Key To The Kingdom
by Lord Nelson
Meg the prostitute said when we first met her that, "My father died in childbirth. He was drunk and fell off the roof of the house when mommy was having me." This line, from "Warrior...Princess...Tramp" runs through this episode like a river of darkness.
The Key to The Kingdom is the most unusual episode in the entire run of Xena: Warrior Princess It is first episode where the star is a character related only to the real star of the show only by the fact that she was an identical twin. The Warrior Princess arrives only at the very end, not to save the day, but to join her twin in bringing a successful conclusion to the story. This is a Xena light episode, but the hooker with the heart of gold, Meg, played by Lucy Lawless, is in nearly every scene.
The most interesting aspect to this episode is that it is on the surface a light, airy farce featuring three fine comic characters, Meg, Joxer, and Autolycus. It is in actuality a tragedy, a tragedy brought about by the abandonment and abuse of a fine young woman, Meg.
The episode starts with Meg, Auto, and Joxer planning to get "The Crown Of Athena" but Meg, has a different agenda. Meg is after the KEY to the Crown of Athena. Meg KNOWS that the key isn't a piece of metal, the key is a baby---an infant boy. The entire episode isn't about a caper to get a bauble, it's about a sad, and lonely woman looking for someone to love her. Joxer let on more than he knew when he told Autolycus that Meg had something missing. What was missing was self love.
The results of her abusive childhood run all the way through Meg's behavior. Meg is an attention hog. As a result, in public, Meg is a show woman. She's funny, and in her uneducated way witty. She mugs, burps, and uses wild gestures almost like that of a court gesture to gain attention. She's a prostitute and promiscuous---again behavior meant to gain attention. She drinks and drinks heavily at times. She drinks to medicate the pain she feels when she doesn't find the attention she craves. She's a shoplifter. Lastly, she commits the great mistake that so many women so bereft in their lives commit---she gets a baby to get the child to pay her attention.
What a tragdedy! Meg's clearly intelligent. She worked out a way to manipulate Autolycus, someone who is NOT stupid, into finding the boy for her, and then trap him. She's really good natured and a lot of fun with which to be. Presumably, she's expert at the prostitute's trade. She's got guts. She showed that in the planning of the kidnapping, and her jump into the chariot to save the baby. Lastly, she is an affectionate woman who really does care about people, and the baby. After all, the baby had nobody to tell him stories. Meg wants to give the child what she can. In a way, Meg is like Charlie Chaplin's "Little Tramp."
The key to making this tragedy wrapped in a comedy work is the talent of Lucy Lawless. Her reading of Meg could be seen as over the top, but is it? Many very hurt people ARE over the top in their behavior. There are many famous instances of performers who came from abusive and neglectful backgrounds. Johnny Carson is probably the most famous example. Extravagant behavior in such persons is VERY common. There is a lovely silliloquy where Meg shows the child the sky. Not only is it very well written, but also Lucy performs it to perfection. Meg is a very different person when she thinks she's alone or with someone she really loves. With the child, Meg is gentle, honest, caring, and even poetic. The longing for love and stability Lucy shows Meg as having is deeply moving. Abused people are often extremely loyal. Autolycus is right when he told Joxer, "You know when I said that Meg doesn't have an ounce of loyalty for any one man?...I was wrong." In the screenplay Meg shows her real self several times.
When the story resolves, and the baby turns out to be King Cleides made an infant by the Goddess Athena, Meg is inwardly devastated. She's happy that the spell's been broken and that everything for the king and everybody else has turned out all right. However, once more, Meg is left on the outside. All she wanted was a happy home with a baby for which to care. Xena, who had arrived late in the ep tries to comfort her by saying that she'd have her own baby, Meg admits that she's incapable of bearing children. Lucy's wonderful here. Poor Meg's dissapointment and lonliness is crushing. The final scene leaves the silliness that went before with a bittersweet feeling.
I have to make a statement. I've read a lot of carping on the lists and elsewhere that Lucy's acting has deteriorated. I've heard that maybe the directors of the show have been afraid of her because she's Rob Tapert's wife and therefore are taking it easy on her. I've also heard that maybe Lucy's bored and it's showing up in her performances. In my opinion, this is the rankest persiflage. My enjoyment of Lucy's art is growing steadily, as is my admiration at her professionalism. She admitted symptoms of burn out earlier in the season, but I have yet to see ANY sign of it. I admit that the part of Xena is probably the most strenuous part EVER created for television. It is a feat of physical and emotional and physical endurance that would test the strongest of troopers. I expect Lucy to become tired. Lucy has not failed to deliver. She remains the finest actress on television today.
Something has to be said about Joxer. Joxer is now to my mind an admirable character. Yes, he's an idiot. Yes he still hates himself to the extent that he's delusional, but Joxer is a caring, and loving man. He has courage, and he's as loyal as can be. What would anyone, given so few gifts, do to try to better themselves? Joxer is trying hard. His tragedy is that he has family expectations that he feels he must meet. Giving up trying to please one's family is one of the most psychologically difficult things to do in life. How can anyone expect this as a matter of course? Many people NEVER succeed in forging such independence. Ted Raimi's performance of the character is now excellent. He's now consistently showing the character's pathos as well as his silliness.
Autolycus, the lovable rogue, is just as much a rogue, and just as lovable. Bruce Campbell uses his tremendous skill at physical comedy, and his elegant hamminess beautifully. He's also a fine director of comedy. This story was smoothly paced and succinct.
When I first heard of this script, I thought it had Armas and Foster all over it. Turns out it's by a newcomer, Eric Morris. It's a good first effort. The idea of farce with an undercurrent of tragedy is a fine idea because it provides the combination of both comedy and drama that is the hallmark of Xena at it's best. It was an audacious choice to keep Xena out of the story until the end, and to leave Gabrielle out of it all together. To the scripts credit, Xena DOESN'T arrive to save the day. She arrives when Autolycus and Meg have things under control and doesn't take over. She just joins in. This is actually growth in Xena's character. She kept her need to control in check. The dialog was very good, and the silloquies for Meg were excellent. I'd like to see this writer again.
All in all, "Key to the Kingdom" is a fine, funny episode. It surely was a great change of pace for Lucy, and she delivered big time. But like all excellent comedy, tragedy lay just underneath the surface. I pray someday Meg truly finds out what a good woman she is. I hope fervently that finds her light in the sky as well.
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