Season 4, Episode 9
April 17, 1999
Reviewed by Sheryl-Lee Kerr
RATING: 6.5 chakrams
Montage of Past Imperfect
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Steven L. Sears; Edited by Robert Field; Directed by Garth Maxwell
PASSING PARADE: Marton Csokas (Borias); Catherine Boniface (Satrina); Craig Muller (Pasicus); Paul Gittins (Kaleipus); Mark Ferguson (Dagnine); John Manning (Oaklin).
STORY SO FAR: An enemy who seems to know Xenas every move, recreates a battle from her past which brings up old and painful memories for the Warrior Princess. Meanwhile, Xena fears the prophesy of their death is at hand and tries to cottonwool Gabrielle.
DISCLAIMER: Borias' goose was cooked during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Supersonic cannonballs - they were going awfully fast in that long shot in Xenas first vision... smart gal, inventing rocket fuel.
Satrinas soldiers are part fish - they were under water way too long to be good for the health. Easily five minutes by my watch... but I guess thats the advantages of living in an era which has yet to invent time.
The worst midwife in the business (see below - literally).
Yikes, Scary Xena Alert - watch those baby blues bug when she says: "Getting inside my head now?"... hey, I got chills. And yeah, I think Satrina well and truly got a clear picture of what was in Xenas head.
The face of a woman in labor and pretending not to be, as Xena squeezes out her "crucify them" line.
QUOTABLE: "Were going to need a lot of wood. When Im done here therell be a line of crucified bodies leading from Corinth to the Caspian Sea and I will crucify them all." Xena, who, if taken literally, seems not to understand that you cant crucify an already crucified body... not much point really.
"When I saw Boriass body I couldnt believe he would come back for me and he loved me." Awww, Xena, whats not to love?.... killings, maimings, poor parental role models and treating your man like dirt, aside. Actually, she has a good point...
Revenge of The Pouty Servant Girl might have been a more apt title for this episode, which I suspect looked a lot better on paper than on the screen.
There was nothing a great deal wrong with the plot except that it tended to lumber along for the first half as Xena played acting commander again to a group of desperate trapped soldiers and sorted out tactics and the like which really werent nearly as ingenious as we were led to believe. And frankly they werent really Xenas tactics anyway but that of her former servant girl. The only thing that made any of this story arc interesting was the moment of awful realisation for Xena that her old tactics were being used against her. When she says: "How do I defeat myself?" it could have been quite a chilling moment - if the music folks hadnt then decided to crank up the mood music right over the top of her line, in preparation for an ad break.
Of some interest were the fireworks between Gabrielle and Xena about keeping the bard safe. You can sense the Warrior Princesss frustration. She is used to people doing as she instructs and the bard is just not playing ball. At all. And why should she? She hasnt seen her own death and so only has Xenas brief description of what may or may not happen to go on - and so the impact was always going to be far more emotional and real for Xena. Even if Gabrielle had seen it, I suspect her response would be the same: second guessing themselves at every step gets them nowhere. And besides, Gabrielle is no more the wilting flower needing protection every second, so shes right to give Xena a hard time about the Warrior Princesss protective kick. This is not Xenas decision to make. Xena knows it and thats what is adding to her annoyance.
Alas even this spicy argument started to get a bit long winded after having had it at least twice before, not to mention unbelievable (Gabrielle: "Im going to the battlements, Im going to reinforce the men!!!" Huh! Since when does Gabs volunteer for soldier duty while theres no enemy pummelling her?)
Finally Borias started perking things up. He always does - something to do with that rugged snakeoil salesman charm. I swear he looks like a cobra ready to strike, with those endlessly deep eyes and hissing yet beautiful voice. His distinctive "Zeeee-na" is a saying I am sure going to miss. And since they seem to have plugged all the historical holes from Xenas early warlord days to Boriass death, I dont see how hell be returning any time soon - unless they come up with the day they met.
But this was all set in the past. In this episode, I found much of the action in the present to be wanting. Some of it I think has to do with a miscasting problem of the Xenas slave girl, Satrina. She played her servile role well, but when she reappears looking like Valesca, minus the fire, I found it hard to buy she had been working her way through famous warlords, one by one, getting into their heads.
Firstly, she did not look even slightly like a threat to Xena. I dont mean physically, but look into those eyes and tell me where you see lurking some nasty bit of villainy. She is soft through and through and a few frowns, grimaces and haughtiness wont change that impression.
Secondly, if she did indeed have the gift to get inside the minds of some seriously disturbed people - and warlords arent known for their gentlemanly fun and table manners, that wouldve had to have an impact after awhile. She would have been around atrocities. Seen more pain and violence than virtually anyone else alive; been immersed in suffering and probably witnessed torture. And she looks completely unaffected by her lifestyle. A stroll in the park for her.
I dont buy it. Her eyes were shallow. None of Valescas flash; Xenas battlelust; Callistos venom and madness. Nothing.
So remind me again, what was her motivation for all this? She has a talent for getting into heads. Right, yep, got that. And? Well she uses it to study the great warlord minds. Yep, and then what?
So she can kill them. Right. (Although there is probably a faster way.) And? Why?
Not for the reputation, for, she only gets close to them by them not being aware of who she is.
For the power? To take over their armies? To then march on a city or two? "My destiny is an empire," she said. Well she should have had that destiny fulfilled long ago if she has been in this business and survived it for more than 10 years as she obviously has. For every warlord she has gotten to, she would have acquired his army. And she should have so many armies by now that Ares would be falling over himself to champion her.
But she cant want armies because Xena has none now and yet she went to a lot of time and trouble to come back and get to Xena years later.
Still maybe Xena was just a revenge thing - the warrior princess did kill Satrinas master/lover?
But what army merrily goes on a quest to help an aggrieved woman kill her lovers killer?
Look, the point is they didnt spell out this womans motivation and quest properly, and so all we end up with is a too-soft looking villain who doesnt look even vaguely threatening to Xena once shes out in the open and who then disappears into the night. And were supposed to go "oooh, shudder... shes still out there". Please, gimme a break. And a villain that obvious and shortsighted (she didnt realise Xena would have immediately worked out her identity) would have been pushing up daisies long ago.
Of course I argue Xena should have cottoned onto the fact this woman was a fraud the day she was playing midwife to the warlord and yet hung onto the wrong end! Not that every pregnant woman wouldnt love a brow mopper, but its the other end that probably needs more attention, just to hazard a guess.
The birth scene was well done otherwise; interspersing Xenas and Boriass pain. Marton Csokas (Borias) actually knows how to play pain, incidentally - unlike a certain centaur who has just been blinded in one eye by a dagger. I swear he barely blinked, let alone yelped, like it happens every day. Dang they breed those horsedudes tough.
Anyway Boriass death, with Xenas name on his lips was simply tragic. And the shock for Xena as she regards her babys father was palpable. A powerful moment in the madness.
But the beautiful scene, the scene that saved the episode was the final one. With Gabrielle, in the present, stroking Xenas hair, Xena in the past is alone and has lost her last friend. The cold air causing foggy breaths added to the icy feeling and isolation. As she gives away her baby, the way she says the line "Hes my son" is wrenching, as is the rest of the scene and her anguish stumbling away again.
The expression dancing across Xenas face in the present just before the credits roll up show she is a mother who will never get past what she did that day, no matter how right she believed her actions were. The venom with which she tells her adversary earlier: "You killed the father of my child and if he had of lived, then maybe my son..."
Yeah, Xena carries a lot of guilt on that little subject, no doubt about it.
I note they have re-shot this handover scene since Orphans of War. It was an interesting choice. I would argue it was unnecessary, but there you have it. I liked the other episodes portrayal as well, for different reasons. I note here, Xena says please. It wouldve taken a lot for her to use that word with her arch enemy. The other had more raw power, more restraint, Xena maintaining her hard resolve against the odds. That is more in keeping with the Xena I think of in those days. This one is perhaps more true to what a mother would do when giving up her child. Here she is more mother, less warlord. But she is still 100% Xena. No doubt about that.
An interesting choice. I remain undecided as to which version was best.
I learned something quite interesting about Xena in this episode. It came with Xenas line early on to Borias: "You became an enemy the moment that there was love."
Huh?! Now this is a really strange thing for anybody to say. You dont instantly make people who love you enemies if you are a warlord, as friends who head up armies are good things. Sheesh, what did they teach Xena at warlord school anyway? Under her definition: people who hate her are her enemies; people who love her are also her enemies; which just leaves the people who are indifferent to her, who I imagine are either her potential victims or her soldiers. Scary existence. And what did that make Lao Ma? Her enemy, too?
Anyway, at the end, Xena explains herself: "Borias knew. He showed me the hatred I had for myself..."
So Xena of old simply could not respect anyone who loved her because she couldnt conceive of such a repugnant idea as someone loving her - it made no sense to her. Thats how much she hated herself. Better to push away someone like that and hate them, than have to deal with how it made her feel. So if she hated herself even then, and presumably it had a lot to do with the way she earned her crust, then she indeed had a conscience somewhere, eating away at her even during her warlord days. It explains so much about how she could then become reformed. It made a lot more sense.
Now the only thing missing in the evolution of Xena: Warrior Princess is how she could go from becoming a conqueror (albeit one who hated herself) with a rather appalling code of conduct - which involved killing anyone to suit her purpose (such as the woman in Locked Up Tied Down she left to die), to being the Warrior Princess in the Hercules trilogy with strong rules and ethics governing the rules of war engagement: A woman who most certainly did not kill women, little kids or murder for sport or to suit herself (such as the dead young Amazon girl in Adventures In The Sin Trade).
Its an evolution Id be curious to know how it happened. Who taught Xena the code? Did she have one final mentor before meeting Hercules? Hmm, wouldnt we like to know...
In summary, this was an average offering, brought down by an insipid casting choice of villain, but raised by some crackling scenes between Borias and Xena and Xena giving up her new son. Gabrielle got short shrift which was a little unfortunate when things were almost getting interesting in that flashforward dilemma that had her and Xena at loggerheads.
But most of all I must say here, farewell Borias, its been a pleasure. And, in true Xena tradition, may you not stay too dead for too long.
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