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Season 6, episode 2

(not aired in Australia yet)

Reviewed by SLK


Rating: 7 chakrams


SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Story by Edithe Swensen and Joel Metzger. Teleplay by Joel Metzger. Directed by Garth Maxwell. Edited by Tim Batt.

PASSING PARADE: Adrienne Wilkinson (Eve); Anthony Ray Parker (Mephistopheles); Darien Takle (Cyrene); Charles Mesure (Michael); Tamati Rice (Raphael).

STORY SO FAR: Xena, Gabrielle and Eve journey to Amphipolis only to find Xena’s hometown is haunted. Xena must fight the King of Hell, Mephistopheles, to put her tortured mother’s spirit to rest.

DISCLAIMER: No maggots were harmed during the making of this motion picture, although a few were found stuck in Gabrielle's teeth.

REWIND FOR: Xena instantly recognising a pile of charred bones in the family mausoleum as her mother’s. A case of "I’d recgonise that femur anywhere?"

A naked Gabrielle hanging from the chandeliers. Well okay, just the ceiling then. As she hits the deck and they roll around on the floor, it’s clear Gabs is as naked as the day she was born -- er, if she was born with a body stocking. The fun question remains -- was that a stunt butt?

Gabrielle, while ‘inhabited’ by Mephistopheles, licking Xena’s hand. Luckily for Xena that was *before* the spittle started drooling out of her significant other’s mouth. What is it with that girl and drool?

Xena’s neat wrapping job on display as Gabrielle stands after Mephistopheles’ exit. How did the Warrior Princess manage to make a two piece outfit out of one piece of cloth, and tie neat little knots in it as well, all whilst rolling around on the floor? Yeah, yeah, I know: She’s Xena.


"It almost feels deserted." *Feels* deserted Gabrielle? Hello? Didn’t we notice the storm clouds, blackened sky, tumbleweed and a distinct lack of anything living as we rode into Amphipolis? To be fair, Eve and Xena also seemed oblivious to the town’s rank charms until it was right under their noses.

"This house, it’s a gateway or a spiritual crossroads, or..." A dump? Eve struggles to give a name to her grandma’s ‘cosy’ nest. Xena finally helped her out with "it’s haunted".

"Where was I?" Xena lamenting her untimely absence at the hour of her mother’s greatest need. In short, she was on ice. But that still doesn’t explain her taking her sweet time to drop by Mum’s place and let her know she was still alive, does it?

"I can’t believe you’re showing me this *now*!" Gabrielle about to be given a crash course in neck pinches. We can’t believe it either. Like that time Xena withheld her seasickness remedy from her in Ulysses. I’m guessing there’s not a lot of talking going on in their spare time. *g*

"I don’t know what I’m doing." Don’t worry Gabs, Xena will know exactly what you’ve been doing once she wakes up, thanks to you ‘practising’ your neck pinches on her. I counted six sickening blows, and they’re only the ones we *saw*. Let’s hope one of those wasn’t her heart, liver, kidneys...

"I’ll try and find some water, maybe it will help her wake up." Water? From the haunted house?! The same water that has maggots and severed heads in it?! Thanks Eve, I think Mother can do without that kind of help.

"Xena, you killed the king of Hell. What happens now?" You just had to ask didn’t you Gabrielle? Hope she was touching wood when she tempted Fate with those immortal words. Hell fath no fury like, um.....er....Hell!

Best Comebacks:

Mephistopheles: "I thought you were a god killer Xena. How the mighty Olympians so easily tamed you."

Xena: "I’m just a little distracted by your good looks."

Mephistopheles: "You’re holding back Xena, is something bothering you?"

Xena: "Other than your stench?"


Just when you thought you’d seen it all on Xena, along comes something to make you wonder what the hell sort of show you’re watching. If you’ll pardon the pun. I mean it’s one thing to go from fleeing giants and chakramming gods, but this is something altogether different. Possessed Gabrielle, exorcisms, dripping blood, maggots, a dead Xena (well that aint new) and a woman burned at the stake. Did I mention this seems just a little removed from the Xena of old? The question is, is it good different or bad different? Ahhh, now that’s the $64 question.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

First up, I have to declare a bias: I detest the horror genre. If there are bits of rotting flesh, blood and severed heads to be had, I’m the one diving behind the couch. Was I scared watching this? Hell yeah, I was a wuss big time -- a regular cowering inferno. I was probably the only one to get this eeeky about the ep, but hey, that’s me.

Secondly, I have always hated the killing off of a much-loved regular in an unnecessarily cruel or flippant way. This show has a history of doing this -- for flippant see Amarice and, to a lesser extent, Joxer and Ephiny. And now we have Cyrene, dying the most unspeakable of deaths simply because it furthered a single episode’s plot point about how scary the house is. NO, NO, NO! Naughty writers. Ba-aad writers. Stop it at once!

These characters aren’t plot points to be manipulated and tossed and turned at whim any way they so desire just to fit the story, no matter how the Xenabods view them. They are real to the viewers -- make-believe people they have come to care about and whom we must now watch, slack jawed, as they are disposed of hideously. The death of Cyrene was inexcusably cruel and should never have been orchestrated in such a manner. My mouth is still catching flies from the stupefying shock of seeing how she met her maker, flames licking her writhing body, wailing out Xena’s name in her dying breath. A momentary shock value does not warrant and never should such an awful, unpleasant demise. Very crass indeed.

Finally, I first watched this episode with an avowed horror freak who boredly pointed out, between cynical yawns, that it allegedly boasted every horror film cliche under the sun, er moon, er thunderstorm -- from the creepy and it’s spooky Addam’s Family haunted house beginnings, to the blood dripping up from the floor, maggoted food, wails and glimpses of ghosts.

Well he has a point but, even so, I discovered at the end I simply didn’t care -- knowing it was cliched didn’t change one bit for me the effect it had. All these above negatives, and I still couldn’t deny the episode had "it". I was totally suckered into watching it all -- although largely through trembling fingers, wondering what would happen next. In short - it worked.

It had pace, high quality special effects (ie the very opposite of cheesy), twists and turns, and personal investment for our lead characters. Oh, and a possessed naked Gabrielle seductively hamming it up gloriously, never did the ratings any harm. *g*

It’s not an episode I’ll want to rewatch over and over, but it’s one that will never make the dogs’ list. It tried its little heart out. And it shows.

Many if not all plaudits go to the special effects team -- from the first moment where Cyrene’s ghost walks through Eve and for a split second you can see her skeleton. Ewww!

Gabrielle’s weightloss in the hand department of course rates as the episode’s chief gross out and if I never have to see that again, I’ll be one mighty happy camper. But from an effects point of view, I can almost picture Rob Tapert slapping his thigh in delight at how it turned out.

Blood dripping up -- nice effect; in fact one of many camera tricks that were incessant throughout -- a little too much to like all of them; and the drunken sailor angles were wearying. But again, points for effort.

The three-legged race scene with Gabrielle and Xena finally officially joined at the hip (*g*) was another head turner.

But the effects scene that creeped me to the max (not counting Gabrielle’s bloodied hands) were the underwater ghouls (how did those poor masked ghouls not drown?!) groping and pulling at her. What made it an absolute winner was the colour -- that lime green lighting has to be the stuff of nightmares for every kid who is convinced a pit of monsters lie beneath their bed...

The team earned their dough this episode -- and I swear that budget would had to have given Titanic a run for its money.

Of course the episode had more implausibilities than Cyrene’s inn had gremlins.

There was Gabrielle’s Superman-style costume changes; from nekkid, to a single white sheet; to a two piece sheet (Xena’s knotting skills finally come to the fore) to a purple affair that some mother’s curtains would do proud. A rewind of the tape shows it’s implied Eve gives it to her... why she carries spare fashion uglies for the bard is a mystery. But hey, I’m sure Gabs was NOT complaining at this point.

This was still my favourite scene -- Gabrielle possessed by Mephistopheles is a playful little urchin, isn’t she? Sounding like the Chipmunks on acid, she’s licking Xena’s fingers, doing the wicked eye, head swivel thing. Renee was really getting into the spirit of the piece. Thought that was some fun acting from ROC and nice to see a little ad-libbed subtext tossed in for the heck of it. Been a long while on that score...

Kind of a funny moment just after this. Bear in mind that at this moment Gabrielle (or rather, her body double) has been naked more than she has been clothed -- in the shower (Xena checks her out no less than three times *g*), playing bat girl on the ceiling and finally rolling around on Xena for awhile (why? Maybe she figured "who needs a reason"? *g*). So anyway, what’s the first thing Gabrielle does when given that purple outfit? Hug it to her chest like a chaste princess caught by surprise by the servants. Uh, I think they already know what you look like by now, Gabs...

There were some other sillinesses in this episode -- who takes a shower in a haunted house, especially before showers have even been invented?! Wouldn’t your first response be: "Okay, it’s haunted, er, think I’ll be leaving now."

All right, I know, I know, Gabrielle says she’s being burned by the lime green gunk so they have to get her in the shower -- incidentally, the only device functioning in a long derelict house. Now, that’s spooky.

So let me rephrase my first question: Who takes a looooooooooong shower in a haunted house? Being naked and vulnerable anywhere unsafe would be something you’d want over and done with quickly methinks.

Gabs waiting for the hot water to inevitably turn to blood is about as clever as Eve heading off to find some water to help Xena out of her neck pinched state. (Incidentally, since WHEN was it established that dead Xenas automatically go off to visit the King of Hell rather than get their angel wings and head for heaven? How embarrassed would she have been if she wound up gabbing to Archangel Michael again when she had intended to go head to head with Mephistopheles!)

Two things on that rather funny neckpinch scene: One, since when has water EVER helped anyone under a neckpinch? Gabs has been around long enough to know it is a futile effort. Yet she lets Eve traipse off alone anyway.

Two: The water in this haunted house has already been categorically proven a little on the dodgy side. And yet Eve remains ever hopeful.

I also note every time Eve is on her own all hell breaks loose (pardon the pun again)... Seeing she is the only one who can utter the blessing to restore normality, you’d think it’d be their top priority to hang onto Eve in a death grip, screaming: DON’T YOU LEAVE US!!!

Ah well. Speaking of Eve’s constant chant to cast evil out, I was getting as mightily sick of hearing it as I’m sure Adrienne was of saying it. But the silliest line of the whole episode though had to be her enormously long and overly-winded explanation of what she’s up to when she’s offering her blood to Mephistopheles. That soooo needed to be just chopped out. Like guys, we got the point already....

The episode also had a few dumbass plot holes -- while Gabrielle learning the neck pinch on the go cracked me up, it was not as silly as Xena deciding not to be bothered by the fact killing Mephistopheles would make her the King of Hell. She even says she’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it. Well HELLO -- that’s no small footbridge there, sweetpea! You don’t GET bigger bridges than becoming King of Hell!

And what was with Eve fighting bravely all episode to prevent Mephistopheles coming to the surface only to change her mind and go "oh okay" when Mother decrees it must be so? Some messenger she turned out to be! She gets her mother to fight all her fights! *g* Seriously though -- can anyone stop Xena fighting everyone else’s fights...?! That woman is a born meddler, I swear it.

Oddest scene for the episode was the Lyceus death bit, with Cyrene giving a young Xena a serve for bringing back her boy dead. Firstly, that’s sooo obviously not the same actor who appeared in Remember Nothing, but don’t you think they’d at least try matching his hair to somewhere close to the same shade?!

Secondly what was the point of this? Was it to taunt Xena, or was it ghostly Cyrene’s many regrets on display? (I’m guessing the former.) Why bother with it at all? It sure had no emotional resonance when you’re too busy going: "Wait that doesn’t even LOOK like Lyceus -- which schmuck did they drag in to play the dead, here?"

I remain puzzled by Cyrene’s line that Lyceus was all she had. Um, actually she had three kids and only one is dead here -- a fact that conveniently seems to have escaped her. I’d say -- either do a scene like that right, or nix it. I vote for the slash and burn.

Poor old Mephistopheles -- for a King of Hell, I hope he doesn’t mind being overshadowed by the women in this episode. With mere presence they kicked ass big time. He was just the ramhorned accessory you have when it’s time for a fight. Hmm -- he’d make a good hood ornament, but as an actor he wasn’t much chop. More a life-sized prop. Cue the taunt, cue the evil cackle... you get the drift.

The makeup people however did some good work -- he looked great. But for the big finale of Xena vs King of Hell, I sort of expected more than a grunt-hiss, by-the-numbers, average, ugly bad-guy. Kinda expected someone with a bit more edge; who really lent the same creepy meanness of the house into his persona. After all, everything that has creeped us out up to this point has supposedly come from him. Didn’t buy that with this guy. But I did like his moves. Nothing freaks out a hero more than when the villain moves twice as fast!

I can’t really finish off without mentioning Cyrene one last time. I felt a little ripped off, as I said earlier, with her death. But I thought at least with Xena vanquishing the bad guy and basically earning his mantle, she’d have special discretionary powers. I sorta hoped and prayed she might have fixed things for her mother; turned back time; done something that meant the reality that saw her burning and screaming at the stake would never have happened. The fact is this is now cemented into place as what happened to Cyrene. That pout you see is mine...

Worst cliche moment: "I’ll never really be gone, Xena, as long as you keep me alive in your heart." Hmm, sure I read that on a Hallmark card somewhere.

Well, we’ll miss you Cyrene -- but it remains appalling our final memories of you are not staring down a god, singing the Anthem of Amphipolis or slyly husband hunting for your daughter, but instead becoming charcoaled at the stake...


In sum, an episode which was surprisingly good, in spite of everything. It just goes to show what excellent effects and tight direction will get you -- not to mention a fat budget to boot. However it would probably pay not to stray along this path too long or often as this is not the Xena show which fans know and love. This is simply a good horror show, which happens to borrow the Xena characters for the effects to work. There is a difference. It’s worth remembering. But for a one-off episode -- hey, two (quivering) thumbs up.


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