Season 5, Episode 3
September 12, 2000
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 5.5 Chakrams
SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Written by Steven L. Sears. Directed by Rick Jacobson.
PASSING PARADE: Kevin Smith (Ares), Jenya Lano (Mavican).
STORY SO FAR: A female warrior wants to unseat Xena in Ares affections as heir to his realm. To find out who is the better fighter, he sends Xena, Gabrielle and Mavican in a battlezone to duke it out. Xena and Gabrielle are put in the same body to fight her individually at different times.
DISCLAIMER: Ares' libido was not harmed during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: A definite sound of boot steps as a *naked* Ares climbs out of bed.
Five bandits being flung helterskelter by Xena. Five? How many were there Gabrielle? According to my abacus, there were at least seven -- and counting.
One of the hapless bandits doing a mid-air wardrobe change, also landing with a different face and body to the one he took off with.
Any scene, especially the slow-mo fight scene, displaying Mavican's gravity-defying bustiere. Good grief! Not to mention her hair... So that's what someone looks like when they've just walked through a hedge backwards?
Xena's unnecessary exultation for Gabrielle to 'hold on!' as they are being sucked into Ares' whirlpool. When of course, all of Gabrielle's instincts would naturally be screaming at her to 'let go!'.
Gabrielle peering into the abyss in that cave, her expression full of unpleasant memories of deep wells, whirlpools, volcanic abysses et al.
Gabrielle's tears when Xena admits: "I do see you. Sometimes I have trouble facing it. But I promise I will." It's been a long hard road to recognition for the bard.
"Honey, I hate to be the one to break it you. But one action-packed roll in the sack does not make you the heir Ares mantle." Ares fending off yet another vixen laying claim to his fireplace.
"I'm (Gabrielle) not a kid anymore. You would think she (Xena) would know that." You would, considering that new outfit she just bought...
"You know what sweetie? You talk too much." Xena getting cosy with Mavican.
"...They're (the gods) immortal because we make them that way." Come again? Does that make sense to anyone?
"I'm not crazy, Gabrielle." Mavican takes a side tour to Delusia on her way to Insanity.
"In fact, you did a pretty good number on Caesar and the Romans." Except for that broken back/crucifixion thingy. Someone should really bring Ares up to speed.
Ares: "Maybe the heir to Xena's throne has been right in front of me all along."
Gabrielle: "Are you out of your mind?!"
Mavican: "You know , you really should write more. I'm going to need someone to write me into history, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle: "Hate to tell you this, but history is fickle."
A tight little episode this one -- tight on direction, plenty of tight close-up shots, and almost certainly tight on budget. Thats okay, some of the best shows can come out of conditions as sharply focused as these. Succession might well have been one of them if it hadnt had a rather annoying fatal flaw.
The whole point of this episode is getting Xena to appreciate and see Gabrielle for the fighter she has become. Its a nice idea, but it doesnt work.
Gabrielle, of the three women here, is clearly the third-best fighter. She tries hard, is smart to a point, and has some immensely slick moves, but she is not better than her adversary and neither one is better than Xena.
Further, Gabrielle has an annoyingly dumb habit of always tossing her weapon to the ground at a critical moment, within easy reach of the bad guy, to make some profound statement -- instead of hanging on to it for her own protection. While, at the episodes climax, she proved she could at least once get herself into the winning position, her subsequent weapon discarding also showed she wasnt thinking of her opponent, and her moral high ground could easily cost her her life in a battle. Which in turn proves she is not as good a warrior against someone like Mavikan, because she hasnt thought ahead. Thinking ahead is everything.
Witness how Xena did it five minutes later -- she throws the dagger onto the ground, yes, but into the fire where it will be too hot for an enemy to grab.
Gabrielle also has -- in this episode especially -- the incredibly irritating ability to gain the upper hand, several times thanks to Xenas hard thought-out groundwork, and then lose it immediately by sitting back and waiting for the enemy to counterattack. Her little Amazon tracking speech, for instance, was almost embarrassing after Gabs gets her prey, only to lose it at the critical moment by doing nothing but sitting and watching Mavikan when she instead should have been getting in some seriously fast hog-tying practice.
I found myself saying: "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, Gabrielle... finish the job, hon."
In short, Gabrielle tries valiantly, but can only earn the elite warrior Effort Award in this episode. So to make things most ludicrous of all, after Gabrielle has had her sassy ass whopped four times in four encounters with Mavikan, the God of War swoops in and anoints Gabrielle as his chosen heir.
Huh... excuse me but I think I missed something here... Was Don King brokering this superchallenge or something?
And from all this Xena suddenly appreciates her bard can fight.
This is nothing against Gabrielles abilities. Firstly, shes good with those daggers (a little too good for an L-plater if you ask me), although last episode should have proved far more than this one to Xena that the bard has major talent in the brawn department. Secondly, Mavikan is something of a top-of-the-range thug so its a little unfair to judge Gabrielle as lacking because she cant always keep up with Mavikan. But it just seems exceptionally silly if they expect us to buy Ares picking Gabrielle as his heir based on what he saw in this soiree...
Oh but wait, they try to justify it with the new SNAG Aress changed objectives:
He wants, he tells Gabrielle, "Someone strong enough to lead people The key is to find someone whos learned how to fight and has the discretion not to. Now thats something Xena never had."
Now either Ares has lost his marbles or he is lying through his gap-toothed front teeth... because his job description clearly defines him as the God of WAR. Not the god of Lead an Army to the Battle Field but Dont Make Them Fight.
Lets go on the theory that hes lying because its a bit hard to buy a pacifist god of war. Why is he lying? To get Gabrielle to agree to be his chosen one? Sure.
But WHY her?
An experienced veteran like Ares should have been able to see Gabrielle was still making fairly basic warrior mistakes in his challenge. Yes, she is inventive and thinks, but not enough on both counts -- yet.
So maybe Ares is like a major league talent scout -- recruiting Gabrielle while shes still young, impressionable and available for moulding and improvement? In which case, okay, Id buy that if she had a Mavikan-like mindset with a bloodlusty fire in her belly.
But she doesnt.
And I simply just cant buy Ares picking Gabrielle -- out of an entire population full of bloodthirsty wannabes -- as his anointed Ares Warriorette, especially when she doesnt even have the nous to properly contain one single hard-assed adversary, nor the will to be, well, really mean. And Gabrielle, for all her plucky fighting spirit, simply doesnt have that whites-of-their-eyes edgy chill factor Xena has, that Ares is so fond of.
So, following these arguments to the natural conclusion -- this episode MAKES NO SENSE. Which is why it gives me a mega case of the irrits and I find it unwatchable on a repeat viewing.
Of course there is one other possibility which was never even alluded to, but Ill take it anyway as it at least calms my twitching and cuts down on expensive counselling sessions.
Ares is luring Gabrielle simply to annoy Xena. Why, who knows. Im open to theories. But it makes more sense than luring her for her bloodthirsty talents as a kill-em-all warrior. Or for her potential talents. Or because she can lead an army but wont ask them to fight... Whatever.
I had other quibbles but they are somewhat smaller than the above one.
Lucy Lawless goes waaay over the top in her little black room giving the motivational speeches to a Gabrielle she can see projected. Almost thought she was going to cry at one point, and it seemed she was far too emotional for the Xena we know.
Also over the top, in my humble opinion, was Gabrielles response to Xena at the very end of the episode after Xena says "Gabrielle, I do see you -- sometimes I have trouble facing it but I promise that I will."
Gabs replies, with a gasping choke and, I kid you not, a hand on heart: "You dont know how much that means to me."
I understand why Gabrielle would feel that way -- she is immensely sick of Xena seeing her as a kid who couldnt womp a half-pint bandit, and rightly so.
But the delivery was too cloying. Itd have been better with a direct look, no quivery voice or hand gestures and just "Thanks, that means an awful lot to me."
Although I did love the ending banter about the short badguys who will henceforth be left to Gabrielle -- which is, as she says, "good strategy"! Big laugh there.
Also with this one scene, I am very curious about that line of dialogue from Xena:
"Gabrielle I do see you -- sometimes I have trouble facing it."
Just curious to know why Xena has trouble facing up to the fact that Gabs is an equal now, independent and all grown up. I can understand if maybe she felt maternal towards the bard -- mothers do find the losing of their child to adulthood hard to deal with -- but I havent detected a maternal attitude from Xena since season one or two.
So then, what is Xena afraid of facing about her grown-up companion, exactly? Ill just leave that hanging -- for all the subtexters to enthusiastically debate...
Also on the question of subtext, there were shades of Najaras taunts here as Mavikan describes Gabrielle as Xenas "fatal flaw". (Xena incidentally not only doesnt deny it (?!) but adds that everyone has one.) And there were more references to Xena being distracted with the bard about. It seems to now be official in the Xenaverse that Gabrielle is some ultra powerful distracting agent when near Xena (and Najara). I wonder if the military should look into mass-producing Gabrielles as a potential weapon?
Speaking of bards, this is the second episode in a row someone has made reference to Gabrielle no longer writing. Last episode, an addled Xena asked if surely the bard shouldnt be buying some scrolls or something. This episode Mavikan says to her:
"You really should write more..."
Is this indicating Gabrielle has retired from the barding business in preference to kick butt-ery? In which case, shouldnt this be dealt with at some point?
We also get our first proper look in this episode of Lucys maternity warrior princess dress -- as in the one you have when your characters not pregnant but the actress is. Its, um, black. I think Ill leave it at that... Scarily I preferred Xena in the purple flounce of Chakram than the leggings thing of this episode. Now I know Im losing it.
Lastly... Im sure the lads (and a few grrls) will disagree here, but I had some serious worrying for the actress playing Mavikan as to whether shed keep all her worldly goods firmly secured in that three-sizes too small bustier of hers. It was... a little distracting. Incidentally, what is it with all the twisted blondes in the plunging leather outfits anyway? Youd think theres a factory in ancient Greece somewhere, pumping these clones out. In which case, stay well away ... no, I mean it, guys.
In summary, if this plot was in any way believable, this might be a good episode. Ways to fix it could have been Gabrielle whomping Mavikans ass more than she did to make Ares offer for her to be his heir to world domination believable.
Or perhaps explaining that Ares had an ulterior motive for choosing Gabrielle. Either way, I couldnt get past it and the episode suffered in my mind as a result. It was an average effort, with good acting from the Mavikan actress, but it deserved to be a whole lot more. But at least it had strong focus and Ill vote for more of that every time.
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