In Sickness and In Hell

Review by:  Lord Nelson

Admittedly toilet humor is acquired taste, but anything can BE good if Done Good, and this was Done Good. In Sickness and In Hell, is a sweet, fun, and REAL episode that fits into the new atmosphere of Xena: Warrior Princess very well. It does it by giving us more insight into Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, and for the first time in the show's history ARGO's feelings for each other and their lives together. It was gross, yes, but like one of my other favorite shows "South Park" it was intelligent and witty grossness that hit me in unexpected directions, and drove me sweetly into well trodden ground.

This episode also does something important. It creates a format, a standard shape for Xena comedies. The format is based on A Day In The Life, where the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is mined for its comedic possiblities. Not only is the relationship explored, but how Xena's and Gabrielle's interactions with the others in their lives is looked at also. The Doubles comedies are situational farces as are most tv comedies. THESE Xena episodes are more about life than comedy which makes the comedy all the more effective.

In this episode, we see for the first time how the events of third season have changed Xena's and Gabrielle's lives. The changes are great indeed. Xena and Gabrielle, while still themselves, have grown tremendously, and if anything their chemistry together as friends has increased. Xena handles her illness not with her past frustration or anger, but with humor. This is the first time that the Xena character has been a focus for humiliation in the history of the show. It's happened to Gabrielle, and certainly to Joxer but never to Xena. The character wouldn't allow it before. But this is the new, emotionally healthy Xena, better able to accept life as it comes rather than struggle against it. Xena does her best to accept her lot with joy. This is trait that she learned from Gabrielle. The Bard's always been able to do that. Xena's only problem was her long denial of her little passengers.

We can also see clearly that Xena and Gabrielle are absolute equals. Throughout the episode they are THERE for each other. They show this by trying to allay their suffering with humor. Not even in A Day In The Life did we see the pair as consistently and powerfully playful as they were here. They tried to mine humor wherever they could and Joxer, in his own compassionate but dumb way helped them more than he could ever understand. The scene where their new equality is expressed the best is in the absolutely precious incident when Gabrielle scratched her back with Xena's chakram. Xena calls Gabrielle "Scabrielle" and Gabrielle calls Xena "Eczema" Then Gabrielle DARES Xena to put her pressure points on her. "Think you're pretty tough now eh Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle asks while urging Xena on by wiggling her fingers. GAAAH that was great. All of the bickering is good natured and extremely loving. "You want a piece of me, Xena?! I'll give you a piece of me!" Gabrielle says ripping a piece of dead skin off of her fungus.

At last the great Sacrifice Arc is ended. Xena's primary mission is to get Argo her horse back. In that quest, Xena is much more emotional and open than we've ever seen to hilarious results. Argo is mad at Xena for leaving her. She starts to act passive agressively against Xena by avoiding her. (ARGO NEEDS THERAPY!! :)) To exact her revenge against Xena she joins the army of the Evil Scythian leader Hepheastus (I think so I had a problem understanding the name) After the Scythian rides Argo in an attack on the village Joxer is defending, Argo disobeys Xena's whistles to join her. After the fight, Xena is hurt and openly self critical. She cries unabashedly. Gabrielle opines that Argo surely doesn't hold a grudge. Xena replies "You don't know her! You don't know how moody she can be! She's never opened up to you." What a self revelation THAT is! Xena would never EVER admit before that the only thing she ever trusted and cared about was a horse. Not only was this little scene incredibly funny, but it was poigniant and beautifully honest too. This carried over into the climactic unarmed confrontation with Argo Xena had. Xena refused to defend herself against her charging steed. Xena trusted Argo not to run her down, and the palamino delivered.

The screenplay was very tight and moved like lightning---much tighter than Fish Femmes and Gems. It provided an excellent foundation for a series of wonderful lines, inside jokes, and teasing of the audience. Contrary to what Xenastaff has said to us, somebody's reading fanfic at Renaissance because the entire Argo plot was a parody of many writers wanting XENA to be emotionally distraught over Gabrielle. Even the illnesses and infestations was a sly parody of the "Hurt-Care" genre of fan fiction. These were written with a wonderful tongue in cheek tone and with great respect. The mineral bath scene was wonderful because it parodied the scene in ADITL gently and left EVERYBODY wanting more.

The use of sound effects was fabulous. Every time I heard a sly comment or a scream from one of Xena's louse visitors I wanted to fall over. The great lines came in bunches from "Don't talk to me about rot!" To "{nature called} like a screaming banchee!" I've been muttering "Thena's thut off the fwow of bwood to yuh bwain!" All week! Gabrielle's reaction to her numb mouth was wonderful.

Lucy and Renee must have had SO much fun making this episode. Coming to work every day had to be a delight. Lucy and Renee always have a twinkle in their eye when they work together but in this episode that twinkle was more like a strobe light. The joy they were taking in the situation their characters were in and the wittiness of the script shown out in every line, gesture and posture. We saw the beautifully intense personal relationship of Lucy and Renee in every frame and that greatly increased my enjoyment.

Ted Raimi was outstanding. He served mostly as a straight man in this episode, and being a straight man is a tough job. He showed EXPERT comedy timing and the times he was the "Banana" of a situation he delivered with great verve. He also effectively showed the NEW Joxer, just as stupid, and perhaps just a touch self absorbed, but caring and steadfast too.

I must say I really enjoyed Josh Becker's direction. His style is a cross between the frantic camera movements of TJ Scott and the smooth elegance of Oley Sassone and it fit the material very well.

The fights, especially the full scale cavalry battle at the end Xena vs the Evil Scythian Chief was absolutely outstanding. Although short, I consider it one of the very best of the whole series. As usual, Rob Field's deft hand at editing hammered home the punch lines and heightened the excitement of the fights tremendously.

I really REALLY enjoyed In Sickness and In Hell. It's the best of the Armas and Foster comedies. I just wish my bathroom tissue was as well perforated as Gabrielle's scrolls!