Season 6, Episode 4
Reviewed by SLK
Rating: 7.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Story by Robert Tapert. Teleplay by R.J. Stewart. Directed by Michael Hurst. Edited by Rob Field.
PASSING PARADE: Willa O'Neill (Lila); Adrienne Wilkinson (Eve);
William Gregory Lee (Virgil); Calvin Tuteao (Gurkhan); Tandie Wright (Sonata);
Gina Varela (Milda); Michelle Langstone (Lana); Jo Lo (Yo).
DISCLAIMER: Xena's uncanny ability to recover from devastating wounds was not harmed during the production of this motion picture.
STORY SO FAR: Gabrielle goes to North Africa, seeking vengeance on the vicious raider who captured her niece and killed her parents and her sisters husband years before.
REWIND FOR: Xena's helping hand on the tiller in the first shot on board the ship to Mogodor. Touch of the perennial back seat driver's syndrome there. She clearly doesn't trust anyone, least of all the captain of this ship to do anything as well as she can. Can you spell control freak?
Yet another human resource recycling moment. You may remember the follicly challenged slave auctioneer in Mogodor from that ol' classic The Quill Is Mightier. He played the hapless general waiting for Ares' "You'll know it when you see it" sign to attack. Guess all those naked Gabrielles must have given him an idea for a career change.
Xena growling at Virgil to back off when he squeezes her cheeks (the upper ones) in front of the slave auctioneer. No one can do 'pissed off' quite like Xena. The priceless expression on Virgil's face was bettered a few seconds later when Xena was stripped naked in front of him. There were no FX guys involved when you saw his tongue rolling out of his mouth and his eyes bug out on the end of stalks.
The expression a moment later on Gabrielles face just before she asks Eve "Where is she".... Eve might have killed whole armies, but she hasnt truly known danger until that moment methinks.
A classic Joxer moment as Superlius - Pirate of the High Seas aka Virgil returns to the ship singing "I capture beautiful maidens and sell them - -." The delusions of grandeur, the fumbling as he drops his bag of gold coins, ending with a "Hi Gabrielle!" would have brought a tear to his father's eye, and an approving belch from his mother.
The look on Xena's face when Gabrielle shimmied into view (in a marvellous costume) as she literally bent those glorious abbs over backwards for Gurkhan during her dance audition. Xena's expression was a confused mix of:
1. That's a new trick, and why haven't I seen it before.
2. Where could Gabrielle possibly be concealing a weapon in that outfit she's almost wearing, and,
3. How come she never dresses for me like that?!
The scene when a pummelled Xena declares shes "peachy" as Gabrielle cradles her. Awwww, couldnt yall just feel the love. *g*
Gabrielle trailing her fingers down Xena's arm in the bathing room scene. That one small gesture demonstrated her deep love and affection for the Warrior Princess better than a thousand ham-fisted scripts ever could.
"She doesn't have what it takes to kill in cold blood. Do you think I inherited that talent from you mother?" The butter wouldn't melt in her mouth look, and the creepy tone in Eve's voice made you want to itch something.
"Eve, that peaceful smile is not going to cut it!" Gabrielle's under the strain of Eve's new 'goody goody' phase and calls her bluff. Guess you can only fool some of the people some of the time, huh Eve?
"We did it because we love you." You guessed it, Eve again. Uggh. We surrender already. That girl has all the charm of fingernails being dragged down a chalkboard.
"You'll be beaten, dragged, manacled, thrown in a dark dungeon and left to die."
A dark dungeon as opposed to the well-lit, rooms with a view, prisoners are usually forced to endure. Meanwhile, Yo, self-appointed entertainment director, impresses her fellow slave girls with a list of 'fun things to do' at Club Gurkhan.
"For in my stables, I have rare beauties from every part of the world, just waiting to be plucked." He did say plucked, right?
"I have a request - Sarah's head on a plate." And don't be skimpy with the french fries, right Xena?
"Join us little one." Ghurkhan seals his death sentence by snuffing out any chance of mercy from Gabrielle. You don't do short jokes around the Bard, mate.
Heres an episode to really hook you in from go to woe. Were talking motive, mystery and a whole lot of love. Whos Gurkhan kicked butt -- from the amazing set design and jaw-dropping costumes (was that crocodile skin adorning Sarah?! wow) -- to Xena finally back in Gabrielles court, focused on her friend and only her. Its the first episode in a long time when Xenas attention isnt being distracted away from the bard and onto gods, her daughter, her mother, conquerors, demons or angels. Xena actually seems to see Gabrielle again. I really liked that...
What was good and bad about this episode in my mind are the same thing: Gabrielle finding out her parents are dead.
The good -- this finally gives a really believable motive for the troupe to drop everything and head for north Africa. Nothing forced about it -- Gabss niece is a prisoner in a harem, of course youd be expecting them to leap the next boat. So the stakes are personal. That helps enormously in believability.
The bad -- I had a hard time rollercoasting so quickly from Gabrielles excitement at being home to her absolute depths of despair and "I want vengeance" full-faced fury that hit all in the first two minutes. Maybe that was the problem: Youve barely made a dent in the couch and already Gabs is going feral, baying for blood while Xena cues her concerned, disturbed, slightly constipated look from over the shoulder. Well it makes for the mother of all teasers, but it did seem a little too soon to prepare anyone for it.
I also felt that whole scene -- the thunderclap, the rain, the vengeance shout -- it was all a little heavy handed, and melodramatic, and I found I was wincing far more than going "Ooooh, the power" as I am sure I was meant to.
It could well have just been me. Eh, probably was just me.
But I became curious -- how would the "I want vengeance" scene have been if Renees direction had been to underplay it instead of go over-the-top. To go for a quiet, almost whispered vow for blood.
Id love to have seen a comparison. Sometimes the best dramatics are ones you dont even notice per se because youre being slowly chilled to the bone by a small, glinty look and the staggeringly, deceptively cold words from someone you least suspect capable of them.
Then there was the next scene, on the boat. I felt Renee didnt punch one line quite right, as she says "Today Im not an assassin. Tomorrow..." I knew what she was aiming for, I just didnt feel it was nailed. I wanted to be creeped out to the max, and the vocal inflection wasnt quite there. Close, but no smoked papyrus.
Add in the next moment, the totally, ridiculous, forced dash to the side of the boat for a throw-up, and I was left cold. What made the vomit moment even sillier -- aside from the forced timing to make a point that was already well and truly made -- was that the water was as flat as a tack in the background. I have never heard of anyone getting seasick when theres not a wave, hell even a ripple, in sight.
On a better note was the ending. I thought Renee was hitting her straps when she uttered the line, knife at Gurkhans throat: "Are you afraid?"
This is some of the understated elegance of acting, when a whispered line can have more impact than a screamed command to attack. Those were the chills I was hoping for before, and she delivered. While her dropping the dagger was disappointingly inevitable (ie the predictability was disappointing) it was made up for the unexpected swift return of the bard, all fists and flying feet, kicking the man while he was down.
(Not that he didnt deserve it -- but it was a welcome surprise.) Renee did it well and should be proud. Some exceptional editing going on there, too, to give the flurry a feeling of her releasing all that anger. Was this the Gabrielle we know? Yes and no. I am sure the fact she flew at him shocked a few fans... but it was a very human response. Something I have grumbled often in the past about is the bards character development and the tendency of writers to make her too perfect, too over-the-top goodly (now thats Eves job) -- and here it was a welcome relief to see her respond as a lot of people might have to their parents killer. Maybe it wasnt the Gabrielle people are used to, but its the one who interests me. The human one.
I liked how Xena just watched all this impassively, a silent sentinel (are there any other sorts?!) ready should anyone interrupt the bard. Here, at last, she has understood why the bard needed to do this. (Ill come back to that point on Xenas role shortly.)
But talk about backflips -- Xena even delivered Gurkhan to Gabrielle ready for the kill, like a roast pig, apple in its mouth. Hmmm, with friends like these, um, run....
Then we get the scene with Sarah and Gabrielle, of which both actresses did a fine job. For once, the 10 second conversion to good didnt seem forced, ala Locked Up Tied Down. I can only guess its because both actresses made it believable and because the characters were family. Sarah would have questioned the motives of absolutely anyone except family who was offering a hug and an instant escape. But because it was her aunt, her own flesh and blood, she could believe Gabrielles motives without doubt, and so her crumpling and the collapse of her barriers was understandable.
Of course she might have wanted to ask why aunty Gabs and her friend Xena looked so impossibly young -- or whether they were imposters. But I imagine no one can do a believable fake Xena *g* so Im guessing thats what swayed her. That and the fact Gabrielle knew Sarahs mothers name. (A small note on Willa -- I thought she did a fine job as the older Lila.)
And yes, Sarah is indeed in the right crowd... *g*
While Whos Gurkhan seems intended to be about Gabrielles decision on whether to wreak revenge on the man who has killed her parents (quite a tired, old story-telling theme) it works better, to my mind, when it becomes more about the Warrior Princess being prepared to go through the physical pain barrier to save Gabrielle from the emotional pain she knows would follow if the bard goes ahead and kills in cold blood.
Its actually quite biblical in essence during these moments of the story - the whole Jesus carrying the cross so others will be free of the pain and/or sin theme.
Thats our Xena, for you. Why let Gabrielle go through pain when she can do it for her? Actually thats Xenas motto on everyone and everything... eg you wanna pick a fight with them? Well pick one with me instead... etc.
And, continuing the biblical moment, at times when Xenas faith (in her motives) might be in question, when shes alone in the cell, a physically broken woman, that faith is bolstered by visions of Gabrielle, to remind her why shes doing this and to give her the strength to carry on.
In other words -- it really is an age-old tale of faith and love guiding a soul. A very sweet and simple scene, but conveying so much power.
Of course the ending is as far removed as you could get from those old religious mythologies and parables. Xena (for reasons not actually explained) suddenly decides that if Gabrielle wants to kill Gurkhan, who is she to stop her?!
Er, yes. Well, if Xenad come to that rather obvious conclusion in the beginning, her gizzards wouldnt have been rearranged by smelly dungeon masters for a month...
But why is this an obvious conclusion?
The general answer is -- if Xena fights all Gabrielles fights for her, makes all her decisions for her, this, while keeping her safe, does not lead to much growth in the bard. If Xena does not allow Gabrielle to make her own mistakes, no matter how high the stakes, what, in the short term, seems like a positive thing is a negative in the long term. By Xena taking over, the message, subtle but clear, is -- this is not your decision to make; or, this is your decision but you have no say in it if I disagree with what you decide.
This mentality only teaches someone to become dependent in the long term and fearful of making any decision at all, especially without their decision-maker close at hand.
All these things are disastrous little messages to be subconsciously sending to a friend -- and supposedly an equal -- at any time ... even if all Xena is actually thinking is: "I love her, I want her safe and well."
But as for now, well, this is the worst possible instance for Xena to be intervening -- these are Gabrielles parents who have been murdered here. It is soooo NOT Xenas business to be telling Gabrielle how this should be dealt with and how she should react. Sure it might not be the way Xena would want her to react. Sure, she maybe thinking, uh oh, Gabrielles making a horrible mistake. But its hers to make.
Ideally, Xena should have approached her friend and given her the pros and cons, and then let her do her own thing, while providing back up and emotional support as needed. Working as a team would have cost them both less pain -- Xena the physical pain; and Gabrielle the pain of worrying about and then seeing Xena injured. Instead, for Xena to take on Gabrielles burden as her own, did Gabrielle a grave disservice, especially as far as a big old negative vote of confidence in her goes.
I say again: This is Gabrielles business -- to fix it or muck it up, as she sees fit. Because -- Gabrielle is an adult. Gasp. A concept Xena finds hard to get her head around. Actually thats not true. She acknowledges Gabrielle is an adult, but still makes all the decisions for her... Ri-ight...
Anyway, for some reason, after all Xena went through in the dungeon, she ultimately did an about-face and gave permission for Gabrielle to kill Gurkhan. Dont ya love that? Xena thinks its hers to give -- permission for Gabrielle to kill.
Or, to be kind, Xena gave her blessing for the killing, at least. This shows more than anything else how Xena is still the decision-maker of the pair and is used to not being questioned. So when Gabrielle steps away from that unspoken decree by showing an independent and contrary mindset to Xenas in this episode, what happens? Xena drugs her and does things her way anyway! And then, when later Xena sees she was possibly wrong (like shed ever actually admit it) and that it is Gabrielles decision to make, she deigns to allow her to make it.
And Gabrielle actually THANKS her for letting her!!
There are some rather large trust issues that those two need to hammer out, about the sea-sickness drugging alone. Gabrielle has a right to be angry. This is something two people in the real world, gee, I dunno TALK about (at least before they reach for the knock-out drugs!). Even though Xena is right about the emotional consequences of Gabrielle killing Gurkhan, it is the bard who is right about whose decision this is to make. And there is no escaping what Xena did crossed the line, even if she only had the bards interests at heart.
Alternately, you could argue that Xenas not really treating her as a kid, shes just looking out for her (as good friends do), the only way she knows how -- by sticking her big nose into things. And she also knows that Gabrielle is not adverse to doing the opposite of what Xena suggests ("stay here" being one oft-ignored command that springs to mind) even to her peril, and is, at this moment, beyond listening to any reason Xena might attempt.
So Xena may have launched a pre-emptive strike hoping itd all be sorted out by the time Gabrielle woke up. Lets say this is what was going on. And she came back to the boat, with Gurkhans head under arm, just as Gabrielle was stretching and catching bugs with her yawns.
Would the bard thank Xena for this?
Remember, part of the reason this was so personal to Gabrielle was because Gurkhan had chopped off her parents heads. No small thing. Now, someone else has done the vengeance on her behalf and she hasnt lifted a finger to help.
Her rage is still in her system and now shed be feeling almost cheated out of her chance to kick the crap out of Gurkhan at the very least.
She may not know yet, as perhaps Xena does, that revenge is not as sweet as it is cracked up to be. She may not realise that killing Gurkhan will not give her the peace she seeks. But HOW will she ever learn any of these things, if Xena keeps intervening and doing them for her?! This is what I meant by it being Gabrielles mistake to learn from. That was the lesson for her: what will the killing mean for the bard, and how will she reconcile it with who she is?
Without being put on the line and forced to answer that at the moment she is holding a knife to Gurkhans throat, shed never know. But by going through the whole thing, she would have had a measure of closure, a measure of revenge and a measure of peace -- all three things she could not have gained had Xena just presented Gurkhans head on a platter to her.
For these reasons, albeit with the right intent, Xena made the wrong choice initially to take Gabrielles place. But at least she wised up later. (I do wish they would tell us what led to this blinding revelation).
That begs the next question: why did we even have to see Xena go through all that grief only to then change her mind?
I am guessing 1) so they could show off their cool little montage of Xena being battered about like a piņata, while Gabrielle waited and fretted. Not that I didnt wince and feel her pain, but I admit my scholarly eye notes that it was a nice bit of editing and direction there. (However I do wish theyd stop thumping our gals into a pulp at every opportunity -- I am starting to break out into spontaneous bruises.)
Secondly, if Xena had decided from the get-go this was purely Gabrielles business and not for her to interfere even slightly, then by rights shed be sitting at the docks, filing her nails, waiting for Gabrielle to do her thing and come back. And that aint good TV no matter how good a manicure Xena was getting. *g*
So in essence, it was a plot device. Get Gabs and Xena going head to head, and it makes for some bruising (literally) entertaining.
I still argue they could have done it as a team effort. You didnt need to have them at odds, even briefly. All they had to do was focus on the goal that Gurkhan was going to end up dead and leave the hows and wherefores to the fates when they got there. And if Xena had been thinking straight, shed have realised as we all did that Gabrielle really is no assassin and wouldnt have gone through with it.
Time to talk Eve. Just when I think I might start warming up to her, she starts sucking up to Mother appallingly. I had liked the rather provocative way she posed the question to Xena that Gabrielle does not have what it takes to kill in cold blood. It made her briefly interesting. And then she ruined it by asking in a really odd, crawly way, "do you think I inherited that from you?"
My views on the absurd notion of "inheriting" something like an acumen for cold-blooded killing are well noted. (If it were true, all murderers would be sterilised as a matter of course.) But what I found equally awful was that she certainly appeared to be seeking approval from her mother when she asked her question. As though shed get a little pat on the head and a "yes dear, youre so like me". (Which indeed she almost got.)
I can not think of a more horrific thing to want to compare notes with a parent about. That girl certainly has a questionable personality -- a thing Gabrielle shudders over earlier: "...the cold way your daughter talks about her past".
At the time, Xena misses the point: "She knows what I know -- theres nothing you can do about the past you can only work to make the future better."
Gabrielles emphasis was on the word "cold". Yet Xena picked up on "past".
Gabrielle was right first time -- Eve is one creepily cold fish at times. In this episode, she seems to come close to relishing what she has done -- if nothing else because of the bloody bond she now shares with her mother. And that response alone will always make her very different to Xena. Remember the Warrior Princesss response in Blind Faith when a wannabe warrior kept harping on about her past deeds? She grabs him by the neck and points out these were not happy memories for her.
While I doubt hers are happy memories for Eve either, she does seem to relish them a little more than Mother does. Its like, dare I say it (and I hope I am wrong), shes almost a little proud of what she was capable of (as opposed to what she did), and almost proud of the fact she could probably match it in a dead-men-belt-notch count with her mother, as opposed to (in Eves mind) poor innocent Gabrielle...
Thats just chilling.
Maybe shes a little jealous of the bond Xena and Gabrielle have and thats whats prompting such ill-conceived chit-chat. Certainly Xena should be looking at her daughter a little more askance than she was.
That scene also revealed one other thing: with their faces side by side, I can really see what the casting department saw in Adrienne Wilkinson. What an absolutely believable pick for Xenas daughter. Position of chins, cheekbones, eye color, hair, the whole bit. Very good match.
Still on mother-daughter bonding theme, this episode had a really lovely moment between Sarah and Gabrielle that has been totally missing and desperately needed between Xena and Eve.
Gabrielle sits down with Sarah and takes her in her arms until she lets down her guard, telling her that no one blames her and its okay. Its at this point we get an explanation for Sarahs behaviour and Gabrielle coos it all away nicely until theyre ready to leave.
Vital plot point that. Now we know why Sarah was such a bitch -- "life just seemed so brutal. I thought the only way to survive was to be more vicious than my competition".
And we know about her pain that led her to this point, at watching as "they killed father, and grandma and grandpa". (I do wish shed enunciated better, though -- I kept hearing her say "I killed father" etc -- and it was driving me nuts that Gabrielle didnt even twitch!)
We lastly hear Sarah is ashamed and we know its because the pain shes had bottled up has now been released and shes looking at it all and thinking "what have I done?".
This is soooo what Xena and Eve needed to clear things up for us. At this point, we only know what Eve has done and that she is sorry and ashamed.
We still dont know why and how she turned into what she did, and ridiculous allusions to genetics coupled with Ares pointing her in the right direction seem all too inadequate. We needed this scene with Eve. And were still waiting... (*Impatient foot tap*.)
In fact, look at the expression on Xenas face as she watches Sarah and Gabrielle in the dungeon. Its like shes thinking the same thing.
Still on the second bananas... Why is Virgil there? Hasnt he got a home? Does he like hanging around the woman who murdered his beloved daddy, or is that just a hobby? Is it a like-father, like-son hanger-on thing? No, seriously: why is Virgil still here?
His father was always the comic relief and the occasional Boy Friday. The comic relief was a handy device as it took the pratfalls away from Gabrielle and allowed her to mature and grow while Joxer could be the clutz who got them all into (and sometimes out of) trouble.
Until this episode, Virgil has been neither of these things. Hes been here for one reason I can see: to be the male sex appeal. Shirt ever off, dopey appealing grin, hes there to give the fans something more to look at in the background than the same three bushes and polystrene rocks. If this is so, whats Ares, then? Chopped liver? *g*
All joking aside: Do they really think this is why the fans tune in to a show like Xena? And a better question: why this, now?
Dont get me wrong, I like Virgil just fine. Just wondering when he was going to get a life of his own. At least Joxer always looked like he had somewhere else to go. Virgil is starting to take on the appearance of a stray dog. (A cold stray dog. *g*)
Meanwhile, this episode marks Virgils debut of possibly taking up where Joxer left off. The singing pirate returning with his booty after selling Xena was pure Jox all over. I dont know if I like Virgil as the comic relief wannabe, because one of the things he had going for him was that he was someone you could respect, rather than roll your eyes at his antics. It will be interesting whether they pursue this with his character.
But they might want to remember that people can be funny without doing pratfalls.
If they need Virgil to lighten things, they could have got it from the dichotomy of Joxer's son being the antithesis of their father. Like Niles in Frasier, who doesn't go around slipping on banana peels, but usually gets the best laughs. They come from the deadly earnest character discovering his humanity. One notes that the Virgil/Joxer laughs come from *de*humanising the characters.
Another thing to ponder: how menacing this episode might have been if Virgil had been in a darker mood -- if selling Xena and loaning Gabrielle to Gurkhan had not been some flippant game, but something he took deadly seriously. I know they were trying to lighten the mood -- it was why he was bopping up a storm when Gabrielle was dancing for Gurkhan -- but consider what danger might have been projected if he had been afraid for the pair, and played it deadly straight. Not really arguing for this one way or another -- Im just wondering how it might have been.
Besides, realistically, there is nothing humorous about seeing two women you care about being sold into bondage just to get revenge on a bloody killer who has hurt one of them horribly.
Gabrielle had the right idea to be presented as a gift to Gurkhan. Xena was nuts to hope that the raider of her choice would buy her in an open auction. What if he was otherwise entertained on the day? Or he figured he had exceeded his wife-buying quota for the month? Who knows what slimy warlord she could have been lumbered with. A very big risk there.
Equally big was the risk Xena took in asking for Sarahs head on a platter. Gurkhan could have ordered the first wifes death right then, or worse, while she was buttering up Gurkhan in his bedroom, when she wasnt there to stop it. How would she have explained to Gabrielle that her plan backfired and now, thanks to her, Lilas daughter was in two pieces?
The guards seem to think it not at all unusual that Sarah is bigger and fatter when they go to kill her? I presume he was out cold or hed have alerted the guards to the fact he was not her. So if he was unconscious, theyd have had to move him into position to kill him and that, in itself, would have alerted them to "Sarahs" sudden increase in mass and bulk.
Xena and the entire harem just waltz on out of fortress without the guards caring or noticing? Or was the "lets get outta here" moment with the two guards in the cell after Gurkhans death meant to signal that all the guards, all throughout the palace, even those who had no idea their employer had just been beheaded, were similarly outta there, too?
Xena has kicked the entire Persian and Roman armys butt once or twice. We are led to believe she has to prevent Gabrielle from attempting to assassinate Gurkhan in that first moment in the harem, because between the two of them they cant deal with the half-dozen overweight, middle-aged, half-asleep men in the room, and however many guards are stationed nearby?
Xena tells Gabrielle she can kill Gurkhan if she wants. Gabrielle thanks her. A servant with ever widening eyes and not-painted-on ears is listening in. Was that a wise business decision to discuss this in front of the hired help, darlings? For all we know she could have gone sliming off to snitch on them.
In summary, a fine job all round -- a believable motive, some astonishing work from the crew and some yummy acting, once the over-the-top business was dispensed with. On a subtext angle, some sweet moments, and as I said last review, its nice to see it back in there. I think it had a lot to do with the way Xena was focused on Gabrielle again instead of schmoozing the blow-in guest star of the week.
This is the episode all those hard-working New Zealand behind-the-scenes bods should use to show off to their friends and family.
And as for the fans -- its some memorable, vintage X&G...
Its been awhile, so just sit back and savour it for a bit as you ponder that immortal question: "Isnt Gurkhan something you have with dips and crackers?"
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