Season 2, Episode 11
November 14 , 1998
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 6 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Chris Manheim; Edited by Jim
Directed by Marina Sargenti
PASSING PARADE: Karen Dior (Miss Artiphys); Robert Trebor (Salmoneus); John Sumner (Lord Claron); Calvin Tuteao (Dhoge of Mesini); Simone Russell (Miss Mesini); Stan Wolfgramm (Palantine of Parnassus); Jennifer Becker (Miss Parnassus); Timothy Lee (Regent of Skiros); Katherine Kennard (Miss Skiros); Brenda Kindall (Pageant Matron)
STORY SO FAR: Xena goes undercover at a beauty pageant to find out who is trying to kill the contestants.
DISCLAIMER: No ribbons were harmed during the production of this motion picture. However, several experienced severe motion sickness.
REWIND FOR: A Baywatch send up in the opening scene. I dont think those bouncing ladies were being shown in slowmo so we could catch the heightened drama of the moment...
If you keep your eye on Xena doing her twirls on stage in the practice session with the other women for the contest, youll catch a rather cheeky moment; only matched by the revealing Ms Ls sauna scene. Though why she didnt use the towel on her head is a mystery to me...
Look at the opening part of the shot with Xena practising her swordwork on a cliff. The camera captures a bird in flight then seamlessly settles on Xena. That was the luckiest piece of chance filming or a very well trained bird.
Watch the body language giveaway the baddy provides when the four men are gagged under the table and Xena is talking to him. He is holding a knife and is not supposed to know theyre under there. But he cant help sweeping the knife in an encompassing arc across the table when he refers to the four men!
A very amusing Miss Artiphys hamming up her crying moment (she is actually shaking all over if you look closely) as she is announced winner; followed by a hilarious, gobsmacked look on Gabrielles face when Miss Artiphys gives the warrior princess a long and involved thankyou.
QUOTABLE: "You sent urgent word for us to see some underdressed overdeveloped bimbos in a beauty contest?" How in heck did former Mrs New Zealand Lucy Lawless say that with a straight face?!
"Sorry I got you steamed," Miss Artiphys to a surprisingly unpruney Xena.
"Dont hate me cos Im beautiful." Oh Xena, perish the thought...
Gabrielle: Its a feeble excuse for men to exploit and degrade women.
Salmoneus: Wrong as usual, Miss Sunshine. Since when have we needed any excuse?
My, my, didnt Mrs New Zealand 1989 have a bit of fun with this?! Lucy Lawless was revelling in all the behind the scenes theatrics of this beauty pageant. Probably brought back a lot of intriguing memories. But what scared me was how well she reverted to playing the contestant. Theres something really really wrong about watching our tough Xena play coy! Chuckle. Its like somethings not quite right with the world when you see her simper and do all the cute Gabrielle noises and face pulls we have come to associate with girly types. Yikes... I almost plopped right off the couch in shock. Dont worry, the Valium will kick in soon. In the meantime....
There were some funny funny moments in this episode and Salmoneous was in most of them. Robert Trebor always adds to a scene, and his natural comedic elements just burble on out in spite of himself. He really made the most of some lovely lines. For instance, the contestants interesting hobbies:
Miss Skiros: Music, erotic dancing and sacrificing to the gods.
Miss amphipolis: A country girl at heart, she enjoys the simple things in life - weaving tapestries, making candles and doing volunteer work with her local Hestian virgins.
Miss Artiphys: Archery, horsebreeding and knowing the complete scores to every musical ever written.
It brought tears to the eye... not the least of which is imagining precisely what sort of work Xena does with the Hestian virgins... not taking confessions again, I trust!
This broad humor element easily offset the pretty thin plot.
Gabrielles shifting French accent wasnt her finest hour and I do wonder how many French people she knew in ancient Greek times. Nice outfit though...
I wasnt satisfied with how quickly Xena leapt in to play the beauty contestant. She could easily have gone undercover as something else. Salmoneouss assistant for one. But no, there she is saying war makes everyone a victim and virtually has her Statue of Liberty hat on the ironing board before she finishes the sentence.
I also didnt buy how well she was suddenly acting as the perfect Miss amphipolis, given how out of character it would be for someone like Xena and her lack of background in this area. A perfect example is when a contestant makes a sarcastic remark to her, calling her clumsy and denigrating her height. A typical Xena response would be an intimidating sneer and a slick, vaguely threatening comeback. An undercover Xena would probably settle for a sneer. But instead, this Xena gives a look that has timeless patience and tolerance written all over it. Now thats not the Xena I know, in any disguise. I cover this topic a bit more thoroughly in my Vanishing Act review. Conversely, one fan wrote to me and suggested Xena was in fact brilliantly practised in acting, thanks to her years as bad Xena. And, true, in her introductory Hercules episodes, she does indeed show she knows how to play the simple farmgirl routine to the hilt to achieve her ends.
How did she get so good? Ahhh those many skills. Funny isnt it - after years of commenting on her many skills, shes actually stuck for a talent for the pageant! And the one she does choose... well talk about joining the dots for the blokes who might not recognise her as Xena otherwise. Sword play?! Must have snuck in the practise between the embroidery and Hestian virgin community service.
The worst part of the episode for me was the ending, when the contestants were pulling out one by one. Somehow they knew which order their names were going to be read out in - and they all had some ridiculously contrite sign-off line. "And Ive learnt that I have the power within me to make things happen ra ra ra..."
Shudder. The worst one was the contestant who was only in the pageant to get food for her village. Her line: "To give away my pride and dignity for one winters food, wheres the dignity in that?"
Well first up, she should have asked herself the question before the pageant because if she thinks being in it sacrifices her dignity, then shes already lost that. Which means she may as well stay in it for two minutes longer and fill the bellies of her hungry village while shes at it. She can still work hard, put her shoulder to the grindstone, as she has vowed. But frankly, Im sure the children who die of starvation over the winter will appreciate her courageous act of "dignity". I get the point, I understand the message, but living comes before pride, and thats a harsh reality. She made a selfish choice. And, ironically, she always had both her pride and dignity because, throughout it all, she was sacrificing herself for the sake of others. Whats more noble than that?
There was one message in the episode that wasnt corny or hammered down our throats and Im sure it was a lot more poignant for it. Karen Dior (Miss Artiphys) has AIDS and is an adult film star to boot and Lucy, to her credit, specifically pushed for Dior to be cast in the role. She also urged the shows makers not to edit out the kiss, as was going to happen. Lucy wanted to show people that its safe to kiss people with HIV or AIDS. It was pretty cool of her.
Admittedly Dior is not the greatest actor, but she made up for it by looking like she was having a helluva lot of fun, and her short speeches, while a bit wooden, felt like they were coming from the heart.
In essence, this was a funny episode with a lot of in-jokes aimed at parodying the beauty contest world. There wasnt much substance, the countless morals of the story were all over the place and thicker than Sean Connerys accent. But who cares? Well I laughed...
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