Season 6, episode 6
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 6 chakrams
CREDITS:Story by Rob Tapert. Written by James Kahn. Directed by Rick Jacobson.
Edited by Tim Batt.
PASSING PARADE: Greg Lee (Virgil); Ian Harcourt (Rubio); John Wielemaker (Alpha Male); Mark Williams (Fire Maker); Jason Palmer (Hosep)
DISCLAIMER: Virgil's appetite was suppressed during the making of this motion picture.
STORY SO FAR: Xena, Gabrielle and Virgil encounter a tribe of blood-thirsty cannibals.
REWIND FOR: Gabrielle lining up Bambi in her fetching Robin Hood outfit. Surely that engaging costume is worthy of a second airing? *g* (And when pray tell did she get the chance to change into the regular one she uses for the rest of the ep? Hmmm?)
Xena making like Sherlock Holmes as she analyses Virgil's campfire ashes, declaring them to be four hours old. And how many minutes Miss Smarty Pants? And you thought her analysis of cupboard dust in Motherhood was impressive.
Gabrielle, in the canoe scene, yelling at the top of her lungs for Virgil. Who would have thought all that commotion would attract the attention of those voracious cannibals? *g*
Gabs commendable whacking of a cannibal with her paddle. While her gusto was altruistically satisfying, didn't you wish she had kept going until she'd knocked his head off his shoulders? Like to see him eat people then! Humph!
Xena's gymnastics worthy of a perfect score of ten in their first fight scene with the piggies. She bends backwards over one oinker to whack another with a split-kick to the head. Impressive...
The papier-mache rocks giving a good impersonation of Maltesers as they roll down the hill in Xena's dam-building montage. So hard to give good rock in the movies.....
Still on the same scene, was that the theme from The Magnificent Seven I heard being played over the top? If so, where were the other six?
The death scene of the last piggie. Seem familiar? His hand disappearing beneath the water was more than a little reminiscent of the good cyborg's moulten demise in Terminator II - Judgement Day.
"We gotta keep moving." Virgil's helpful advice to his buddy Hosep, whose eyes were already dinner plate-sized with fear as the cannibals were hot on their trail. Think he woulda figured that one out himself, big guy.
"I don't know, what kind of wine goes with bark?" Something fruity?
"I'm a part of you, and I want it to be like that forever." But I thought Eve undid that arm/leg meld in Haunting of Amphipolis?...
"You just gained more time, women always retain more." Unlike men, where it's in one ear and out the other, eh Mr "They Call Me Rubio". *g*
"Come on, piggies." Xena luring the cannibals to a watery death. Pigs can fly but I guess they can't swim. *g*
Warning. This episode is not for you if you have any distaste for the following:
2. Ugly boar heads.
4. Cannibals wearing ugly boar heads.
5. People being cooked alive on spits by cannibals wearing ugly boar heads.
6. More subtext than you can poke a femur at. (Sorry, a little carnivore joke there...)
7. Scary stuff by the roasted-spit-load.
Aint it often the way with Xena -- some of their dodgiest of A-story lines contain the most brilliant of B-plots. Like Little Problems (remember Aphrodite and Gabrielle, the Swedish twins?), or Ten Little Warlords (the testosterone charged, kill em all bard?), and Tale of Two Muses (Xena cutting loose brilliantly on the dancefloor at the end, which had very little to do with the actual plot?)
Well this is one of those episodes -- lots of scary/gross/icky stuff per square inch, with a few gems in it to really mess with your head, just when youre about resigned to watching it between trembling fingers.
By gems, I mean Xena and Gabrielle finally cutting to the chase and sticking "I love you" on the big ole billboard for all to see. Or, rather, I should say Gabrielle, does... Xena is becoming more recalcitrant on the subject. But more on this in a moment.
To start, at the start.
A new game for us Xena fans is being offered, called: Where are they now? From Greece, to slave cities, to Africa and now... some place unknown for a camping trip with Virgil and his soon-to-be-edible bosom buddy named Hosep, or Redshirt for short.
This episode poses many unanswered questions, all of them pretty dull. eg:
1. Who was Virgils pal? And do we give a...?
2. How did he get invited on a Xena/Gabs/Virgil camping expedition?
3. Havent Xena and Gabrielle gone home YET to check on Sarahs and Lillas welfare after Whos Ghurkan?
4. Since when does Gabrielle do the deer killing? Isnt that Xenas job as chief food slaughterer? Clearly Xena must have wanted fish...*g*
5. In the canoe, how does Xena know there is a waterfall ahead and yet not know the woods are populated by savages and thus not exactly good camp site material?
6. Isnt it getting a bit stereotypical and insulting to portray all the native hunter tribal types as ugly and savage (eg The Horde) and, this time, man-eaters?
7. Why roast a dude sitting up? Wont he take longer to cook? Not to mention be prone to falling off his perch on a regular basis?
8. Why roast a bard with her clothes on? Is that called crackling? Or more likely, about getting a PG-rating? *g*
9. Did eating human flesh make the cannibals dumb? Or were they already dumb and that's why they ate people? ;-)
10. Shouldnt big heavy boar heads be impossible to fight in, making them slow and easy targets?
11. Why toss your dinner into the river and later pelt it to keep it down there, when thats the last place you want your entrees -- out of reach?
12. And the big one: Do all-over mudpacks really reduce premature ageing?
On careful reflection of these burning issues, I think I speak for everyone when I say who cares?? My sole interest in these savages was primarily the extrication of Xena, Gabrielle and Virgil from their midst and propelling them all far, far away from them so we never have to see so many gross sights in one wide-shot ever again.
Of course, if the aim was actually to make one regret that chicken enchilada for lunch, then mission accomplished...and how.
I am not a fan of this genre (cannibal mise en scene) and never will be. So nuff said on the cannibal front. Aw heck, okay, one last point: Xena was very cruel by using Gabrielle, towards the end, as bait and not saying anything more to her but "trust me" as the cannibals dragged her off. This was not only disappointing but inexcusable. Although the bard was feverish she still had enough presence of mind to know exactly what was happening to her, and her anguished screams for Xena, who never did arrive to save her that night, should have sliced right to the warrior princesss soul. All she had to do was apprise Gabrielle her plan... adding, "dont worry, Ill be close by". As it was, it was cruelty in the extreme. Bad show... shudder.
Ill get off the cannibals and skip to the reason I gave this episode a decent number of chakrams (the cave scenes) and also the reason I then went back and took a few marks off (Gabrielles ongoing crisis of confidence).
To the latter point first. We see the bard is still unresolved on the issue of when to kill. She tells Xena "my reflexes are those of a warriors. Unfortunately my judgement is not. Thats a bad combination."
Well at least she didnt hightail it back to Poteidaia this time, as she did in her first of many confidence crises.
But here shes caught in the "damned if I do, damned if I dont" conundrum. ie the first time she reacted on Xenas advice, to kill first and question later, an innocent boy died (Legacy). The next time she acted, and stayed her hand, she got a knife to the gut for her trouble (The Abyss). So shes wondering which way to jump now.
Actually Id argue the two events are not the same, given in the first instance she killed without getting a proper look at her enemy (a cardinal sin for all warriors); while the next instance she was overcome by some weird flashback and thought she was looking at someone else. So comparing being blinded with a hallucination counts as apples and oranges in my book.
Nonetheless, it was enough to shake the bard up and make her question everything again. Well, for about a day at most.... Because, when you think about it -- after Gabrielle first makes that mistake here and gets jabbed, its all go from thereon in, and she has little time to really think about things -- she just reacts, defends herself or lies feverish for much of the episode, all responding on instinct not introspection. And then when her fever breaks, suddenly shes back in the thick of it, fighting back and, again, killing on instinct. And yet this time, when its all over, she turns to Xena and declares she did what she had to do and now she can live with her mistakes. All without any proper analysis on her part (or even rushed analysis for that matter) or doing anything different at all.
Huh? Okay, whatever.
I honestly no longer care a whit about the bards confidence crises because they are now so frequent (at least one or two a season), that shes starting to seem like some cotton-woolled ingenue not to have dealt with this some time back. And to keep returning to it, like a broken record, displays a frustrating lack of growth. I am not unsympathetic, but... no wait. Yes, I am. Its too frequent. No more.
Now, the fact Gabrielle has resolved all this internal mayhem in this episode virtually as fast as it took her to regain consciousness and get back in the battle fray, matters not one iota. I dont care that she probably didnt really resolve anything but just said she did. I am just glad shes not harping on about it unbelievably any more.
How much more honest and believable if this whole issue had not been about her knowing when to kill and not to kill but just plain simple guilt. Yeah, that gets the best of us, and its unavoidable, even to the most seasoned warrior. Just ask Xena.
They sort of hinted at that with the flashback, however the dialogue was all centred around the forced anguish of knowing what to do in a battle.
But I am thinking that maybe this is all just a way for the writers to show that even though Gabrielle has gone to the "other side" and become one who kills in combat like Xena, shes still the same caring Gabrielle she always was inside, troubled by her actions and in no way hardened by or complacent about what she does.
I note one thing about this though whole bard angst set-up though: Xena was far more understanding this time round than the last episode -- here she saw the bard just needed to talk about it and she was not so black and white about her advice as she was in North Africa. Further, she even indicated that she could see the turmoil Gabrielle was in with her pointed remark about their canoing along a "calm" river: "I was hoping it would have an affect on you."
Glad she noticed.... But I guess Gabrielle the depressed pessimist ("if they made it this far") is a little obvious even to a thick-headed warrior princess. *g*
Finally, to the subject dear to my heart -- Xena and Gabrielle: Bed buddies or ....
Well I am thinking if they are not bed buddies in the euphemistic as well as literal sense, then its not for lack of trying on Gabrielles part in this episode. I mean shes pretty much writing it in neon lights here for the Warrior Princess in this exchange:
Gabrielle: I dont want to be buried with the Amazons.
Xena: All right, well so in 50 years, when the time comes...
Gabrielle: Xena, I want to lie with you, your family in Amphipolis.
Xena: What about your family?
Gabrielle: I love them but Im a part of you. I want it to be like that forever. I love you.
(Come on Gabs, tell us what you really think...)
Two things come to mind when I watch this very gentle scene: One, if I ever said that last line to a straight female friend, no matter how close, she would most definitely NOT clasp my hands instantly to her chest and start crying as she gazed lovingly into my eyes. Requesting joint burial plans is a pretty intimate idea.
Which is why I think Gabrielle in this scene is instead spelling it all out for us -- and fulfilling Rob Taperts promise of a return of the subtext in season 6.
Second point, did we all notice Xena does not say "I love you" back? She didnt say "I love you" when they were up on the crosses, either. Something about Gabrielle being "the most important thing" in her life was all she said. And Xena has established something of a track record of not responding in kind whenever Gabrielle says it. The only time I can recall her saying those three very important words was at the end of The Debt 2, as she stumbled out of the Green Dragons palace, dazed and clutching Lao Mas book.
What does it all mean? I have no idea. I mean, she says it in other ways. In many, many, many convoluted and incredibly creative ways without saying it ... so much so its starting to come off like shes dodging it. Again, why? Is this something in the Xena writers bible: Xena doth not say I love you to Gabrielle?
Id really like to know what gives, here. Its so obvious now, it surely has to be a conscious decision. Surely?!
Moving right along, we have the Hope scene. When Gabrielle is feverish, she does a very interesting thing -- has a conversation with Hope, although its actually Xena listening in and trying to reassure her. It goes like this:
Gabrielle: My baby.
Xena: Yeah, its me.
Gabrielle: I love you. Id never hurt you. You know that dont you?
Xena: I know.
Gabrielle: My child. Well have to go, shell hurt you. Shell take you away from me.
Xena: You have to rest. You dont have to go anywhere.
Gabrielle: You dont understand...
Xena (choking): I do understand. I understand everything.
I thought this was really an excellent choice of subject matter for a feverish Gabrielle. Such an interesting way to touch on a subject that these two dont speak about because of all the bad blood it caused during The Rift. This reveals to us for the first time that the bard is still bothered with guilt about her daughter, Hope. Still fretful about what happened, and part of her now is still reliving their flight to safety.
Note that Gabrielle in the waking world has never expressed a view that any of what happened with Hope should have been done differently. Obviously she wouldnt have wanted her daughter to kill Solan, but that aside, she has never thought she did wrong by, first, giving her daughter the benefit of the doubt, and then, when realising she was beyond redemption, killing her. Of course knowing you did the right thing, and feeling no guilt are two different things. And so I think they handled this scene really well to show Gabrielle still feels that pain and guilt, despite making the right choices. Guilt is normal. And inevitable.
Contrast this with what they did above with Gabrielle The Distressed Warrior. This is why I say they could have still portrayed her as guilty instead of confused and riddled with a crisis of confidence. She can still have the same taking-stock-of-herself issues -- but without appearing unbelievably or unnecessarily naive. They got it right with the Hope moment but not the other.
Now, interesting question: Why did they choose THAT slice of Hopes life for Gabrielle to dwell on? Realistically if Gabrielle was to be tormented about what happened with Hope, surely the act of taking her own daughters life would be something that would be most prominent in her mind. I could actually picture her saying to her daughter she loves her at the actual moment of death... that would be something very hard for Gabrielles conscience to lie still about, no matter how necessary the act was.
So why this scene that haunts her? Well actually it was a writers device. It was the one scene that would give Xena the guilts too, so we could see the awful, conflicted expressions dancing across the Warrior Princesss face as she hears of Gabrielle fleeing Xena, from the bards perspective. Xena didnt handle that period of their life particularly well: I mean you dont just demand any mother to present their child for a killing and expect her to comply without question. Xena expected this of Gabrielle, and when the bard predictably fled with Hope, Xena had to become the hunter of her own partner. So you could imagine Xena might be looking a little unsettled that the bard has brought them back to THAT time period. And thats exactly why the writers chose it.
And I have to say it worked. Oh how it worked -- the expressions on Xenas face as she clasps the shivering Gabrielle to her, were brilliant. And it made me forgive them for all the awful flesh-eating gore surrounding this scene. I did so love it.
In summary, a fine bit of dramatics mixed with a high factor of ick. If you can stand the latter to see the former, then its worth it. If not, get that finger primed on the fast-forward button. I have to give points to the editor and director on this one -- the pace was brilliant, fast to the point of exhausting. Virgils mad dash through the forest at the opening -- heck my heart was pumping... as it was when Xena rushed through the trees leaving her friends with the horses, to lure the savages to the waterfall at the climax. Edge of the seat stuff.
Although on this scene I know I was not alone in screaming out: "CUT THE &!@@^$&^!*@* ROPE!"
It took a full minute (yes I timed it) from the moment the Warrior Princess first screams out to the bard to do it until she actually complies. A minute is a long, long time if youre holding off a horde... That scene I think pushed us all a little too far.
Pretty good effects though... the waterfall, the dangerous swim, the whole bit, it was well done.
I begrudgingly give the costumers thumbs up for creating such scary savages for us to cower from, but I do hope they dont make a habit of it. *g*
And I give a few brownie points to Greg Lee (Virgil) acting out terror appropriately well... heck, his reactions were mine: When your friend is dragged off by cannibals, its no time to be a hero. And tossing your cookies would be pretty natural, too.
In the end, I think this episode wont get a lot of rewatching because of the gross-out factor -- a pity because of those fine Xena and Gabrielle bonding moments. A very cruel twist indeed to pair such unpalatable subject matter with such great interaction between our stars. But thems the breaks in ancient Greece ... or ancient, er, Africa? Um... wherever.
But next time, they want to go aholidaying, I say they try the Ritz in downtown Athens.
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