Season 3; Episode 4,
20 June 1998
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 7.5 chakrams.
Written by Steven L. Sears;
Edited by Robert Field;
Directed by Oley Sassone
Kevin Smith (Ares);
Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Boadicea);
Martin Csokas (Khrafstar);
Karl Urban (Caesar);
Meighan Desmond (Discord);
Catherine Boniface (Meridian) and
Anthony Ray Parker (The Deliverer).
STORY SO FAR: Xena goes to Britannia to ally herself with Boadicea, a woman she once betrayed, in order to fight Caesar. Meanwhile Gabrielle is tricked into losing her blood innocence by a cult and raped by its leader.
DISCLAIMER (tacky alert): Gabrielle was slightly well-done during the production of this motion picture. However the producers would like to recommend zesty barbecue sauce to bring out the full flavor of this episode.
REWIND FOR: The first invention of astro-turf as Xena springs up from the ground beneath Gabrielles cross to save her. Also, the first invention of brush fencing - outside the temple. Xena using what seems to be Joxers pair of daggers from Been There Done That to free Gabrielle from the cross. A metal-headed javelin split by Xenas impressive chakram somehow manages to do a U-turn to splinter its sender - Caesar. (Aussie fans take a good look at Xena catching her chakram after that scene - youll see the famous Xena smile shot Channel 10s been using for so long in its Turn Me On promotions.)
You know her? Of course you know her - youre like a Whos Who of warriors. Gabrielle forgetting briefly she was talking to a woman who travels whole centuries in a single week.
Sit on this! Gabrielle explaining seating arrangements to the Romans.
She hardly knows me. She probably doesnt even know Im gone. She hardly even knows when Im around... Gabrielle succinctly summing up Xenas current attentiveness problems to Caesar.
Timing; weve got to work on timing, a relieved Gabrielle after being hung out to dry.
Everythings changed; everything. Gabrielle almost quoting verbatim Xenas own words from Dreamworker about what happens after you make your first kill.
Buckle up Xenites, this episode is one Tartarus of a ride. This is the first episode in the infamous six-episode rift arc, and in it you get three plots for the price of one: Xena squaring off against Caesar again; Xena allying with the great historical figure of Boadicea; and Gabrielles loss of her blood innocence and her fiery rape by Dahak. Any one of these story threads could have been an episode in its own right - heck the Boadicea arc in itself would have been a fascinating episode - the betrayal, the battle of wills and so on. (For those wondering, the stripes on Boadiceas face and body are not war paint but scars from where Roman soldiers had earlier cut her after publicly raping her and her two daughters to make a point - further outraging the Celts.)
The result of these cram-packed plot points is that all three elements start vying with each other for screen time, giving an almost holding your breath feeling as you watch. Something had to give by the end and, understandably, it was the first two threads. The controlled Boadicea, apart from a bit of biffo, some snazzy chariot work, a few impressive fiery glares and stony, stiff-upper-lipped snarls at Xena, had almost an extended cameo; as did Caesar.
The third thread, Gabrielles encounter with Dahaks cult, was really quite sneaky. They lulled us in with all the action going on outside and the fact Gabrielle is always off befriending the quietly-spoken, sensitive young chap generally doing good behind the scenes. You figure, as usual, nothings really going to come of it especially with Xena getting into kill em all mode again, and Caesar almost twitching in irritation at her (thats what a javelin-sized splinter will do for you). Then, suddenly, wham. The plot shifts 180 degrees from Xena and completely onto Gabrielle. In fact so complete is the shift, the writers seemed to just walk away from the battlefield showdown, leaving it to the historians among us to work out how it all ended and everyone else to shrug and wonder if Caesar and Boadicea are *still* giving each other the glinty eye across a footy field. (For the record, Boadicea kicked butt big time. She pushed the Romans all the way back to London.)
This Gabrielle thread coming to prominence was the big shock - firstly that the whole show wasnt done exclusively around it when you finally realise the magnitude of whats happening, and secondly that it happens at all. It was done almost like a conjurers trick - were watching their right hand (Xena in battlecry mode) while they slipped the ace in their left hand (Dahak being naughty, not nice). But to me the result was that, for all their cleverness in giving us a surprise, we lost something too - more time to deal with what was really important. We lost a chance to grieve with Gabrielle a bit more about her tragic loss. A chance to hear a bit more about how she was feeling and what she was thinking. A chance for Xena to offer more support than just a shoulder to cling to and a moving half-guilty/half-shattered look of shock.
All the things we had come to accept about Gabrielle - that she chooses humanity above all and would never willingly take a life - were thrown to the wind, affecting us as well as her and we needed more time to comprehend it and catch our breath. Instead we got the credits rolling up. And, for me, that left a slightly unresolved, unsatisfying feeling to mingle with the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach from watching the disturbing ending in the first place. To be fair, Gabrielles feelings are touched on in the next episode and her pain about her situation is obvious when talking to Ephiny in one upcoming episode, but for most Xenites, who cant just watch ahead and see it all resolved instantly, this would be a very unsettling way to leave things. All I can say is, to paraphrase Xena from Been There Done That: Itll hurt less soon.
On another note, I am glad the rape of Gabrielle was not shown as a rape in the conventional sense. There is a limit to how much fans could stomach their joyful, sweet Gabrielle being emotionally and physically brutalised in one episode. And distressed younger fans would not know what hit them.
There has been some debate as to whether raping Gabrielle was necessary or whether it was just came across as a cheap, familiar trick from writers to add grit to a show. True, its a very harsh reality check to see any major character, let alone a superhero/sidekick character, treated in such a way. Worse, for those fans who look to Xena for their inspiration because they feel disempowered, maybe because they have been similarly harshly treated, it could seem like a very low kick to the guts indeed - they may think along the lines that if even Gabrielle could not be spared such cruel injustices, *and* with all-powerful Xena at her side - what hope is there for me?
I am in two minds on the rape. I know that the writers chose this scenario to create a forthcoming conflict between Xena and Gabrielle that would be believable. And that was the price that they, and we, paid for that later credibility. For some it will be too high. For others it was worth it for what follows. Watch all the rift episodes, and then you be the judge.
I cant quite finish without looking at Xenas role in this episode. While everything was happening, Xena was very distracted and Gabrielle gets forgotten a bit - which is pretty unfortunate given all that the bard goes through by association with Xena: She wouldnt have been in Britannia to be captured by Caesar if not for Xena, much less facing the prospect of being crucified and having her legs crunched gruesomely for nothing more than the fact she is linked to Xena (Her legs are to be broken; (Caesar) said it would mean something to Xena). The astroturf rescue, incidentally, was remarkable in the fact that had Xena been out in her predictions of where Gabrielle would be hoisted by even a metre either way, Gabrielle would be a very bowlegged bard right about now. But that was nothing compared to what happened after the rescue: Gabrielle actually *apologised* for being nabbed by Romans (and nearly dying in the most painful way there is) and not only does Xena *not* really ask how the bard is or look even slightly shamefaced at not noticing her disappearance earlier, but instead Xena asks how Caesar is!
Xena owes Gabrielle a lot of breakfasts in bedrolls for that moment but I think she more than realises her part in it all by the awful look on her face at episodes end when far far worse has been wreaked on her poor companion. Xena realises that all of it, *all of it*, happened thanks to her desire for revenge over something that happened 10 seasons ago. At that point there is a lot of hurtin going on between that pair. It is a hard sight to take because we want these two dear friends to stop being in pain.
In summary, while there are some areas that could have been improved on in this episode, like knocking out one of the three overly ambitious threads, and perhaps losing the under-utilised Ares, I admire the Xena makers their boldness in giving a different tack a go and for also not settling on the old, shell be right by next episode dross. This is a pain that will be with Gabrielle and Xena for a long time and to make it suddenly go away by next weeks show would cheapen it for everyone. This was compelling - and challenging - viewing and something I never thought Id ever see on a show like Xena. And for that pushing of the envelope, I applaud the folks at Xena. I just ask they dont put us through it *too* often or Ill have to take out shares in Cadbury.
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