A FAMILY AFFAIR
Season 4, Episode 3
20 February , 1999
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 7 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Story Liz Friedman & Chris Manheim; Teleplay Chris Manheim; Edited Robert Field; Directed Doug Lefler.
PASSING PARADE: Ted Raimi (Joxer); Willa O'Neill (Lila); Renee O'Connor (Hope); Mark Vinello (The Destroyer); Geoff Snell (Herodotus); Lisa Crittenden (Hecuba) and John Smith (Shepherd).
STORY SO FAR: Xena, convinced that Gabrielle is alive, goes to the bards home town of Poteidea, with Joxer. There they find Gabrielle and some surprise additions to the family.
DISCLAIMER: No spike-skinned, beast-like, incredibly hungry offspring who can't
stand the sun were harmed during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: The look on "Gabrielles" face when Xenas wrestling with The Destroyer, just before Xena says: "You shouldnt play with your food." Looks like someones just discovered the most fun you can have with your socks on. (Callisto always was a bad influence.)
The hills are alive.... dum dum de dum da... OK, is it just me or has Lila made the full transition into the breathy pouty lookalike Leisel right out of the Sound Of Music? Any second I expected Joxer to burst into: "You are 16, going on 17, fellows will fall in line..." Scary doubletake time.
Sunlight comes up mighty fast in Poteideia, folks. One minute its pitch black with monsters holepunching your walls. The next its "cue the sun" and golden hues bathing everything. Must drive the roosters nuts.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, when are you not even a mirror at all? Have another look at the scene where Gabrielle comes face to face with Hope first time. Shes playing with a ragdoll in her bedroom and glances to her right. Theres Hope. Gabs thinks its a reflection of herself and looks away. Then the "reflection" speaks. Gabrielle turns in the direction of the voice. To her LEFT. The camera cuts away to Hope, indeed, on her left. How did Gabrielle see Hope on her right? If it had been a mirror she would have seen two visions of herself - her reflection and that of Hopes. But she only saw one woman. So either Hope was standing there or it was a magic selectively reflective mirror or someone was mucking with those Grecian laws of physics again.
Finally, heres one for the ardent subtexters among you: Rumor had it in the United States that during the first moments of the second actual reunion between Gabrielle and Xena, that the Warrior Princess whispers happily: "Honey, sweetheart" then "honey". Allegedly, on certain sound systems, you can hear it -- depending on make/model/bass levels etc, others you cant. Personally, I can hear an exhalation of breath which may or may not be construed as "honey"; other than that, I hear nothing but a lot of contented sighs. Shrug. Turn those TVs up, Xenites, blast the neighbours out of the burbs and let er rip... See for yourself if you think its so. Meanwhile, youve gotta rewind for the look on Xenas face as she tenderly kisses Gabrielles hand.
QUOTABLE: "Any sister of Gabrielles is a part of her family." Chuckle. Thanks for setting us straight on that one Joxer.
"Bite me!" This poetic phrase was to have been Xenas immortal last words had Gabrielle not stepped in. (Always a critic somewhere, I suppose.)
"I was trapped in a cycle of violence and hatred and no matter how hard I tried to break free something always pulled me back -- until you. No, its true. You talk about trying to find your way when to me you are my way." Xena giving Gabs her You Are My Compass chat. Talk about pressure!
"How can I be your way when Im lost myself?" Gabs wishing shed asked directions from that last guy Xena put the pinch on...
"Im searching for answers too but how we look for them doesnt matter as long as we look for them together. You and me." Xena gives Gabrielle her cleverly disguised Dont You Go Leaving Me Now speech.
Xena: Sooooo, hows she been?
Herodotus: Without you, just fine.
Hecuba to Xena: If youre looking for Gabrielle she went for a walk.
Herodotus to Xena: Without you.
Hecuba to thin air: After all they are sisters and blood is thicker than water...
Hecuba on Joxer: Poor young man, hes just too brave for his own good.
Herodotus on Joxer: Or too stupid.
Gabrielle: Why arent you dead?
Hope: Well its certainly not for your lack of trying, is it?
The makers of Xena themselves admit this episode wasnt their finest hour and I wholeheartedly agree. Oh the wasted potential... But not completely wasted by any means. Besides, the main objective is met: Gabrielle is back.
This is your basic Frankenstein meets Lassie Come Home storyline. Yes, you read that right. The misunderstood monster and the desperate, pining search for a lost loved one. Could there be any two more incompatible plot lines if they tried? So why did they try? And on such an important episode no less, when we have been hanging out for the Return Of The Missing Bard for longer than Xena has remembered she can fly like Peter Pan.
Well, whats done is done. I hear this was a bottle show - done to save money presumably after the special effects blow out of the preceding two eps - the Adventures In the Sin Trade 1& 2.
In a sense, for what they had to work with - a mishmash of mismatched genres - they did it to the best of their abilities and managed to pull off some rare surprises amid a mass of predictability and string yanking.
Surprise One was the sympathy we felt for the creature at the end. This guy under all his goopy make up and wiggly rubbery spikes was able to convey more emotion than Ulysses did in ten times as many close ups. That takes some talent... no wait, not that much.
Surprise Two. After annoying the hell out of us with a false start reunion, the second was so achingly tender and sparked so well, showing all that we have been missing in the show for a few eps, that all was forgiven - well, almost.
Surprise three. An ending we didnt see coming - Gabrielle has a real issue to grapple with that looks like it may take some time to resolve.
I had real deja vu watching this episode... the feel, the creepiness, the music, the nothing quite right sense harked back, perhaps not surprisingly, to the Sacrifice two-parter. These were the episodes where we lost Gabrielle to start with, before the somewhat entertaining but otherwise complete red herring diversion into shamanism on Xenas part to find her again.
So now we find Gabrielle survived the lava pit along with her daughter. I smell a major backtracking plot arc on its way - ala Forget Me Not, because unless they come back and explain that ludicrously implausible death-defying escape, there will be more than just the Destroyer out there baying for blood. 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.
On a nitpick, what the heck was Xena doing down the pit? Looking to see if Gabrielle was still sitting on a ledge waiting calmly to be rescued? Just checking?
She might have said something about it. Somehow though, finding nothing whatsoever down the lava pit actually confirmed her suspicions Gabrielle was still alive. Huh?!
So off to Poteideia Xena goes, with Joxer trotting faithfully along behind. They have been there barely a minute and Xena suddenly turns around, sensing Gabrielle and oila... I am beginning to wonder about this Oracle streak Xenas suddenly going through. Remember the previous episode? Mid stride she pauses, closes her eyes and decrees the equivalent of "but wait, were going the wrong way". And now this! Chuckle... she is starting to get scary.
And so now we see "Gabrielle" who conveniently happened to be shopping at the market in Poteideia at the exact time and moment in the day Xena gets to town for the very first time in her search for the bard. Marvellous how spawns of Dahak work, eh.
And then we get The Reunion. What we have been hanging out for, holding our breaths on, debating for months. Its here, its now, its ohmigod, its ewww, its pathetic.... Ah, problem one with this show hits home.
I gave a silly fan ultimatum at the end of my Sacrifice review last year after the death of Gabrielle. Here it is again: "The whole show was a pretty cheap trick to come up with an easy, better-than-average show instantly. That doesnt make any of it less powerful, by the way - its just the cynic in me notes that it was not necessary.... I dont like cheap outs by writers. (But, they can make it up to us for yanking our strings by making Gabrielles doubtless rebirth a worthy entrance.)"
They failed on that score. It was not a worthy rebirth but another cheap trick. To be frank: It sucked. Oh gee, a double of Gabrielle fooling Xena and everyone - now theres an original idea.
Gabrielles re-entrance yanked our strings again, (grrr), by robbing us of a clean first reunion.
We didnt want to be saying "Huh? THAT was a reunion???" and trying to figure out why Gabrielle was being aloof.
We didnt want the building frustration at how both Xena and Gabrielle seem to then just get on with it as though nothings happened and no ones been dead and no ones been crying over pyres helplessly or visiting Lands of the Dead in the interim.
We wanted what we were later to get - a deep, emotional, believable scene in proper proportion to the grief Xena felt at the funeral pyre two episodes ago. *Thats* what we paid our admission price for.
Instead the annoying Is She Or Isnt She Gabrielle thing ruined, for some, the real, second reunion because it was both confusing in its entrance, and then had sceptics wondering cynically if this was still Hope, for a bit. At the back of minds we couldnt just sit back and say: "Phew, together at last. How sweet." Instead it was: "I hope this is not all part of some twisted plan and poor Xenas been tricked twice. How horrible...*suck in breath* please dont be Hope, please dont be Hope..."
In this way we were a bit cheated. I for one was disappointed. The emotionless Hope pretending to be Gabrielle gave us an underplayed entrance which would be exactly as youd expect from Hope. But it made for a major fan downer. I spent the first half of the episode so annoyed at what I was seeing that when Gabrielle really did appear (and mighty convenient was her timing, too) that I was already throwing TimTams at the TV in frustration.
Meanwhile, enter Gabrielles family. Now this was interesting. I enjoyed these scenes a great deal because her parents were exactly how many fans imagined they would be. Herodotus was even snarlier than the first time he met that daughter-stealin horrible Xena, but then, presumably, Gabs hasnt been back since the day Xena "seduced her away" so he had a lot of time to brood. The classic scene is Xena alone with Dad for the first time and that uncomfortable silence fills the air. I know it sounds cheesy but it brought to mind those classic TV/movie scenes where some poor boyfriend is left alone with the stern parent who doesnt like him one bit. And Xena was playing it to the max - the listless lip smacking and eyeball rolling, where do I look, what do I say now, expression... Ho boy. Its one of those rare times youll see that Warrior Princess look even slightly unsettled... and it took a small, powerless, but mighty angry father to do it.
Chuckle. How can she not feel guilty? He gives it to her with both barrels: "Hows she been? Changed forever because of you."
Ouch. On the one hand Gabrielle would be unrecognisable to him because shes actually Hope. But on the other hand he does make a pretty valid point - although he might want to work on the delivery...
I felt Lucy could have done a lot more with her expression after that comment. She should have looked a little more guilty than she did, especially how we all know how much the Warrior Princess loves to feel guilty about everything shes done, is perceived to have done and may one day think about doing... Shes a walking guilt machine and this just seems to wash over a bit too easily.
Back to Herodotus. I am guessing hed have great difficulty still thinking of Gabrielle as his "little girl" any more if he knew the truth of what shes been up to. Im not just talking about how she upped and married a local lad without inviting the clan, and then was widowed next day. But, lets see, the whole single mother pregnancy (to a spawn of the devil no less), becoming queen of the amazons, incurring the wrath of one new god, cold bloodedly knifing a woman in the gut, trying to commit infanticide, talking to Gods regularly, - the God of War no less... the usual. Hate to say it, Dad, but shes grown now...
Perhaps its best he doesnt know, hed probably try and garrot Xena on the spot.
Hecuba is exactly as one would picture her, too. She has marriage on her mind and sees only the best in Joxer (nice brave young man and all)... no doubt delighting the pro-Joxer/Gabrielle camp, who are still swooning thanks to Hope/Gabrielles "Im ba-ack" kiss.
But I almost laughed aloud that Gabrielles dad and Xena only found common ground once.... on the subject of Joxer. Yep, they both think hes a fool. But Xena expresses it far more nicely - getting him to count sheep as a way to stay out of harms way.
Which brings us to Hope. Ohh shes pushing those buttons madly, isnt she? Her guilt trip with Gabrielle isnt working. Shes slung off a few Callisto-ish lines at Gabs about her lack of maternal protectiveness and Gabrielle has barely reacted. Gabrielle obviously no longer has an issue with this. Hope is evil, Hope must die, is pretty much Mummy Gabss view now and we see none of the even fleeting indecision shes had in previous episodes on this moral dilemma. When the needling doesnt work, Hope switches to where it does work - on Xena. She knows getting to Xena will get to Gabrielle sooner or later.
She gets herself all beaten up and blames Xena. She knows Xena will have a hard time protecting a family that hates her. Oooh that is nasty. Incidentally, was Lila blind?? She cant see a pair of swords floating her way?
But even this seemed to wind up as a strange red herring. There are so many paths that lead nowhere in this episode. Points thrown in for not a great deal of plot furthering. Theyre just there. Lila on the bridge. Hope beating herself up. Hope scratching her leg on her sons spikes. Gabrielle issuing a strange, urgent warning to Lila that meant nothing as the family never subsequently was threatened.
On this last note, what this episode desperately needed was resolution with Gabrielles family, at the end. We got Xena and Gabrielle talking about how they feel but nothing from the clan going, "Oh, so that was Hope not our Gabs"; or "Were sorry we accused you of beating up our daughter, Xena"... or "thanks, Xena" or "Who the heck is Hope?" or "Why dont you stay for dinner, Joxer, Lila has made her best stew..." Or anything that resolves how the family now feels about them now.
Amid all this mayhem there was this big mean monster making off with people, animals, the like, skinning them, eating them and so on. Ah, okay, whatever. They love bloodied animal corpses, on this show, dont they? After last week, I was beginning to wonder if Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert have some curious sacrificial hobbies that would scare the feathers off chickens. Best not to check in their foot lockers I think!
Lets talk about this Destroyer. I am presuming hes only a baby because if Xena can beat him hes not going to be much of a world slayer, now is he. I mean Xena was a destroyer too, of nations, if I recall. So comparison wise, Dahaks grandkid is a bit of a disappointment to date.
I half expected Daddy Ares to drop in for a witty visit and admire junior. Best he didnt though - this plot was out there enough without adding to the deranged carnival cum tragi-drama atmosphere.
The Destroyer. Doesnt really have mums or dads eyes, now does he? Lets think about this. If anything Hope, with Dahak as dad, should look like the devil incarnate. One would expect only pretty offspring Ares and Hope. I guess some things skip a generation, huh? Another note, no one in the gene pool to our knowledge - not Ares, Gabrielle, Hope, Dahak (as far as we can tell), Hecuba or Herodotus has any aversion to sunlight. So why does The Destroyer?
Another note: that would have been one mighty painful birth Hope went through - all those porcupine protrusions on junior - one would expect her to be looking like a pincushion from the stomach down...
The climax - yet another death for Hope in a hug. No wonder shes not one for touchy feelies. That was a kinda nice scene as far as things could have gone. The poor misunderstood hunchback/Frankenstein. He only wanted his mothers love. Ironic that Gabrielle who is trying to kill his mother was the only one who seemed to understand and give him exactly what he needed: a feeling of being loved. Renee did quite a nice job showing her fear as she gave him that hug, before Xena stabs him in the back. But surely the critter is not so stupid as to realise this cant possibly be Mum, given her already established aversion to hugging him? Maybe he thought it was finally his lucky day, poor (murderous) lamb that he is. Well, it actually made you feel something for a creature who is so hammily dressed one would have thought it impossible to empathise with hi, at the opening of this episode. Full points to those who succeeded against ridiculous and steep obstacles put in their path.
Which brings me back to the plot. These minor redeeming moments didnt make up for a pretty thin and unoriginal storyline/effects which should never have been used in a Gabs/Xena reunion ep. By unoriginal effects/story, I mean for instance, how many times have we seen the bait "now you see it, now you dont" trick, the swinging hook, the monsters shadow, the man falling, the scream. The shocked look on villagers faces. Been there, done that. Yawn.
Perhaps I am being too unkind because hopes were higher, unfairly so, this being a pivotal episode and all. But that was the problem: the inconsistency - you dont ever want to meld an average B-grade horror schlock storyline onto a moving and powerful, critical A storyline. The inconsistency was a killer. It meant you cant hate it outright or love it outright. You can just like this scene and that. Pity.
All whinges aside, I have saved the best to last. These two scenes redeemed this episode and made it worthwhile, again against the odds.
The (real) Reunion. Once you know its definitely her you will enjoy it more. I had some problems with it at first: I wanted to know what was it about Gabrielle that made Xena pause mid execution and take a second look. Gabs was walking the same way... Looked essentially the same. Hadnt spoken yet. Wasnt close enough at first for her eyes to be seen. What? And if this was really a true-to-character scene, Gabrielle wouldnt have just stood there gaping, waiting for Xena to look into her eyes and recognise her. She would be shrieking: "Xena, by the gods, Im alive... and Ive found you at last!" or some such thing. Followed by hurling herself at her. Since when does Gabrielle, the real Gabrielle, downplay touchy feely reunions with anyone? Even Meleager got a better greeting from Gabrielle (remember the crusty drunk warrior whom she tried to save from a wrongful execution?) - which as I recall came complete with a delighted squeal.
But she sees Xena again after what seems like forever and calmly awaits death or recognition, whichever comes first. This is what I mean about yanking our strings: the Xenamakers appear to have gone for the surprise/shock value at the expense of truth in characters.
Thus, I shall choose forever more to believe, for the integrity of the show, that Renee was playing long lasting shell-shock, arising from the bards fiery little accident. Yeah, that must have been it. *Crosses fingers.*
That said, I am pretty fond of this reunion. Id like it to have been the only one, but I have moaned about that enough already. Yeah, this was sweet. Yes it had the emotion we figured Xena should have been feeling after missing Gabrielle so much. We got a hint she was going to let her emotions out of the bottle at the first reunion, but when Gabrielle/Hope didnt, Xena didnt either - taking her cue from the other woman. She probably suspected Gabrielle wasnt Gabrielle even then, based on that and a few interesting looks she gave Hope.
Here though, Gabrielle has let loose and so does Xena. Suddenly its so obvious this is Gabrielle - the blank eyes are now searching eyes, looking for emotion in Xenas face. So they share it together. How sweet. The Xena hand kissing raised eyebrows sky high in my house and for a moment I thought she was gonna propose or something, being down on bended knee and all.
This scene was always going to be a crowd pleaser. Thats why the people watched... not to see some confused secondary plot, but for this. That one single scene held its own and saved the day. As did the final scene.
This last scene snuck up on us out of nowhere and was a gem all the more for it. For the first time we discover Gabrielle is lost. She is seeking direction. Near death experiences will certainly do that, although it does seem a bit like a bolt from the blue where she has seemed happy up till now (rift eps excluded).
Xena is not so lost - she thinks she has found the answer: when she is with Gabrielle, everything is fine. Without her, she is rudderless. That isnt of course an answer and it inadvertently puts a lot of pressure on Gabrielle. The message she has subtly imparted is that without Gabrielle, Xena is prime pickings for the road to darkness again.
This of course is at odds with what she said in last weeks eps about finding her own light within. Here, we see, she doesnt feel up to the challenge without Gabrielle.
Gabrielle makes Xena feel emotionally safe, the way Xena makes Gabrielle feel physically safe.
But does Xena know how much a weighty burden that could be? If Gabrielle ever wanted to go her own way again would she think, "Wait, I cant. If I do, Xena will turn back to Ares". Still, from a fan perspective, its nice to finally hear why Xena needs Gabrielle and how much she needs her.
But its sad to see how uncertain Gabrielle is about all of this and herself and it leaves hanging in the air a sense of foreboding about them that makes you wanna scream: "Dear heavens, no, I couldnt take another parting of the ways". How many times does Gabrielle have to disappear and return to Xena before she works out thats where she seems to want to be? Thats shes where her compass leads her, blood, gore, mayhem, the lot, it doesnt matter: thats where she seems most content.
I am just speculating, of course, but Gabrielle doesnt say things like that about being "lost" without it being a preamble to something big. Now we hold our breath and wait and see what new traumas they have in store for us battered Xena fans.
Pray to the gods they are kind.
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