Season 5, Episode 21
October 21, 2000
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 7.5 chakrams
SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Written by George Strayton and Tom O'Neill. Teleplay by Chris Manheim. Directed by Mark Beesley.
PASSING PARADE: Kevin Smith (Ares); Ted Raimi (Joxer); Adrienne Wilkinson (Livia/Eve); Greg Lee (Virgil).
STORY SO FAR: Xena, Gabrielle, Virgil and Joxer chase after Livia, who is on a bloody spree. She kills Joxer and almost kills Xena before acknowledging, with divine intervention from Eli, that she really is Eve.
DISCLAIMER: Joxer's sudden and unexpected death, slowed down his rapid ageing process during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Livia in her first appearance of the episode, as she takes a long admiring look at her blood-soaked sword. Nothing like job satisfaction. I hear the hours are a killer though.
The moment all the non-Joxer fans have been waiting for -- his death. Have fun, but don't wear out the tape, folks.
Something fishy hanging outside Eli's temple in the village of Ostia. The inferences between Eli and a certain other bearded all-around-good-guy-peace-loving prophet just keep stacking up, don't they? Think they're trying to tell us something?
Livia's life flashing before her eyes just as she's about to skewer Xena. Despite the whole Livia/Eve arc not being properly mined of its potential, images of Eve as a baby, her desperate mother and Lucy's singing laid over the top, managed to coalesce the last few disjointed episodes into a touching montage.
"The thought of having your child, that sickens me." Xena finds yet another way of saying 'no', to Ares. Still too subtle Warrior Babe, the big guy will never get it. Try a sledgehammer next time. Subtexters note: Xena apparently had no problems with being knocked up by Callisto however...... *g*
"All right boys. That's enough arts and crafts for today." Xena takes time out from stalking her daughter to instruct some likely lads in the more practical art of being sliced and diced by a Warrior Princess.
"She just walked into camp, unarmed." One of Livia's guards quotes the oft-repeated story of Gabrielle's life.
"Do you think that Xena will still want that mother/daughter reunion after she finds your bloodless corpse, Auntie Gabrielle?" Mark my words, that girl Livia is heading for a good spanking. Only trouble is she'd probably enjoy it.
"Eve is dead. She's not your daughter anymore Xena. She's Rome's." Well, tell us what you really think Gabrielle! No wonder Xena flinched, her best friend has effectively just told her to give up on her own daughter.
Villager: "You can't destroy us. We've seen worse than you. We've lived through Callisto's raids."
Livia: "Callisto - she did some good work. But I'm not Callisto."
Ares: "Something isn't she? Looks like Livia's nearly racked up the body count you had at her age."
Xena: "She's my daughter you sick bastard."
Ares: "Why do you think it was so easy to turn her?"
Xena: "I know her rage, it's in Eve's blood Gabrielle. I made her who she is. I was her."
Gabrielle: "Then there's hope. Because you changed."
Xena: "Your destiny is to find a new way, beyond the killing."
Livia: "Shut up and fight me!"
Okay, okay I give up. What is this girls problem?? Ares schmaries, Livia has attitude all her own and I cant for the life of me figure what it is thats giving her the pips bad enough to go and slaughter a few hundred people before breakfast. Although, she didnt even seem pleased that shed broken her mothers old death/mayhem record; but I guess poor Livia had always thought she was an original until Xena came along. *Pout.*
Last review I discussed extensively how odd it was someone treated kindly and who wanted for nothing, would go off the rails so much without provocation. Its even worse this episode as they persist with the silly line that Ares somehow provoked her into it.
Xena says at one point to the God of War: "Shes my daughter, you sick bastard" and he replies "Why do you think it was so easy to turn her?"
Huh? Theyre both acting like he knew all along who she was. He did not.
Further, the word "turn" indicates to change direction. In this case, to change from good to bad. Why would the God of War have any interest in a good girl, anyway -- enough to bother with wanting to turn her? Her dark side would have to have already manifested itself all on its own for the god to have even noticed her in the first place.
I suspect they realised after last episode how implausible Livias whole motive-less, Rage Against The.... uh... Whatever was, and scrabbled to make it make sense. Somehow. And so they pushed this Ares angle more.
But even if you buy the "Ares twisted Eves mind" line, they are left with a major, gaping plot flaw. If the only reason Livia is bad ass today is because of Ares somehow phenomenal influence to make her commit pure, evil, acts of barbarity, then his manipulative influence would have still been present when the message from Eli lobbed. And so the whole "be nice to your mummy, she loves you" subliminals would have had zero effect. A mind so twisted, with the influencer still right there in the room, would have prevented any untwisting....
If, perhaps, they mean he didnt really twist her mind, but tweaked it -- maybe pointed her in the general direction of bad-assing, but did not cause the thoughts in the first place, then thats a little more believable. Until you find youre back to the start again, asking, nay, shouting: Where did these very ugly thoughts come from in the first instance?! What turned her into such a mean killer?
Ares and Xena both seem to think it was genetic!
As Xena tells Gabrielle, "Ares might have opened the door but Eve had to walk through it. You said it yourself, Eve finally took a good look inside herself and she found me there. I know her rage; its in Eves blood. I made her who she is. I was her."
Look, this is patently ridiculous twaddle. By this theory we should execute at birth all children of murderers and rapists because obviously theyll turn out with the same sick instincts as their parents.
Hellooo.... anyone buying this plot line?
You cant pass on rage! It is an emotional response to an experience. The experience is unique to the individual. The response to that experience is also unique.
This is causing me to lose my hair in large chunks even thinking they expect us to swallow this. Ill drown my angst in a Bard Burger now and give up on figuring out a plot with as many holes in it as my Grandmas pantyhose (circa 1982 and still going).
Oh damn, okay, look, before I get to hardening my arteries, Ill say one last thing: In the appalling absence of any backgrounding as to what happened to Eve as a young woman to cause her extreme emotional reaction today (i.e. see helpless villager with bad NZ accent; must kill said helpless villager), theres only one thing we can do -- Work backwards.
What cured Eve? When we figure that out, well know what made her mad in the first place. Eve was fixed by discovering, through visions sent by Eli (all hail the first known instance of the videocam), that her mother did love her after all. That was the one and only message in those flashbacks: Yes, she was loved. No, Xena didnt want to give her up and, hey, she even fought off the gods to keep her.
Ergo, if this revelation made Livia let go of her tormented dark side, then she had to have been driven nuts by the belief she was unloved by Xena, and felt abandoned.
As I said last episode, thats one mother of all abandonment issues. Highly unbelievable, but it sure beats the inherited anger theory.
So, this being the case, the only way Ares could have twisted Eve and fuelled her abandonment fires, was to keep telling her all the time how Xena didnt love her; and that shed abandoned her.
But Ares only knew who Eves mother was a week ago. And as we know from the first scene of Livia, Xenas daughter was already a monster long before anyone knew who her mother was.
Or are we to believe Ares just kept harping on about her unknown mother hoping to push a few buttons? That still gets back to the other problem -- that hed have to notice Eve first to want to then spend a decade pushing her buttons and manipulating her into even greater heights of bloodthirstyness. (Is your head spinning, too?) Clearly Eve was really twisted before this or hed never have given her a second look.
And yet she had no reason to be so twisted. Ninety-nine per cent of well treated and adored adopted kids dont turn into homicidal maniacs. And if she was already that genetic one per center, a seriously twisted sister for no reason at all, then no amount of lovey dovey montages would have made her change her tune. Shed really be a strait-jacket case, beyond redemption. And Ares would certainly not have needed to twist anything in such a nutter.
In the end I think its actually safe to conclude the Ares brain twisting angle is total unmitigated crap and the scriptwriters need a kick up the proverbial for serving us up a halfwarmed dogs dinner. (Oh dont look at me like that. Next time I may not hold back. *g*)
Its back to my Bard Burger and on with the show. Lets talk ... Joxer. I loved the scene between he and Virgil where he confesses Xena did all the cool stuff and he wasnt the warrior he wanted to be. It was both comic and poignant and thats a tough thing to do well. Greg Lee is starting to really impress me -- both here, for his comic deadpanning, but in particular for his dramatics in the scene where he sees Joxer die; the powerful scene where he kills in Elis temple and the scene where he tries to kill Eve. I am starting to think this natural born studmuffin can act!
Then theres Joxers death.
Well no, back up a minute... Joxers gift to Gabrielle. Blink and youll miss it, but that warrior wannabe finally did save her life. His shouting out to Livia at the very moment she was about to produce a "bloodless corpse" for Xena to find, indeed saved Gabrielles life, for Xena wasnt anywhere near to coming over that hill yet.
Had they found a way for him to die right there, for example with Eve hauling him out of that crowd of soldiers and knifing him in punishment, just as Xena and Virgil got a view of him; instead of in the silly, pointless stupid manner he did die, it would have been far better. Not to mention awesomely poignant -- for he would have finally been the thing he most wanted to be: a hero; and a hero who saved Gabrielle.
Instead, he was portrayed as an idiot who got in the way of Xenas rescue of Gabrielle -- and killing Joxer like that irritated me more than Married With Fishsticks and Lifeblood combined.
Okay, maybe thats a rather large exaggeration. *g*
But see, heres the thing: you dont go killing regular characters with good hearts in a dumb, easily preventable way, even if they are the comic relief. It makes people want to hunt down writers and stuff jellybeans up their noses. (I, for one, am arming myself with jellybeans as we speak.)
Its the principle of the matter. Doesnt matter that I have given Joxer a bit of stick over the years; he still deserved a more noble death than to be a buffoon -- and worse, a buffoon in front of his son. I was most unimpressed, and Ted Raimi (Joxer) deserved to be, too.
Also on the untapped potential scale, lets talk Gabrielle. If theres anyone who knows a few things about evil kids, off the rails, needing to be killed, yada yada yada, its the bard. But they dont dare even whisper the H-word. Instead its all implied.
She tells Virgil, before she goes to see Livia about Xena: "Im going to try and keep Xena from doing something shed never forgive herself for."
Sounds like she knows a few things about this. Has Gabrielle also not forgiven herself for what happened to Hope... you know, the old mother/daughter reunion down the flaming pit thing?
If Gabrielle is still tormented about this, then that might be something she should share with Xena, to make her consider all her options first.
On the other hand, this new incarnation of Gabrielle is an astonishing realist. Gone are those days when she clung to her ideals like a bilious green sports bra.
One moment shes telling Xena that Livia can be redeemed; next minute, after a brief meeting with the psychopath, shes informing Xena her daughter cant be helped, that shes (boo, hiss) bad-to-the-bone Livia.
I must say I was most surprised to see that it was Gabrielle who would declare someone a lost cause (I guess thats why Xena accepted it without question -- the source counts for a lot).
But I digress -- the fact Gabrielle is going through her realist phase might explain why she hasnt told Xena about the ramifications of what killing Hope had on her. She may well need Xena to be ignorant of the depth of this suffering to get the job done... a price to pay for the good of humanity. She may have reasoned, hell, if I tell her and Xena hesitates and then Livia kills Xena and everyone else, heaven help humanity then.
If that was her reasoning, itd be nice to know, instead of guessing it. And I, for one, would still have liked to have heard the H-word muttered sometime. The parallels are getting a little too obvious to ignore.
This brings me to Xena... the first thing she does upon hearing Gabrielles verdict that Livia is uncurable, apart from simply accepting it as gospel, is to go pray to Eli. It seems the Warrior Princess has now chosen her god. Long ago she never would have prayed to anyone, except as a final desperate act and because she was at her wits end. And even then her prayers were couched in a "to whom it may concern" tone, never specifically to any god. Now she calls on Eli by name, every time. Ironic that of all the gods in the Greek universe, it would be one preaching non-aggression that she would end up believing in.
This is where I do think the plot took a huge turn for the worse. Xena has called on and received godly intervention to save the day. I didnt like that one little bit. I have the same reservations about this as I did with her sudden magical powers in Back in the Bottle. The precedent has been set. All she needs do in the future is say, "Yo, Eli, a little help..." to get out of a jam. He has shown often that she has his ear, and his favour, and so its hard to imagine he wouldnt help. That being the case, why bother fighting and thinking your way out of things? Dial-a-god or turn an army to stone; pfft, who needs a sword?
I thought this was a major writing cop-out. And next time, guys, just dont. I never want to see this show ever resolved again with the wave of a gods hand. No thanks, that aint how it works. See, for the record, Xena is supposed to save the day. And Gabrielle. Not Eli. Excuse me if I find heavenly help more than a little like cheating.
Enough of the negatives; there were quite a few positive tiny moments in this episode, that were like the exact opposite of quibbles.
Firstly, I was just wowed at the chill factor of finding Livias little message to Xena in the battlefield: "Rome needs no mother". Shudder. This, incidentally, was further proof daughter dearest has monolithic mother issues.
In the village, something really unusual happens when Xena first gets there. In all the time I have been watching this show I have never seen the Warrior Princess react with anything but wariness when a stranger asks if she is Xena. And rightly so -- she does tend to be reviled a lot of the time for her past misdeeds. But in this episode we see the first time Xena acknowledges a villager asking the question without being acutely defensive. She is actually approaching the villager compassionately and with an openness that is really very sweet. It was a small but subtle indicator that Xena probably subconsciously no longer sees herself as the awful creature she was and expects others not to see her that way anymore, either. Of course, all she got for her trouble was spittle in the eye, so heavens knows if that was the first and last time we see it.
Another small moment shows Xena remains a physical creature and Gabrielle the talker. Its how they each instinctively react when Xena realises her daughter has crucified all those people. Gabrielle immediately reaches for Xenas arm, gets eye contact and says: "You know this isnt your fault."
And Xena, who probably just wants to run from the sight as fast as she can and howl at the universe, instead does the next best thing and jerks her arm off Gabrielle and physically distances herself from her. Its her way of actually physically rejecting the words the bard has spoken. Quite subtle.
Less than subtle nowadays is Ares. We see he has switched back into his more familiar personality of being less seductive and more loathsome to Xena -- his power is crackling once more; he reeks of danger; his blackmail techniques overt instead of implied.
Oh yeah -- and he gets his rocks off watching two of his one-time sweethearts fight. Thats a predictable Ares moment. *g* "Whos my girl?!!..." Oh yeah. Loved that scene.
Livia, annoyingly, is portrayed the same way this episode as she was last -- as in, big-time bratty -- enough for even Ares to note "oh grow up". But there is one little gem that stands out where, just for a moment, she rises above this characterisation and gives a little chill.
Its the way she stares at Xena and very slowly, in measured, cold tones she says: "DONT... call me... Eve..."
Ouch. If only shed been calculating like this all the way through, it would have been so much more chilling. But alas, this episode was not devoid of fruit hurling and table turning, so I guess it was more the exception than the rule.
There was one other moment that gave me a delighted laugh; where, during one battle, Adrienne Wilkinson perfectly nailed the "hmmm curious" head tilt, staring-eye thing that Callisto does often, but particularly in Ides of March (when Gabrielle went feral). I pay Adrienne full credit for it, and I felt like Callisto was staring back at us for that brief moment.
Finally, my favourite scene, even though I hate the idea of god intervention as an episode resolution -- the montage, including Xena telling Eve she loves her. That was all a fine bit of work. If only itd been used as a starting point for Livias realisation she may be on the wrong track; rather than the complete and instant point of conversion to good, as seems to have happened here.
"She said her name was Eve" Xena whispers at the end to Gabrielle, barely able to keep the emotion from her voice.
This, while immensely touching, was too sudden to be believable and brought back memories of Locked Up Tied Down, where Gabs set the world record for goodness conversion with that acidic prison warden. Now Xena, or rather Eli, has beaten her record by proving one mother-and-child montage and a nice lullaby kicker will do the trick even faster than one of those Little House on the Prairie speeches Gabrielle is so fond of.
That aint so cool. It was far too rushed for someone like Livia to just (literally) see the light and go "Um oops, I guess those last 25 years were a bit naughty. Ill be good now".
Unless theyre trying to argue Eli did more than just run the projection room at that moment? In which case, thats very wrong. Gods arent supposed to rewrite peoples characters to suit themselves. Theologically, were all supposed to be given the information to make our own choices; not have the choices made for us. But I do suspect they did mean to imply Livias conversion was definitely of her own free will.
Which only begs the question of -- where to from here? That will be worth watching.
In summary, a pretty good episode despite the lack of any backgrounding or dialogue which would adequately explain what in the hell is getting up Livias nose. Gabrielle seems more of a realist than I can ever recall seeing her. Xena is grappling with issues she had long thought shed put behind her -- issues like creating monsters who are out for revenge in her name. (eg Callisto). Its all the more awful because now the monster is her own daughter.
Gabrielle can sure relate -- the big question is, why isnt she? Relating to Xena that is... the old, "hey I know exactly what youre going through with the monster/daughter thing. Lifes a bitch and then you kill her..."
Its something they may want to address down the line.
And finally, I can not finish without mentioning Joxer. Farewell old warrior chum ... I wont miss you cluelessly interrupting the subtext (but hell, there wasnt any this season, anyway); getting kidnapped every few seconds due to incompetence and endangering the duo who must then rescue you; or trying to talk Gabrielle into becoming your sidekick.
However, I will miss the humor you brought -- and wrought. And Attus the apeman, replete in darling pink nightwear, leafy wreath and regal tilt of that pasty white chin, will be the image I carry off into the night... (Before I wake up screaming.)
Hey, just kidding. Besides, theres two more out there like him... a fact Im sure the Xenabods have not forgotten.
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