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Artwork by Judi Mair

SOUL POSSESSION

Season 6, Episode 20

Reviewed by SLK
slk@ausxip.com

RATING: 6.5 chakrams

 

SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Written by Melissa Blake. Directed by Josh Becker.
Edited by Tim Batt and Stephen Bobertz.

PASSING PARADE: Ted Raimi (Joxer/Harry); Kevin Smith (Ares);

Michael Saccente (Dr. Frederick Delaney); Lucy Briant (Roxanne Fields); Anne Nordhaus (Fan #1); Jennifer Rucker (Fan #2); Carly Binding (Barb Binder);
Campbell Cooley (Random Reporter).

STORY SO FAR: In modern times, a new Xena scroll is found revealing the Warrior Princess had made a contract to marry Ares in her next life. The nuptial deal was made in exchange for the God of War finding Gabrielle after the bard had dived into the lava pit in Sacrifice 2.

DISCLAIMER: Joxer's process of elimination was harmed during the making of this motion picture.

REWIND FOR: Xena diving in to the water wearing her full armour and leather. A costume that would have aided her descent to be sure, but how did she ever resurface ... alive?

Lucy la Meg dressed in nothing more than a bit of whipped cream and a three-tiered cake, singing a number that would make any dumb blond proud. ie. "Who’s my little bubba? Ka-chookie-chookie-chookie-chookie." Despite it being cringe material that was so awful, it was mesmerising, I defy you to watch it, and not laugh.

Joxer moving towards Gabrielle's comforting embrace, only to watch her head for Xena instead. Some things never change in the Xenaverse. Denial ain't just a river in Europe you know, Joxer. *g*

QUOTABLE:

"Rob Tay-pert - give us what we want! Deliver a new season, a 7th season of Xena! " Well now, that would be kinda hard considering he no longer owns the rights, wouldn't it?

"Hey, Joxer was no fool. The guy they got to play him was a goofball, that’s all. He was the producer’s brother, for crying out loud!" Yeah, and you'd figure Ted could have counted on a little more familial favour from his brother. Something along the lines of character development.

"I thought you might be here - Harry and Harry’s ho’ ." Nice to see Annie bears no grudge isn't it? *g* You have to admit though - it would bite big time to have your counsellor run off with your partner...

"Hey! What’s wrong with the special effects?" Apart from the fact that Xena's wall-walking effort was lifted straight from The Matrix? Nothing, nothing at all. And since when is 'derivative' a dirty word on Xena anyway?

Best Comebacks:

Joxer: "Oh, you had a vision. She had a vision! You know, Xena, denial ain't just a river in Europe."

Xena: "The Nile's in Africa."

Joxer: "It's that long?"

 

Xena: "...maybe we can pick up her trail from there."

Joxer: "Oh that’s a great idea...maybe she left some bread crumbs for us to follow."

 

Xena: "I’m gonna hit the Ladies."

Joxer: "Hey, why don’t you hit some kids, too?!"

 

Xena: "I despise you. You've been tormenting me for years."

Ares: "That? That was just foreplay."

 

Ares: "You are absolutely breathtaking."

Xena: "Yeah? Then how come you’re still breathing?"

 

Briant: "Did you schedule any celebrity appearances?"

Delaney: "Well, we contacted Bruce Campbell, but he was too much money." Not true at all, I hear he's very cheap. *g*

 

 

SLK’S REVIEW

 

I was really curious as to why this episode was considered essential to plug glaring plot holes from season 3 -- yet they were plot holes which weren’t deemed worthy of plugging all those years back. They’ve gone this long without it, why bother now, just before the finale?

The timing aside, I didn’t mind this episode, but I had to mark it down for actually creating more plot abysses than it fixed. So much was blatantly out of whack and not adding up when played back to back with Sacrifice 1&2 and A Family Affair that had they run this episode immediately after those three eps aired, the powers that be would still be wincing under the deluge of derisive fans smaking them about the ears.

The biggest continuity problem was Gabrielle doing a deal with Ares to swap her soul in exchange for her evil daughter, Hope’s, life (the same girl she had expressed regret in not having finishing off properly when she first tried to kill her).

Perhaps they figured fans have no memories of what transpired in these episodes? Which is like saying, "bah, the fans won’t remember the rift - just give it a year or three".

Hmm. Well, more on the plot quibbles in a moment. To start at the beginning...

I have been to many a press conference in my journalistic career and have yet to see one with either security guards or a break for coffee five minutes into it (and before the Q&A even begins). They must be trying to butter up the hacks. Well more of it, I say... *g*

Had to laugh at the two gatecrashing fans indulging in Rob Tapert’s pet hate: calling him Tape-ert... I can just see him shuddering as the actresses revelled in the moment.

I’m still snickering at the supposed Whoosh editor’s view that Xena wouldn’t subscribe to "the subjugating regime of marriage"... Anyone would think at this point, and so soon after Send in the Clones, that the powers that be tend to think of the fans as somewhat, er, extreme. *g*

Still, if they’re taking potshots at fans, as they were in Clones, it’s nice to see that here they’re also having a bit of a go at themselves, too. The nepotism Raimi claims, the ‘guy who plays Joxer’ crack, the Bruce Campbell exorbitant fee, and the cheesy effects joke, all makes the humour a lot funnier, because everyone’s fair game...not just the viewers. I liked that and laughed a lot.

Now we’re into the old scroll. I understand Xena sharing her excitement with Joxer about her vision that Gabrielle is alive. Ted was pretty funny as the drunk counting how many he’d had and so on, but I was a little baffled why Xena needed to bring him along on her Find Gabrielle quest. It was clear he didn’t believe a word of it and all he did was become incredibly negative every step of the way. The Xena I recall back then would have been likely to have ditched him as soon as it became clear he didn’t want to help.

But still, Jox is along for the trek, which is handy because we need him for our plot exposition, like why a marriage in front of The Fates is such a big deal. (Incidentally, with The Fates destroyed in When Fates Collide, does that mean all bets are off? Isn’t that like having a contract with a business that goes bankrupt? Not worth the paper it’s written on? I know the contract was between Xena and Ares, but the eternity thing I gathered came from it being done before The Fates. Just a thought...)

Plot continuity annoyance #1 kicks in about here. Ares starts talking in words of love about Xena. Our understanding of the show is that he doesn’t start even thinking in those terms for at least a season - and certainly had they done a marriage deal, he’d at least be taunting her about it on a regular occurrence from this point on. It needed two things: Ares not saying things like "I can’t get you out of my head or heart" because that’s not who season 3 Ares was... he merely lusted after her body and had a keener interest in getting her back to her dark old ways.

And two, they should have had Xena ask Ares not to mention their contract because she didn’t want Gabrielle to know, or whatever. ie We needed to hear some reason for them to not have him mention it at all, ever, despite being a really huge thing that has taken place between them.

Also on the continuity: Ares promises not to meddle with Xena and Gabrielle in this life. It’s clear he breaks his word here over and over as the show progresses from this point. You don’t get more meddlesome than say, Succession, where he puts Xena and Gabrielle into the one body to assess who’d be a good successor to his mantle. And don’t forget his meddling in Seeds of Faith in giving Gabrielle a taste of being a god. Low-key he aint. I’d argue he’s already in breach of contract and thus has voided it through his own actions.

Not sure what I think of the ethics of Xena hiding a contract so she can pretend it never happened. I know she was feeling backed into a corner... still, it aint the most honourable way to dodge the bullet. I think I preferred it better when she outmanouvered the God of War in other ways, rather than this method of just hiding her honour-bound agreements with him.

We’re back into modern day... and Xena in Joxer’s body pulls up in a cute little jeep and very amusingly calls Gabrielle "pumpkin". I dunno, of all the endearments I’d expect of her, pumpkin isn’t high on the list. Chortle. I also expected her to drive a meaner car or a bigger one, like a Pajero or something. Well, there ya go, time and various incarnations, has made Xena, er, cute. *g*

Still, I claim she’s as brave as she ever was, regardless of body -- I mean, two goatcheese milkshakes? Say no more...

Okay, now we’re zipping back to the past....

Xena is leaving us all in no doubt what she thinks of Ares when she picks her wedding venue and describes it thus: "I should be as close as possible to the one person in the world I’m meant to spend the rest of my life with, as I give myself to the one person in the world I’d never choose."

Ouch. That’s gotta hurt. Really.

Although on the same subject, there was a weirdly prophetic moment this episode, for all those who remember the ending of Motherhood:

Ares: What do I have to do to show you how serious I am?

Xena: DIE.

Now we’re up to the bachelor ‘party’ scene, and quite a nice motivation for once from Joxer to surround himself with beautiful women. *g* Loved Meg spelling Ares’ name "Arse", but that’s the ancient education system for ya.... chuckle.

From the useless but fascinating information vault, I give you this quote from returning director Josh Becker, asked by a fan what Xena was wearing in Soul Possession and how Lucy and Renee feel about having to throw caution and clothing to the wind so often:

"The whipped cream was really ski boot insulation applied to a very tiny bikini, which can't be seen. As for modesty, Lucy could seemingly care less who was on the set while we were shooting. Lucy and Renee seemed to take being scantily clad as part of their job and made absolutely no issue about it. Lucy's scene popping out of the cake is pretty funny, I think."

 

Hey, I know it aint a pivotal point but I wasn’t alone in being highly curious as to how all that foam was staying up there under those meltingly bright lights. I still wince with embarrassment though, whenever I see this Meg scene used as a trailer for Xena, given my non-Xena loving friends looked at it, and then turned and looked at me pointedly and with undisguised curiousity as they wondered aloud what this said about me and my taste in shows.... How to explain to non-Xenites that this, er, whatever this scene was, isn’t exactly reflective of what the show is about....

Moving right along, we discover Meg is jealous of Gabrielle - and is most unperturbed by her death. This at least is consistent of what we know to be true, when in her future we see her as an bitter old waitress, bitching a little about her husband, Joxer’s, obsession with Gabrielle.

Which brings us to the wedding day. Organ music huh? I won’t ask...

Sweet little scene between Joxer and Xena - still out of place for back then as Xena hadn’t warmed up to him that much yet. But sweet nonetheless.

At this point I was downright confused as to why this wedding was happening. Xena is marrying Ares just to FIND Gabrielle? Surely this should be a last resort not a first resort. I mean, she hasn’t even headed to Poteideia to check out the bard’s home town, hasn’t even begun asking around. To marry someone you loathe is something you do out of desperation when all your own methods have failed. That made absolutely no sense to me.

And it seems from the dialogue that her idea to see if Ares would save her from the lava pit (thus enabling her to join the dots about him saving Hope and Gabrielle earlier) came to her very late in the piece...

And even if that had been her plan all along, from the very first moment he proposed, to dive into the pit during the ceremony, I argue she didn’t have to be in the process of marrying him to determine he’d saved Gabrielle. She just had to get him somehow to the lava pit under any pretext and dive in. (Actually, let’s be honest, she didn’t need to dive in to work out what happened earlier... she just did it for dramatic effect.)

Poor Joxer. The only people he likes and who like him back keep going down that pit. If I were him I’d have it bricked over post haste.

I liked the idea of him forcibly giving Ares a piece of his mind in his anguish, but I grow weary of them always making him look like such a goose. Yes, the character is the comic relief, but can’t we allow him any dignity at all? He didn’t even die a dignified death, if I recall - it was utterly avoidable and happened because he was brave, yes, but stupid. Here, he is rightly anguished and still ends up the butt of the joke. I didn’t like it. Let him be stupid elsewhere in the story if the writers need their hyuk-hyuks so much, but let him have his dignity in the serious moments.

Okay, Ares has saved Xena and she’s gone pretty much ‘aha, if you saved me, then you saved Gabrielle and Hope’! Yeah, yeah, Xena, nice deducting. See above.

I feel marginally smug I predicted this as one of the possibilities in my Family Affair review at the time. ie:

"We want an answer for how anyone can hurtle down that lil ole fire pit and emerge without a scratch or even mild sunburn. Who helped Gabrielle get out? Did Hope save her mother? Did Dahak, after he saved Hope? Did one of the other Gods? They can not leave it at niches in walls or waking up in hospices."

But any smugness is wiped by the fact it’s a pretty ordinary explanation all told. How much more interesting if Hope had saved her mother, hmm? That’d have really conflicted the bard in her extermination plans for Hope. I vaguely recollect they attributed the Gabs/Hope rescue to Dahak at the time? But it seems it was Ares. At least he did have a motive... having his grandchild to consider.

Now up to this moment I could buy all this - a two for one deal, yeah, you could sort of imagine Ares saving them both, if not because it was a whim then at least because he thought he could bargain something from Xena.

What is totally inexcusable is the Plot Continuity Annoyance #2:

Ares claims "Gabrielle made a deal with me. In exchange with saving Hope’s life, she offered me her soul."

That anguished groan you just heard was my incredulousness at the stupidity of a plot point which flies in the face of what we already know.

As I said earlier, Gabrielle had clearly wanted Hope dead, so much so she expressed regret she had not successfully poisoned her properly when she tried. That is a fact. Now instead of wanting her evil daughter dead, she apparently wanted her to live, to the extent she was prepared to do a deal with the devil and sell her soul?! No way. No how. That so aint the Gabrielle established at the end of season 3.

Methinks she knocked her head on the way down...

If she was going to do a deal with Ares, (and WHEN did she have the opportunity?), they should have at least made it a plausible one, in keeping with past plots and what we know about the character.

For instance, I’d have believed it if she’d done a deal to swap her good soul with that of her daughter’s. Someone like the bard might have believed it wasn’t her daughter’s fault she was born bad, and might have decided she could handle dying and sacrificing all if her daughter Hope got a second chance at a good life -- a life denied to her by her birthright.

Similarly, I’d also believe it if Gabrielle had done any deal which entailed saving Xena somehow.

But nothing else do I buy. So this plot point is just plain wrong.

Which brings us to the other possibility: Ares was lying to manipulate Xena. I’d consider this if we didn’t know Ares so well. When has he ever lied about something like this? He has his little manipulations, yes, but these usually involving leaving out information, not out and out lying through his teeth.

He is a GOD. They have no need to lie - he can disappear people with the snap of a finger, he can move mountains and change the world at a microcosmic level. In essence, his whole way of life, long before he met Xena, is about being forthright to the point of blunt - he says what he thinks; he has no reason to do otherwise.

The other consistent thing we know about him is he’s usually the guy who comes along and explains other people’s trickery, or explains what’s been happening with the other gods etc etc. He is the guy who blabs the whole truth so we know what’s going on... It is unlikely he’d lie.

Anyway, here, now, and in this scene he has no reason to lie. He’s already gotten his contract off Xena, so he’s singing like a canary about what went down with Gabrielle.

And he seems utterly sincere.

If this was all meant to be an elaborate ruse, I don’t think anyone told Kevin Smith.

Alrighty, back to the story, such as it is. Xena steals the contract from Ares who is so dazzled by Xena’s kiss he doesn’t realise the light-fingered missy has relieved him of it. She goes and hides at the bottom of the ocean so she won’t have to be accountable for its contents.

Nowhere beyond this moment however do we ever see her question Gabrielle about her deal with Ares in this matter - something I can not understand at all.

Surely she’d want to know what on EARTH the bard was thinking trying to save the life of someone so evil as Hope when they thought they’d both finally come to an understanding that she needed to be dead.

This was a VERY big deal between them earlier if you recall and one of the foundation stones of the rift. For Xena to let that go was highly unlikely, because it means she couldn’t be sure that Gabrielle was still on her side as far as the Hope issue goes. And as we know in A Family Affair, that does tend to be a very critical thing -- Xena had to know she could trust her partner when they faced Hope and Hope’s monster child.

Still on the inconsistencies, I find it impossible to believe Xena knew Hope was alive before A Family Affair’s events. She expressed surprise in that episode.

These above plot holes really smack of no one going back and reviewing the episodes that went before, before writing this one. It’s so damned unprofessional.

Why try to fix a single plot hole by adding 10 more?

Okay, finally, we’re back to the future. Why is Ares wearing a helmet? Is his immortal head a little more delicate than we realised? *g*

Hmmm, we see Ares has the power to reassign souls to whomsoever he likes. Well why in heck didn’t he do that in Deja Vu All Over Again?

For that matter, you’d think in all the future-set episodes, he’d have made a point of taunting Xena, be she in Mel Pappas’s body or Joxer/Harry’s, that it was only a matter of time before he found the contract, and that she could guarantee he’d be back with his tux on and a priest in tow.

But this is a small point ... obviously these other eps were written before they ever conceived of Soul Possession. My point is that the combined effect doesn’t sit well -- in fact it sits really disjointedly -- with the other episodes that have come before and established different ‘truths’.

The final fight scene - yeah, I did love Ares destroying his own contract. D’oh!

I also thought modern age has made Gabrielle soft. She takes something like five minutes to pick herself up from under three chairs!! I’m shouting: "C’mon grrl, get up, get up!!"

Joxer/Harry was annoying in the final fight, because again, they wanted him to look stupid. I really wish they’d cease and desist in that regard -- he can be funny without being a total idiot who blindly and unthinkingly rushes directly into an outstretched fist of a God. Yeesh. Ah well... They pretty much concluded the character the way they introduced him, huh?

My favourite scene is the last one: Gabs, arms outstretched, goes to Xena and not poor Harry, delighted to be with Xena again. Although it’s likely Gabrielle forgets why she had her arms out in the first place.... I mean clearly they were only stuck out to ruin Harry’s day by not going to him, and not to give Xena a hug. chuckle. (Rewind and you’ll see what I mean. It’s weird.)

Poor Harry. I really felt for him: not only has he seemingly just lost his wife (and I would LOVE to see how they phrase that in the divorce paperwork *g*) but he also has the more adventurous Xena’s dietary experiments to face.

I couldn’t stop grinning at the ending. It was a nice finish - that ‘together again’ feeling, the badguy shaking his metaphoric fist at them and the universe - complete with the standard threat to get ’em good one day -- and the hapless comic relief, amusing us as we see his bumbling, funny, exit stage-right.

In summary, humorous moments, interspersed with high drama, gave a slightly conflicted feel to the episode as if they weren’t sure what to focus on. The funny actually was funny, which was great, but the drama would have been good if it, gee, I dunno, made sense. I find it a very slack effort to leave more questions behind than you answer after trying to fix a plot hole.

My other beef comes with the timing. This would have been perfect to slot into season 4, or early season 5 at the very latest. To put it here, now, with only the finale to go, was just baffling.

But in all, it wasn’t a bad effort -- it had me smiling through a lot of it. And laughing out loud in places.

Now, if they can just stop using Meg in her cream bikini for the trailers... *g*

 


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