THE KING OF ASSASSINS
Season 3, Episode 8
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 6.5 chakrams.
SCRIBES & SCROLLS:
Written by Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster;
Directed by Bruce Campbell (aka Autolycus).
Bruce Campbell (Autolycus);
Ted Raimi (Jett, Joxer) and
Gina Torres (Cleopatra).
STORY SO FAR:
Joxer, Autolycus and Gabrielle try to stop Joxers twin brother, a nasty assassin called Jett, from killing Cleopatra.
Due to the infliction of a severe wedgie, Joxer was slightly uncomfortable but not seriously harmed during the production of this motion picture.
The original Joxer The Mighty song; the oh-*so*-smug look on Xenas face
when she first arrives to rescue Gabrielle and Autolycus from jail (how did she know where
to find them anyway??); proof Jett was planning a murder with the dullest sword in
history, as he and Autolycus played
the sword grab game using the *blade*; and Xenas utter Meg look after Cleopatra promises her a party like no other.
Joxer, you can barely kill time. Xena hitting a wouldbe warrior where it hurts - the ego.
Im not as dumb as he looks. Autolycus to Gabrielle; one guess about who he was talking about...Heres a hint: Long ferret face, beady eyes, slack jaw, pasty skin...
The rebel without a clue and the girl without a plan -
*Ive* been watching Xena and *this* is what Xena would do . A complete episode synopsis courtesy of Autolycus.
*I* worked hard for that title... Princess, Autolycus, King of Thieves, more than shows Gabrielle that two can play at title-mocking;
They probably figured we needed a break after all that rifting, so here we have the first of two comedies before we presumably return to the cut and thrust of the deeper, darker Xena. So with that cheery intro out of the way, Joxer fans front and centre, this eps for you - and then some. Two Joxers! Now, for some Xenites, I understand this is like spending a few years in Ming Tiens watery dungeon, minus the super-supreme pizza case around the neck for buoyancy.
But be brave... the raspy Jett is not so bad - he actually might be quite
scarily evil if he dropped the doofus hand gestures (accompanied by the obligatory
whooshes). Funny, I never noticed how Ted Raimis face was meant for villainy before.
It's all in the "beady eyes" as Autolycus sweetly pointed out. The
placement of this ep is no accident: Its light to give us a breather and its
more of a Herc-like romp for the younger fans who have been left with bugged-out eyes
after the last few
weeks of seriously adult "Xena".
The script also gives Lucy Lawless a break from carrying the show after a few Xena-intensive eps. But all things considered, you couldnt just have a dark brooding Warrior Princess walk into the middle of this setup, her fresh demons in tow, and suddenly let her hair down - so it made good sense Xena was off doing ...well whatever the heck she was off doing. It also keeps Xenas credibility stocks high. For the other characters, the episode was very Disneyfied - the good guys were all comically slapstick and goofy; as much as the villain was the made-to-order sneering (but amusing in a disturbed way), black-hatter.
I personally suspect this episode was also hatched for one other reason: to show the Joxer knockers Ted Raimi can act more than the bumbling fool. Ted Raimi is pretty popular with the cast and crew (but not with all the fans). I could be cynical and say Xena exec Sam Raimi in particular (Teds brother), may have had a burning need to remind the world that his misunderstood brother is not the sum of the character he portrays. Who knows? But one telling line at the end from Joxer was: I think youre going to be looking at me a little more differently now. Was that an in-joke about how we will perceive Joxer/Raimi? Hmm. Well, perhaps we should keep our eye on what they do with Joxer this season to see if he is given more sympathetic treatment.
Id be curious. Politics aside, down to the episode. First, I have gotta ask: what universe do the Xena characters live in? Clone World? So far we have Meg, Xena and the Princess lookalikes; next weeks title implies theyre up to quadruplets (with yet another Xena clone slated for later on). And now we have Joxer and his twin, Jett (at least they admit to the same blood line). And there is also mention of a third brother, Jase, whom Jett thinks is a bit unhinged. Given Jett is also a bit unhinged, does that cancel out and mean Jase is an accountant or something?? Oh those black sheep are too scary. But Id put good dinars on the fact Jase will pop up at some point in the future. First up, Ted Raimi - okay, Xena makers, we give up. Enough already: Raimi *can* act.
There. (Doesnt change a thing though - people still either love or hate
him.) And if it makes the powers that be feel better, yeah Bruce Campbell (Autolycus) can
direct - (although frankly he did spend way too long allowing his character to ogle
Cleopatra. Check again if you don't believe me). From a plot perspective, well it
wasnt "Xenas" finest hour but it was less predictable than the
one-dimensional "Comedy of Eros", which relied on some obvious but funny
one-liners from one joke to sell it. This one was more situational, dealing with, in part,
how Joxer and Jett get on - and for many who have had bullying older siblings, Jett would
strike a chord. (I trust no pummellings occurred during this shows airing as younger
siblings snapped and suddenly launched into older
brothers/sisters while simultaneously screaming Long live Joxer The Tidy.) This whole interaction was supposedly, and excuse me while I gag, showing how Joxer could stand up to his big awe-inspiring tough brother and tell him he was wrong. Whats more, Jett, despite years of bullying Joxer (the most recent incident occurring mere minutes before), could admire this, step back and tell him he was doing the right thing.
And to stick to it. All just after Joxer just got him jailed for life no less! But this was a Disneyfied ep so it made some sense in that context. In that case, Ill say, er, yeah, good for you, Joxer... but writers, please, dont lay it on with a trowel next time. It seemed like the only thing they left out was the collie dog wagging its tail happily and Dad sagely saying, So you see, Jimmy, the moral is... This episode also tosses Autolycus back into the mix for no fathomable reason. The story could easily have had Jett on his own, planning the murder. And I thought Autolycus once said he worked alone? But as Autolycus is so popular with many fans - not to mention the actor was the director - into the story he went. And he did have a surprising side-effect in that his charisma, wouldbe prowess - both in thievery and romance - and witty one-liners seemed to balance the effect of the diametrically opposed Joxer, with his bumblings, romantic ineptness and foolish one-liners. But really, the least-addressed aspect of this show was the most telling... we see now that when Gabrielle gets into a jam she tries to get out of it by thinking Xena thoughts. Ironic, because her plan here faces disaster each and every time she puts herself into Xenas boots and tries to become someone shes not (eg the wouldbe chakram that knocked her out).
Conversely, she succeeds more when she is herself and does what she knows best
- such as fending off two blokes with an improvised staff. This whole learning from Xena
mentor thing (if thats what it is) only works if Gabrielle also learns to be true to
herself, not true to how Xena gets herself out of scrapes. Its a worry she
hasnt worked out how truly stupid it is for her to be asking: What would Xena do;
instead of: What should *I* do? Judging by the awfully smug look Xena has on her
when she gets Gabrielle out of jail, the Warrior Princess enjoys that Gabrielle needs her help for rescues and the like. For Xenas ego, it is secretly nice to be better than Gabrielle. She is the undisputed leader of the pair and wouldnt have it any other way. But is it now at the point that Gabrielle feels she cant even get out of jams without thinking like Xena? If this is so, it seems Gabrielle has lost a little something of her self belief since her time in Sins of the Past - where she talked her way to Amphipolos without having any Warrior Princess tricks to borrow; and in Dreamworker - where she smartly avoided losing her blood innocence several times in true bardic fashion. But now her solution is fashioning chakrams out of jail plates? Huh? Okay, I know, I know, it was just meant to be the humor element. And it was funny.
Actually there were a lot of little funny moments along the way. Like the original Joxer song being Joxer the Tidy - and its about how he never hurts the other boys even when they steal his toys! I also enjoyed how Autolycus frantically tries to save Gabrielles butt both at the start (when he thinks hes facing Jett) and at the end when Xena mercilessly points out a rather glaring flaw in their plan. There were a few pointlessly bad dialogue moments too that could have taken a snip, like Autolycuss: You can call me Auto; can I call you Cleo? And the whole Cleopatra and Autolycus double entendre scene, while of minor amusement, reminded me of a longer but less well-done version of Xena with Caesar in Destiny. (Was it just me who thought Cleopatra was very trusting to have accepted the story of a strange man creeping about in her bedroom without a shred of corroborating evidence?).
This episode also did something new, explaining some of the background of Joxer - although not the burning questions many of us have been wanting to know, like: Why pretend to be a mighty warrior when youre not and everyone knows it, including yourself; Why act so full of yourself in front of the woman youre trying to impress, when she can outfight you; outhink you; run without raising a cacophony heard in three surrounding villages; already has the Known Worlds top crime-fighting partner (and thus isn't looking to be anyone else's sidekick) and will give you a mean earpull and nose yank for your trouble? Why keep trailing around behind a duo who have no desire for your company - in fact they make merciless fun of you when you're there? Why go for the doofus Chinese roofing hat and hubcap armor look (except when your brothers in town)?
On the up side, we do finally get to see why Joxer tries so hard to be in the butt-kicking business, despite it also clearly going against the grain - well, he is the black sheep, afterall. He is less obnoxious as he is spending his energies trying to face his brother, rather than impress Gabrielle. We also get the hint he has probably been big-noting himself for years based on Jetts sarcastic comment about Joxer knowing Hercules. With a father in jail for warlording, one brother an assassin, and the other one unhinged (and possibly in accounting), its not surprising he turned out a little loopy. But actually, for a mere occasional walk-on comic relief character, Joxer just got more backgrounding in this episode than Ephiny, Autolycus and Salmoneus put together. I'm guessing that means hes here for quite awhile. In all, its hard to dislike this ep because everyone was trying so hard to be funny. Sometimes, in their valiant efforts, they crossed into ham: Queen Cleopatra doing a Joxeresque earpull on Autolycus was one moment; and Renee was guilty more than once, (um, explain why a servant girl would speak in a squeaky high voice??).
But the pace and mindless fun of the show would have certainly been a nice
change for the younger fans, presumably delighted to get their old show back and have a
laugh, while the rest of us get a gentle, non-taxing break from the rift. As a whole, this
episode was not bad. It suffers because it comes straight after the brilliant Debt
two-parter which so raised the bar in quality that anything that followed would have been
a come down. Now we know they can do shows like The Debt, its a bit hard to watch
the usual Xena episodes the same way. I personally now feel like Oliver with bowl in hand,
and visions of the feast that was The Debt dancing before my eyes, saying: Please
sir, can I have some more?
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