Scribes and Scrolls: Teleplay by Adam Armus & Nora Kay Foster. Directed by Charles Siebert. Edited by Robert Field.
Passing Parade: Ray Henwood (Sisyphus), Kate Hodge (Celesta), Kieren Hutchison (Talus), Erik Thomson (Hades), Leslie Wing (Karas), Chris Graham (Toxeus), Gordon Hatfield (Seerus), Paul McLaren (Streptus), Kelly Greene (Guard), Beryl Te Wiate, Wayne England (Wounded Man), Allan Wilkins (Thug).
Disclaimer: No Jumbo Sized Cocktail Rats were harmed during the making of this motion picture.
Story So Far: Xena must rescue Celesta – death – from King Sisyphus, or all of humanity will be doomed to lives of eternal suffering. Gabrielle falls for a cute young thing.
A disinterested Argo wandering off down the road during Hades’ impassioned plea to Xena to free his sister, Celesta, from Sisyphus and his ‘deadly’ tricks. I guess the old hack had seen it all before.
Xena’s chakram making like a buzz saw on a tree. With backspin like that, it’s only a matter of time before she invents yo-yos.
A signature Xena moment when the Warrior Princess purposefully struts down the corridor in Sisyphus’s castle, thumping a guard off his feet, without even breaking stride. Add to that, Xena’s derisive expression and you have the reason this show continued beyond season one.
Xena bouncing a couple of times as she hits the stone floor at the bottom of Sisyphus’s trap-door chamber. They just don’t make stone like that anymore…
The sound of the rat still squeaking after it had been squished under Toxeus’s boot. Nice continuity touch in an episode that brought new meaning to the phrase "No one ever really dies in the Xenaverse."
The awkward expression on Xena’s face when a tearful Gabrielle buries her head in her chest in the closing scene. What to do…
"Don’t be afraid when I tell you – I died this morning." A melodramatic old woman doing her best to give the doe-eyed bard, the creeps. In so doing, she illustrated the point perfectly why death doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.
"We ran, there were these tall ugly guys who looked like they were dead – then I fell in here." Talus, aka ‘Exposition’, brings us up to speed on what we had just seen. Xena, used to Gabrielle being chased by ugly men, batted nary an eyelid.
"When Gabrielle has her mind set on something – nothing can change it. You’ll learn that soon enough." Xena processing out loud her lingering discomfort at being stalked all the way from Potodeia to Amphipolis in ‘Sins of the Past’.
"Shouldn’t you be looking for a shallow grave somewhere?" Xena to Toxeus who refuses to ‘get up’ and walk to his final resting place. I bet the ‘tall dark one’ has Gabrielle giggling all day with lines like these.
Toxeus: "You looking to join me?"
Xena: "Run me through and I’m yours."
If you like your bards in short Amazonian skirts boasting bad carrot-red hair, then this is the episode for you. While the Little House on The Prairie Gabrielle outfit was a shocker, this skirt, with it’s matching sky-high side splits, is not even close flattering to anyone who went back for seconds in the thigh gene pool. In other words, pencil-thighed girls only need apply for this get-up. Fortunately the frock tarts shortly thereafter sewed up something more flattering for our Gabs – and I am sure Renee was the first to exhale in relief.
To commemorate Gabrielle’s new outfit, we get to see her new shtick in fights. Yes, yes, she still gets kidnapped – but to her credit, it’s only for two seconds (literally) this time, before Xena, wise to this commonplace occurrence, springs her to freedom with a droll eye roll and pointy sword. But I digress. Now, mid-fight, you can actually witness Gabrielle mime Xena’s biffo from the sidelines. She’s part cheerleader, part Marcel Marceau… check the expressive face crunches when Xena cops a punch; or when the Warrior Princess lands a beaut she’s suddenly all "ha-ha-ha" strut and ’tude. Eat dirt sucker! Hilarious.
But on with the show. This an episode that was all about love and sacrifice. Xena was more the bit player, overshadowed by Gabrielle’s unique ability to yet again break the land-speed record in falling in love. Here’s what’s most funny – she falls for the cute boy-band-singer clone, Talus, because he tells the most soppy romantic story to – a tough dying ruffian. Frankly if I was said ruffian I’d be looking at Talus a little sideways. Still, Gabrielle seems unsurprised by this man-to-man angsty tale of love and yearning – indeed it’s the moment she knows this beautiful doe-eyed lad is The One. At least The One for this week. Me, I’d be asking first just how nice he is to his mother, how good he is at floral arranging and whether he knows the scores to all the best Thebes musicals. But this is Gabrielle, one smile and a sappy routine and she’s scouting for honeymoon locations.
I did love how Xena only really warmed to Talus when she knew his number was up (snicker) – but I’m getting ahead of myself. I will say this for Talus – I do credit him as being the chap who gave the idea to Gabrielle to get into the story-telling game in a big way. It seemed to really inspire her when he talked about how he uses stories. Yes, we saw her in Sins of The Past chatting to the old man in the cart with her stories; but Talus seemed to show her to use them more as a memory marker of the events in her life.
This was also so obviously early Xena – I secretly loved how Xena just galloped off leaving Gabrielle talking mid-sentence at one point; oooh that really gets the bard mad. Hey, it was funny cos it was Xena. It was again a nice contrast to the equals they become later.
This is also yet another one of those Gabrielle-does-it-her-way eps – where Gabrielle just cannot stay in the village/encampment when ordered to and has to go off on some hair-brained rescue mission to tell Xena the bleedingly obvious. I just love the simplicity of youth – Gabrielle reasons that if she doesn’t know something, then Xena mustn’t either. Chuckle. But better to err on the safe side, right Gabrielle?
Enter the bad guys – all pretty ordinary – not exactly hired for their ability to growl believably judging by the tree-pinned-warrior’s damnably awful howl. But his innovative use of death as a motivational tool for his gang was immensely funny. Kept wondering if a few corporate types mightn’t be taking notes, thinking "Hmmm, not bad, not bad at all… Hey Pete, find out if we can legally kill our employees to get them to work harder will ya."
I was also fairly stunned at the monstrously sharp cutting power of the chakram. It saws logs??? No wonder Xena got the pips Gabrielle was using it in A Day In the Life – you don’t want that weapon of mass destruction used for creating sushi or leg shaving or whatever…
Next is the James Bond meets Indiana Jones castle in the middle of nowhere. (Dunno about y’all, but I thought very strange to park a castle for your king far from any town, village, people or hangers on. Guess he really liked the private views…. )
It was so James Bond because of the captured pivotal player, dramatically restrained, who gets an explanation in full detail as to how they’re going to die, while we all get to sit around and wait for it to not happen. And Indiana Jones because of the booby traps and crawlies… RATS. I love how Xena says that. Or, rather, Lucy – who has her hands in tight little white-knuckled fists the entire time. It’s clear the actress is thinking "I don’t get paid enough for this s..t!"
Meanwhile Kieren Hutchison (Talus) was probably thinking of calling his agent: "Romantic lead you said! A break from playing florists you said! Get me a gig in a boy band NOW."
Which brings us to David Copperfield/king/arch enemy, who, really was arch – nice high eyebrow moments and Ming-style, Flash Gordon-inspired, curly delivery of the worst dialogue ever. Yes, WORST dialogue. Exhibit A: "I was so concerned with my own life I forgot the rest of the world. I’ve been such a fool."
I am sure that line was in every single episode of Hercules, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?
And Exhibit B, from Talus: "It’s not how long you live that matters, it’s how you live."
Retch. Hell, isn’t he dead yet?
No? How ’bout now?
Which reminds me, he tells Gabrielle: "We’ll meet each some other day, on the other side."
Yeah, buddy, just take a number. By the time that eternally romantic bard hits Elysia, it’ll be a long queue indeed. Interesting there was no kiss at the end – I guess they figure she’s not ready for it. Some terrific acting by Renee there, though. You could buy her pain. She truly did justice to her part despite having to play a lovesick fool – yet again.
In sum: OK so what went wrong? Really it was just a pedestrian, plodding plot, which actually was quite boring in places, riddled as it was with dull dialogue. The Gabrielle/Talus arc was virtually the A-plot given the air time given, while Xena’s travails were the B-plot. Problem is, it’s really hard to get into any storyline which involves a lead character mooning over a walk-in who even the most mentally-challenged viewer could tell is not going to be there next week. (Take note, Ulysses.) We simply don’t bother having an emotional investment in anyone who is not only so nice he’s verging on a caricature, but who we know isn’t going to last to the sunset.
But I can’t end on a bah-humbug note. So now for everyone’s favourite moment – and I am not talking about how Xena turns castle-entry into an Olympic parallel-bars event. Nope, Gabrielle burying her head in Xena’s chest at the end. The expression on the big tough warrior chick’s face is priceless. Aw shucks. Now, see, that’s why we bothered tuning in to the show through the lean times. Not for these lame walkthrough episodes – but for the moments within them that gave us something really unique on TV – in this case, the most unorthodox pairing since someone went "I know! Clint Eastwood and a chimp."
Not to liken Gabrielle to a chimp – but there’s something lovely and fresh about seeing an uncommon thing. And for that brief, fleeting moment, that’s what Xena’s expression encapsulated – big butch ole Xena with the mushy heart inside had absolutely NO idea, no clue, no hint of a wisp of a thought of what to do next when her polar opposite Gabrielle went all girly and emotional on her. It was both touching and funny – and absolutely utterly unique. In short, it was moments like these that made Xena rock. And that was the elixir that drew us all back time and time again.