THE GOD YOU KNOW
Season 6, episode 12
Reviewed by SLK
Rating: 6.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written Emily Skopov. Directed by Garth Maxwell.
PASSING PARADE: Alexandra Tydings (Aphrodite); Alexis Arquette (Caligula);
Adrienne Wilkinson (Eve); Kevin Smith (Ares); Charles Mesure (Michael).
DISCLAIMER: Gabrielle's undercover disguise was extensively harmed during the
making of this motion picture.
STORY SO FAR: Xena must kill a mad Roman Emperor who is slowly turning himself into a god by sapping the powers out of Aphrodite.
REWIND FOR: The hot tub scene with Xena and Gabrielle. It was an accident I'm sure by TPTB, but this scene actually demonstrated the real meaning of intimacy between two people. ie. the washing of Gabrielle's feet by Xena. You know a scene is truly intimate when it makes the audience feel like they're intruding.
Still on the above scene. You've just gotta love how those two girls always find time to get wet and naked no matter what death and mayhem surrounds them. Renee seemed particularly naked in that scene. If it wasn't for the body stocking she was no doubt wearing, the classification for this episode would have shot from PG to R in a flash - literally. *g*
Gabrielle, somewhat reminiscent of Salomé, in her fire dance for Caligula. Was it meant to be funny? It sure made me want to titter. Lucky for Gabs her audience was too insane to be discerning, otherwise he may have quickly tumbled to the notion that Rita Hayworth she weren't. *g*
"Now I remember why I love to kill Elijans. It's the only thing that shuts them up." Caligula pours on his charm routine to Eve. He at least had the good grace to not take offence when she didn't succumb to it.
"She's coming too fast!" It beggars belief that there was no comeback from Caligula on this cry from a Roman soldier.
"Well, I don't know who you are, but I like your style." See, a psychotic sex-addict he may have been, but Caligula at least had manners when meeting someone for the first time. That, and he was hoping Xena would be able to repeat her aerial dismount for him at a later date.
"Either you're incredibly stupid or you know there's nothing more I enjoy than a good surprise." Neither actually, Caligula. Just Xena and another one of her on-a-knife-edge-everything-must-go-exactly-as-presumed-or-a-lot-of-innocents-will-die-
"Aphrodite you're looking beautiful, but you seem a little different." Mmm, drugs'll do that to ya Gabs. You know, the vapid, the light's barely on and no one's home look. Couldn't the 'Dite have just said no?
"I'm tempted, deeply tempted. But, I - um...I - I can't." Caligula exercising rare restraint when offered a 'piece' of Ares. You could tell it was just killing him to turn the offer down though. *g*
"You know, I have fantasised about this in a hundred different situations. I've gotta tell ya - I never got to this scenario." Ares back in 'Tartarus' again after his visit there in Old Ares Had A Farm. Again, he's sandwiched between the scantily clad Xena and Gabrielle and there's not a darn thing he can do about it.
"Lust and violence? Or trust and hope? Hmm, I think I'll stick with the status quo."
Caligula waivers over his conscience, but then the nanosecond passed.
"Gabrielle, I know we're like, close, but is this appropriate?" Even though Aphrodite is now out of her drug-induced stupor she's still exhibiting signs of being as dumb as a stick, bless her heart.
Michael: "Caligula. You know his reputation?"
Xena: "A psycho, sex addict, and murderer. Your run-of-the-mill roman emperor."
Xena: "I am at your command Sire."
Caligula: "Oh - ho! Careful, I can have some pretty unusual commands." What's the betting one of them involves goats and a petting zoo.
Gabrielle: "Xena, there was nothing you could do. He was evil."
Xena: "No, he was damaged, not evil."
For the history buffs, Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus -- aka Caligula -- was only a Roman emperor for four short years (AD37-41), as befitting the perils of politics in a time when backstabbing was quite literally backstabbing. Originally very popular, especially among the soldiers, six months into his reign Caligula was struck down by a mystery disease that left him arguably quite mad and believing himself to be a god (namely, Jupiter).
I say arguably because some scholars still seek logical explanations for the man who, in fits of paranoia, had many of his dearest friends and family killed; had famed insatiable sexual conquests for anything that moved, including incestuous affairs; did rather odd things in battle, like ordering the Gauls to collect seashells in their helmets; had a love of building statues of himself that would put Aphrodite to shame, and most famously of all made his horse, Incitatus, a Roman Consul and frequently parked it at the table at his formal dinner parties.
Either way, he had, as they say, issues. He died, crazy with paranoia in AD41, at the hand of his soldiers -- ironically the same men who had loved him so much when he tagged around behind them as a young boy, that they had affectionately nicknamed him Caligula -- "little boots".
It interested me to see how Caligula was portrayed in Xena -- an object of sympathy in the end, for being damaged, and not an object of utter fear and loathing as he was treated at the time, for his increasingly bloody, tyrannical reign. Not that I am voting for this at all, but just ponder how more terrifying this off-beat episode might have been with an actor doing it straight down the line -- with Caligula played for chilling, murderous, mad effect, more than a campy, disturbed manipulating jester.
I am surprising myself here, but I think Id vote for less historical accuracy in this case, just as Xena did it, because I am not sure I would have coped with this episode going for pure, unrelenting darkness, given how darkly shaded it was to begin with.
You almost need the lighter, jokey emperor to leaven the mood of so much bad stuff going on around us -- from doped up Aphrodite, fretting Ares and Eve being clobbered by a very testy Xena. Any more blackness and gritty reality and wed have all been begging for the suicide sword ourselves.
I actually found that Alexis Arquettes portrayal of the emperor grew on me each time I watched it. On first viewing I was so unsettled by each turn of events I didnt know what to think -- a cross between appalled and, well, appalled, I suppose.
By about the fourth viewing, the bleakness of the events going on around faded into the background and he started to amuse me with his little quips and black-humoured barbs. Of course, hes still not one Id want over at a dinner party any time soon; especially since hed only BYO his horse and sleaze onto all the guests.
Before I leap forth into the review, just thought Id note that this episode for the first time clearly establishes the Xenaverse is now set in the AD, whereas previously (pre-icicle Xena and Gabrielle), the edict had always been from TPTB that only people and places BC were fair game. So I am thinking of all those gleeful writers now rubbing their hands together at all those untapped AD historical characters waiting to be mined, now its official and their heroes have been catapulted into the future, well past the year dot. The downside of course is there can be no fabled Sappho episode as she was most decidedly BC.
To start at the beginning -- we learn Eve is back in Rome, and Xenas lack of knowledge of this when she and her daughter had been travelling together for some time and presumably discussing their future plans, did surprise me. Still if Eve changed her mind on the way to somewhere else, its a bit hard to drop Mother a letter in ancient times, unless you do it: Xena, Warrior Princess, c/- Severed Head, By The Road, Generic Town, New Zeal... er Ancient Greece.
We see Archangel Michael is also back and Xena has an awful lot more hostility for him than I would have expected. Sure he tried to stuff her down the portal to Hell, but its not like she hadnt read the Terms of Slayer Agreement prior to killing the preceding king of hell. She knew the deal. It was all above board, no surprises there, and the fact she won in the end, by giving Lucifer the fiery reigns instead, should make her actually a little insufferably smug to Michael, not furious at him. Still he does earn her rage later, so maybe she was just planning ahead.
Speaking of insufferable, Eves plaintive speech to the showpony Caligula was a little hard to take -- I think the followers of Eli might have a few more fans if they didnt keep playing martyr and giving whining speeches at every chance. Their hearts are in the right place but their speech writer deserves the sack.
Meanwhile, that was a fine, if not absolutely crazy, chariot riding entry by a seemingly suicidal Xena (and who is her mystery tailor, or does Gabrielle have many skills, too?) followed up by a suitably brilliant tackle by the Ares (dude, keep it up and youll be a shoe-in for NZs All Blacks team.)
Generally if one makes a dramatic entrance in front of an emperor armed with a dagger, you dont tend to get a state dinner in your honour, unless youre on the menu. Luckily for her, Caligula really was nuts. (Or maybe he just liked her horsies.)
But I had to laugh my head off at the sight of Gabrielle popping up beside Eve, the bard removing her little pillar box hat so that Eve would know it was her. It was not unlike Clark Kent taking off the glasses and -- dada -- suddenly folks recognise him as Superman. I am sure it was entirely subconscious on the bards part, and not intended that way, but it was really quite funny when youre looking at it like that.
Then we get our first taste that something is very very skewed and screwy about this little world. Severed heads aside, immortal Caligulas aside, you know youre getting close to a whacko universe when Aphrodite slides herself all over her brother Ares -- and he seems to, er, like it. And shes not wearing her pink coral #5 lippie and matching rouge. Uh oh....
Thats when the chill went down my spine and I started remembering a few too many things about Caligula from high school history class, and wondering just where exactly this episode would be headed.
Lulling me into a false sense of security was the bath tub scene that followed -- nothing like it to make me think all is right with the Xenaverse -- but I think I was a bit too distracted by what Gabrielle wasnt wearing, and what her just-good-friends buddy was doing with her feet. Hands up all those gals who have best pals who wash their feet for them while nekkid in a hot tub?
I just dont put foot washing in the same category as doing your girlfriends hair. It seems, well, oddly intimate. (Or not odd at all if they are intimate. *g*)
But, picking up my jaw off the floor, I had to let it thud there again when I watched the Gabrielle/Aphrodite interaction. Now, see, those two girls have been playing with each other for so many episodes its not funny. Or rather they are funny. A great team. Theres a real spark between them and so it was somewhat confusing and almost cleverly unsettling when their relationship is deliberately twisted, and turned 90 degrees, just enough to keep everyone off-balance and not enough to see whats coming.
At worse, we think Aphrodite doesnt know who Gabrielle is. She seems indifferent to her. In the space of three seconds, who would have thought Aphrodite, the goddess of love, would pin Gabrielle up against the wall and properly kiss her? It was so unexpected I think I blinked about 50 times, trying to believe it. I am not entirely sure I do yet!
What did it all mean? Id argue it was put in there a little for titillation value -- judging by some episodes we have seen (like Heart of Darkness), and what Lucy isnt wearing this episode, the powers that be are certainly not adverse to that. But how did they justify the character doing it? What was her motivation -- to pose the old actors cliche.
To merely shrug and say she wasnt herself/was unbalanced because she has no balancing God of War any more, is too much of a cop out -- she shows no interest in pinning anyone else up against walls and having her way with them. Not even Caligula -- and theyre somehow bonded. (Not that they ever tell us how this bond came to be -- something of a glaring oversight.)
In my mind the kiss wasnt sexual but something else. You look at her face, particularly her eyes and youll see Aphrodites a woman actually in a lot of pain, as though very very close to a breakdown of some sort (and given what the emperor has being doing to her against her will, its not surprising).
I actually saw it as a cry for help, to someone who had been kind to her and whom part of her recognises in some way. She knows she knows Gabrielle but not how. She wants help and doesnt know how to ask, she wants to be safe and freed from her torment and doesnt know it, but she senses it -- and so, where words fail her, she simply acts on her emotions and kisses Gabrielle.
The bards response, of immediate shock, shows just how out of character Gabrielle believes this is. And that shock actually affects Aphrodite and you can see she instantly stops and makes an attempt to laugh off her actions. To try and pretend it was nothing, and it dont mean a thing, shes just ditzy. La la la...
To her, I think it did mean something even if she wasnt fully cognisant of it -- she was hoping for something from Gabrielle. Answers, relief from the pain. Something. She sought it but certainly did not get it.
Thats how I saw it -- of course, more than likely it was only ever intended as a moment of titillation and to pair up a couple which has sparks anyway, in a way they could never do at any other time. Of course if this was the intent, they certainly didnt count on the marvellous acting ability of Alexandra Tydings who shows more with a glance in this scene than many actors could in 20 pages of dialogue. I was surprised and impressed by her performance here.
Also, I throw a little thumbs up in there for the makeup artist for giving us such a sense of the difference in Aphrodite by doing a "less is more" approach. We know the very vain Aphrodite would never be seen dead without her lippie on. But here she is with a sort of neutral pallor from temples to toes. It really was a little unnerving and captured well a woman having the vitality stolen out of her.
Caligula at this point plays it so camp I wondered if the actor was actually parodying a parody. I doubt hes trying to make a statement that being camp equals being mad but hes starting to walk a fine line in his portrayal. Actually this light-hearted moment does remind me that some of the truly baddest of bad guys are those who least act mad. Hannibal Lecter, all the James Bond bad guys and so on, all had a certain charm that lulled one into that false sense of liking them until they showed the depth of their dastardliness.
This portrayal of Caligula presumably intended to have us go full circle and end up liking him/at least feeling sorry for him in the end, in spite of all his sins. Xena might be able to forgive him but I couldnt. No matter what the reason for his crimes, he did some pretty sick puppy things that are just hard to easily put to one side and say "poor dear, it isnt your fault youre damaged".
But I digress -- we meet Gabrielle, frantically filling in time with her Dance of The, um, Handheld Candles, Maori Haka and Rope Swingy Things. Not bad for something thrown together by the bard. Chuckle. Of course, I personally would have enjoyed a Tarzan call when she swung wildly across the room, but thats just me. *g*
And then there was the scene that made me twitch with annoyance. Xena and Gabrielle fawning all over Ares in a moment that did strike me as similar in some ways to the orgy scene from Heart of Darkness. ie big crowds, everyone watching, sleazing it up, putting on a good sexy show. It seemed wrong, in a way I find hard to explain, to see a proud warrior princess and her even prouder bard stooping to public acts of lechery as part of some plan to kill the emperor.
I know in Xena these days the ends tend to justify Xenas means. But in this one -- I didnt laugh when Ares was living up his fantasies as they attached themselves leech-like to his pecs. I just kind of winced and hung my head. I didnt want to know where this was going and I felt kind of embarrassed for both Xena and Gabrielle. It felt like, even with the noblest of intentions, they had been cheapened in some way. That did bother me. A lot.
I find I prefer her to take on a room full of soldiers with her sword and chakram than try to hussy and seduce her way out of a mess. So maybe thats just my sensitivity and others love her vamping it up -- not to mention seeing her in her eensy weensy, teeny weeny bikini. I personally just dont feel thats the Xena I came to love in seasons 1-4 and so I have a sore spot every time she unleashes her considerable feminine charms to save the day - ala Antony and Lucifer. I guess the bottom line is, if she doesnt absolutely have to do this, why does she?
Although I will say, at the end of this episode I was most surprised to hear her say she felt "dirty" for her actions. I was starting to think she was beyond this emotion, and it gave me some hope. Not that I felt good she felt dirty, but it implied she had some sense that what she was doing wasnt in any way just a good old time had by all, easily shrugged off and forgotten -- just another day. Of course she actually was referring to inducing a man to kill himself, but she was using the same sultry, seductive methods at the time, and I cant help but wonder if the whole thing, all these combined events, had added up to make her feel "dirty".
This behaviour continued from this point on in the episode, although no longer teasing Ares, but teasing Caligula, as Saba the goddess of sex. For a guy with Caligulas sexual repertoire, I am not surprised he was intrigued. (And for the record, Xena wasnt just being whimsical in offering Caligula a piece of Ares body -- history reports the emperor did indeed bat for both teams. Although Ares slightly alarmed "huh?!" look at Xenas offer, did make me chuckle aloud.)
But back to the seductive Xena. At this point I felt I could handle my heroes and all the B, C and D players being slightly off-centre, but beyond this point in the episode I felt they all, with the exception of Gabrielle and Ares, went way out of character.
Xena actually slugs her daughter to shut her up. SLUGS her. With a massive swooping haymaker of a hook that could have shattered her jaw in reality. And at the end of the piece she taunts Caligula for trying to harm her daughter. Yet its okay for her?!!!
I was appalled, as appalled as I was when Xena treated Eve so abominably in Heart of Darkness.
I know many of you are thinking -- well how should she have silenced her daughter who was but moments away from telling Caligula that this was her mother? Look I dont know - maybe a killer glare or a hissed whisper that she had a plan, or maybe just write it differently so shes not in the position of thumping her daughter into submission every time she does something that jeopardises her plan.
Let me put this another way -- how long would fans have sat silent if every time Gabrielle looked like blurting something crucial out, Xena knocked her unconscious and continued on like nothing had happened??
Damned straight Xena owed her daughter an apology. Damned straight Eve deserved to be mad as hell. I know Xena thinks she is doing the right thing and I had a rather sick feeling that it was Michaels every intention for Eve to actually be sacrificed in order to spur Xena to killing Caligula. (As opposed to just get Eve halfway there and have Xena step in in time.)
And if Xena was merely preventing Eve from literally becoming a martyr to her cause, I can see why the Warrior Princess thought temporary oblivion was a good plan for her daughter. But I just get freaked out every time I see a supposed caring, amazing, loving woman like Xena, hurt her own daughter so often and not really properly apologise for it. It is very unnerving.
Still on to slightly out-of-character folk. Whats with Archangel Michaels new bad-ass streak? I mean, we knew he was manipulative before this -- working to get his ambitious rival Lucifer plunked down in hell. But here he seems to be trying to set up Eve to be killed, and later out and out attempts to kill Aphrodite, in order to achieve his goals.
I have to ask, wheres the fire anyway? I understand the Aphrodite thing -- one more kiss and shes a goner and Caligulas a god. But he didnt have to force Xenas hand so soon to get her going after the emperor. She was ALREADY busily plotting the emperors downfall. And yet this supposedly loving angel shows up and suddenly tries to manipulate Eve into sacrificing herself to the cause so Xena, blind with rage, will indeed kill Caligula. She was already working towards that goal! What gives?
I also felt Michael seemed too keen to sacrifice the messenger of Eli. And the god(?) Eli, too keen to allow it to happen. It left a sour taste in the mouth. Where was the love this religion so freely professes? Hypocrisy is not dead...
Meanwhile, back to an almost psychotic Xena, now attempting to drown Archangel Michael in a hot tub -- or at the very least testing how long it takes an angels feathers to prune.
Why did she flip so completely here as to try to kill an unarmed, defenceless, helpless angel who could do her no harm at that moment? She has never, as far as I can recall, willingly allowed a defenceless person to die, even ones who have previously attacked her, apart from Callisto -- and Callisto certainly was no angel (at least not then). So what got up her nose that she wanted to commit cold blooded murder?
Surely not just because of him manipulating Eve? Protective instincts in overdrive?
I felt like I was matching the horror on Gabrielles face when she seemed intent on doing just that. It was soooo cold blooded that I felt really bothered by seeing her do this. And it seemed way out of character. Still, the one thing I have always appreciated about Xena is she is a flawed hero. I still love her to bits, but that scene made me wince. Again the hypocrisy also seemed a whole lot more pronounced -- no one, not even an angel can have a hand in hurting her little girl, except of course her. And then its okay...
There was one plus in Xena and Eves relationship in this episode. It looks like the Warrior Princess finally trusted her enough with her plan. Theyre in the jail and Eve says "You cant protect me from the world forever" and Xena says something like "funny you should mention that"....
Sure its another plan with Eve tied up and being treated like dirt, but nonetheless she had forewarning of it from Mother, so I guess thats a little better than springing it on her, like in Heart of Darkness.
I knew Caligula was a gonner the second he called Eve "the whore of Rome". It does not do to question any womans virtue in front of her mother. *g* And besides, apart from Ares and Octavius, it was hardly like Eve was prolific in the lovers department. Certainly not like her mother.... and not enough to be called such a nasty word. So oh yeah, was he ever going down screaming at the end of this episode.
Which brings us to the chariot race... blah, whatever... seen better on Ben Hur, and this was one way too long. Its quite odd, that by this time it felt like the episode was at movie length proportions, there was so much packed into it.
And then we have the final scene, Xena, exposed as the mother of Eve, and the simply hilarious moment as Caligula finally puts two and two together and, with a look thats simply brilliant, realises how Xena got her fame... as a killer of gods. Eeeek ...NO!
The ending, Caligulas suicide, manipulated by Xena, was actually a very good plot twist and one I sure as heck did not see coming. Actually I didnt see any of this episode coming and thats what made it so interesting in a really off-centre sort of way. In other words, it was highly watchable even if it wasnt always entertaining. (There is a difference.)
And in the final denouement, theres Aphrodite giving the bard a verbal hug, and then playing footsies with big bro. I really did like this ending.
In summary, this episode was very very unsettling, difficult to completely absorb on the first watch and almost swimming with an A-list of guest stars. There was so much happening that one could argue there might have been almost too many plot arcs to be cohesive, although they all folded into one by the storys end How well they folded together, I am not decided. I am still not entirely comfortable with an angel trying to kill innocents even for the greater good or under orders. I am not entirely comfortable with Xena attempting to kill an angel in cold blood. And I remain uncomfortable with her using her body and promising sex to solve her problems.
Having said all that, if you can put these rather large issues to one side, what we have is a solid effort all round, a strong attempt at a big story, and a satisfying unpredictable conclusion (chariot race aside).
It wasnt a bad episode -- the cliche count was low on all scores, everyone was acting their rear ends off, although hammy Alexis Arquette seemed on actor steroids at some points.
A sign of a good episode is if you are thinking about it long after its over. I am still pondering this one. I think, in essence, the jury is still out on The God You Know. But I sure wouldnt want too many like this one -- my brain can handle only so many dark, sex crazed, brain addled emperors and goddesses in one season.
Or, to quote a fellow Xenite: "I like episodes with dirt, trees, water, Xena in her leathers, and Xena and Gabrielle bonding, simple and basic. Enough with the trying to be weird and artsy stuff."
Mmm, well weird and artsy can be okay. But limit it to a couple of eps a season, okay? Meanwhile, Im gonna sit me down and wait for that jury to come back in. Oh and dont pay too much attention to the chakram score on this one -- 6.5 is merely my average score for a watchable episode, and my few remaining neurons are still mulling things over.
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