AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE
Season 5, Episode 14
September 28, 2000
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 8 chakrams
SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Written by Chris Black. Directed by Mark Beesley.
PASSING PARADE: Kevin Smith (Ares); Paris Jefferson (Athena); Darien Takle (Cyrene); Musetta Vander (Ilainus); Renee Kelly (Archer).
STORY SO FAR: Athena gathers armies and lays Xenas hometown of Amphipolis under siege, hoping it will convince Xena to give Eve to her for execution.
DISCLAIMER: Post production was under siege during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: The toll collector who succumbed to Ilainus' charms. Its not often the sex-for-brains sleaze gets Xena defending him, but the guy obviously found it was his lucky day. You may remember him from One Against an Army, as that cad Dorian, an enemy spy who nearly skewered a near fatally poisoned Gabrielle. To quote Xena , 'a coward and a liar, your mother must be proud'.
Still on the toll road, and Ilainus' little 'no fair' frustrated sigh and pout when Xena managed to deflect all her arrows with her chakram. Dig Xenas cougar hiss when she first locks eyes properly with Ilainus. Can anyone say "catfight"...?
Great to see you back in the leathers, Xena. Woohoo!
Xena yanking an arrow out of Mr Toll Collector's chest without so much as a 'brace yourself, this will hurt'. *ouch* Maybe he reminded her too much of Dorian. *g*
Ares giving us a roll call of the who's who arriving for the big siege shindig at Amphipolis. "My, my; legions from Rome, Cleopatra's Royal Guard , knights from Britannia, and Athena's own elite archers." I get the Romans, they're always looking for a good rumble, Athena's own -- well of course. Knights from Britannia? Since when do they care about Greek gods? But most intriguing of all -- Cleo's Royal Guard. Isn't she supposed to be a friend of Xena's? Promising her a welcome she'll not soon forget? With friends like that...
Continuity asleep on the job again, this time in the climactic fight scene. Just before Athena clashes swords with Ares, producing a lightning bolt, we see her swing the sword with both hands. Yet in close-up she only has one hand on the hilt. Back to a two-shot with Ares, and both hands are back on the sword. There is no mention of a continuity bod in the end credits. Smart move on their part. It also explains a lot.
"Mummy's working." And how. Gabrielle plays baby-sitter to Eve, while Xena kicks some serious girl archer butt. Nice to have you back Warrior Princess, feral leer and all.
"You have my favour Ilainus, always." Behind every great god, is a greater woman. Athena leaves us in no doubt as to who her other half is as she champions her champion.
"About time you brought my new little grand-daughter for a visit." Cyrene slips into possessive grandma mode and maybe a little telepathy while she's at it. How did she know Xena's new baby was a girl? 'Cos you sure couldn't tell from just looking at the little munchkin. *wink, wink* Maybe Hercules or Joxer had paid her a visit?
"The last thing I wanted to do was to bring an army down on your heads." Xena's opening gambit to the people of Amphipolis. Knowing she had every Greek god hunting her and her baby down at every tree, cave and turn in the road, wouldn't it have made more sense to stay well away from her home town?
"Ow! Athena is beating you like a dog out there. Put a poultice on it, it's gotta sting." Ares endears himself to Xena with his own unique brand of positive reinforcement.
"So, are we going to seal this deal or not?" a down-to-business Xena lures Ares in with her relentless seduction and foreplay.
Ilainus: "Athena doesn't need your help."
Ares: "Nor any man's, it seems."
Xena: "Standing up to Athena like that, it was very impressive."
Cyrene: "Please, facing down a god I can handle. Well, I raised you remember? Terrible twos, terrible threes, terrible fourteens..."
Ares: "Hey, don't feel bad. After all, you're fighting the god of wisdom and warfare."
Xena: "Don't forget weaving."
Gabrielle: "...you will turn her into exactly what she used to be -- a vicious killer."
Ares: "I kinda liked that Xena."
Gabrielle: "Did you? Then why are you so obsessed with who she is now?"
Ares: "So, sis', how goes the siege?"
Athena: "I'm about to start catapulting dead cows into the village."
Ares: "And a classic it is."
Ares: "I might be able to convince Xena to leave our realm, to take Eve where she can do no harm."
Athena (laughs): "And where would that be? Ah...you're thinking with your codpiece again brother."
Xena: "I've gotta do this my way."
Ares: "What a surprise."
Ares: "Blood runs hardest when love is involved."
Athena: "You're really whipped, aren't you?"
Cyrene: "...although, I would have preferred Apollo, or maybe....Hermes."
Ares: "Excuse me?! Hermes?! With the wings on the feet? Oh please..."
Athena: Worried about your girlfriend?
Ares: No, worried about yours?
Well, well, well, just when I was starting to despair for Xena in season five, out pops Amphipolis Under Seige, a nice, engrossing action-packed saga with pretty much something for everyone. Well something for everyone except X&G subtexters, who may wish to have large quantities of double chocolate chocolate-chip ice-cream on standby now Xena has for the second time in two episodes indicated her affections may extend to tall, dark and godly... (Although, Athena and Ilainuss relationship may make up a little for what ails ya...just.) But more on this in a moment.
At last an episode with no glaring plot holes, no lazy writing, no screamingly implausible character developments (or rather, only one, and subtexters, crack open your ice-cream now) and no silly premises that Xena and Gabrielle must be somehow wedged into with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer (eg the Warrior Princess shoved into the body of a girl in Little Problems).
In its place is a riveting story, made believable by an excellent new anti-villain (Athena -- the villain you have when youre not having a villain) and some real human stakes on the line: ie Xenas village, mother and daughter all in the firing line.
Throw in the usual red herring, Ares, Ares Quite Contrary, and you have a nice recipe for intrigue. For once, it wasnt even easy to pick where the Ares seduction arc was going, although probably many fans would have worked out there was no way in heck that was Eve whom Xena had cavalierly plonked on the ground for ritual sacrifice. The question was always rather hows she getting out of this and howd she plan to get herself out of the god of wars bed without voiding any deals?
First up -- I loved Athena. Shes also officially the third favorite god in the show ajudged by fans (behind Ares and Aprhodite) and she deserves the credit.
Played by Paris Jefferson with a wonderful dignity I havent witnesses since Jacqueline Kims (Lao Ma) days, Athena is a god faced with a tough decision. Bear in mind, shes not enjoying this. Shes not like Ares who thinks any excuse for a bit of blood and gore is just fine. She hates being the bad cop here and isnt at all happy that she must beg the citizens of Amphipolis to take her side. (Loved that scene, her shouting at them over the singing -- although I had a mega cringe when Cyrene first began singing.) Think about this for a moment: her a god -- forced to beg for the favor of the mortals. Mortals she has always protected and to whom she feels she plays a vital service, ie being their god, someone they can pray to and turn to.
From her perspective, shes the good guy here, in an invidious position. She cant fathom why no one else sees this and why they arent taking her side, especially after all shes done for them (in her opinion).
You can see her anger and frustration flashing about in her eyes, but even then she is not like other gods. Rather than retaliate in a lightning bolt tanty, she goes to Xena one-on-one and asks for another way to end this. Athena pleads with her not to make this seige go on.
The way I see it, Athena, at any other time would be beloved by the people -- even Xena concedes she is the only god worthy of her respect. Thats high praise indeed from the Warrior Princess.
But circumstances here have forced her to choose a path that many would not favor. She is not killing Eve because she wants to but because she feels she is doing what she must to save her own family. Thats a toughie: to decide whether to kill anothers baby to save your whole family. Especially when you think your familys survival is vital to the wellbeing of the human race.
On the flipside, how would Xena feel being asked to choose between her daughter and her hometown and mothers wellbeing? She would already carry a lot of guilt about this anyway, given the events that happened in Amphipolis so long ago turned her into the one-time feared and loathed Warrior Princess and not someone the town was proud to boast of as one of their own. During that reign of terror she brought nothing but shame to the people of Amphipolis. So she sort of feels she owes these people -- big time. Knowing this, one thing never mentioned in Amphipolis Under Seige was how Xena must have felt when her villagers still decided to stand together and face off Athena with her, the towns black sheep, and for her baby. Xena generally looks like she feels uncomfortable if anyone does her the tiniest favor, so imagine how she would have felt with everyone in her community doing a massive one for her -- putting their lives on the line for Xena. Sure you could take Gabrielles line that theyre doing it for themselves, as protection against the next time a god asks for their baby -- but lets be honest, thats not very likely. The Greek gods were never into ritual infanticide. It was the principle of it. Xena was under no illusions that these people were putting their lives on the line because they felt what Athena was asking of her was wrong and they didnt like the idea of seeing Xenas baby killed simply because a god decreed it. I would have liked to have seen some acknowledgement from Xena for how she felt about what they had all done. She looked so stunned. But said nothing.
Actually, if they were being true to form, Xenas next move would have been to sneak out with Gabrielle under the cover of darkness as the bard suggested and not expose these people to any more bloodshed in her name. This is the Xena we have come to expect. But instead she came up with some half-assed reason as to why she couldnt do that; a reason so poorly explained that I didnt even understand it! She said something vague which sounded impressive but meant nothing -- about Athena "ransoming their lives for Eves". And she added that "every drop of blood she spills is on my head". I dont want to state the obvious here but if Xena left, there would be no more blood spilled to be on her head.
If Xenad said she didnt want the people who had died to die in vain, I might have got it... sorta. It was just a little weird and rushed over. Good thing the action came so thick and fast, so no one would have dwelt on that too much.
Speaking of the action, (and I dont mean battles necessarily but the intrigue and plot turns) heres where the episode got interesting. And very entertaining. Several times Athena closed the door on obvious, easy avenues for this story to go down, avenues that at any other time the Xenabods may have lazily been tempted by. eg The temptation for Xena to have a one-on-one with Athena to resolve everything. No deal. The temptation for Ares to just spirit Xena away with Eve somewhere out of harms way. No deal. Through this, she showed us she has a real backbone and is also not easily tricked. As door after door slammed on each of these outs I began to wonder how on earth Xena would wiggle out of this one. Never for a moment did I imagine wiggling (under Ares) would be precisely how she would do so.
In all, Athena was a very worthy adversary indeed -- her dignity and assumed authority, centre and control and her wisdom (she worked out Xenas battle plan) meant Xena knew she could not fight Athena without another gods help. And its not just Athena Xena was fighting, but all those armies she had marshalled to lay Amphipolis under seige.
Add in Athenas very skilled, loyal archers, who seemed to play a bodyguard role as well as that of an advance guard, and this is one very formidible pickle Xena is in.
While were on the subject, I must say it was refreshing to see the Ilainus/Athena relationship. What this showed us was that gods can love... and lose. They feel pain and loss, too. The love between these women was so tangible it was heartbreaking when Ilainus died. I could see Athenas pain, feel how much she was hurting. That was a powerful scene, and excellent acting by Jeffries.
The scene also made me wonder if Ares wasnt a little full of it when he declared several episodes back that Eli bringing Xena and Gabrielle back from the dead was a "mere parlor trick". Clearly its more than that or Athena would restore life to her "favoured one" immediately.
(Historically, the never-married Athena was referred to as the virgin goddess so maybe all Ilainus and Athena got up to was lots and lots of weaving to fill those long lonely nights on Mt Olympus. I had no idea weaving was so much fun.
But I somehow suspect the implication was they were doing more than needlepoint in the Xenaverse...)
Incidentally if that scene wasnt karma, I dont know what was: Athena wasnt too troubled by the emotional impact on Xena of killing Gabrielle when she ordered that assassination. But it was she who got to know first hand what that felt like when her companion and second-in-command ended up as dead as she had wanted Gabrielle. What goes around, comes around Athena...
Small glitch there, by the way. When Ilainus dies, all Athenas armies retreat. On whose orders?
I liked Ilainus, too. In her own cunning way she was the perfect second in command, loyal to a fault. She could not be goaded by Xena into fighting under the tunnels because to do so would mean she had been distracted from her mission and orders. Thus she was just as dangerous as any of Xenas more skilled opponents, for she had no obvious weakness that could be exploited. Well, none apart from Athena, that is... and she would not even be drawn on that.
I enjoyed the ideological debate between Xena and Athena -- who chooses whose fates; do the people need their gods or is love enough? As Athena concludes...what will Xena give them when her people are dying of thirst? Love? Indeed. Damn I love how tough that woman is! Athena gives no quarter and yet still comes off as having a compassionate heart. How does she do that??
Hey, even when Athena says "Put an arrow in the young bard. Well see how long Xena will resist while her companion slowly bleeds to death" she comes off as not being mean for the sake of it, so much as using Americas Hiroshima defence. (ie Well it ended the war quicker and saved countless more lives.)
So again she still comes off as tactical and thus less brutal while all the while ordering the nasty shooting death of our favorite bard! Again, I ask, how DOES she do that?!
So here we are -- with an anti-villain who is very smart and who closes obvious plot avenues of escape; with an equally cunning second-in-command who cant be tricked into forgetting her orders -- suddenly its all coming together very well, the tension is mounting and the temperature keeps going up a notch. The fans are left to wonder -- how will this end?
With Ares, it seems. I did like the scene where Gabrielle acts out her panic, over him luring Xena back to the dark side. But if it was all an act, why did she look so disturbed when he gleefully blinked out of existence. She should have been jubilant. But I guess then thatd have given away the plot.
The plot being, Xena would pretend to seduce Ares, and Gabrielle would bomb his temple in time (Gabs hoped) to stop them before things got too far. I was amused by the look on Xenas face when Cyrene springs her, liplocked, with Ares. Just goes to show, doesnt matter how old you get or how many thousands you maim and kill, the ole maternal unit can still turn a warrior princess into jelly any time she wants.
I must admit the whole idea of Xena using seduction to win her wars and isnt quite how I picture the Warrior Princess -- more like how she used to be, ie in her evil seductress days, using Iolus. What message are we sending here to young women and girls? If you cant win with brains or brawn, just promise to prostitute yourself?! Even if you dont intend to follow through ... its a pretty unimpressive message. I thought Xena was better than flogging her body off to save the day. Some might call it clever, that it was all some elaborate trick ... but to me it just seemed, well, tacky. And thats not a word I like to associate with our hero.
Interestingly, of all of the gods weve seen to date, only Ares (ironic for someone thinking with his codpiece) is actually coming off as the voice of reason. I mean, indeed, what can Xenas baby do to them all really? What??? Its fear that is killing the gods of Olympus but telling them that doesnt lessen the result. Nice point Ares.
In summary, I really liked this episode, so much so I may just forgive them two trespasses Id normally get most antsy about: 1) Since when does Gabrielle verge into triumphalism after a battle? Witness her, mallet over head, screaming in victory. Most unseemly for someone who allegedly only fights out of necessity. Shes becoming more blase about battles by the minute and less like the morally centred Gabrielle we first met. (Incidentally, I really do wish Gabrielle would wear some armor sometime soon, now she seems to have changed job descriptions from bard to warrior.)
And 2) Since when does Xena, who regarded Ares as her "worst nightmare" in only the previous episode (and many more before that), ever enjoy making out with the God of War? Especially after all that crap he has put her through (eg the Furies) for his own selfish ends. They could have easily lost that line about her "feeling something" at the end of the episode without harming the storyline one iota. I have no idea what possessed them to include it, except for some dodgy humor value as we witness Gabrielles surprised cross-examination.
But methinks (and I hope Im wrong) that moves are afoot to develop some sort of Does she like him or doesnt she Ares/Xena subtext ... especially after last episode where Xena was responding rather lustily to dreams of getting it on with Ares.
If this is the plan for the future, its a pretty dangerous track to go down, given Xenas very well established dislike for Ares (making such an arc implausible and therefore self-defeating and annoying); and also it would irritate the not insignificant proprotion of the fan base which is tuning in solely for X&G subtext. If you shut that door, then dont expect there not to be some sort of backlash from some of these original and intensely loyal fans...
And last but not least, having seen this episode I can now categorically state that the last episode, Eternal Bonds, was indeed a waste of space. The Ares proposal for a child could have easily been made here and the Joxer issues dealt with long before this. Why did they bother? Who knows...
But Im glad they woke up for a moment and gave us this bright interlude from what has otherwise been some mighty dreary season 5 fare.
In the future, I say bring back Athena, get Xenas mind out of Ares codpiece (shudder) and return Gabrielle to Xenas attention span -- and soon.
Return to Season Five Episode Guide
AUSXIP - Australian Xena Information Page |
AUSXIP Lucy Lawless Files
AUSXIP Renee O'Connor Files | Ghost House Pictures - News & Information