King Con Episode Review "Who's Conning Whom"
by Lord Nelson firstname.lastname@example.org
At first when I viewed "King Con" I was lukewarm about it. It has improved to me on each subsequent viewing and some sharp outside analysis I found on the mailing lists. Now don't everybody faint. I have been critical of some Xena: Warrior Princess episodes in the past. "Giant Killer" was no more than fair. For Him The Bell Tolls had problems because it couldn't make up its mind about who was the hero, and if anybody noticed I never reviewed "King of Assassins." I didn't review it because I had nothing nice to say about it. I thought it was the weakest episode of the entire series. "King Con" was a surprisingly unambitious episode for one of the very best writers on the Xenastaff, Chris Manheim. It did try to look at one of Xena's major characteristics (The Passion from the opening credits) , her sexualty, while the rest of it was a caper adventure with the characters running a series of confidence games on each other. The biggest problem was that it was very hard to figure out what was a con and what wasn't. This lack of clarity kind of drained the excitement out of the story by shifting the interest to the one expected result of the conning, the taking of Titus. As it was, "King Con" did show us yet another of Xena's many skills, cheating at games of chance and her enjoyment of it, and it showed us some very nice chemistry between Xena and the head con man Rafe. (Played winningly by Patrick Fabian)
Here's where I was lost. Rafe was running a bet with his associate Eldon that HE could get Xena to kiss him. Xena guessed that it was going on. What wasn't clear was that from that moment, Xena was running a con on Rafe to get HIM to kiss her first. Gabrielle noted to Xena that Rafe was handsome, smart, and funny. He was the typical kind of bad boy to which Xena is attracted (she admits as much in Comedy of Eros) Here is the key problem with the entire episode. Xena's initial responses to Rafe isn't clear. If Xena had told Gabrielle at this point that she WAS interested in Rafe and that she was going to cut him down a peg or two by trying to con HIM into kissing HER first, the ep would have worked a lot better. This is a Xena Warrior Princess episode We know that the con against the bad guy Titus was going to work. That's a given. However, It would have been GREAT if we knew that BOTH Xena and Rafe were lusty marks in a battle of the sexes and we didn't know who would win. Rafe is a fine character and would have an excellent opponent in a hormone drenched battle of wits with Xena. The great movie "The Sting" with which this episode is unfavorably compared was ABSOLUTELY clear about who was the mark in the big con, but we didn't exactly know what the con payoff was and we didn't know when complications set in. Ms. Manheim's script needed to be much clearer about these factors. The situation would have been greatly clarified to the viewer with just a small number of lines of dialog:
G: "Your typical bad boy---just your type."
X: (regretfully at first, then lustfully at the end) "Yeah, I know. I'll hate myself in the morning, but I do like (I prefer the word WANT here but this is a family review) him, Gabrielle."
G: (with a little helpful leer) "So what are you going to do about it, Xena?"
X: "Deflate his---ego a little bit, and maybe try a little redemption on the side." (lustful chuckle)
It was Ariana that put me on this line of analysis. Xena was in need of 'companionship.' (To paraphrase Gabrielle in Warrior...Priestess...Tramp) It's clear later that Xena does like Rafe, but it wasn't clear that Rafe was her mark. I think it's wonderful that Gabrielle isn't threatened by Xena's sexuality with men. It really shows Gabrielle's love and trust for the warrior and vice versa. This episode also points out that the devil is in the details. This one little addition would have raised King Con into a fine ep. As it was it was entertaining, but not particularly edifiying.
Everybody performed well. I thought Lucy played the last scene very well mixing in lust with admiration for Rafe's fundamental goodness. However, Lucy has said she prefers eps where Xena is emotionally involved, but because of the script muddle she couldn't play the veiled lust that the situation required. So, her performance wasn't as committed as usual, but still good.
Patrick Fabian was handed a fat part and he ran with it. Very nice job.
A lot of people missed a subtext reference in the beginning of the ep.
Rafe: What do you think?
Eldon: "Forget it. No man can make her." If that isn't a statement that Eldon thinks Xena likes women I don't know what it is.
To conclude then, Chris Manheim and the Xenastaff just missed making this a fine ep. As it was it was just slightly below average for Xena. Remember however, just below average for Xena is still fine television.
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