Season 5, Episode 20
October 14, 2000
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 7 chakrams
SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Written by Chris Manheim. Directed by Rick Jacobson.
PASSING PARADE: Kevin Smith (Ares); Ted Raimi (Joxer); Colin Moy (Augustus); Adrienne Wilkinson (Livia/Eve); Lucy Lawless (Meg); Greg Lee (Virgil); Kate Smeda (Kara); Michael Langley (Theon).
STORY SO FAR: Xena and Gabrielle awake their icy tombs 25 years later, to discover Eve is now Livia, Romes champion... and a bloody one at that.
DISCLAIMER: Due to an over indulgence of bean and bard burgers, Meg's gastro-intestinal problem intensified during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Livia allegedly skewering a soldier near the end of the opening fight scene. A hit of the slow-mo button reveals the only thing fatally wounded was ol' terra firma - yet, the soldier died. Guess they figured they could get away with that stunt with some tight editing. Needed to be tighter guys, the 'smoke and mirrors' was showing.
The Xena and Gabs memorabilia decorating Joxer and Meg's inn. In particular, the Xena doll sitting atop the bar. Wonder if they had invented 'royalties and copyright' back then too?
Gabrielle's wide-eyed expression of innocence and then confusion after Meg had looked her up and down, remembering the 'real' Gabrielle 'wasn't so butch'. The pure comedic moments have been as rare as a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah this season, but that one definitely qualified.
"Gabrielle I don't recognise this place." A recently defrosted Xena and Gabrielle enter a village at the foot of Mount Etna. Their bewildered expressions somewhat reminiscent of that other famous out-of-towner Dorothy, as she utters to her hirsute four-legged, travelling partner, those immortal words 'Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore'.
"If I were you, I'd lay off the starch." Gabrielle's aside to Xena when she notices time hasn't exactly been kind to the Warrior Princess's flatulent and bloated duplicate, Meg.
"...you know how degrading they are." "Yeah, but anyone who's anyone's going to be there." Renee and Lucy caught in between takes mulling over the idea of attending this year's Emmys. On the other hand, it could have just been Gabrielle and Xena talking about Roman victory parades...*g*
"I'll get my armour, and er - delouse my sword, and - er, hey, you know, it'll be like old times." Joxer predicts more fumbling and bumbling on his part, resulting in the capture of himself and/or Gabrielle, followed by the inevitable need for the hapless pair to be rescued from certain death by Xena. And lo - his prophecy was realised, much to all our surprise, I'm sure.
"Crowd's got 'em spooked. Think you can get them to a stable?" Five years and so-many-deaths-I-stopped-counting (not to mention near-deaths), later, Xena still lacks enough faith in the bard to trust her with even the most simplest of tasks like parking a horsey or two.
"I had to kiss her, to make sure she's real, not an imposter." Ares doing his best to slide down the slippery slope of infidelity. Gotta give him points for original composition though.
"...you're not the only one with insight." Ares shows off his skills of deduction to Xena, ie. tumbling to Livia really being Eve. So how come Mr Know-it-All didn't pick that Xena wasnt really dead? Hey Ares?
Gabrielle: "Eli? Do people still follow his teachings?"
Villager: "You're not from around here, are you?"
Augustus: "I see the years haven't robbed you of your stealth."
Xena: "No, just my child. Don't worry, I'm not going to kill you - today."
What a killer first act! A new kick-ass grrl in town and Xena and Gabrielle propelled 25 years into the future. (Gee, I really hope they had their nutbread beforehand... rumour has it that woman can not survive 25 years without food unless shes a supermodel.)
Now this poses many, many questions. Will they stay in the future for all Xena shows now or will they have some eps set before they died?
Both options are problematic. If they go to the past, people will get twitchy about the timeline and try and figure out where in time they are, and whether this was before or after Alti, or the crucifixions and so on...
If they stay in the future, they have essentially killed 99% of the older people Xena and Gabrielle knew, including, one presumes, their parents and fun guys like Salmoneous. Meanwhile, all their peers, from the Amazons to Autolycus, are probably now looking a little on the pasty, wrinkly, spare-wheel side, like Joxer and Meg...
(Incidentally, Xena, Im with Gabs, there: time to lay off the pastries and port...some futures are too scary to contemplate.)
Poor Meg, now shes an ex-brothel madame nag with flatulence? Whats next? Lice?! Who did she offend in a past life?
But on with the show. This episode we see it was no microwave ding that awakened Gabrielle and Xena out of their icy slumber but an avalanche and a hot sun. Note, they did not show us how she got out of that hole, way, way up in the cavern roof but, being Xena, Im sure she just leapt, while Gabrielle hung on, and they still had time to do their nails and prepare a potroast on the way up... Thats Xena for ya.
We see Jox has found Gabrielles daggers for her (displayed on the roof of his inn). I did wonder how shed get them back, having left them sticking out of Athenas archers in Looking Death in the Eye.
Joxers also done a pretty impressive job at cloning Argo for Xena, who can clearly break any unridden horse in half a second, without so much a whimper from either of them...
Had a chuckle at the early-Greece Xena merchandise and the Bard Burgers on the menu et al... Sigh... if only the great promoter Salmoneous was around to make the most of it; Im sure wed have the first Xena convention before you could say "make that a Warrior Waffle and hold the Amphipolis Applesauce..."
One quibble comes from hearing that "Uncle Joxer" -- as he dubbed himself early on -- clearly showed no interest in where Eve was going or what was being done with her when Xena and Gabrielle disappeared. He just let the baby go off with the Octavius without saying: "Wait, what will you do with Eve? Where are you taking her?" Or even, "can I visit her?" Nothing. Hmmm. Slack effort Joxer. And pretty unbelievable for a born meddler like him.
I have no real comment on meeting Joxers son except to say that as far as apples and trees go, the apple is in Tasmania, the tree is in Siberia.
Virgil (Greg Lee) was pretty cool, in that studly sweaty-chest way, but I really hope I wasnt sniffing a love interest being kindled there between him and Gabrielle. It was just the way, twice, she looked up at him hesitantly when he put his hand on her shoulder. It was like she just wanted to assess the motive there. To be sure. What conclusions she drew, I have no idea.
Incidentally, epic poems? Wasnt there a great poet called Virgil who wrote epic poems.... surely theyre not saying....?! My, my, Joxer has a talented gene pool after all! Hmm, now if they could just explain where a jailbird Virgil manages to hide: scrolls, quill and ink while wearing skin tight leathers, Ill be even more impressed. *g*
Ares is back to being both predictable and canny. He is still wanting a child with Xena, and hes smart enough to work out what happened to Eve. Im starting to think theyre being a little too two-dimensional with his character now. He always seems to reiterate the same cluster of thoughts: I love you, Xena; I want your baby; join me and Eve will be safe...
Yeah, yeah, weve only heard that four times already. And she doesnt like the deal, dude... get it through your head already.
Xenas libido, here, no longer is responding to his lusty intentions so maybe thats what the deep-freeze will do to a gal. Must remember that....
On the other hand, Xena does see Ares now as the guy who "corrupted" her little girl to the dark side, and parents do tend to get a little thingy about that... Funny that. *g*
Which brings us to Octavius/Augustus. I find it hard to get past the unwelcome Woody Allen/Soon Yi tones that his declaration of love for his adopted daughter left me with.
Perhaps this could explain Livia getting away with murder, literally -- the man she has had in a "father" role is also her boyfriend. Shudder. How can he lay down rules of what is right and wrong to a headstrong daughter like Livia when hes also busily bedding her? Excuse me if I find this all a little off....
Then theres Livia herself. The champion of Rome. The "greatest warrior Rome has ever known". The anointed successor of Emperor Augustus. Bedfellow and co-conspirator with the God of War. Boasting, Xena says, the Warrior Princesss "darkness inside of her" and "Callistos spirit".
Hell, with a rap like that, shed better be something else, huh? Right?
Before I answer that question I want to first be fair to both the Mistress Darkness and Missy Spirited. Both Xena and Callisto were only turned bad-ass by circumstance and not because they were somehow innately bad. What is decidedly odd is why Livia turned out this way without the tormented childhood of Callisto -- watching her family die at the hands of a brutal slayer; or, in Xenas case, being forced to defend her village from an evil warlord only to see her beloved brother slaughtered. Ive heard of abandonment issues, Livia, but this is just ridiculous!
Surely no one treated well and loved by their family/guardian would turn so mean, bitter and angry without a whit of provocation?
Xena mentioned something of an explanation, accusing Ares of "tapping into" Livias dark side.
But I am guessing Livia came to Aress notice only after her dark side first manifested itself or why would he give her a second glance? Its not like he knew who she really was. Shed be just another Roman gal going about her business.
So the big question remains: why did this so-called dark side present itself at all?
Some might argue it could be pure genetics, regardless of the environmental issues which turned Callisto and Xena mean. If this were so, then both Xena and Callisto would have been bad regardless of what life threw at them -- invasions or a peaceful country lifestyle. It would have mattered nil. They were always destined to be bad to the bone under this theory.
I disagree. For Livia, all genetics would have contributed was her athleticism, incredible gymnastic predisposition and superb hand-eye coordination that made her such an excellent soldier. Oh, and probably Callistos high pitched vocal chords and moodiness...*g*
Everything else that she became should have been based on environment. But nothing seems to support that argument -- and to me thats a glaring plot flaw.
Ill be gentle with the Xena folks and argue that a lifetime being shunted from the best warrior tutors there were, probably gave Livia a lust for fighting and an enthusiasm for blood sports at an early age and so when she picked her profession, "daddys" little army would have been her first choice. She would have been promoted quickly because of who she was and how skilled she was with that sword, and she might have then developed a taste for her work.
But its still a big leap to go from enjoying your work a bit too much to being born/created out-and-out evil... Sooooo, I ask again: What happened, Livia?
These are writing problems that should have been addressed in the first draft, but to me they could have been overlooked by viewers if not for the portrayal of Livia.
I have been nutting over the character of Livia for several weeks now. In all that time, I had never been able to put my finger on exactly what it was about Livia that didnt ring true for me; what it was that didnt make me believe convincingly that she was the daughter of Xena and Callisto.
At first I thought it might be the way she was written and thus portrayed... ie a spoilt brat. Even though Calli had elements of this in spades, we still dont like to think of Xena, our hero, that way. That is, I wondered if maybe it was a little unsettling to think that someone like Xena could produce a brat like Livia who boasts the emotional maturity of a 15-year-old deprived of her Nintendo. Thus the problem might not have been in the portrayal at all but our own innate desires for the spawn of Xena to not be, well, bratty.
But, in many ways, Adrienne Wilkinsons portrayal was deadly accurate in this sense.
Think about it: You have been raised with the best of everything; your adoptive father, who rules the lands far and wide, denies you nothing and indulges your every whim. Best schools, best warrior teachers, best swords, simply, the best. You are royalty. And you are also exceptionally talented, with a genetic makeup that favours you as a mighty warrior. So you take up the sword in earnest and discover, yet again, what you suspected -- you are indeed the best. There is no better. The whole world bows down to you. Where will you learn humility, discipline and responsibility from? Who will challenge you when you can just run your sword through them anyway, with "daddys" blessing?
If there is any better recipe for becoming a spoiled brat, I dont know what it is.
But heres where this portrayal of Livia comes unstuck. Amid her pouts and fits, her tantys and her high-strung glory-seeking moments, where is her steely backbone? Where is that famous Xena internal strength? What drives the fire (see above about environmental factors -- or lack thereof), apart from a desire to wreak havoc because shes young and she darn well can? Where is her intestinal fortitude that makes us believe she is more than just a Valley Girl PMS-ing? Where is the look in her eyes, behind the defiance, that makes you believe THIS is soooo the daughter of Xena?
I looked, I swear I did. I desperately wanted to find it, too, because I very much like and respect Adrienne Wilkinson, the actor who plays Livia. It was heartbreaking for me to finally admit that I could not find that extra, intangible quality in her portrayal of Livia that would make me believe.
What is missing?
Depth, strength and presence.
The Xenabods have tried to show us Livias strength in other ways. They have gone for the opening scene battle sequence, bloody. vicious, giving no quarter.
But all I see when I look at that is a woman going through some slick battle motions, a woman who maybe enjoys it a little too much ... a brat having her way. Closest comparison that springs to mind: Tara from Forgiven. (Sorry for all those offended by the F-word.) Or perhaps Mavikan from Succession.
In short: No inner depth. No strength. No extra dimension.
I think perhaps it comes down to people either have it or they dont. Callisto had it in her every nuance -- it seeped out her pores. She was in control and everyone knew it. Ares has it, and same deal with those godly pores of his. Najara had a creepy, glowing inner power all her own, and I aint talking about the gin, here. Xena, hell, she can look at you sideways in the dark and you could still feel it radiating off her. Athena has it, oozing from her controlled, measured calm, her intensity of will. Same goes for Lao Ma. Gabrielle, of course, must have some of it just to stand her own against Xena, and in her it is like this constant obstinance, a never-give-up steeliness going on behind her eyes.
Where is it in Livia?
I recall her opening battle and it reminds me of something.
The first time we saw Callisto on our screens, she was also introduced in bloody battle. Petulant, wild and with major abandonment issues like Livia, she is wreaking havoc. But then theres that scene. That one scene that set Callisto apart forever more above the also-rans of the Xenaverse. The moment she snatches up Xenas chakram and the camera goes hurtling in for a tight close-up. Theres a look in those maniacal, laughing eyes that implies such incredible danger it could make a grown viewer flinch in alarm. Thats whats missing. That little something extra to take Livia into the next strata -- so that you feel shes special rather than merely being told it.
By this I mean, no one needs to tell us Xena is a mighty Warrior Princess... one look does that (well that and the opening credits. *g*). We shouldnt have to be told that Livia is, either. Thats the problem.
Of course, Adrienne was up against it from the start. It takes a very, very strong presence and an exceptional actor to hold the screen next to Lucy Lawless, and many arent up to the task. With half a look Lucy can convey more than a whole scene of dialogue. Remember the wordless scene in The Debt 2 when shes in stocks, a tear is rolling unchecked down her cheek and Gabrielle is ranting at her? Whammo... What an actor.
Sometimes we forget how remarkable Lucy actually is, but put her next to the mere mortal actors playing opposite her and many should run screaming into the night with inferiority complexes. Anyone remember Satrina, from Past Imperfect. for instance? Who, you ask in puzzlement...
I think, now, on reflection, they needed maybe a young Paris Jefferson (Athena) or someone like her to give an extra depth to Livia. Bad attitude and big action scenes are no substitute for internal strength and power. For presence.
She was not helped by the scene where she has a full-on temper tantrum after the banquet and starts hurling food about. This shows Livia to be young for her 25 years and immature. She never seemed particularly threatening. Its hard to be chilled to the bone by a brat. Its hard to think of her as even a match for Xena, let alone a chip off the old block. (In this scene, this particular annoyance Id lay more at the feet of the director and scriptwriter than the actor.)
We have also not seen enough of her fighting to believe she really is this huge legend of Rome, either, so we cant really be too awed when she mysteriously picks Xena to go into battle against her. Im not exactly sure why she did that -- bearing in mind she doesnt know that Xena was a friend of the Eli followers in jail -- and she could just as easily had her death duel there with her in the banquet room.
On the other hand, she looks like shes quite fond of the limelight, our Livia, and that is not unlike Callisto, I thought. She likes being watched as she commits her acts of barbarity. I guess shes pretty angry that this warrior woman claiming to be her mother just rocks up after 25 years, locks lips on Livias god/lover and then carries on like she should be happy to see Xena... So she does what she probably does with everyone who pisses her off in her life: she decides to teach her a public lesson.
A small point here -- Livia acts most disrespectfully to her leader, Augustus in the ring, taunting him, almost, with her line "Would you defy the people their sport... announce the match!". So much so that I did wonder how long she would have lived in reality if she had done the same thing. Its not done to mock your leader on a regular basis in public. They dont tend to like it too much and make you go pet the lions if you dont watch yourself.
I am guessing they used that little moment to show how Livia fears no one and marches to her own drum. Again, though, it came off more petulant. Maybe it was all in the way it was played... by really going for the brat factor, instead of underplaying it, ala Athena, it came across as too forced. A person in power knows it and doesnt need to prove it. It does indeed reek from their pores.
Perhaps if Livia had just sat back, not unlike how Xena does, and knows she is the next best thing to the gods, it might have been more convincing. But to scream, toss the fruit salad about and so forth seems to have done the character a disservice by showing her as almost insecure. Not the actions of a powerful person...
Some could argue, well, she is young -- insecurity and immaturity come with the territory. Yes, but to be young and fear no one should mean she exhibits nothing but an enormous confidence and feeling of supreme control. Livia comes across edgy and, again, forced, when she should be portraying someone with utter security and confidence in who she is and her abilities.
She should walk like a giant; slow, sublime, as though she has all the time in the world and has little time for any of the petty inferior people below her. She should regard the world with the eyes of a panther -- measured but flashing with danger, ready to strike. Everyone who sees her should know, instinctively she is The One.
Alas I dont see Livia as one of anything except a Mavikan or Tara. She is a wannabe.
Back to that fight... it was so obvious Xena was going to win, but even so, heres what I would have wanted to see... a moment where Livia had the upper hand. What would she have done? Attempted to kill her mother without hesitation? With hesitation? Show mercy? Any of these options would have given us a tremendous insight into her current mindset towards Xena. Id have loved to know just how mad she really was with her mother. It seemed a wasted opportunity.
Then there was that final moment, where Xena says: "Im not going to kill you... youre my daughter" and Livia replies "then let me die", is completely inexplicable.
WHY would Livia wish to die?
Is it from the humiliation at being defeated before the crowds? In which case, what a pathetic quitter! Can you imagine Xena saying the same thing for this reason?
Is it from the overwhelming emotions shes suddenly experiencing now her mother is back in her life, emotions she feels she cant deal with?
Well thats a little rich to suddenly give up on life after only one day of feeling so overwhelmed. Suicidal feelings do tend to take more than a day or so to manifest themselves and even then theyre not usually acted out on such a stupefyingly quick whim like this.
Is it because from the day she was a little girl she has had a death wish, and thats what all this fighting and battling has been about? Her wanting to die a glorious death because she doesnt want to think about who she is and face her problems? Hardly -- anyone with a death wish who has been in as many battles as she has would have found a way to make it happen before now.
Is it because she feels shes lost both the men in her life and life aint worth living? She doesnt strike me as someone so easily cowed by what others think of her -- or dont -- even if she has had great plans for the future with Ares and Augustus dashed. She strikes me as someone who would simply dust herself off and wreak revenge against those she perceived had wronged her. Like, well Xena, for one....
So maybe she didnt mean it at all and just wanted to see what Xena would do when she said it. Maybe part of her, the little girl inside, just wanted to see if her mother loved her and would say, "please dont say that, I dont want you to die". For someone who seems so fragile, so insecure for all her great battles, this rings most true. Although, I doubt it was an answer she was yet ready to hear. And her anger at her cacophony of emotions, which she blames on Xena, does indeed look set to overwhelm her.
"Ill make you wish you were never born", she snarls to Xena in the final moment.
Very Callisto philosophy that. But it seems a little extreme. Again with the abandonment issue. So much hate for someone only a day ago shed never met. Where did all this anger come from? Was her life so miserable that her contempt and bitterness at her existence could become so pure and enraged now?
I find this implausible.
Speaking of unlikely, she hasnt asked any questions about Xena. She hasnt asked, "Hey mum, how come youre so young? Whered you go? Whyd you leave me with that Roman guy?" Nothing... If she didnt want to ask Xena, then Ares and Octavius would have told her...
So this can mean either one of two things: She still doesnt think Xena is her mother. In which case, why is she so damned angry when shes in her presence? Surely shes not that jealous over Ares? Or is it on some unconscious level that she knows Xena is who she says she is and she is reacting instinctively?
Or she simply cares so little about this person she has no memory of meeting until now and so could give a flying toss about whether mummy Xena has found the fountain of youth? If this is so, then she should have absolutely no emotional reaction at all to Xena. It would just be a shrug, dont know you and dont care, nick off!
Whatever it is, the bizarre lack of curiosity from Livia is not very realistic. I dont know anyone who is adopted and who is not at least somewhat interested about their parents; their family. Questions would be the first, not the last thought on Livias mind. Surely shed want Xena to either prove shes her mother -- not just take her word for it. Or at least check it out with her suitors...
All a bit glossed over, really.
The ending to Xena is intriguing, however. You didnt need Xena to tell us that she had to stop Livia or shed do something bad; we could tell just be those charming exit words from the girl. But that said, I just adored the way Lucy delivered that line -- all those emotions churning around inside of her. Its like Callisto all over again -- she feels responsible for creating a monster. Wow...
In summary, a pretty good effort in bringing Xena and Gabs back from the Mount.
The Joxer angle was a nice choice -- it allowed for exposition, who was who in this timeline and so forth without feeling like we were being lectured. Not sure why Virgils there yet, except for pretty window dressing, but he does it rather well....
Meg, I pity, for oh how the flighty have fallen. I think she did deserve a bit better than to just be the butt (literally) of jokes, now. Is she to be our new comic relief?
As for Xena and Gabrielle -- it was nice to see them share a moment where they are actually talking, soulmate to soulmate about what all this means, and Xena is sharing her feelings with the bard about her daughter. They have decided, together, on what they must do -- a nice change to see that -- and that is to bring Livia back from the brink.
For Livia, Ill see how she turns out in the next episode, but for now, I want the director to get in there and decree less brat, more backbone and far more Hey I know Im it, I dont have to prove it. Presence, power and strength. Perhaps its just not something thats in her, but Ill live in hope.
Sooo, pass the bard burgers and roll on part 2.
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