*Many thanks to Brenda for the transcript*

Cult Times #38


Join some familiar faces on the trail

Of the legendary Xena Scrolls

Xena Warrior Princess is a funny old bird. On the one hand the series is all angst, pain and drama – especially in the later episodes, and on the other it’s high camp buffoonery. The Xena Scrolls falls firmly in the camp camp, riding the behemoth of goggle-eyed ridiculousness with a consummate ease.

Set in Macedonia in the midst of the Second World War, The Xena Scrolls tells a story of Dr. Janice Covington’s search for the eponymous epistles, a search which her now-disgraced father undertook years before. She hopes that, by proving the existence of the great warrior princess and unlocking the mystical powers purportedly held within the documents, she can thereby prove that her father wasn’t the fool everyone took him for. She’s joined by Melinda (Mel for short) Pappas, the daughter of a renowned translator of ancient languages who was also out to find the scrolls himself. It’s never fully explained quite what happened to the fathers, nor really for what reason so many people are interested in finding the scrolls, but Xena has never been a programme to dwell over the minutiae of logic. Take, for example, the fact that both David (as in "… and Goliath") and Julius Caesar were alive within the timeframe of the series. Xena is always more concerned with being slightly brainy entertainment and The Xena Scrolls more than adequately pulls that off.

Fillings out the ranks of the questors are Jacques S’Er, who claims to be form the Free French Army out to guard the powers of the scrolls form the Nazis, and the terribly-terribly English John Smythe (a villain, of course – this is a US production). With the exception of this last character, all are played by significantly familiar faces.

Mel Pappas is played by Xena actress Lucy Lawless, who turns in a marvellously out-of-character performances: Pappas is a shy, retired, and completely ineffectual Southern Belle whose first words are a frightened, "Oh, my…" as she is faced by a small gang of Smythe’s men armed with guns. To her rescue comes Indiana Jones lookey-likey Covington, played by the series’ Gabrielle, Rene O’Connor.

The Indy in-joke is carried to almost embarrassing extremes, with Covington harbouring an extreme love of her battered old hat. Remember how Harrison Ford more than once whipped his own hat out of danger? Well, Covington does the same. But then, Xena has always been a programme proud to wear its influences for all to see. As the trio of Pappas, Covington and S’Er explore the tomb which is said to house the scrolls, they come up against a couple of booby traps and secret levers worthy of any great adventure, from King Solomon’s Mines to The Last Crusade. And, of course, there is a grand, mythical opponent that lies at the root of it all – and who else could it be in Xena but Ares, the God of War?

Once apon a time, Xena trapped Ares in the tomb, and only Xena – or one of her descendants - can free him. Once this becomes clear, both Covington and S’Er (driven by pride and greed) are convinced that they are Xena’s descendants. Ares soon disabuses them of this notion, and reveals that Pappas – quelle surprise - is the one Ares has been waiting for. By this point, Mel has been taken over by the spirit of Xena, and everyone’s favourite warrior princess is back on the scene. The sequence of Xena letting down Mel’s tightly bunched hair, tearing the seams of her restrictive skirt, and kicking off her impractical stilettos is quite breathtaking.

On the way to this final confrontation, we’re treated to the story contained in the Xena Scrolls themselves. As the tales within are re-told, the words are accompanied by scenes from old episodes, but it would be grossly unfair to call this a ‘clip’s episode’, as it’s just too imaginative. The Xena Scrolls is a great episode in its own right, and all of is greatness comes from the fun of seeing familiar faces playing unfamiliar, and grossly uncharacteristic, roles. Ted Raimi is an exception: the actor behind bumbling recurring guest star Joxer plays S’Er in a very similar way.

You might think if you’ve never seen Xena: Warrior Princess, ‘What will an episode where all the regulars play different people mean to me?’ But if you’re fond of being entertained, and if you like a healthy serving of knowing winks with that entertainment, The Xena Scrolls will mean a lot.

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