Scribes and Scrolls: Written by Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster. Directed by T.J. Scott. Edited by Jim Prior.
Passing Parade: Galyn Goerg (Helen), Scott Garrison (Perdicus), Cameron Rhodes (Deiphobus), Warren Carl (Paris), Ken Blackburn (King Menelaus), Adrian Keeling (Miltiades), Aidan MacBride Stewart (Greek Soldier), John Manning (Greek Scout), Matthew Jeffs (Trojan Soldier #1), Peter Ford (Trojan Soldier #2), Geoffrey Knight (Trojan Guard).
Story So Far: Xena helps Helen of Troy end her war with the Greeks. Gabrielle meets her former betrothed, Perdicus.
Disclaimer: No Oversized Polynesian-Style Bamboo Horses were harmed during the production of this motion picture. However, many wicker lawn chairs gave their lives.
The real reason why the city of Troy fell – it was made from the local stone, which variously consisted of papier-mache and rubber:
Exhibit A: hapless guard with the flaming arrow in his chest falling from a wobbling wall.
Exhibit B: Xena literally bouncing off a large boulder while engaged in the climactic sword fight with Deiphobus.
The funniest sight, and not repeated at any other time in the show to my knowledge is when Xena has a coiled whip slung on one hip and her chakram on the other giving a bizarre impression of Princess Leia’s hairbuns every time she faces the camera.
The winner of the best romantic-novel heroine cheek slap: King Menelaus. Anyone would think he was having an arch, lover’s spat the way he sorts out his subordinate when things go pear-shaped.
"I wanted to be in a place where people were fighting for love." As a philosopher, Perdicus makes a great farm boy. The unintentional humour of this corny line did lighten two whole seconds of this episode.
It must have sounded great in the pitch meeting: "I know, Xena helps Helen and liberates Troy. Oh and Gabrielle discovers one of the soldiers is her former fiancé. AND he’s got good hair now." But there’s many a slip betwixt cup and lip as Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts shows only too well.
We humble fans have become used to two-dimensional characters over time. It’s sort of part and parcel of the Xena experience. Some more kind souls might argue it adds to its cheesy charms. But it was shocking to see just how thinly shaded were the characters in this episode. Indeed if Xena had held Helen and Paris up to the light, she’d have invented X-rays.
First, Helen. If she thought people going to war was bad, then why wait TEN years before summoning Xena? Oh and I love her argument to Xena – "the lives of thousands of soldiers depends on it". Helen clearly hasn’t stopped to think about the lives of the thousands of soldiers who would die by mail-ordering a Warrior Princess of Xena’s standing and reputation to weigh in on her side. Then again, if Helen looked out the window once in a while she’d probably realise "thousands" was little more than a media beat-up. How about one little guy and a dimly flaming arrow…?
Despite having finally gotten her long-lost friend to fight her way into her siege-laden kingdom (a squalid little pit no one would really bother storming, and if they did, they would have taken it before breakfast on the first day), Helen suddenly ups and decides to make her own stealthy getaway – disguised with a cloak and, for that really incognito look, a tiara! Her planned exit, stage right, was kind of like inviting someone to your party and then moving overseas the moment they got there without a forwarding address. Maybe she thought Xena wouldn’t notice. Seems it’s just like Helen to make a mess then expect everyone else to fix it.
Speaking of being a bad friend, I notice Helen doesn’t even bother to explain to her husband why Xena happened to be over at the enemy Greek camp (to follow the skulking Deiphobus), allowing Paris to suspect Xena was a spy and throw her into jail. Instead Helen, later, kind of wanly asks Paris to trust her that Xena wouldn’t do that – as if it’s a matter of intuition. "If you really love me, you’ll trust my judgment," she tells Paris. Um, hello, lady, you were THERE when Xena saw Deiphobus sneak away and you were there when she said she would follow him. That’s not female intuition, that’s eyesight! Tell him!
Sigh. Has no one stopped to think that keeping Helen locked away is probably a GOOD thing?
Next, Paris. If you thought Helen was a few popsicle sticks short of a Trojan horse, this guy is dumber yet. Let’s see – he has a Greek man serving under him, (Perdicus), who no one ever questions over his allegiance, especially when he stupidly (or suspiciously), demands the city doors be opened to admit a former girlfriend. And they just go – "oh, OK, the Greek dude wants us to open the doors, come on, let’s do it! It can’t possibly be a bloody silly idea or a trap." Just what sort of a siege is Paris running here?! The sort of siege that when two new beautiful women lob after 10 years, none of the soldiers seem to even notice or have any interest in them. Eh, seen one gorgeous babe cut a swath through enemy lines and burst into your besieged encampment, seen ’em all.
Then we have Perdicus. I don’t know who did his Extreme Makeover, but I must say I’m impressed. He’s now got a chin. Shoulders. Boy-band hair. A good dental plan. Oh yeah – and he can grab a flaming arrow out of a chum’s dead body, run up three flights of stairs, grab someone else’s crossbow and shoot the solitary enemy soldier with it in one really, really long seamless motion. Why the guy already standing on the parapet with his crossbow in hand didn’t think to, oh I don’t know, USE IT, is a mystery. But in that mad impulsive moment of macho tit-for-tat, Gabrielle has new respect for him. You can see it on her face. Her farmboy is now A Man. i.e. See how he made the red goop shoot out of that enemy guy’s chest? No farmboy would do that…
Which makes me wonder – did Gabs really leave home because she had a hero-worship thing for Xena, or, as this disturbing new evidence now seems to suggest – is she really just a warrior groupie? You know the sort – they hang around the back entrance at all the really good wars and sieges, hoping to suck in a lung full of hero vibes… Hmm. We’ll have to keep an eye on her.
I laughed aloud at the tickets Gabrielle has on herself. "It’s me," she tells Perdicus with absolutely assuredness, "I’m the reason you’re here." He rightly laughs in her face. Yeah, yeah, he just decided to give up farming, move countries, train as a soldier and fight in a foreign war because Gabrielle left town with Xena. I’m with Perdicus. (There’s three of the most unlikely words you’ll ever read.)
Still in Scott Garrison’s defence, he did a pretty good job at playing Perdicus – two-dimensionality of its writing aside. Or maybe it’s just that, comparatively, Scott was one of the few people who didn’t both blow and suck (to quote Bart Simpson) and so he stood out as much better than the rest.
I digress. When Gabrielle kissed him, two things flashed through my mind – one, a primal scream protesting that she’s still on the polite chitchat level with her former betrothed, they haven’t discussed anything at all with him beyond his name and former homeland, and yet she’s now performing a tonsillectomy on him like he’s a rock god; and two, a young, lithe, sexually attractive male just kissed Gabrielle back. Boy, is Perdicus ever a dead man walking.
He even thanks Xena for having taken good care of Gabrielle, as if he still had some claim on her. Ho boy. (I really hope his life insurance is paid up.)
Then there was Xena. Clearly Xena has no prime-directive-style philosophy about getting involved or taking sides in a war, and, like Perdicus, she doesn’t even question that she’s actually being a traitor to her own nation. Treason shmeason, right Xena? Not sure what was with the Elvira hair, but, you can’t always get good stylists when you’re on the road, right girlfriend?
Most unintentional funny for the episode is when Xena gets the Helen message and tells Gabrielle where they’re going.
"To Troy?" a nervously excited bard asks.
"To Troy," Xena intones with a deadly earnestness as "da-da-da-dum" music crescendos behind them. She then affects a chilling stare, as we wait for the music to end. Unfortunately they held the shot far too long so Xena comes off looking like some insane woman from a soap opera. If I was Gabrielle I would back away slowly towards the nearest thicket of trees, making no sudden moves.
Best moment in the episode which didn’t quite work, but huge points for trying: Xena is told the name of the Commander in the city of Troy and replies without a pause: "Who’s she?"
"He," comes the reply.
For Xena to flip the gender presumption to female was quirky and one might argue in keeping with her philosophy that chicks kick ass, but still a little unrealistic when you consider every commander she has met and faced to date, Amazons, aside, have been male. But as I say, it was nice they even thought about the usual stereotype let alone challenged it.
I also have to give credit where credit is due somewhere else – I thought the Trojan horse makers did a great job. That was one hell of a lot of paddlepop sticks there and I pity the person who got the memo which read: "Next week’s episode, we need a full-sized Trojan Horse… oh and we have to be able to pull it with six men inside. Get on it."
They managed to match on screen what was written on the page. But the money was probably all spent on the popsicle-stick budget, not on extras. When Perdicus declares there is the might of the entire Greek army raining down on them, we can clearly see all of six "rarrr-rarrr" men and one battering ram.
Speaking of this final fight, Xena tells the assembled people "We’ll leave the same way Deiphobus came in". They all nod vigorously and run off. Now remember Deiphobus might be a traitor but his sneaky, skulky ways are not well known. And the obvious problem of his having a secret entry, no one knows where it is – we might have seen it but one presumes the assembled townsfolk had not. So where the hell are they running to? So if not the secret entry, and we know he didn’t come in via the Trojan horse, even though that’s what Xena meant and how she meant for the villagers to exit – they should at this point all be standing around going: "What the heck does that Elvira lady mean when she says to leave the same way Deiphobus came in? Does she want us all to be born into Paris’s family? What the??"
The only Xena-worthy moment all episode long is Xena’s laying in wait for the baddy and asking "Leaving so soon?" when Deiphobus tries to make off with Helen, a clearly reluctant bride-to-be. That’s what added a nice layer to the show – those eyebrow twitches, sardonic comments, Xena really made it her own. It was a short scene and over too soon before the threadbare plot and poorly shaded characters kicked back in and flopped lazily towards the finish line.
It’s a shame about the rest of the episode. Really there were no winners in Beware Greeks. Except perhaps for Perdicus, who got good hair out of the deal. Let’s hope he enjoys it while it lasts.