Take a feral Amazon who’s been inhaling too much cured ham, one Warrior Princess (partially dead), a grieving bard with abandonment issues, a double body swap, and one magnificent grrl-on-grrl kiss, and what have you got?
A cool drinking game. Oh and one heckuva lot of Xena subtexters wearing holes in their tapes/DVDs.
Welcome to The Quest. First, here’s the recap for those who’ve been trapped under a larva flow for a decade.
Xena’s dead – and she had some trippy hallucinogenic moments on the way out – kill ’em all, take the village, snuggle the bard, yada yada… the usual.
Gabrielle’s annoyed because Xena didn’t prove to be immortal after all, inconsiderately dying on her so she never got to give her leather-clad chum some sweet speech about being empty before and loving her now.
Grief has also clearly addled her synapses because Gabrielle has managed to acquire the biggest, heaviest, silliest-looking sarcophagus in all the land and is presently edging it, inch by painstaking inch, towards Amphipolis, rather than just getting a lightweight travel version and upgrading to ostentatious at the other end. (And don’t start me on decomposition issues or the likely whiffiness of her dead friend. Let’s just pretend the sarcophagus salesman also knew ancient Egyptian embalming techniques.)
Iolaus, meanwhile, has a cameo as this episode’s prize dill, and thinks it’s vastly more important to run off to tell Hercules about their mutual ex-girlfriend’s state of deadness, than to help Xena’s very-much-alive partner navigate the warlord-infested jungles as she hauls about the Jumbotron of coffins. Iolaus here is officially dumber than Joxer.
Note: All this dead Xena stuff is so that Lucy, still incapacitated by her broken pelvis, has maximum healing time. But it does make you wonder whether they’d have ever gone down any of these very intriguing paths if the actress hadn’t been tossed by that horse.
OK, so here we all are, a deceased Xena, a living Gabrielle, and not a tinker’s cuss she can do about any of it. I love the look on the bard’s face when she wakes up and realises her nightmare is real – the eyes slowly sliding around with dread to look at Xena’s sarcophagus. Feel for ya, kid.
Enter Autolycus, one of the savvy, suave charmers in the Xenaverse, bad of deed, good of heart – who is cluey enough to never hit on either Xena or anything or anyone he considers belonging to Xena. He is not, after all, suicidal. Hold that thought…
But Xena is not entirely dead. Naturally. And she has a cunning plan. She wants Autolycus to steal her body back from the Amazons…. Um, what now?
OK backing up a bit – Gabrielle, despite undergoing the rigours of jungle warfare to get the Jumbtron casket thus far – because it was Xena’s dying wish to lie beside her brother in Amphipolis – has done a little to detour via Amazon Central. There, Ephiny has somehow talked her into giving Xena the full fiery Amazonian send-off – despite this being clearly contrary to Xena’s wishes.
And after all she’s been through it’s just, ‘OK… why not. Lyceus’s body can lie beside Xena’s ashes now.’ Uh, sure. Whatever.
Meanwhile, the Amazons agree to this unorthodox send-off because – um… they respected her? Xena has always turned her back on being an Amazon. Yet the pasty-skinned mad-hatters don’t care and decide to farewell her with their sacred Amazon rites. Right there in the middle of their village. Next to all their huts.
Hygiene and pungency issues obviously don’t trouble them much do they? Wonder who gets the clean-up on aisle seven?
In the middle of this decision making, Gabrielle gets to be queen of the Amazons. As you do. Some catfight argy-bargy ensues but Gabs wins the eyebrow-raises at dawn. Way to go, girlfriend.
Which brings us to Velasca – what an uncomplicated creature Scary Spice is. Unlike, say, Callisto, who loves a bit of torment before breakfast and sadism over lunch, Velasca wants only one thing: power. And she’s pretty direct about it – she’s the bitchy girl who would stab you in the front just so she can see your eyes when she does it. Just ask Melosa. Thanks for raising me – now take THIS.
In an odd little scene, Gabrielle offers her new nemesis a knife and the rite-of-cast mask. Bizarrely, for what we know about her character, Velasca chooses the knife. I thought for sure Velasca would take either the mask, or more likely, grab both.
I get that the powers that be wanted to show where her priorities are – that she’s a bloodthirsty warmonger at heart. While she may tick those boxes for sure, I think Velasca uses war merely to get her own ends. The war itself isn’t the goal. She’s like the politician who drums up support for his cause by arguing for war. The fight isn’t what he truly desires – the power from his strengthened, populist position is. That’s not to say Velasca doesn’t relish a bit of biffo – she says herself she enjoys pain. But pain is like the cherry on top for her – it is not her main meal.
Somewhere in the middle of all this Amazonian anarchy, poor old Autolycus must infiltrate the village in drag, break into the tent being guarded by warriors to protect – um – what exactly are they protecting Xena’s body from again? And then he must flee with the sarcophagus, all before you can say, "Hey look, is that a man in a skirt towing a dead body?"
So why didn’t Xena just jump into Gabrielle’s body and direct her actions instead? Be faster and more efficient.
But no, if Xena did that we wouldn’t get to see the hilarity of Gabrielle, supposedly an honoured Queen of the Amazons, deciding she now doesn’t want Xena cremated, and her subjects declaring that the act of changing one’s mind over funeral arrangements is a treasonable offence. Ooh, tough crowd. Hate to read their parking bylaws.
Hey, I love the dawning look of hope on Gabrielle’s face as she recognises Xena’s time-worn battle maneuvers in Autolycus. "It can’t be," she whispers, eyes alight.
Over on the nutty side of the fence… "SHE BETRAYED US!" squeals the bug-eyed Velasca, as though the bard had in fact firebombed all their huts with the Amazons still in them. Oh wait, that’s what Velasca does. Yep, she really should look up "betrayed" in the dictionary some time.
While I could almost, almost, accept the Amazons being so simple-minded as to agree with the betrayal line regarded their fleeing queen – after all the whole exit was just phenomenally WEIRD, hell, who surfs their friend’s coffin anyway? – but what I struggle to accept is that most of them were up for questioning Ephiny’s loyalties.
The issue of who Ephiny fell in love with would have already been addressed by now. If they truly thought her loyalties were a risk, she wouldn’t have been allowed to live among them all this time. To suddenly challenge her about that out of nowhere seemed such a transparent ploy on Velasca’s part. And yet the vast majority of Amazons kinda nodded, as though it made perfect sense that one of their finest, bravest warriors had to be cast out on the say-so of a power-tripping banshee suffering limelight withdrawal.
Have they all been drinking Iolaus’s Kool-Aid?
I can’t exit the land of the Amazons without giving a nod to Renee for her beautiful little soliloquy to the sarcophagus. Telling Xena she’ll always love her and the ironic "Look – they made me queen. Me the little girl they found in Poteideia"…. Awww. Beautiful.
But the whole episode was building up to one thing. Yep you guessed it. I’ll give you a hint. Moustaches and hands on butts.
Words fail me in trying to describe how powerful this scene is – and how well acted.
There was the barely-contained tears in Gabrielle’s eyes as Xena says "It’s me, I’m not dead" and Gabrielle haltingly asks, voice choking: "Why – why did you leave?"
Don’t you love that Gabrielle still hasn’t grasped that Xena is mortal just like everyone else – and leaving wasn’t actually a choice she consciously made?
"Gabrielle I’ll always be here," Xena replies, with that half smile – the one that oozes confidence and rakishness but is also special, reserved for those she adores. And right about now that’s a certain bard towards whom she’s leaning in …
Yes, do not adjust your TV sets. Subtext did in fact become maintext at this moment in The Quest. A fair bit of food and/or beverage probably found itself accidentally airborne in many a lounge room, and the show Xena officially became something for the big kids.
And just to make doubly sure we knew we were seeing what we thought we were seeing, the look on Autolycus’s face when it was over showed only one emotion: surprise.
As he cast around for the right words to get through this massively awkward moment of finding himself kissing the one girl who is so completely off-limits (and remember, he’s smart and not suicidal, so the kiss definitely wasn’t his bright idea), he says, painfully awkwardly: "Well … I … hope you two worked things out."
"We did," Gabrielle affirms. I love her smile – a knowingness, tinged also with surprise, the little start at who she saw when she reopened her eyes. It’s like she forgot and then, oh yeah, that’s right.
Then to alleviate the awkward mood comes the easy laugh for fans:
"Autolycus, get your hand off my butt."
I once asked Bruce Campbell in an interview whose hand that actually was on Gabs’s rear, back in the day when such things were debated as hotly as which Amazon outfit the bard looked best in (this one, definitely) and he just laughed and said "Mine, baby – all mine...can you say ‘Buns of steel?’"
Funny line, sure, but for me Autolycus’s reaction at finding his traitorous fingers in forbidden territory tells me the thief was as surprised as anyone by its location. No way does he want to be deadified for taking certain liberties, especially with Xena in his body and able to make his life exceedingly uncomfortable. The fact she didn’t punish him at all for what transpired tells you without doubt who was the puppeteer.
So what’s the end result of all this? To my mind it was a turning point for the pair’s relationship – the first time Xena and Gabs acknowledged to each other they do really, really like each other – and in that lip-locking way.
The open-endedness of the episode was wonderful, too, because rather than having some overly analytical talk about "where to from here", Gabrielle just reclaimed Xena’s shoulder at the end of the ep and they carried on as usual. That meant the future, be it romantic, or as friends, was left up in the air and stayed exciting as ever – the endless possibilities sparking fans’ imaginations for what lay ahead. Genius.
Of course between the kiss and the head-on-shoulder scene, we had a fair bit of dominatrix Velasca action, with her asserting herself as the panto villain of the year, plus Autolycus offering his best line ever "Hey, I paid for an hour"….
But I am sure few fans were still sitting there seriously wondering about Velasca, her god powers and the like, when there was a rather large elephant now sitting in the room. The fight for the ambrosia was fun, especially with Renee getting to have a go at playing Xena (not bad), but by this time fans were waiting for the payoff.
Open the casket, hurry up, come on – YES! SHE IS ALIVE!
This all led to that aforementioned scene – head on shoulder – and Gabrielle telling Xena "For a few moments I knew what it was like to be you."
And Xena replies, with a trace of defensiveness: "And?"
Gabrielle: "It was warm, friendly, loving."
Ahhhh. Those two. Sniff.
In summary – The Quest is in some regards a classic episode, boasting a momentous, ground-breaking shift in the central players’ relationship; in other aspects it’s just a bit of schlocky, hammy fun with arch villains, a super-thief and ornery Amazons duking it out.
Essentially it is both edgy and silly. It is certainly worth the hangover from the drinking game (a swig for every hug Gabrielle receives; the kiss counts as a triple) and it’s worth any unexpected mop-ups due to sudden propulsions of food or drink hitting ceilings, floors, pets, neighbours...
The bottom line is that however you look at it, The Quest is definitely one to remember.