THE PATH OF VENGEANCE
Season 6, episode 14
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 6 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Joel Metzger. Directed by Chris Martin-Jones.
Edited by Tim Batt.
PASSING PARADE: Adrienne Wilkinson (Eve/Livia); Kevin Smith (Ares); Tsianina Joelson (Varia); Morgan Reese Fairhead (Cyane); Marise Wipani (Kanae);
Michelle Blanchard (Mawu-Ka).
DISCLAIMER: The disclaimer for this episode was harmed during the making of this motion picture.
STORY SO FAR: Eve, on a mission of peace for Rome, is captured by a newly unified tribe of Amazons and sentenced to death by Varia, for her crimes as Livia.
REWIND FOR: Xenas yeah, yeah, can we cut to the chase anytime soon look when Gabrielle first meets Cyane on the boundary to Amazon territory and they exchange respectful pleasantries.
The way Gabrielle rolled her eyes when Xena told her she might have to get Eve out 'the old-fashioned way'. 'Course, we all know what that means...lots of aiy-aiy-aiy and heads being bashed in.
The stream of blooding spurting out of Gabrielle's nose after a Varia kick during their duel. Whilst the Battling Bard's suffering was not worthy of a rewind, the graphic effect did lend a sickening authenticity to the duel.
"We'll wage so much war, we'll have nothing but peace." Livia stumbles onto the God of War's sneaky plan.
Gabrielle: "Just be patient Xena. Let me try this. There's wisdom in the Amazon ways."
Xena: "Like the time they painted you blue and made you howl at the moon to consecrate your queenliness?
Ares: "You are so good."
Xena: "It's what I do."
Xena: "They've forgiven you Eve. Maybe you should think about forgiving yourself."
Eve: "Have you? Forgiven yourself mother?"
Xena: "Ah, good point."
Yes, well, not exactly an episode well all be reflecting on lovingly in a years time, hmm? Or even a months time, Id imagine. It was just sort of, well, you know, screamingly average. Heck even those wacky disclaimer writers couldnt get enthused.
I see this episode as the sequel to the dodgy Dangerous Prey. Its better than that ep in scope, writing and execution, but similar to it in lacking a huge amount of originality.
I am starting to lose track on Xena how often someone, usually the Warrior Princess, must stand accused of crimes from their past and be all stoic and all, while their earlier badness is flung in their faces by the angry, vengeance-seeking victims.
Livia pretty much faced exactly this last time she was with the Amazons, hence her banishment sentence. In fact I think she even reacted the same way then, too, as here, ie: I did this, Im responsible, Mother, I await my punishment. (And to think I thought her flagellation kick in You Are There was just a passing fancy. *g*)
So because weve seen this angle many times before -- and theres only so many ways you can deal with it -- Livia up on trial should have been the B-plot not the A-plot. Making it the central focus, with the small twist being it was Gabrielle who would briefly stand in judgement of her, was not enough to carry the whole episode.
Although, it was different for once to see Gabrielle and not Xena defending Eve... and conversely odd to see Xena forced to watch it all take place while she could do very little until the end. How frustrating that would have been for her. Especially when she felt betrayed briefly by Gabrielle. But its a sign she respects either the bard and/or the Amazons, that shed file her nails while Gabrielle does the defend-Eve queenly thing.
They might have made more of Ares, who here seems to pop in and out in a series of rather pointless cameos -- sort of a hairychested cheerleader of doom for Varia.
But even the Ares thread was old hat -- Ares using his influence to try and turn people down the path of war. No! Really? Does this sound at all familiar? (Xena, Livia and Gabrielle all look away guiltily...) And throw in that creaky old fable of the swan and the scorpion (or frog and the scorpion in The Crying Game) which I have seen referred to on more shows than I care to remember...
In essence, we ended up with an A-plot (Eve on trial) and a B-plot (Ares, the corruptor behind Varia) which are as old as my highschool gym socks. So what could they possibly offer us thats new and fresh?
Waitaminute, I know -- get Gabrielle to challenge the Amazon Queen to a figh...... oh, right. Sigh.
As far as I can tell, everything in this episode has been done to death, (pardon the pun), and so its hard to be too inspired. Having said that -- it was still, you know, okay. Just not great.
I did like the idea of the merging of the Amazon tribes. Finally, its really marvellous to see more than the same six Amazons at once, who actually look tribe-like in numbers now, rather than an impromptu gathering of an overly-short, near-naked womens basketball team.
Gotta love those other queens, too. Im serious. I thought they were great.
Of course their council has all the hallmarkings of a looming constitutional disaster akin to the last US federal election. Only worse -- its like merging 10 womens groups and trying to find consensus on who should make the coffee.... (The answer incidentally, after 10 hours of debate, would be everyone should make the coffee. While holding hands.)
Lets take a quick look at the wacky, ad hoc, Amazon way of structuring their newly unified clans council. And then you tell me how long theyd last without some serious headbutting (and not the metaphoric kind).
First, it seems that anyone who has ever been an Amazon queen -- even if everyone they once represented is long dead -- is allowed to be a queen on this council. Nifty for Gabs, if not a little silly. Who does she represent exactly? Ghosts of the Amazons past? Oh wait, they just want her for her wisdom. So why dont they have a council of wise elders instead of a council of queens? (Where are the Amazon elderly anyway??)
The council makes the decisions on justice much like a Supreme Court, and then Varia single-handedly decides the punishment to be meted out, much like a totalitarian dictator with a rule book.
(It is not known how Varia came to be queenpin, but since it was her doing getting them all together, they probably acquiesced to her demand. No hint is given as to what happens in their happy council if she does something they disagree with.)
Anyway, within their structure they have these cute little moments of individual decision making: Xena wants to defend Eve, so Queen Cyane of the antler-hat tribe declares suddenly that yes, she can defend Eve, and the other queens dont really agree or disagree. In fact they arent exactly asked.
Then another queen pipes up: "You have one hour," she arbitrarily tells Xena, without consulting her sisters. Why an hour? Not a day or 10 minutes? Who knows -- this one Amazon queen has made it so. Who cares what the rest think....
Then Varia moments later establishes that they must be of one mind to make decisions. She tells Gabrielle: "The council must speak with one voice."
This implies that if they do not have consensus, they can not pursue any given course of action. Now that in itself is just begging for a tribe to never make any decisions at all -- if only one person objects, they all have to sit on their hands in frustration and hope for better luck next time. This is a potential nightmare way to try and run anything.
But heres my main point: If they can only do a thing when they all agree on it, then why on Earth did Gabrielle vote "guilty" if "not guilty" would have essentially shot down any chance of Varia succeeding in sentencing Eve.
In short, once Gabrielle was accepted into the Council, it was Gabrielles vote that made it possible for Eve to be condemned to death. Her "no" vote would have prevented it.
Gabrielle says she voted that way so she could plead Eves case during sentencing. Um, call me slow, but isnt that putting the cart before the horse? She gets Eve found guilty just so she can then argue her case!!! Methinks, as a lawyer, Gabrielle should stick to barding.
I would have actually understood her decision a little better if she said she was doing the right thing as an Amazon queen under Amazon law -- and that her responsibility outweighs her connection with Xenas daughter -- but that, once having performed her duty, she would then work to help her during sentencing.
But back to the thrust of this episode. Peel back the layers properly and what we really get is a question: Justice or revenge? Hence the title of the episode.
Varias "justice" is actually thinly-veiled vengeance.
Gabrielle and Xena dont like Varias blurring of these (especially with Eves butt on the line) and challenge her. Gabrielle goes first, queen on queen, winding up in a fascinating fight which is one of the few I have seen where she hasnt used Xena as her proxy. That alone seems a sign of Gabrielles now formidable ability, an acknowledgement of her duty as a queen -- and probably a secret knowledge that, by putting herself through this, it would be a step towards fixing things between her and Xena.
I never got the impression that she thought she could actually win. I got the impression she thought she had to do everything within her power to save Eve after her "guilty" plea, even if that meant running her little body repeatedly into Varias hard fists and harder legs.
Hey, wasnt it quite the sight to see her hop up to the fight in a traditional boxers pose -- most unexpected given she has never actually punched anyone (apart from Joxer) in the whole time weve known her, sticks and daggers being more her weapons of choice. (Actually she was more in a kickboxers pose, her guard being too low to protect her face properly, but just right to guard against sweeping roundkicks and the like.)
And there were some humdinger high kicks Renee let loose there -- clearly not the stunt woman in action, as we can see her face. Whoooeee. You go girl.
Great scene at the end of the fight, too, with Gabrielle acknowledging she has lost and Xena must do what she must do. The look on Xenas face of gratefulness and relief mixed with concern for the bard, is wonderful.
Meanwhile, Xenas attempt at unblurring justice and revenge began through words -- proving an Ares link which left the other Amazons all remarkably unmoved (???!!!!) -- and then by directly appealing to Varias sense of who she was -- and reminding her what she has become.
A very risky course of action. Xena appeared in no doubt that this would work. I did not share her confidence. Even Ares was so impressed by all this he accuses Xena of having planned it all from the get-go. Planned what exactly? That shed eventually fight Varia -- a given -- and then cower vulnerably before Varia to tweak her guilt? Hardly a ten-step masterplan, Ares, my man.
So in essence this whole episode was about Varia seeing how she was gradually turning into Livia... Ah, now, see thats something worth writing about. But the focus was lost -- lost under the unification of the tribes, lost under Gabrielle going head to head with Varia, lost under Eves peace message from Rome, followed by her customary sooo guilty, please punish me pleas, and lost under Xena tossing Varia about like a ragdoll (and vice versa) in a way too long final fight scene.
We had hints that this was what it was about -- Varia ordering the Romans to be shot in the back at the start. But heres the problem: we simply dont know enough about Varia and her warrior methods to gauge whether her behaviour was out of character or not. Obviously if it was someone like Gabrielle ordering that surrendering soldiers become surrendering dead soldiers, youd be going: "Eh, since when??"
But with Varia, all we really know is shes headstrong, and headstrong means shes capable of pretty much anything. For all we knew, shed been doing dodgy underhand guerilla warfare her whole life and long before she met Ares.
This is another reason why I dont believe the ending worked. It was relying on us also buying Xenas confidence in Varia doing the right thing in the end. But based on what little we know about her, we dont share that confidence that she wont have a go at Xena, and so we find it highly unsettling to see the Warrior Princess just sitting there waiting, hopefully.
For this episode to have reached more of its potential, we had to have been as familiar with Varia and her humanness as we are with Xenas, Gabrielles and Eves. We had to believe, as Xena did, that there really was a great deal of goodness in there, beyond the tough facade, even if it was being pushed out and twisted by Ares. We never saw that essential goodness. Not once. Until the last scene, when, wham, oh look there it is -- shes putting down her sword and... hey, um, now shes hugging her mortal enemy. Sheeah right.
And if this was in any way realistic, Varia, who would take more than three seconds to forgive and deal with what she thinks about Eve, would most likely have introduced the overly-clingy messenger of Eli to one of New Zealands more famed mudpools.
For us to have ever believed she was twisted by Ares into this war-hungry Amazon, we had to have known this was against her character -- and, if anything, Dangerous Prey indicated, she really was quite ambitious and ruthless.
And we also had to have cared enough to rejoice her return from the dark side. I for one am ambivalent about Varia. Maybe shell grow on me...
There were other minor quibbles -- opening scene, did anyone else sense we missed a whole other episode there, with talk of a new Roman Emperor, who Eve and Xena somehow helped put on the throne and now Eve is doing his bidding?
Did anyone at all buy that Eve -- one of the most reviled people among the Amazons when she was Livia -- would be the Emperors first choice for their peace emissary? Good grief.
I thought Ares seemed a little two-dimensional this episode and I wondered where all his many splendid shades of grey went. To hide behind the "its in my nature" line to explain his cant-stop,-busy-making-war actions was a convenient cop-out.
Hes just switched into a darker hard-ass this episode and seems indifferent to anyone but himself. Hes shared too much history with Xena and Gabrielle for him to revert to a season one God of War -- I dont care how badly his reputation suffered during his period of humanity.
Its actually just average writing, really. He was only there for one reason -- to give Varia a reason/excuse to be misguided by her warlust and still be allowed back into the fold as Queen after her actions have been explained and excused; and to also further the parallels of Livias descent into badness.
Speaking of Livia -- while that was one sick chick in action, I do love how Adrienne Wilkinson gets into her role when she does the slayer bit. Theres that one scene when shes rustling up Amazons for market and senses someone behind her and turns... and the moment her eyes lock on the young terrified Varia, I couldnt help but shudder. What a great menacing look from Livia -- surprise mixed with "youre gonna di-ie..." Chills....
Still on that scene, I think the Amazons perimeter defences were very very dodgy back then (little has changed) that the Romans were virtually having a picnic lunch with cucumber sandwiches in their village by the time the alarm was raised. Bear in mind these are the same Amazons whom Ares described as "the fiercest warriors in the land". Well they may be fierce, but they dont get the sentry guard concept too well. *g*
Meanwhile, we end the show by seeing that Eve is leaving. That was kind of a nice scene -- no I am NOT saying that because she is leaving. Smile. I just thought it was handled quite nicely. Chin and the land of Indus, huh? Following Mothers path, hmm? Of course given everywhere Xenas been, its not like she has a whole lot of choices if she wanted to go somewhere Xena hasnt. Why did they decide to exit Eve, though, I wonder?
Which brings me to: hands down the weirdest moment of the episode, the very final shot. Exit Eve and suddenly Xena puts her face in her hands while walking, as they panned up and out. Then, cut. Thats it.
That was truly strange -- and cut too soon to establish what was happening. Seemed like she was about to cry or something but we were too far away to see what was going on. Id have just cut the whole head-in-hands bit out completely. It looked too weird and really fake.
In summary, the basic kernel behind this episode had a lot of merit -- Varia being turned into Livia and trying to take the newly united tribe of Amazons with her on her path of war and greatness.
But this was crowded out by everything else going on until people were just playing lipservice to the concept, and we had to take their word that that was what was going on. We dont know enough about Varia to know how Ares has affected her, apart from a few slick fighting moves. And her redemption at the end, while the other queens dumbly stood and stared and said nothing, was all a bit too forced.
Eves hug I thought was bad enough (youd be thinking "get her off me NOW"), but they decided to stack on an extra dose of sugar for those needing the moral spelled out in excruciating detail:
Varia: You were ready to let me kill you just so I could see I was heading down the wrong path.
Xena: I knew the truth was inside you - you just needed the chance to decide what was right.
Excuse me while I deposit my lunch unceremoniously on the floor.
All that aside, I liked the new bunch of Amazons. I think the united tribe idea is a good one, and heavens knows, it saves me having to keep track of them all. *g* I loved seeing the Amazons out in numbers as it truly gives the sense that they may live up to their powerhouse reputation at last.
But Gabrielle shone most of all, as did Varia cloe behind. While the backplot on Varia was limited, the actress did a good job in trying to bring us up to speed.
But the pros were outweighed by the cons -- a plot that wasnt really that fresh and which focused on the least interesting aspects of this story -- Eve on trial and Ares doing not a lot of anything. And therein lay the problem.
In all -- Path of Vengeance is watchable, maybe even rewatchable -- but why would we bother? Eh, weve seen most of it all before.
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