piece by piece"; "Im gonna love every minute of it"; "You better run, you dirty thief"; "You and me go head to head...winner takes all"; "Read em and weep"; "Anyone move and she cashes in for good"; "You wont get away"; "Whos gonna stop me"; "Leaving so soon? Dont bet on it"...
I could go on but time, space and having a life forbids me repeating the entire script of this unfunny childrens holiday movie fare. Before the hardy Xenites among yall protest that all Xena scripts have their sprinkling of ho-hum lines, thats true, but this one used the rest of the seasons supply of cliche and trite in one hit. This could be forgiveable, maybe, if the plot was gangbusters. It was not.
Lets have a look at this plot for a moment. Firstly, Xena and Gabrielle, inexplicably and against all we have ever seen of them, are going willingly to meet Joxer. Why is never explained. (Id love to know what possible reason theyd have.)
Also, after two and a half seasons of expressing their distaste for the wouldbe warrior, we hear Gabrielle inform him (while he is comatose no less) that he is part of the family to them. Oh, okay. So that would be the same family that yanks him by the ear and nose at regular intervals, mocks him and leaves him behind at every opportunity?
Not only that but we see Xena has suddenly developed a deeply emotional streak for him which at times verges on the Is There A Doctor In The House passions when she finds him beaten and bloodied. I am not saying Xena would be unfeeling about this, but in Been There Done That when Joxer died the first time, it was clearly Gabrielle who needed the comforting and Xena was easily able to contain her emotions inside - such as they were - for him. At worst, I recall, she frowned a lot. (She looked way more upset about her horse dying.)
Moving right along to the next inconsistency...
Xena, Warrior Princess, fighter, puncher, kicker, chakram hurler, beat em up first, ask questions later sort of lass... suddenly decides the best way to wreak revenge is to instigate an unnecessarily elaborate con to punish a man who was easily accessible through the usual ways, means and methods.
Not only that but she, a woman who has no equal, suddenly needs the help of two con men off the street to make this all work?
Eldons line "Were the best in the business, whatwe need with these two?" actually should have come from Xenas lips, in my opinion.
And the short answer is, Xena and Gabrielle needed no help to bring down Titus. They have broken into kings royal palaces with more ease and greater security guards than Titus had in evidence at his casino. (And as if three dense uglies would daunt Xena.)
Oh but thats right - Xena didnt want to just hurt him, she wanted to bring Titus down "piece by piece until there is nothing left: not your club, your pride, your money, not even your stinkin ruby and Im going to love every minute of it".
Okay. Dare I ask - since when? I mean, when Xena gets really annoyed - and because of Joxer she is apparently really, really annoyed here - she usually kicks butt big time. Thats the Xena we know. Sitting down and talking plans through and the like is simply not her style. One of her mottos has always been: "Less talk..."
This is a rather glaring plot flaw in my opinion - there needed to be a greater reason for Xena to depart from her usual methods other than she suddenly "felt like it". People are true to their characters in times of stress and yet Xena went the other way. Gabrielle should have been asking whether Callisto had body swapped again or something.
Next flaw was the ludicrously unchallenging end goal: steal the ruby; intimidate the old man; take his money and his dimwitted son. Rewind your tapes and youll see that Xena had achieved that goal in the first 10 minutes. She then threw it all away to do it all over again, piece by piece this time - why? To make him suffer slowly. Problem was, the old guy never looked like he was suffering. In fact, his arrogance actually made Xena look like she had lost face a couple of times - thus the point of her whole plan continually kept failing blatantly.
The only way I can see for this flimsy plot to have worked was if Titus had kept himself hidden away and inaccessible (hence Xenas usual fisticuffs wouldnt have worked, thus necessitating a masterly plan) and the only way to draw him out was to steal his treasures from him piece by piece as a message. This piece by piece thing so reminds me of Die Hard, with victim after victim turning up to give the baddy the willies, while also achieving the victory. Of course you didnt see Bruce Willis wander in at the start of the movie, catch all the bad guys and then release them so he could do it all again in a more scary way, and to make them suffer.
Actually when it comes to ripping off ideas, this episode was obviously a take-off of The Sting. If you have seen that movie, you probably had the ending all figured out long ago which makes me wonder why they bothered with this rehashed dross at all. Sheesh - just what we need - more unoriginality.
But I digress. Back to those nutty nutty moments. Why was Eldon playing drunk? When did Gabrielle forget again how to disarm men holding knives to her throat?
And my fave: Explain for me how you cheat with a card stuck in your hair? What, you stop the game to carry out an emergency plait to get to it? It was perhaps only there to make Titus feel he had the upper hand by discovering it. Which, in a roundabout way, leads me to Rafe, who after all, did put it there in one of the more circuitous methods known to mankind.
Ahh Rafe. Not exactly Xenas type now is he? Despite Gabrielles "bad boy, just your type" comment, Xena has been quite consistent in the menfolk she boogies with in the eps where shes hung up her subtext hat and put on her het-text one. Draco, Marcus, even, choke, Ulysses, were all fighters with fierce hearts who stood proud, strong and tall. She was attracted to the fighter in them first (watch what immediately caught her eye with Ulysses - his skilled one-man defence against pirates).
The Xena we know (before this out-of-character episode, that is) would never have looked twice at conmen who are reminiscent of smarmy used-chariot salesmen.
But look she did... and this was not merely part of her toying with Rafe. She let the man massage her shoulders and was about to kiss him and, if the servant had not accidentally entered the room, Rafe could well have won bonus dinars on his bet. This seemed very strange to me - Xena knew Rafe had made a juvenile bet against her. Yet Xena, who would normally curl a derogatory, sneering eyebrow skyhigh at such things, not only gives him the time of day but seems attracted to him anyway! Huh... ecsqueeze me?
Which leaves only poor Gabrielle. Oh what a tagalong ep for her. And heres the worst moment I have seen in a long time (I mean aside from the knives-at-the-throat): after she has been deliberately caught behind the curtain, her dialogue to Xena goes thus:
"Howd I do? Was that crash loud enough? And how about my timing?"
Sheesh, all she had to do was sneak in and make a noise. This was not catching an arrow blindfolded or keynoting at the Academy of Performing Bards. Obviously the crash was loud enough or no one would have shown up. This groanable dialogue was to explain that this was all part of the plan. Unfortunately the explanatory writing was so poor I laughed aloud. It reminded me of the cheesy oldtime movies which had characters using casual dialogue as a painfully threadbare excuse to reveal plotlines, eg: "Gee, Jimmy, is that the same fabled cave of the 10-foot mummies which are rumored to have a curse on them since Hutchensons men went there last year and never came back?"
Another aside: If Leo wasnt adopted, he should be asking a lot of questions.
But there was at least one singular moment that intrigued me no end. Xena, ready to snap, fingers at Tituss throat, says "it would be so easy..."
Gabrielle calls out to her. Xena takes one look at her and backs off. Is this their relationship now? Gabrielle is officially Xenas conscience? Hmm. And Xena would consider a lapse into her vengefully murdering ways to avenge, er, Joxer? Not even a dead Joxer, merely a thumped up one. Ok, whatever. Makes as much sense as the rest of it.
Well, in conclusion, I dont know what else to say: the memorable moments were far and few between for me in this unfunny, tired episode.
The start amused briefly - "You wouldnt dare... not to an injured woman!" etc - and its interesting to note that only weeks after pretending to sprain her ankle Renee did the other one for real. Hence her hobbling.
The actors all struggled their hearts out but they simply lacked the quality material. Patrick Fabian (Rafe) and Cameron Rhodes (Eldon) were very believable as conmen and suitably slick. Although, if Rafe really does have the usual Hollywood heart of gold as evidenced by his donation at the end, he really wouldnt be in the business for too long. Or perchance, was he expecting Xenas return and with it her discovery of his good deed? Either way, Xena seemed surprised - so she obviously had Rafe pegged as an untrustworthy conman through and through (so explain why she was going to liplock with him, again?).
Stig Eldred (Titus) also did a convincing job with what he had, at times a little too smug for a man afraid of losing everything. But he was still a pudgy little cretin who Xena should of made short work of in five minutes - and herein lies the reason for the episodes failure. Not only didnt she do it, but she needed the blokes to step in and help save the day, too. Sigh. Frankly, even if shed asked for a blind, toothless corgi to help out, it still wouldnt have lessened the incongruous impact that Xena needed outside help for a (normally) straightforward scenario.
Joxer (Ted Raimi), er, moaned manfully throughout and even though he was an idiot for running off (leading to the episodes funniest line from Gabrielle), he was at his most inoffensive.
But I have to wonder... can this really be the same mob who wrote The Debt? And Bitter Suite? Surely not.
Well next time lets hope the King Con-esque scripts get binned. Right next to Forgiven ones which, yes, Im still scarred over, but thanks for all those letters. (Um, chocolates would help, too.)
Return to The Good Ol' Aussie Episode Guide