LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE
Season 5, Episode 19
October 7, 2000
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 7 chakrams
SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Written by Carl Ellsworth. Teleplay by R.J. Stewart.
Directed by Garth Maxwell.
PASSING PARADE: Kevin Smith (Ares); Ted Raimi (Joxer); Paris Jefferson (Athena); Jason Hoyte (Hephaestus); Stephen Lovatt (Hades); Theresa Healey (Celesta); Mark Warren (Octavius); Jed Brody (Ramius); Kate Smeda (Kara); Michael Langley (Theon); Samantha Adriaanse (Clotho); Elizabeth Pendergast (Atropos); Chloe Jordan (Lachesis).
STORY SO FAR: The Fates tell Xena she must die in order to signal the Twilight of the Gods and, with the gods in hot pursuit, she stages her death ... but it doesnt go exactly to plan.
DISCLAIMER: Death almost died during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Joxer's daughter bearing a striking resemblance to the girl Xena did a body swap with in Little Problems. You know those Greeks, they all look alike. *g*
Xena snatching the reins out of Ares' hand as they flee from Athena et al towards the cliff top. Guess she didn't trust the God of War to drive fast enough. Fair enough I suppose. Hades, with the chariot careering out of the Underworld, was the true petrol head in the family. Ares was more your 'I zappy here, 'I zappy there' kinda guy.
Joxer referring to Gabrielle's scroll while citing his memories to his children. Remember he said, "It's the end of the scroll but it's not the end of the story." He continued the story with his eyewitness account of Xena's and Gabrielle's 'deaths'. When we return from the flashback of his account, he looks up as if he were reading from Gabrielle's scroll.
On the flip side, Gabrielles scroll, which Joxer is reading from earlier, somehow depicts him running through the woods declaring "the ocean, Xena is heading for the ocean". No way the bard saw this. So either she was psychic when she wrote it or the Joxmeister was doing some adlibbing to get the tension going.
Xena finding time to catch and grab hold of Gabrielle as they plunge to their 'deaths', thereby cushioning the bard's fall. That still doesn't explain how Xena didn't break both her legs and her back -- again.
"Well Athena, you can call off your search, we found Hades for you." Xena, ever the wiseguy, taunts Athena. Despite her mood, Athena couldn't help a wry smile quirking across her lips.
"Xena never dies, why is that?" Athena proves yet again she is the only savvy god in Olympus, by asking out loud what we've all been wondering for years. Her fellow gods, better known as Incompetents Incorporated, were conspicuous by their silence.
"Sounds like Death is getting a little cocky." Athena, pointlessly, tries her luck with the God of She Who Always Has the Last Word.
"So, looks like Xena couldn't even leave Death in your hands." Athena proves Xena's not the only wiseguy in Greece, by trying her darndest to wind up Xena's 'girlfriend'. Which is only fair as the Warrior Princess killed hers! Pout.
"Why are you always asking for something you are never going to get?!" Xena in exasperation mode. On the one hand, it does beg the question, which part of 'no' doesn't Ares understand? On the other, what can Xena expect, when she's constantly leading him on?
Atropos: "The Fates always welcome you here Xena, we're pleasantly - surprised."
Xena: "Finding your kid topping the list of Olympus' Most Wanted makes you do some pretty surprising things."
Fate: "Your child will bring forward the Twilight and usher in a new beginning."
Xena: "I was hoping you could humour me with some dates."
Xena: "So you're the god of Arts and Crafts. What do you do for a hobby?"
Hephaestus: "Help my family kill your child, by first killing you."
Xena: "No, that's a perversion, not a hobby."
Kara: "Joxer I presume."
Joxer: "Yeah, that's spelled with an 'x'. The 'x' is for extra super sexy."
Oooh, baby, the stakes have suddenly gone up a notch in the Xenaverse. With the Twilight of the Gods beckoning, we find out its not just Eve on the line but Xena apparently must die. Athenas madder and meaner (just love that grrls attitude); there are more gods per square inch (the really cool cats this time -- none of this two-bit Discord, Strife or Artemis business) and, of all things, Death is being held hostage. (Love to read that ransom note: Dear Gods, meet our demands or no one dies...)
Woohoo...I think Ill sit down before I fall down. *g*
I have to say it -- I am a sucker for a halfway decent story that I cant guess the ending to. And this episode fits the bill. Whats more, it gets more interesting the further into it you get. And the gods (all pretty good actors there, except maybe Jason Hoyte playing Hephaestus) are pretty much the extras, so you know the dialogue isnt going to be limited to: "Lets get outta here" and "Oomph", "ouch" and "he went thatta way".
Athena is back and bless her sighing, world-weary, "why cant we kill Xena?" soul, is on fire -- sharp dialogue, pointed looks, mind like a steel trap and a really nasty grievance. She makes one Tartarus of a troubling adversary. And shes the first adversary since Callisto to really make a big mark, I think. Even Caesar was looking a bit tired towards the end ("Xeee-eena". Cue his little Roman pout) when stacked up next to Athenas skyhigh arched eyebrow, sarcastic delivery and clever schemes.
Ares is being altruistic now it seems, asking for nothing in payment for his escape on Xenas side. But, then, she didnt actually need anything from him at the time. I guess hes just a sucker for a good old fashioned hayride getaway. Even a god needs his fun sometimes...
Hades, the only god who changes personality with every episode, as befitting the mood of the writers, really does play little more than an extra here, probably because his character is so ill-defined. I mean what is he: a basically good guy forced to do a tough job, say, like an undertaker? A bad guy who enjoys hanging with the ghouls and the whole sadistic Beelzebub "have whip, will travel" undertones?
Will the real Hades please stand up? When they figure that out amongst themselves, he may actually get a defined character and thus better lines.
But on with the show. We have Xena who, joyfully, is back in Personality #2 mode.
Let me explain:
Personality #1: Shes making eyes at Gabrielle, teaching her how to fish, throwing fish at her, fisting fish (notice a theme, here?), sharing bed rolls and playing hide the soap while up to her bobbing breasts in a hot-tub made for two. She is often more playful and silly (although not always) and subtext is her middle name. She also disdains Ares and pretty much any amorous making eyes at her. (Prime examples: A Day In The Life, Fins Femmes & Gems, One Against An Army.)
Personality #2: The Warrior Princess in her no-nonsense, kick-ass, scowls and taunts mode. She is all business, sexually neutral (as in, no sex please, Im busy saving the world) and she particularly disdains Ares. (eg Looking Death In The Eye, Giant Killer, Daughter of Pomira, The Price.)
Personality #3: She is also in business mode but is titillated by Ares (eg Eternal Bonds; Amphipolis Under Siege) and tends to forget she has a partner around whom she used to lovingly share hot tubs with. She also forgets that she used to disdain Ares.
Personality #3a: Feral early Xena, also in bloody business mode, but substitute Borias for Ares and insert Lao Ma as the recently neglected hot-tub partner. (Example, The Debt 1 & 2.)
Personality #4: Not fussy. Any passing man may cause her to suddenly leap their bones and make clucky/seductive/appreciative noises in their ears (ala Antony & Cleopatra, Ulysses and King Con). Whether or not she disdains Ares in this mode is unknown as shes too busy changing frocks and impressing her new beau. Whether or not she can remember Gabrielles name is also unknown. But if she can, its only to send her out to fetch more aphrodisiacs and massage oil...
So as I was saying Xena is at personality # 2 here, which is the safest mode to be in, given she cant be accused of flagrant character inconsistency by anyone. Although she can be a little, well, predictable in this mode (all hiiii-yas and yiyiyis and no fun make Xena a dull grrl indeed) ... but Ill forgive her this if the other choice is personality #4.
It is good they got her back on track in this episode. With so much else going on around them, they needed their two central characters behaving like themselves or it would have been an irritating red-herring smorgasbord.
Getting right down to it. In the beginning, we see Joxer and hear Megs voice -- sounding suspiciously slurred like an alcoholic with a 10-bottle-a-day habit and nagging like a miserable mother-in-law. Wassamatter Meg? The whorehouse business that unkind to you? Hey, I always knew the karma from what she was doing with those poor goats/sheep would come back and haunt her...*g*
They probably didnt need to tell the story in flashback, and Im not entirely sure why they did, unless its to set up a future episode.
We see Gabrielle has written one last scroll of their adventures. It was quite clever of her not to have explained what they were really up to -- one wouldnt want that scroll falling into Godly hands -- ie. an entire confession of faking their deaths.
But I did wonder one thing about this pre-planned fakery: I always presumed one of Hades job responsibilities was going through the newly dead and declaring: Tartarus or Elysian Fields... Would he not have noticed Xena and Gabrielles absence among his new arrivals? One could argue Gabrielle was off to the Amazons Land of the Dead and thus was not Hades responsibility, but Xena at least should have turned up to see Solan again in Elysia. Hmmm....
I am guessing the gods have decided that, seeing as Ares spirited away Xenas and Gabrielles bodies, he also took care of the minor detail of their missing-in-action spirits as well. Still, if I was a god threatened with mortality, Id be more suspicious, and inquisitive about such minor details.
Athena was, as I said above, meaner in this episode than the last we saw her in and we actually witness her lose her temper early on when shes addressing her family. This was most unexpected and it shows the tension is starting to get to even the greatest among the Olympus gods.
I can see why theyd be getting more than a little annoyed here -- two mortals and one helpless baby, and they cant even find them, let alone kill them? Theyre almost being mocked for their own incompetence.
But in a way they deserve to be mocked. They make some poor assumptions all the way through and overlook some obvious clues as to the fact it was all a set-up.
In turn, Xena backed more long-shots than run in the Outbacks Birdsville Track race day and she actually should have been caught several times over.
Check these longshots out:
1. Xena presumed Athena would go after her friends to find out where Xena and Eve were. Fair call -- she went to Amphipolis to bug her family last time we saw her. I guess friends could be next on the list.
But Athena has thus far been unable to track down Xena and Gabrielle for months. And yet she found both Gabrielle and Joxer, (Xenas most "high profile friend") within two minutes of the bard entering a bar. New scoping record from the god of wisdom. I almost expected Athena to say to Gabrielle, "Sooo, you come here often or did I just get lucky...?"
But Ill buy the line they went after Joxer (who was probably making his wannabe warrior presence known) and got remarkably lucky that at that VERY minute they closed in on him, Gabrielle rocks up. Man, those gods should be buying Greco-Roman Lotto tickets. Just one thing: how did Gabrielle automatically know where Joxer was? Er, do we even care?
2. Next up, Xena banked on the fact she could make Celesta cry. Thats a toughie. I dont know how easy it would be to make someone cry if you set out to deliberately do this, but especially a god, whom Gabrielle rightly observes, are not big on understanding loss, being immortal and all.
3. The tears collected, incidentally, didnt seem enough to coat the hindleg of a mosquito let alone drug Xena and Gabrielle into a near-death stupor.
4. If I was Celesta Id be very suspicious of any mortal wiping away my tears given its obviously common knowledge their powers. Add in the fact she has already commented on the fact that her kidnapping was most unlike Xena and Gabrielle... Yes, maam, aint that the truth. Celesta should have been screaming from the rooftops to her siblings that something is smelling to high hell and its coming from our dynamic duos direction. (No Ares, did have that bath.)
5. Then theres the cliff fall. Xena simply assumes she and Gabrielle will survive what could have ended disastrously, with their premature deaths from multiple internal injuries, multiple external injuries and multiple brain traumas that tend to make multiple hospital machines go "Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep".
6. Another big gamble is Xena presuming the gods will not come and inspect the wreckage for Eve, a huge gamble, given Xena has already tricked Athena once with the baby switcheroo in Amphipolis Under Siege. Youd think the goddess of wisdom would not allow any margin for error and make extra sure. One cursory poke about the wreckage would have found a very non-human dummy there. In fact Xena should not have used any dummy at all -- finding no body is better than finding that weird metal head, which would alert them something was up. Without it, they could possibly believe in a total incineration of the body.
I still cant believe they just stood up there watching, too lazy to do their own wreckage rummaging, while essentially waiting for Xena to tell them how it all turned out! Uh guys, thats about as smart as asking an accused murderer to tell you if hes guilty or not.
7. But the most staggeringly huge problem with this plan was what Xena does after she discovers a suitably dead Gabrielle on the beach and a supposedly dead Eve. She gets her sword lines it up on her stomach and makes like a chicken kebab. Now for some BIZARRE reason, not supported by anything, she must have assumed Ares will rock up and save her before she has to look really goofy and at the last second put the sword down and take the poison. Right?
Or else she really intended to go through with the self-inflicted vivisection to make it look good, even though this would kind of hamper her recovery later!
The only thing that would make this one moment believable was if Ares had been in on her plan (at least that would explain why he just let her kill herself with the drink, even though hed gone to all that effort of trying to stop her with the sword).
But Xena has never trusted Ares with her laundry list, plus shes going through her personality #2 "I hate Ares" phase (full moon, you know how it is), so shes hardly going to tell a god how she plans to defy him and his family.
And besides, most convincing of all, Ares shows by his actions at the end that he had no clue she wasnt actually dead. So Xena must put a lot of faith in Ares bailing her out in her suidical moments...
So endeth the most convoluted but weirdly successful plan to defy the gods yet. It was exciting in its unpredictability and it only worked because it involved miracles of luck on Xenas part and sheer stupidity on the gods part.
Well ... it sort of worked. That is until Ares stuck his beak in....
It seemed at first glance as if Ares had been pre-planning this death ritual for Xena for some time. He has her little icy cave already fixed up complete with two coffins! Although, he did not have a third little one nearby for Eve, so it was probably just something he whipped up for them on the spot -- or had planned long before Eve was a twinkle in her mothers eye. Who knows -- all a bit odd really.
And did anyone actually see him take Gabrielle anywhere? In every shot hes just lugging the Warrior Princess about. Maybe he sent the bard on ahead and was busy getting his last visceral thrills out of holding Xena?!
His speech was certainly unusual. He glances at Gabrielle and then says to Xena: "I handled you all wrong. She knew what you needed -- unconditional unselfish love. I couldnt give that to you. I appreciated you in ways she never could -- your rage, your violence, your beauty. When you sacrificed yourself for others you were hers, but when you kicked ass, your were mine."
The more I think about it, the more I like that bit of dialogue because it succinctly sums up both Ares and Gabrielles characters rather well. Yeah, they both loved Xena, but they loved different things about her.
I think hes wrong that Gabrielle never appreciated Xenas beauty -- she most certainly did... In Altered States when she declared "by the gods you are bee-yooo-tiful" she did nothing but ogle. But that aside, I think it really was a very self aware speech for Ares. And if hed been even one-tenth as honest with Xena when she was alive as he is here, now shes on ice, he might have won a little more of her approval than "why are you always asking for something you are never going to get?!".
There were a few out-and-out silly moments in this episode, that I cant really ignore, despite liking it quite a bit.
The oddest thing is why Xena would shatter the helmet of invisibility instead of, gee I dunno, PUTTING IT ON and escaping!
In God Fearing Child she went to a lot of effort to locate this helmet in order to, supposedly, hide from the gods. And now she has it in her grasp she destroys it! Go figure.
Clever manoeuver by Athena in this scene to try and drive a wedge between Xena and Gabrielle over the Warrior Princess not giving Eve to the bard when she called out. But it was silly for Gabrielle even to bother. At the very moment she called out to Xena, Eve was securely strapped to her back (a five minute effort right there at least) and Xena was holding the helmet of invisibility -- giving Xena all the cards and everyone else none. It was just silly to ask for Eve at this point.
I can also never understand why in the Xenaverse, after one showdown, the gods just give up and walk away to fight another day. They are tireless, they are immortal, they could keep hammering at Xena until shes grey, gumming her food and talking about the good old days with that bard she picked up in Potiedea. And yet theyre kind of like, "Youve one this round, Xena. You shattered the helmet, so ah, well just, er, get you later..."
Another quibble, Octavius says to Joxer that its good to see him again. Refresh my memory, where has Romes new leader met Joxer the Mighty before?
But these are very minor points indeed. In sum, I liked this episode. The plot may have been complicated but it kept us guessing and interested. The gods may have been a little stupider, but at least they looked more menacing. I loved them lined up on the clifftop as the triumphant music played, just as Xenas cart tumbled over the edge. Its amazing how threatening three shapes can look, just standing there, watching!
Woohoo -- Athena was back, but I do remember her with more compassion than in this incarnation, but clearly frustration has gotten to her since the last meeting.
Ares was in fine form. As always... top speech, dude.
And Xena and Gabrielle were behaving, gasp, in character!
Really there was something for everyone and it sooo makes you drum the fingers in impatience and anticipation to find out how Xena and Gabrielle will get out of their icy deep-freezer. Will there be an overhead microwave "ding" and theyll suddenly wake up, ruddy of cheek, like newly defrosted chooks?
Will Ares pop by and do the zappy thing on them? Well, he probably would have done it by now if he could. So much for his "mere parlour trick" line about reincarnating the dead.
So many, many possibilities. I await with interest, fascination and intense impatience....May the gloried return match the mighty departure.
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