Scribes and Scrolls: Written by Steven L Sears. Directed by Jace Alexander. Edited by Jim Prior.
Passing Parade: Danielle Cormack (Ephiny), David Aston (Tyldus) , Alison Bruce (Melosa), Mark Ferguson (Krykus), Rebekah Mercer (Terreis), Colin Moy (Phantes),
Chris Bailey (Celano), Antony Starr (Mesas), John Watson (Arben), Aurora Philips (Magdelus), Tanya Dignan (Eponin), Andrew Kovacevich (Tor).
Disclaimer: No Males, Centaurs or Amazons were harmed during the production of this motion picture.
Story So Far: Gabrielle becomes an Amazon princess. Xena tries to stop a war between the Amazons and Centaurs.
Ephiny displaying an intimate knowledge of equine droppings. That girl really needs a hobby. No, a different hobby.
The two Amazons carrying the sacrificial sword in a large metal bucket slung between two wooden poles. Swords in buckets…..just doesn’t seem very warrior-like, does it? The wooden poles, however, were definitely overkill.
Some tough warlord – the first thing Krykus does after worming his way out of the collapsed tent is to adjust his hair!
A comical moment as Xena fends off an ‘annoying’ Gab-rielle who thinks because she’s been an Amazon for a whole five minutes, is now qualified to give Xena hand-to-hand combat advice. Xena was having none of it, her shove reminding the Gabster that a Warrior Princess still outranks a wet behind the ears Amazon Princess every time.
When the Amazons throw down their weapons before the Centaurs, Gabrielle tosses hers and Xena’s down in the most girly way imaginable. She may need the Amazon advanced weapons class, methinks.
"Just before noon tomorrow, my army attacks." Why is it always ‘noon’? Did they even have ‘noon’ in ancient Greece? Ancient anywhere?
"She’s annoying. How have you put up with her?" Tough as boots Ephiny, isn’t quite ready to respect the new Amazon Princess. Whilst Gabrielle rebutted with, ‘she puts up with me just fine", the Warrior Princess remained strangely mute.
"Now I see why you ride the horse." Just in case you didn’t get it the first dozen sarcastic times – Ephiny thinks the bard is a moron and she can’t believe the ‘cool’ Xena is hanging around with the class nerd. So there.
Xena: "Something about me you find interesting?"
Xena: "Wanna tell me?"
Xena: "Then stop staring at me before I take your eyes out."
Ephiny: "Come! NOW."
Gabrielle: "I’m sorry, you must have mistaken me for a pet."
Three things you need to know about Amazons: 1. They can’t dance for Centaur droppings. 2. They urgently need to bulk order some fake tan (it’s what happens when you save all your best rituals for moonlight). And 3. They make for one helluva good story.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Hooves and Harlots because it was the first Xena episode I ever saw. I had just gotten home from work; was too tired to even change the channel and before I knew it I was eyeball to birdfeathers with upside-down Amazons. And despite the lily-white skin, and silly eye-candy cleavages, these were no creampuffs either. Ephiny’s glares alone could poke your eyes out. And don’t start me on Eponine’s power glowers while windmilling her staff with lethal intent. But I was absolutely gobsmacked – as in: pick me up off the floor and get the heart paddles out – to see a warrior-garbed, blue-eyed, raven-haired Lucy Lawless striding around, taking no quarter, and yanking Gabrielle about like a sack of potatoes – "potatoes" she was clearly quite fond of, nonetheless. And when she fought – it was like watching the powerful prowess of Bruce Lee – albeit a more macho version ... (grin). This woman was the imposing poster girl for charisma and strength – and all on her own terms. It was like she waded through the world as she pleased, completely oblivious to society’s rules and expectations of "acceptable" female behaviour. (Or, more likely, she simply didn’t give a tinker’s cuss for it.) And that, more than anything else, gave the female viewers especially a sigh-filled dose of awed envy. Is it any wonder this heroine was always going to be a hit?
On with the show. Now this is the way I love to see the Amazons – they are tough, fierce, believable warriors who have security as tight as it gets – they understand that setting up a perimeter means putting security a little further out than your village campfire – unlike what was depicted in later Amazon episodes. They fall in and out of trees with the greatest of ease, appear to display a complex system of signs and birdcalls and generally seem to have a well organised, tightly run society. The Amazons mark the first semi-regulars on the show which up until now has been in the formula of blow-in bad guys and good guys who will either die or pledge love to Xena/Gabrielle then exit forever more. Or, as happened last episode, both die AND pledge love to Gabrielle. (Not necessarily in that order.)
We also get to see the first Centaurs – and frankly I would hate to have been given the special effects job on this episode, for it would be one of those thankless task that would be very easy to mess up and make look ridiculous. I thought the SFX mob did very well indeed, struggling only in a few places – such as where a Centaur rears up on its hind legs and you could almost see the furry CGI seams. Still, that was a very minor downside. In all, top job.
Hooves and Harlots is a pivotal episode marking a number of other firsts for the show, most obviously some big character leaps for the bard. We see Gabrielle get her first staff, learn how to fight, be anointed an Amazon Princess, actually take part in her first fight; be asked to kill in cold blood and she also gets a new(ish) set of threads. Newish because it’s pretty clear they ran this episode out of order with the previous one. In Death in Chains she was in her Amazon garb for no good reason, yet here she’s back in her long, mud-magnet skirt at the start of the episode. Not that it matters. Although, is it just me who thinks the blue necklace looks absolutely hideous on Gabrielle? Not that I’m any expert on such things but it always looks to me like she’s going for the extreme Masai warrior makeover. (If she starts leaping vertically in the air while ululating, we’ll know…)
And strapless – heavens, what part of "wardrobe malfunction" don’t the Amazon seamstresses get?! As fighters they should know better – one good javelin fling with her new staff and they’ll have to up the rating on this show to adults only. Still, I’ll be kind and argue that was just the inauguration outfit and they never actually expected her to go to war in it.
Another interesting thing about this episode is it felt like it was equally weighted between Xena’s story (finding out who killed the Amazon) and Gabrielle’s (becoming a princess) – and when they dovetailed it all neatly at the end it was absolutely perfectly done.
Casting was a dream, and from the idealistic dying Amazon princess Terreis (Rebekah Mercer) to the sterner, stately Queen Melosa (Alison Bruce) who leant a gravitas to her every scene, it was riveting to watch so much fine talent doing what they do best. But the standout for characterization and acting was easily Ephiny (Danielle Cormack) and as one of New Zealand’s leading actresses we should not be surprised. There was a definite chemistry between her and Renee and also with her and Lucy – the latter pairing providing some of the funniest moments in the episode. The way they niggled each other was like watching a pair of alpha males elbowing each other for top spot while not actually admitting that’s what they’re doing. For once in the Xenaverse, Gabrielle wasn’t the prize in their sights; top-dog power, status and control was. While Xena appeared to win that tussle, it’s clear she has enormous respect for the Amazon, even asking her to get Gabrielle out of the village if Xena lost the fight with Melosa. Xena doesn’t give protection of the bard away to others lightly.
I remember the first time I saw Terreis give her right of caste to Gabrielle it seemed so very perfunctory – why give it to a complete stranger? It seemed ridiculous. I have decided since then that for all Gabrielle’s prattling, one thing that comes across loud and clear when she speaks is that she has a wonderfully kind heart and she is an idealist. And perhaps Terreis, already worried about the direction the village would go without her there to keep the more militaristic Amazons in check, knew she had to give it to the one woman she sensed would do just that. But it was still a big risk.
Next stop – the funeral pyre. Has no one stopped to consider the ramifications of burning a body in the MIDDLE of your village? You know, next to all your open hut doors? Right near where you cook your food? And pity the Amazons who get clean-up duty. (No one ever thinks of the cleaners…)
Fast forward to Gabrielle in Amazon training mode – my favourite part of this entire segment is watching Ephiny take the "fun" out of the equation by explaining the disturbingly lethal properties of a staff. Way to take the gloss off piñatas, lady. But I also loved, just before this, Gabrielle putting Ephiny in her place for treating her with a lack of respect. Yes, a pet she aint. You tell ‘em, Gabs. My opinion of the bard rose a notch in that moment.
While all this is going on, we see Xena playing a beefed up Mrs Fletcher, hunting down clues to the real killer. We discover what I think could be the first medical use for all her thwaps and pinches, when she numbs the torso of a Centaur she performs impromptu surgery on. Now I don’t know what she thought she was doing with her hand in the side of his chest like that but it looked to all the world like she was rummaging around for coins at the back of the couch. (Hope she found some…)
Next there’s a Xena standoff with the Centaur leader. For continuity nuts there was one obvious problem here – yes, we know about the war they both fought but he was a little too hostile towards Xena and vice versa, flinging around the word "enemy" too freely, given we will find out in later episodes the Centaurs are actually raising Xena’s son for her. Not only that, but she didn’t whisk the leader to one side and ask after Solan. Still, the writers weren’t prophets and had no clue that plot arc would follow. It matters little anyway…
I had to laugh aloud at the positively ridiculous conversation Xena has with the warlord Krykus that followed. It begins with her deciding the point of killing Terreis was to start a war. So far so good. The conversation concludes with her deciding that arrowing the poor woman to death via Centaur was actually a "stupid way to start a war" and "Centaurs aren’t stupid" (and thus could not be involved). Um, hello! – if starting the war was indeed what the Centaurs wanted, then mission accomplished! It was a brilliant way to start a war – any method that worked was.
Following this was the most pointless plotting but nonetheless most entertaining fight to date – Ephiny versus Xena. Why on EARTH these two squared off is a mystery known only to the bobbleheads who dreamt it up. I rewatched the start of it three times to find out, and all I could conclude was: Ephiny seemed to be skulking around after Xena. The WP didn’t like it and spun around to confront her, going into attack mode. Ephiny, now clearly visible, and also clearly able to see Xena, (so no identity confusion here) still goes at it, at one point even attempting to kill her, aiming a shot right at her heart. Um, again I say WHY? Surely she’s not still trying to win that silly pissing contest?! You know, Eph, there are less deadly ways to do prove you’re da big cheese. (I’m no expert – but surely killing your new princess’s favourite chum won’t get you a slap on the back, either.) I have decided the powers that be just wanted to see it cos it would be a supercool match up. You know, like Superman vs Batman. Fine, fine – but next time – just find a plausible reason, okay boys?
Cut back to the camp and we have the rhymthically challenged Amazons doing their arm flailin’, leg shakin’ thang. Actually, to be fair, they have rhythm; they just don’t know how to channel it. The closest approximation to this style of dancing I think is to get a bunch of three years olds together and ask them do an elephant walk. Swing those trunks, kiddies.
Oh hey, dig that great music. Gabrielle sure did. Bop on, girlfriend!
Finally A plot meets, um, other A plot – Xena’s back with her Centaur-tampering evidence along with a more subdued Ephiny (having finally and reluctantly yielded alpha status to the big X in the interim). Love the reaction Gabrielle has at being given the Centaur dropping – priceless! But the real winner is Xena’s reaction to Gabrielle’s almost wondering revelation that she’s now an Amazon Princess.
"Great" Xena drawls, through gritted teeth. Yup, everywhere she turns, people are out to trump her. Inside she’s probably thinking: "OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD – FOR THE LAST TIME, THERE AINT NO TRUMPING A WARRIOR PRINCESS!" Snicker.
Here’s an interesting thing – all the way through this episode people have been dropping hints that Xena acts like an Amazon a little too well. She knew the Amazon peace sign in the opening scene, and that was just for starters. Even the captured Centaur made mention of it. Then there was Ephiny who, after their fight, says Xena knows all the tree-fighting maneuvers the Amazons know. And now here’s what gets me really curious – Xena knows a little too much about Amazonian political protocol to be a casual acquaintance of Amazons. She demanded the Royal Challenge. How’d she know about that?! I’ll argue for a bit of serendipity – we learn later about bad Xena’s walk on the wild side before this time frame, with Alti and the other little band of Amazons. So the Xenabods also win some on "future" continuity.
Anyway, who didn’t love the fantastic interaction between Xena and Gabrielle – raised eyebrows at 20 paces – to get the bard to ask for the Royal Challenge instead of Xena. "We gotta come up with some hand signals or something," Gabrielle finally sighs once the business is sorted. Hilarious.
Equally great was Melosa’s highly amused (and actually quite kind) question: "Gabrielle … do you want to fight me to the death?"
Of course we know Xena won the fight and got to ensure that it wasn’t to the death after all. What bugs me is that if this outcome was possible and within the rules, why on earth did Melosa seem so hellbent on ensuring that death would be what would happen if she’d won it? She even tells Ephiny right beforehand that the warrior will die too if she (Melosa) wins. (Um, WHY?) That alone seems an entirely silly and pointless waste of talent. What Queen willingly sacrifices one of her best fighters when she doesn’t have to? I guess that’s one way to permanently put down any attempted coup (and Ephiny does come off as a co-conspirator), but if that’s the only reason why Melosa wanted to make it to the death, then she’s not really much of a leader at all is she? Any challenge and I’ll kill you all?! Yeesh.
Now then boys and girls, what were we saying at the start of the episode about how good security is in this fine Amazon village? Everyone turn around. Oh look – an army of Centaurs has somehow parked themselves right in the middle of camp. And NO ONE even noticed till now. Ooops. That must have been some royal challenge that it gets everyone out of the trees to watch. Except, wait, no one knew in advance that Gabrielle/Xena were going to do it, so the security amazons wouldn’t have known to be there to watch in the first place. So it seems you can’t get good help these days, after all.
Now that gig is up, and we do the Murder She Wrote exposition and point to the real killer, what’s there left to do in the Xenaverse but have a war. Of course.
Phantes offers Ephiny the worst pick-up line ever: "Amazon… wanna go for a ride?", made all the more worrying given we learn later learn that Ephiny actually happens to dig half-horse dudes. Eww.
No idea why a bunch of Centaurs would not only own chariots but even need them with that nice human-sized saddle space on their backs, but hey, that’s between the Centaurs for you.
Finally we’re there – Gabrielle’s first fight. Sweep, thrust, thunk, whack. Watch her go. Not bad for a first timer. I did marvel at the way Xena dispatched one villain with her usual reverse thrust move, a cold little look of satisfaction on her face. Impossible to keep the eyes off her.
Obviously the Xenabods decided they liked their latest swirly-chinned warlord, for Melosa saves him just as he could see his future episodes flashing before his eyes. Dunno how he got out of that little scenario – we’ve already seen what "trials" Amazon-style are like – you die. Plain and simple. Ah well, the badass probably knew somebody who knows somebody who … writes Xena scripts.
Which brings us to the ending… Ephiny, perhaps with a touch of the green-eyed monster, couldn’t resist a parting dig at Gabrielle, saying to Xena: "Now I see why you ride the horse…" Again with the horses, Ephiny. Freud would have a field day.
In conclusion – if I had to sum up what made this episode so enjoyable it would be strong women, strong women, strong women. The plot didn’t suck and the actors were more of the top drawer variety than the socks and jocks drawer. And then there was Ephiny. Disturbing horsy fixation aside – she really made a terrific, multi-faceted entry into the Xenaverse and developed a wonderful chemistry with all the players. All in all: not much wrong and everything else absolutely right. Enough to keep anyone coming back and, hey, I’d know.