Xena Warrior Princess Episode Reviews
Scribes & Scrolls
Story So Far
Xena’s seriously cool chakram shot, straight up and down, post chariot race. It’s got a back spin on it that Boris Becker would envy.
At the end of the episode, contradicting the previous one, Gabrielle shows she now has a real fear and uncertainty for the height of horses. Which makes us wonder: what did happen between episodes to make the poor girl so twitchy? Well, Xena? Hmm, hmmm?
"I’m looking for my best friend, maybe you’ve seen her? Six foot tall, dark hair, lots of leather, fights like the Harpies in a bad mood." Gabrielle with the most unerringly accurate character assessment ever heard on TV. No need to guess who she’s describing.
"I don’t want to wind up some lonely, pathetic woman like… never mind." Gabrielle has her first mid-life crisis, age 20-something. And a good thing she stopped the sentence when she did or she might have had a life-and-death crisis as well, with aforementioned six-foot Harpies gal.
Xena: You call that a jump?
Xena: Don’t tell me that was HIM?
Gabrielle: Do you want me to drive?
It takes any new show time to hit its straps, and a few lemons before the lemonade starts to fizz. Alas this lemon of an episode is so acidic it could give you an instant ulcer. It’s the most Hercules episode in the Xena show’s history and I have strong suspicions it may indeed have been remodelled and rebadged after originally being written for that son of a god.
By Hercules in format, I refer to its obviously younger target audience, very basic plot, basic dialogue, by the book Disney romance, no shocks, twists, turns, subtext, or anything to upset the kiddywink applecart. It’s simply a paint-by-numbers Little House on the Prairie episode that does not hold up well with time – largely because we already know what the show becomes and is capable of.
This episode leaves me with a strong and rather unpalatable feeling of peeking in on an episode for 9-year-olds. It actually feels insane to review it – like a grown person tuning in to Sesame Street and noting earnestly the character inconsistencies of Big Bird. Ah well, I can always shower later. Now, here goes.
To refresh a bit for those with still-repressed memories: Xena gets downed by an arrow from a two-bit thug while rescuing a boy. (A measly arrow?! Sheesh, what are those writers sniffing?) She meets the boy’s father, a nice widower family man who shows her the path not taken. Naturally he has a non-speaking darling little daughter who looks like a smaller version of Newt from Aliens. The little bit hasn’t spoken since her mother died, and we just know that condition will last no more than 42 minutes. Dad’s a good man, with boyish good looks and soft romantic eyes, on a mission of peace (are we sure this guy wasn’t meant for Gabrielle?) and he offers Xena a chance to partake of said Hallmark-card home life. Overcome by cluckiness, (and I am not making this up) at one point Xena is seen to bounce on her knee the cute mute Newt who, naturally, will soon utter the immortal word: "Stay."
This outburst obviously will be followed shortly by those other immortal words: "Daddy, she spoke!"
Before you try to unmire your rapidly enfeebled brain from this cloying mess, it gets a little worse. Gabrielle, defencelessly left behind with drunken ruffians at a nearby village pub (oh no, that’s fine Xena, I can just stave off their unwelcome groping with my lethal, um, smalltalk), has fallen for the first guy who can string a sentence together. If his bad dreadlocks are not scary enough (note to white boys without surfboards or hemp strides, it’s just a bad look, got it?), Gabrielle goes so far as to tell Xena later he might be The One. She does this in a rambling analogy about trees which is so disturbing that, frankly, she’s not safe to be left alone gathering firewood. All this time Gabrielle does not realise her saucy new beau, the one with the Johnny Depp mascara, George Michael eyes and fashionable stick-on chin fuzz, does in fact have a rather problematic recent history -- namely trying to kill her best friend. You may know her -- six foot tall, dark hair, black leather, fights like the Harpies in a bad mood…
You just know this is going to end in tears.
Gabrielle does not, for once, get her beau killed, despite all our hopes she might rid the world of one more excessively dodgy B-grade actor. But she does begin her soon-to-be impressive record of Conversions to Goodness Within a Single Episode™. Go girl.
Xena meanwhile has decided to ruin forever the entire run of her series with the following bizarrely short-sighted line. Yes, when she is wished well on her quest to find true happiness, she declares: "I did, I just have to leave it for a while."
I seeee…. So she’ll be back to pick up where she left off soon then, huh? Oh yeah, that ending of the show works just grand:. Xena settling down with her now-30-year-old step-children who have waited for her all this time. Gabrielle sadly waving goodbye to her soulmate from the local tavern where she will be left to assist wayward thugs in need of a badness bypass.
Still, given the other alternative, I may yet be ironing that wedding frock for Xena…
Now, see that’s what just plain bugs me about this episode: everyone is pursuing things that seem so unlikely and unconvincing. Gabrielle, two minutes into her huge grand adventure with the exotic wayfaring Warrior Princess now suddenly wants a skanky dirty thug she’s just met; warrior Xena wants a so-perfect-he-itches peacable family man she’s just met and whose lifestyle would bore her to tears within a week; and the Gabrielle-loving thug with major daddy issues just wants to give peace a chance. If it gets any more "believable" I may have to have that shower ASAP.
There were a few good points amid the syrup. This episode was ransacked by the title-creation team, so for your favourite iconic moments, you can catch here the following: the famous blue dress, complete with dreamy Xena expression (even though she was lying through her teeth when she said she’d never worn anything like it before – uh huh and the Lao Ma and Caesar get-ups were some old sacks she threw on, while that little see-through number for Iolus was just an old housefrock?). Now then, that reminds me: Who’s going to tell Xena’s beau that she tore up his dearly departed beloved wife’s best blue dress?... No wonder she hightailed it out of there.
Catch the chariot race also used in the credits, an exciting scene which made me breathless at the stunt doubles’ sturdy constitutions. Having been to that exact area, the rivulets of water which run around the base of the big dune actually erode mini-troughs into the sandy bed, so the end result of running a chariot across there would jiggle your innards about as if you were sprinting over a corrugated iron roof. (May their mashed internal organs recover faster than Xena’s character development did.)
My favourite moment for the episode is seeing Xena unceremoniously yank Gabrielle upright into the chariot by the scruff of the neck. Xena gets pretty good at hauling her sidekick around like a sack of potatoes – witness the vest yank from A Day in The Life. As I say, Gabs must now have Property of the Warrior Princess stamped on her somewhere.
Funniest subtext moment was Xena’s droll admonishment that she must "have a word" with Gabrielle about her choice in men. If that aint the pot calling the frying pan black. Not that there was anything wrong with Mr Little House On The Prairie as a dating prospect. But let’s face it, Xena’s track record does tend towards bad boys and bards and nothing in between. Sorry buddy. Cute Mute Newt will have to find another aunty to utter her next words to.
Well in sum, I am so glad it was over. Chariots of War doesn’t leave a lot to recommend it. The sparking interplay between Gabs and Xena, which made the show so loved, was diabolically short and the chemistry almost absent here. The het creds of the lead actors however have now been suitably established, which one presumes was a chief aim for this episode, but it was all so blah, blah, is it over yet?, blah. Boring subplots and chemistry bypasses we can live without.
After all, to make great lemonade you need the fizz, as well as just a lemon and a mound of sugar.