Xena Warrior Princess Episode Reviews
Reviewed by SLK
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Terence Winter. Directed by Michael Levine.
Paul Minifie (Innkeeper), Paul Norell (Street Vendor), Kirstie O'Sullivan (Ophelia), Carl Straker (Young Man),
Beryl Te Wiata (Cynara), Susan Winter (Woman)
DISCLAIMER: No babies were harmed during the production of this motion picture
STORY SO FAR: Xena rescues a baby which a king wants to kill, and must reunite Pandora with her box or all hope will be lost.
The rich mine of Xena opening credits moments – King Gregor in pensive "I’m not really such a bad actor" pose; firebreathing Xena; the warrior princess in harem girl getup and Xena’s whumping sideways kick.
Xena’s feeling a little imprecise with her neck pinch, offering the guy less than a minute to cough up what he knows, instead of the more standard 30 seconds.
The ancient world’s first bungee jump as Xena defies gravity with a swan dive out the window.
The "just how good do you think I am?", sheesh look on Xena’s face when Gabrielle throws the bub long, causing the warrior princess to do a hurtling fully extended catch to make a soccer goalie proud.
Xena sword slaps the backside of an exiting soldier. He’s putting his sexual harassment suit in as we speak…
(None worthy of exerting one’s thumb on the remote control.)
Cradle of Hope is the sort of episode that, if your name was on any of the credits bar costume design, you’d seriously consider mortgaging your house to try and raise enough money to buy it back off the distributors. Now I’m not saying it’s the worst Xena episode they’ve ever made, just one of those with a deep blush-worthy factor for production staff. The sort of episode that gets hauled out at blooper reel nights and roasts to hold you up to the gentle ridicule of your chums or show how far you’ve come.
It’s the latter box I prefer to slot this episode into, one of the slow, gormless, pointless duds to remind us how far the show has grown. It’s quite amazing actually that from such humble beginnings it grew to what it was by series end.
To recap: King Gregor is the sort of king who thinks if you look earnest and say lines with a pained expression no one will notice you seem really unconvincing. He’s the sort of king who, I kid you not, actually calls his chief lackey, not Nemos, but "Close Advisor". It makes you ponder whether if Close Advisor ever falls out of favour he’ll be referred to aloud as "The Advisor Formerly Known As Close".
Which brings us to the plot. In a bizarrely unmoving scene, where you just know nose hairs were plucked and onions were waved under eyes to induce tears, we discover King Gregor has lost his own baby boy.
By some gosh-darn incredible coincidence, a mystic woman gives him the prophesy that a new son born to one of his servant women will in fact have his throne one day.
Enter Close Advisor who does everything but moustache-twirl his way through his scenes to wickedly suggest said child must be found and slaughtered forthwith. For the most hilarious ham moment, watch his overly dramatic one-foot pivot away from the king after he says this. Seems Close Advisor can’t take his role seriously either. He’s probably still pissed no one calls him by his actual name. No respect…
With shades of (future) Ares’ words ringing in our ears – "what can a baby do to us really?", and a similar objection raised by Gregor, we go on a hunting mission to find it nonetheless. Villagers are offered merry bushels of cash in exchange for the child, which is floated, Moses style, down the stream (or to be precise, a muddy lagoon) where Xena and Gabrielle find it.
There’s one pretty amusing moment as Xena’s decidedly unmaternal look at clapping eyes on the bub is a mirror opposite of Gabrielle’s cooing and ahhing.
We also get to see that at this stage Gabrielle does not yet appear to be sharing bedfurs with Xena, waking up alone, with the rumpled clothes she went to bed in, no pillow, and on top of a rock. With creature comforts like these, no wonder Gabrielle is a grumbling late riser in the mornings…
But as riveting as this storyline is, they decided to add another of equal, ahem, merit. Pandora, she of the famous box, is being lynched. One chakram toss and a few threatening eyebrow hikes later, she’s no longer into rope sports, and suddenly we have Three Women and A Baby. They never explain why Pandora is travelling with our fearless duo. Or why she leaves the Screamingly Obvious Plotpoint (her box) out for anyone to snatch at mealtimes.
But naturally her Screamingly Obvious Plotpoint is indeed snatched when Close Advisor can’t get to the baby. Why? Well one presumes the idiot is using the Edmund Hillary defence: It was there.
Actually he says he doesn’t trust Xena not to open it. Um, manure for brains, she’d have done it by now if she was going to.
After a few more stoushes, including King Gregor meeting with Xena just to toss some salt on her still furiously festering "I have a Naughty, Naughty Past" wounds, they go their separate ways again. And in what is an equally idiotic moment, Xena neglects to tell the King that the box is on a self timer which will open if Pandora doesn’t get her mitts back on it by midnight.
Given everyone believes that all hope will escape from the box if it is opened, and no one actually wants it opened, including Close Advisor and the King, it would be in everyone’s interests for this rather critical piece of information to be shared.
Of course that would shorten the episode by 10 minutes so you can almost hear the writers furiously saying: "Think, think, we must come up with a reason for Xena not to give away information that would prevent the loss of hope throughout the known world…"
And, dear campers, here’s what they came up with.
Xena mistrusting Close Advisor: "Knowledge is power and I don’t want to give him that power."
Exqueeze me?! The power to do what? Save the world from the loss of hope? I think the warrior princess has had a few too many upside-down dismounts from Argo.
The only thing left to do is steal the box back before midnight. We discover there’s a feast on and selected servant girls have no choice but to dance for Close Advisor who will choose one that evening for his pleasure. So we can add sexual harassment and servant abuser to ham acting and baby killer as part of his many wonderful attributes.
Later it is claimed King Gregor is possibly "too moral" to be king – but would a moral man seriously allow his unenthused servants to be sexually assaulted on a regular basis?
Anyway, naturally Xena whips out a Wonder Woman bodice for the evening’s entertainment (one never knows when it will come in handy) and gets picked to be his consort. More points for the frock tarts, it looks pretty terrific.
Light-fingered Xena then clobbers Nemos, makes off with the Screamingly Obvious Plotpoint and exits from the window. She finds herself back in the square with a thump, hollering for Gabrielle. I’m no tactical expert, but wouldn’t the first step of making a grand plan be arranging where you intend to meet your co-conspirators after The Big Heist? All she succeeds in doing is calling attention to herself so the guards can keystone-kop-it around the square while Xena turns baby tossing into a disturbing new Olympic sport.
Natch, being Xena – a woman with formidable skills and a bodice to match, whumps the sorry butts of the hapless left-footed soldiers. And what do the villagers do? The same villagers promised merry bushels of cash if they cough up said baby? The same villagers who have been greedily ransacking carts when they hear even a baby’s cry? Why, they cheer! "Yay, yay, all the soldiers who might steal the little goldmine are lying on the ground clearing my path to the baby. So I will stand back and cheer and hug strangers who might also beat me to the child which would allow me food for my family and better-quality acting lessons."
Hmmm. These are not the brightest folks.
Now Xena decides good King Gregor is father material and gives the child to him to raise as his own, thus fulfilling prophesy. The most gorgeous moment of the whole episode comes next. At the start of Cradle of Hope, Gabrielle asks if she can name the baby Gabriel. When Xena is later asked if there’s anything she wants, she says to the king to "Name him Gabriel", with such a loving, bemused expression. As always, the warrior princess performs her acts of kindness to Gabrielle out of the bard’s line of sight. Don’t want Gabrielle to think she’s getting all mushy on her now do we…
And finally we discover Pandora’s box is empty. The blonde woman’s life’s mission has been for nought. Hope is safe, regardless. You’ve kind of got to pity the woman who’s been on a fool’s errand all this time. It was a bit of a downer not to see her respond to the news and hear what her plans are next. Instead we get the end credits and a cheesy schtick about hope being in us all.
In sum, well, okay so the episode wasn’t so bad you’d throw last week’s stale Cheetos at the TV. But let’s face it, when you think of Xena, is this what comes to mind? Baby tossing, yeah maybe. Wooden acting, okay, granted...at times. But where was the pathos, the excitement, the subtext, the fun? Where was the joy evident on the faces of the cast you can tell had to be cracking up with laughter but moments before? This was more like another shelve-it-and-forget it effort best consigned to the annals of ancient Greece.
Not that ancient Greek would particularly want it….
Still the good news is, there’s always another episode around the corner. Roll on next week.