ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
Season 5, Episode 18
October 2, 2000
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 6.5 chakrams
SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Written by Carl Ellsworth. Directed by Michael Hurst.
PASSING PARADE: Jon Bennet (Marc Antony); Josephine Davison (Cleopatra);
David Franklin (Brutus); Mark Warren (Octavius); Mariama Smith (Shiana).
STORY SO FAR: Xena impersonates Cleopatra, who has been assassinated, and plays Romes warring armies off against each other.
DISCLAIMER: No rubberised snakes intent on destroying the Queen of Egypt were harmed during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Gabrielle's blush when Antony declares she is 'fortunate indeed' to be Cleopatra's (Xena's) companion. Seems Xena's not the only one with a soft spot. *g*
The most un-Egyptian rock ballad playing over the top of the big Antony and Xena/Cleopatra seduction scene. Not sure what the creatives were thinking here, but it really didn't add anything to a scene already bringing new meaning to the word indigestion.
Gabrielle deciding enough was enough, by sticking her big bonce between Antony and Cleopatra, thereby killing their big seductive moment. Never have I seen a point being made so eloquently and effectively.
The bard's proprietorial wipe of the corner of Xena's mouth, as if reclaiming territory recently trampled on by Antony. Was it just me, or did Gabrielle spend that entire Egypt episode looking just a little ticked off? *g*
The "I'm not happy Xena!" look on Gabrielle's face, after Xena rather unconvincingly stated she had no feelings for Antony. If looks could kill, the strawberry in the bard's hand would have turned to marsala.
Octavius screaming out to Xena for help when Cleopatras bedchamber is on fire. The first thing she does is push him back through the door just one foot behind him. Is this supposed great leader of Rome, really this dumb?
"Is it just me, Shiana, or do crises only happen when I'm naked?" Naked and bathing in milk, with a bevvy of nubile beauties ever ready with a sponge. I see your point Cleo, what is it with this constant stream of bad news bearers?! *g*
"Careful, he's your type." What? Upright and breathing? Given Xena's penchant for using her womanly ways to defeat the cast of thousands that constitute her enemies, that declaration from Gabrielle wasn't exactly breaking new ground, was it?
"Rome wasn't built in a day." Antony in one of his deeper moments.
"My uncle exploited the peoples of the world for his ambition." Octavius puts a rosy spin on his uncle, Julius 'since when is ambition a dirty word?' Caesar. Rivalling that other master of understatement, William Hitler, who once described his loveable old uncie Adolf, as a 'menace'.
"You win my trust, my love, then you betray everything." Life's a bitch and then you die. Especially if your name is Antony and you've just punctuated that sentence with a screaming run at Xena with a broad sword.
Cleopatra Minion: "Cleopatra, Rome is on the brink of all out civil war."
Cleopatra: "And why should that interrupt my bath?"
Gabrielle: "I thought he was going to accept your invitation. How did you know he wouldn't?"
Xena: "I didn't..."
Octavius: "Are you Cleopatra?"
Xena: "Are you my assassin?"
Octavius: "No! I was coming to see you."
Xena: "We have a front door for that."
Gabrielle: "You're losing sight of your plan Xena. Are you going to flirt him to death?"
Gabrielle: "How far were you going to let that go?"
Xena: "Until he begged for my naval."
Brutus: "I remember when you spoke only of peace, and now you're a warrior."
Gabrielle: "And you're a murderer."
Octavius: "Xena, Rome owes you a debt of gratitude."
Xena: "Rome owes me nothing."
Would it be too much to ask for the plots to Xena to actually, I dunno, make sense?
My implausibility radar was going off every other minute in this strange excuse for a story.
Lets just follow this "logic" shall we:
The first time Xena met Cleopatra, she saved her life and was promised a grand ole reception should she ever come to Egypt. I guess she thought that would be a good thing.
The next time we hear of Cleopatra, her armies are being used by Athena to level Amphipolis, Xenas home town. Gee, nice little thankyou gift.
Next mention, in the previous episode, Kindred Spirits, Xena is so annoyed that Joxer hasnt delivered a letter to her that shes expecting from Cleopatra that she denies knowing him!
How she knows Cleo has written to her is a mystery (especially seeing the queen aint dead yet), but Ill be overly generous and, in spite of everything above, presume theyre close penpals.
Now, in her last gasp, Cleopatra decides to turn to Xena for help when its clear the Romans have sent the amazing ever-expanding snake to assassinate her (as in the snake that triples in length once its out of an itty bitty scroll).
Why Xena would want to help her since the Amphipolis incident is unknown, but strangest of all is the nature of help Xena decides to offer. Not only does she for some odd reason decide to become Cleopatra (a fact Cleos guards dont seem to notice, or if they do, dont give a hoot about).... but Xena also decides to offer her body for the good of Egypt...
Now remember, Xena has never even met Antony, and for all she knows he could look like the rear end of a decomposing yak, but she decides to do her Hi How Are Yas dressed in little more than a gilt bicycle chain and a cheeky grin. She offers this complete stranger the most precious thing she owns: Herself.
Why? Now that is the first major plot problem. It has already been established that all these Romans want to talk to Cleopatra about getting access to her navy. If Xena had sat on Cleos throne from the first moment she hit Egypt and just.... waited.... Antony and Brutus and Octavius would have all dutifully turned up, presented themselves cap in hand, made their cases and asked for the navy. Xena/Cleopatra already HAD the upperhand!
She didnt need to seduce anyone to get them right where she wanted them. Now Xena has made things worse -- Antony has fallen for her, as a result of her pointless seduction, and that has made her job of killing Caesars unworthy successors all the harder. Now she has her mega-guilt at the lovestruck Antony (and how ridiculously fast did HE fall in love!) to contend with, too... Not that they portray Xena or her feelings at what she has done more than two-dimensionally.
Add in the unimpressed bard watching her every move like a possessive hawk, and you really have to wonder why the Warrior Princess bothered. On that note, it was really poor form for Xena to be making out in front of everyone like that....I was with Gabrielle, there -- just how far was she going to go with sleazing onto Antony? Tacky, tacky, tacky.
But Im getting ahead of myself. What was with Xenas haste to strip off and present herself to one of Romes contenders? If any common Greek chap had suggested the same to her in a bar, hed be horizontal, with his nose wrapped half way around his face as he counted his teeth into his hand.
Xena has shown time and again in the past, since shes been a force of good, that she does not give her body away at whim and even tells the doc in Animal Attraction that shes been a "love-free zone" for a very long time. So why end her dry spell -- like this? Well, strictly speaking, she hasnt ended her dry spell, because the Roman attackers stepped in before she could consummate anything. But if not for the intruders, Xena would have gone right ahead and put a very large grin on Antonys lips. I say again, in total confusion, WHY?
It reminds me of when Xena tried to get Ares to do what she wanted in Amphipolis Under Siege, and she used her body. I said at the time, that was tacky, like bad grrl Xena, and not how I liked to picture my Warrior Princess. This situation is worse here because she a) wasnt desperate, and can hardly claim to only be doing it to save Eves life; b) she didnt have to do it at all because Antony would have asked for her navy regardless of whether she seduced him, and c) unlike with Ares, Xena had every intention of following through and actually consummating the affair... which does rather lend an unsavoury prostitution overtone to it, that she could plead innocent to in the Ares encounter.
Shakes head. Why, Xena?
Ill go on the theory that she took momentary leave of her senses when she figured from the outset that seduction was the only way to get Antony to trust her (even though trust was irrelevant in asking for the navy -- just ask Brutus). And further, after she met Antony, she did indeed (as Gabrielle noted) lose sight of the big picture because she was attracted to him. (Just like a woman, huh writers? Rolls eyes.) Her plans to flirt him over to her side were replaced by plans to have her wicked way with him, given he was her "type" and all.... Er, right....
It gets really silly next. Brutus almost instantly trusts that Xena wants to have Antony killed when he confronts her. He doesnt smell a rat despite knowing that Cleo/Xena and Antony are an item, having presumably been told that by the Roman grunt spared death by Xena/Cleo. And he just assumes that if Gabrielle is on his ship, all will be well. FOOL. A man that dumb should have been lion food a long time ago in the cut-throat world of Roman politics.
They would also have us believe that Xena would risk Gabrielle by putting her on Brutuss boat alone with all those soldiers even though it was inevitable Brutus would shortly work out that it was all a trick and turn on her, with all those armed, angry and fully trained Romans. Sheer stupidity.
Similarly, Xena would also get on Antonys ship, alone, even though, her deception would soon be discovered and she would be a very lonely target from equally furious trained soldiers. Stupid.
I might ask at this point how believable it is that Cleopatra would board a ship bound for battle? Not very queenly. Would no one find this odd?
But the biggest credibility stretch of them all is that the moment Antony realises hes been duped, he takes one look at Cleopatra, his love, and pronounces, just by looking at her: XENA!
Huh? Does he even know what Xena looks like? And even if he knew who Xena was, hed surely only know her as a woman who runs around Greece... why in Tartarus would he suddenly presume she was in Egypt, and more, impersonating Cleopatra, based on... what???
If I was being charitable, Id say he figured that woman on his bow was no queen based on the way she was suddenly swinging a very bloody sword with a great deal of skill and gusto. If he was very sharp eyed, hed have recalled how she thumped Octavius in the head during the first encounter, in a most unregal manner. But its still a big stretch to go from imposter, to declaring this woman as obviously being Xena.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have Gabrielle and Brutus. Even though all hes seen of her since her resurrection is her walking around the palace, glaring at him, he refers to her as a warrior. Based on what, might I ask?
Gabrielle is, ironically, less warriorly than weve seen her in a while, for three-quarters of this episode... witness her back in touchy feely mode with Octavius, endorsing his peaceable idealism. Sweet. I missed that about her. Thank god they didnt truly resort to old form and have her flirting with him too or my gag response would have been off the scale, what between her and Xenas romancing.
However she is back to being a hard-eyed warrior the moment she kills Brutus. I have never seen a glintier gaze from her at the moment he locks shocked eyes with her, his hands at his bleeding throat. Its quite creepy to see from our bard.
And then we have Xena killing Antony. I am guessing it was meant to be some deeply poignant moment, Xena having to kill a man she supposedly has a soft spot for and whom loves her, thanks to her calculated seduction. But I felt nothing. I couldnt buy her making out with him from the first moment (there was no reason for it), I couldnt buy him falling for her in three seconds or less (highly unlikely for a wary, seasoned campaigner like him) and I couldnt buy them as a "them". So when she kills him, its like, oh well... thems the breaks. Shrug. Thats war and politics for ya...
The final incredulous moment for me was that both Xena and Gabrielle have now killed famous Roman leaders -- and their respective troops are kind of like, "ah, oops. Accidents happen".
Why they didnt reel around and finish the women off in a revenge-filled rage for their revered leaders is unclear. But if thats the loyalty of the Roman footsoldier then they, too, deserve to be relegated to a mere historical footnote.
Back to that plot. I am curious -- what would they have done if Octavius had turned out to be a bad ass too? Kill him as well? Dont you just love Xenas and Gabrielles grand scale meddling here?! -- Sorry buddy, you dont measure up on my scale as being suitable to rule Rome, so Ill just kill you now; oh, and et tu Brutus...Swish, thump, grrrk. Charming!
In sum, Xena has gone for another big picture scenario. Big scale, lots of history being covered. Liked the sets in the palace, but the plot went the way of the fairies. Too many implausibilities and Xenas new career in pointless prostitution gives me a massive case of the irrits. It should be a last resort not a first resort, dammit. And to do it in front of Gabrielle, her soul mate (and maybe more) is akin to rubbing her nose in it at worst, and pretty rude at best.
This behaviour was more befitting the bad old days of Xena, not her reformed self.
I have no idea what possessed them to foist a romance on Xena but it didnt seem to work and hasnt in any of her flirtations since Marcus, who was at least somewhat mercifully believable. Im wondering when theyll clue up to that? I sincerely hope they dont start doing to Xena what they used to with Another-Episode-Another-Love Interest Gabrielle. Shudder.
One final point: Xena makes reference to leaving Eve in Alexandria with her mother. This means Xena and Eve have gone from Greece (Married with Fishsticks), to Eurasia (Lifeblood/Kindred Spirits), back to Greece, presumably to meet and pick up Cyrene in Amphipolis (or maybe Melodia), and on to Egypt. By this time, Xena not only should have her frequent traveller miles at a cool million or so, but Eve should be walking, talking and discussing her views on the philosophies of Plato...
In conclusion, all I can really say is that I came away from this episode with an inexplicable, displaced sense of annoyance; dissatisfaction at the implausibilities; and a deep-seated feeling that yet again the plot is being forced on our characters and not the other way around. You might almost forgive them if the forced plot was worth a hill of beans. In this case it was just an improbable joke -- and Im not laughing.
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