Season 6, episode 7
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 7 chakrams
SCROLLS & SCRIBES: Written by R.J. Stewart. Directed by John Fawcett.
Edited by Robert Field.
PASSING PARADE: Brittney Powell (Brunnhilda); Renato Bartolomei (Beowulf); Alexander Petersons (Odin); Luanne Gordon (Grinhilda); Marama Jackson (First Rhein Maiden); Lucy Thomas (Second Rhein Maiden); Stephanie Bertram (Third Rhein Maiden); Roger Morrissey (Monster Grinhilda); Glen Levy (Grindl).
DISCLAIMER: No flying horses were harmed during the making of this motion picture, although several villages were bombarded with aerial manure.
STORY SO FAR: Xena joins forces with Beowulf to fight a marauding monster from her past, Grindl. Gabrielle follows her to Scandinavia, learning about Xenas dark past as a Valkyrie, from the bards new friend, Brunnhilda.
REWIND FOR: The curled-lip look on Xena's face when one of the Rhein Maidens says, of another Maiden's love for Xena, "You fall in love too easily sister." How odd that one who has forsaken love should care so much what others think of her. *g*
QUOTABLE: "Whatever happens, know that my love for you is endless." Xena's parting words to Gabrielle as she leaves for her date with the Grindl. Just wish she wouldn't keep leaving these declarations until one or both of them is about to die.
"Trust me sire, you can live without love." Xena to Odin. Pre-Gabrielle, obviously. *g*
Nothing like mixing myth with legend and shaking vigorously for another installment in the Xena Meets .... series.
Like all her other celebrity brushes -- with Caesar, Antony, Brutus, Cleopatra, Lao Tzu, Boadicea, Ulysses, Tikata, Archangel Michael et al -- it helps not to know too much of the legend all youll be tearing your hair out by trilogys end at all the liberties taken with such an age-old myth.
So assuming 1) the Norse trilogy is taken with a pinch, nay a truckload, of salt, 2) that you failed history miserably at school and that 3) no one of Scandinavian descent is actually watching this with you, this could be a quite enjoyable way to spend 43 minutes of your life. (Although, if its a choice between this and chocolate, take the chocolate, because at least its not as sickly as Rheingold is in parts, nor prone to incite uncontrollable fits of eye rolling.)
This episode started in such a way that almost everyone I know who saw it for the first time thought there had been some sort of mistake -- they had either come in late, or that the middle of the trilogy was accidentally being played first. Talk about unsettling. I guess they wanted to just cut straight to the chase -- bad Xena mid-fight with Grindl -- even if this manouever was responsible for considerable forehead-puckering among fans, as they adjusted to the leap.
I have to say I loved the opening banter between Gabrielle and Xena, where the Warrior Princess is very unsubtly trying to get seconds in the food department. Ive really missed their humorous little back-and-forths and it reminded me of Xena trying to wheedle Gabrielles locks from her as a fishing lure in Fins, Femmes & Gems. She wheedles so amusingly, too. But the Xenaverse giveth and then taketh away, and with our sole humor installment for the entire episode thus dished up, we are propelled into the story at an increasingly break-neck speed.
Enter Beowulf. I wont ask how he knew Xena was still alive and which exact tavern in Ancient Greece (I presume theyre back there) to go to to present her with the Grindl lock at the exact time they happened to be there. But hes no doubt a very resourceful chappy, as all these legendary heroes tended to be.
Although thats a bit of problem right there. He didnt look too legendary at all. In fact he looked as scruffy and taciturn as the next warrior, and with about the same amount of presence. Why he needed Xenas help in particular is never explained -- I mean he is off on a suicide mission, so its not a nice thing to go hunting around for others to die with you. I presume he thinks because she caught Grindl the first time, she has either a responsibility now its loose again, or else she has the knowhow to defeat it second time around. But if he believes its the latter -- that Xena can kill it -- neither would keep acknowledging this as a suicide mission, and Xena wouldnt have left Gabrielle at home, minding the hearth.
More likely, Beowulf has said to Xena words to the effect: "its your mess, now its loose, so lets go do what we can, as we fight it to the death". And Xena, who is just a sucker for those hopeless, martyred causes, especially when they relate to her own past misdeeds, would have been "alrighty, just point the way..."
So my question remains as to why Beowulf felt the need to involve her at all, if this was the case, given shed serve no purpose apart from cleaning up her own mess. As I said above, its not pleasant to involve others in hopeless causes.
Ill be charitable and presume he actually thought that with Xena at his side he might be able to pull it off, and that suicide talk was just cant-jinx-it superstition, so the fates wouldnt think them too cocky. Except it sure didnt look like that, did it? They really believed this was a one-way trip.
Ah well, for whatever reason, Beowulfs there and Xena agrees to go with him to Scandinavia. Interesting little dialogue between Xena and Gabrielle, the night before about Xena "keeping secrets" and Xenas initial blatant lies that "nothing" was wrong. Its encouraging to see they almost talk -- "Im not trying to shut you out" Xena tells Gabrielle even though that is precisely what shes doing. Although its pretty depressing thats as good as the communication gets from Tall Dark and Subdued. She doesnt actually explain shes leaving and that she cant take Gabrielle with her because the bard will be in danger. Instead she sneaks out like a thief in the night (and I hope she fixed up the hotelier instead of stiffing Gabs with the bill *g*). These sure aint the pin-up of communication skills.
But, on the plus side, Xena was at least more forthcoming in her note. Even seemed to include a big fat ole kiss next to the "X" signature. Although a bit more open-lipped than your regular paper kiss - but given all the resuscitation she gives Gabrielle, maybe thats just how the big lug kisses.... *g*
I had to laugh out loud at the line "I cant ask me to die with me once again". Now theres something you dont hear every day...
And finally, for the first time in several seasons now, Xena actually says the words -- that she loves Gabrielle... although she had to be on a suicide mission to admit it. Do I smell a commitment phobe somewhere? *g*
Okay -- was Xena right to leave the way she did? We all know Gabrielle would have argued till she was blue in the face with Xena about being allowed to go with her, had the Warrior Princess explained the mission in detail to her, and her qualms.
But after all this time, shouldnt Gabrielle be at least allowed to present her case to her partner of so many years?
And what if Xena had died (again). Not only wouldnt the bard have gotten to say goodbye, but she would have had to have lived with the knowledge there might have been something she could have done to protect her friend if given the chance.
At this late stage Xena probably meant well but had astonishingly underestimated the bard if she thought for an instant she wouldnt be hot on her heels. That being the case, it would have probably been the best course of action to keep Gabrielle close, where Xena could keep an eye on her and vice versa, rather than split up and risk being more vulnerable apart.
This episode now finally establishes unequivocally and for all those who tuned in late that Xenas path is Gabrielles path. That being the case -- do you think Xena could like, gee, make a mental note of that once in awhile, and nix the midnight bolting in future?
Moving right along, the whole point of the episode was a writers device to help us unravel the mystery of Xenas past, through Gabrielles eyes -- and its no mystery if the Warrior Princess just spills the beans in first two minutes. So in that regard, despite Xenas unfair "its been nice, but Im outta here for your own good" split, it worked well as a device to keep us keen and watching and to pare back the layers like an onion.
Nothing like having a close friend tracking down another friend -- Gabrielle both knows Xena extremely well and, in some ways, not at all, so all that is revealed to her on this trip is very personal, and quite revelatory. It is an interesting and fascinating journey. Its also valuable to watch her take this journey alone where she shows once more she is no ones mere side kick, gleaning information easily, and proving yet again very capable of defending herself. In sum - it allows Gabrielle to shine on her own for a bit.
And she must be doing more than a little shining based on Beowulfs "I could really like her" comments and Brunnhildas obvious like of the bard. Poor Beowulf -- if only he knew how dangerous it was for him to be declaring attraction for Xenas nearest and dearest... Luckily for him she was in a tolerant mood this episode. *g* Pity him if she wakes up next episode with PMT...
So what do we learn about Xena this episode, apart from that she looks hot in her "Kill Em All" lippie? One or two disturbing things. The first thing makes no sense: The bad Xena is referred to as having coming from the East, a land called Chin.
And yet when we met bad Xena in Adventures in The Sin Trade 1&2 she has made it clear there that she has just "come from the land of Chin". She even has Borias in tow, still, which was how they left off in Chin. And she is talking about her earlier mentor, Lao Ma, the whole way through that episode.
So if she went directly from Chin to Scandinavia, this above Alti stuff would make no sense... not the least because she would have still had the words, and the love, of Lao Ma ringing in her ears, and would certainly not be in a position to claim she has forsaken love. It was Lao Ma who told Xena it was easy to serve those whom she loved -- indicating that she knew Xena loved her in some way. The Xena we meet in Scandinavia gives no sign she loves a soul, and the Rheingold ring she wears seems to back that up.
So if Xena went to see Alti first, then lost Borias, and then went on to Scandinavia, while this makes chronological sense, she most certainly did not come directly "from Chin". And if she went back to Chin after the Alti adventure, and then went to Scandinavia, she certainly has made no mention of it.
Its just one of those loose-ends that make no sense but will never be explained.
The other thing we learn about Xena in this episode is what she is capable of when she gives up love. I argue that, here for the first time, she gives up her pride, too. It was nauseating to watch her crawl to, and manipulate Odin so shamelessly. Its also the first time we see her do something like this in her bad Xena days. I recall one of her virtues, if you can call it that, about the Xena in The Debt was her "take me or leave me" philosophy. She bowed down to no man, and certainly tried to bow down to no woman, and would have sooner ripped off an arm than carry on with Odin the way she is here. Perhaps one could argue, she has gotten smarter since her time with Alti. She has learned to use all her assets, including her femininity, to get her way, and she is flexing this for the first time here.
She may be smarter, she may be bad, but I still preferred her when she was just having "fun" on her own terms -- admittedly in a most brutal fashion -- and not sliming up, snake-like to gods, and playing bitchy little-girl schoolyard games. Maybe I was a little too empathic here, but I found it simply awful watching a good woman, Grinhilda, suffer because of this sleazy usurper Xena manipulating Odin -- and hes too stupid to notice what shes doing. Youd almost forgive him if he was so taken with Xena that he was blinded to what she really was... but he aint in love with her.
Nope, hes just plain dumb and stubborn and his kingdom, his soldiers, and Grinhilda, will all suffer as a result. It was painful to watch. The unfairness of it all was awful. And I really found myself detesting this incarnation of Xena... as, I guess, I was supposed to.
While sycophantic Xena sickened me, it was not helped by Alexander Petersons (Odin) who was more than a little on the nose with his acting. He might look the part, but thats where his merit ends in this episode. If I ever hear his whiney little voice again ("Oi em Ohh-deen"), I may don the Kill Em All lippie myself...
The aerial horse fight between Xena and Grinhilda and the other Valkyries was initially impressive but far, far too long. And I remain perplexed why bad, hollow Xena, who loves no one, would stay her sword hand when she has her nemesis where she wants her. Why save her life, when this Xena knows the woman will only come back to torment her later? Maybe Xena just loves a good fight too much to kill someone who is such a good foe, or maybe she respects the warrior too much to kill her in cold blood (not that she has showed an ounce of warrior code or honour before this...). Either way, I felt that scene a little unbelievable for the woman we have come to know in this episode.
And then there were the Rhein maidens. Oh dear...
Could we find any more insipid actresses with worse Kiwi accents if we tried? (NB I am officially allowed to say this, as a former Kiwi myself. *g*) I wasnt entirely sure which was more of an assault on my brain -- the lines they were saying, how they were saying them or the "actions" they had to go through. God it was awful... Awful. *Shakes head in disbelief*. A splash fight by way of introduction? Whose daft idea was that?
How are we supposed to believe these guardians of the Rheingold would be so dimwitted as to befriend anyone who swims into their little inlet, confess love barely a second later, believe Xena unquestionably when she says she wants to be a Rhein maiden and then... THEN.... immediately SHOW HER where their most treasured possession is. The crown jewels if you will...
These women are just begging to be taken advantage of ... er, in the platonic sense, I hasten to add. Although I suspect Xenas little friend may not have just had platonic love on her mind when first they met. Which shows yet another facet of these stupid women -- how shallow to trust and love based on looks alone? Dont they teach them anything at Rhein Maiden Bouncer & Jewellery Protection School???
This would have all been dramatically improved if the aerial horsey fight had been slashed to the barest minimum, and we were instead shown Xena spending quite some time trying to worm her way into the confidences of the Rhein maidens... Perhaps if she had done them some small but important favour it would have seem less of a stretch that they would trust her so completely in such a short time.
Small aside: Check out the scene where Xena first surfaces in the pool of Rhein maidens. Notice what makes her look so gosh-durned special? She doesnt open her mouth and gasp and pant like regular folk do when they have been swimming underwater for an eternity. She just surfaces, mouth closed, eyebrow fully cocked for action. Thats one classy entrance. *g*
I have neglected Gabrielle for too long, so back to the bard.... We see she has connected with Brunnhilda who, for all the world starts out like a Minya-esque Xena groupie -- with lines referring to her making the study of Xena her "lifelong goal". I can just imagine Gabrielle thinking "yeah, join the club, sister..."
I thought it a little daft Brunnhilda would find it necessary to attack Gabrielle to prove her worth to her and/or Xena. I do wonder if the Norse woman has actually thought this through properly. Lets consider this for a moment: She has met a woman who travels with Xena, the fierce warrior of unparalleled abilities. So she thinks, "I know, Ill attack her best friend. Yeah, thatll work..."
Now an idiot could work out a woman with a reputation like Xenas wouldnt travel with someone who didnt know a few things about fighting, and so she might have considered that she could well end up getting herself skewered on Gabrielles pretty little cocktail forks faster than you could whine: "But I was just being friendly..."
Or, she might have accidentally got in a "lucky" blow and killed/maimed Gabrielle, thus leaving the bard unable to lead the way to Xena for the formal introductions. And we all know if you kill or maim Xenas bard, the only formal introduction you get is her sword putting a big smiley face under your chin.
So all things considered, Brunnhilda was pretty danged stupid. Given Odin and the Rhein maidens also arent doing the gene pool any favours either, if I was of Norse descent Id be wanting to sue right about now.
An interesting little chat between Brunnhilda and Gabrielle transpires next... Gabrielle is talking about her love for Xena.
Brunnhilda asks: "She feels the same?"
And what does Gabrielle reply? "I hope so."
This stopped me dead... I felt sure her answer would be "yes" or even, "of course".
To say "I hope so" implies shes not sure. And all Xenas little speeches about her being the most important/best thing in her life, her dearest friend etc etc and the declaration of love in the scroll, appear to count for naught to the bard. She is unsure what Xena feels for her. Now, Ill bet Xena wished shed said I love you a few more times... *g*
But I am troubled by the bards obvious lack of certainty in this scene and it leaves me a little gobsmacked she thinks this way after all theyve been through. Although, to be fair, the bard wasnt the one getting carried away with Antony, Ares and Lucifer in recent times. So she has a right to be very confused by Xenas flip-flopping affections. I know I am...
In fact the bard has been, with the exception of the way she gazes at Xena, a "love-free zone" for a long, long time. And dont go quoting the young man from Chin in Back in the Bottle at me -- that was so obviously a one-way attraction. All his.
Nope, Gabrielle is on a path made for one -- Xenas. And its clear to all around her... she walks all night to get to her, no overnight breaks for her, and when she spies Xenas breastplate after the Grindl battle -- its discarding symbolising all sorts of worst-case scenarios -- Gabrielles look and devastation are palpable.
Now I am left to hope that something will happen in season 6 to allow the bard to believe in Xenas love as much as she obviously returns it. So if anyone ever asks her again if Xena feels the same, shell look at them with absolute certainty and smile: "Oh yes."
In summary, there was a lot happening in this one episode -- so much so it seemed longer than normal. The episode used an excellent device of having Gabrielle mapping Xenas past through her own resources, rather than having a simple retelling from Xena ala The Debt.
There was a lot to take in. The episode was good in spite of the acting of the guest stars. But I want to ask yourself how amazing it might have been with a Jacqueline Kim or a Paris Jeffries ilk of actors onboard. As it was, the Rhein maidens and Odin were onscreen for only a short time, while the more palatable Beowulf, Brunnhilda and Grinhilda (whats with all these hildas anyway??) thankfully took up much of the slack. They werent sensational but they certainly didnt suck. I may yet warm up to this trio more as the trilogy continues.
As for bad Xena, hmm. I am not sure if Lucy was having a bad week or if Odin was so bad that it would have been impossible for anyone to buy her flirting with him. But whatever it was -- screen magnetism and chemistry were nil, leading to nausea levels rising as we tried to compensate for the fact it was all too unlikely with those two ... leading to disgust at our lead character for even trying it on with this wizened old bugger in the first place.
I know Xena was only supposed to have been pretending to like him, but would it have killed them to cast someone with a little more character and a little more charisma and who didnt look 200? It was like watching her crack onto her grandpappy. Sigh... where did that feisty kick-ass Xena of Chin get to? Who is this sleazy vamp in her boots?
Frankly, what all this implies about seductive women in this episode is not worth repeating. Although it does at last explain the origins of the Xena character that appeared to Ioalus and Hercules at the start of Xenas run. The woman who used men and her body as her first weapon, fighting as her second. She did seem so at odds with the Chins bad Xena, it was like watching two completely different women. But now she has evolved more into the seductress here, (Id argue de-evolved) it makes more sense, as thats who was presented to us, just before her conversion to good.
I have to give kudos yet again to the costumers -- they have done another fine job, and Id give thumbs up also for the music, particularly in the ring-forging scenes.
I guess well have to wait for the next two parts to see how it all ends. But so far this is a tantalising opener, and very worthy indeed of the name Xena.
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