Review by: Lord Nelson
Past Imperfect is a very sad, and very emotionally true story. It's a story about what it's like to BE Xena in a moment of many transitions. Xena is a deeply conservative person, as all abused people are. Xena HATES change. Now however, she's confronted with profound changes in her life that are coming quickly---far more quickly than she ever could have imagined just last year. She's acquired an ability she never thought she had, seeing visions. She's also confronted with a Gabrielle that is new, strong, independent, a scarred combat veteran, and nearly fearless. Gabrielle now decides for herself what to do in every situation and rebels strongly when she disagrees with the Warrior Princess. Though intellectually able to accept that fact, Xena remains emotionally at sea and insecure. She fears Gabrielle may leave her at any moment, and she fears that the vision of Gabrielle's crucifixion will come true.
Now Xena is confronted with an enemy whom she doesn't know, who is familiar with her strategic and tactical methods. In frustration at one point, Xena exclaims, "How can I fight myself?" She little realizes that's EXACTLY what she's been doing since she met Gabrielle. Cast your minds back to DREAMWORKER, where in the dreamscape passage, Xena fights and defeats her evil self. In essense then, Steve Sears is telling two stories, a military detective story, and a rumination on Xena's path of self acceptance. This is a story about perspective. Xena sees the events in this story one way during Orphan of War when we are first told it, and very differently two years later in Past Imperfect.
Psycologically, the extremely vulnerable emotional state that Xena is in during this episode is totally understandible. Xena was holding both her violent temper and her intense self loathing in place by the sheer force of her will. Now, since Sin Trade, she's made a conscious decision to follow what Lao Ma told her to do---give up willing, give up controlling, give up hating. All the memories that she'd suppressed are coming up, bringing the feelings associated with them to the surface. Steve Sears uses flashbacks to Xena's first Battle of Corinth to explore those events and feelings associated with in a penetrating and yet sensitive way. Once again, Xena's courage holds sway here. Even though she is terrified of her vision of crucifixion, she can now LOOK at what happened to her in her past, FEEL the feelings, and move on. The process is deeply sad, but sadness is much more managable than shame.
The events of the flashbacks and the detective story are clear and directly followed in parallel. In the flashbacks, Xena is totally focused on the acquisition of the Ixion stone. Even Solon, still in urtero doesn't matter in her obsession to become what Alti promised, the Destroyer of Nations. Xena does not hear or believe that since she'd become pregnant by Borias, Borias' love of her and the baby had taken over his character. It is only after Satrina, the warlord who knows Xena, who was once Xena's body servant, set Borias up to be killed by Dagnine, Solon's birth, and Xena SEEING Borias die while reaching for her son, did Xena at last REALIZE and BELIEVE that she was really loved for who she was.
In one of the final scenes of the screenplay, there is some crucial dialog. G: Alti promised you a destiny. X: "I was to be the Destroyer of Nations. Funny how I looked forward to those promises of hers, and every one of them ended in tragedy. Maybe that's why I fear this prophecy(Xena's vision of Gabrielle's and her crucifixion) so much." G: "A prophecy? Xena, no one said anything about a prophecy. Maybe it's a warning---a sign? The truth is you don't know---like Alti didn't know, because she didn't know YOU." X: Borias knew. He showed me the hatred I had for myself. He showed me the love that someone could have for a child..."
This is one of the key scenes in all of Xena, for it is Xena's first acknowlegement to Gabrielle and to the spirits she believes in that she hates herself. The recognition of THAT fact shows her that she is now ready, after many many years, to learn to love herself. ALL of herself, including the violence deep in her heart.
You see, Solon's birth and Borias' death DID change Xena. Only now did she have the perspective to see that Borias was right. She couldn't raise Solon because, Borias: "He would become a target for all those that hate you, Xena. He would see things a child should never see." X: "He would become like me." Remember from Sin Trade Xena's terrible line, "Borias, you say the word 'family' one more time I'm gonna puke!"? Xena could NEVER raise an innocent infant, because she considered herself so hateful, that the child would be condemned to BECOME her. That is why she gave Solon up. That's why she didn't quit being a warlord to raise Solon. She was convinced she could never change, and she couldn't inflict someone like her on her son. Only now, twelve years later, after the death of her son her lover, and the near death of the most important person in her life, Gabrielle, does Xena realize she IS a good person down deep.
This is the reason why Steve Sears chose to redo, almost verbatim, the adoption scene from Orphan of War. The first time, when Xena hands the baby over, she is flat, focused, almost fierce in aspect. When Xena leaves, she looks as if she was going to vomit, but she still had a war to fight. The fire of hatred was still in her eye. She new then that she had to save the child's life, but she also had to get him out of the way. When she visited the memory the first time, Xena felt that her giving up the child was a hateful, evil thing to do. It was only in Orphan of War did she acknowledge that her memory of Solon was eating away at her.
The second time when Xena revisits the incident, Xena's behavior to Kaliaphas is almost desperate, self reproachful, desperate to do what Borias had told her, because she was convinced that the child would die because she couldn't mother him properly. Xena now knows that it was the ONLY thing she could have done. Giving the child up was an expression of love---love not only for Solon, yet unnamed, and for Borias now dead. Xena now knows it was the right thing to do, as painful and tragic as it was. In Xena's second memory, she PLEADS with Borias to take the baby. That wasn't in the first memory. Xena's perspective has changed. I pointed this out in my review of Sin Trade, AND her perspective has changed for the better.
Steve also takes the time to look at Gabrielle briefly. She's VERY strong and very disillusioned. During the incident at the dam, a young soldier remarks that Xena was 'Amazing' Gabrielle casts him a quick, disbelieving look. She knows that this Xena is very human, but she acknowledges her tremendous charisma and the powerful effect she has on soldiers. Repeatedly, Gabrielle rebels at Xena's attempts to protect her after Xena told her about the crucifixion vision. Against Xena's wishes she even goes up onto the battlements to reinforce the defenses.
My Oh My Gabrielle has changed. Or has she? Gabrielle has gotten what she wanted. She told Lilla all the way back in Sins of the Past, that she wanted to be a warrior, just like Xena. She even resisted Lilla who whined, "Gabrielle, I can beat you up!" A lot of people have claimed that Gabrielle was always some kind of soft hearted pacifist and that all of her new patina as a professional warrior is inconsistent. NOTHING could be further from the truth. Gabrielle was deluding herself that because she was fighting for the greater good, she would never get blood on her hands. Well, now she knows. Gabrielle LOVES what she does. All of it. She's just as much an adrenaline junkie as Xena and always has been. She's presently lost because she hasn't mustered the courage to look at herself and say, "I'm A Warrior. I fight for a living." She's at the point of getting everything that she needs to know from Xena for her career. She even commanded brilliantly in A Good Day! Now that she has what she wants, can she live with it? That's left in suspense for us. I can't wait for Xenastaff to spring THIS little trap upon us
If I have a problem with this episode, it's with the casting of Catherine Boniface as Satrina. She tries gamely with the material, but she didn't have what it took to raise her character to more than a plot device.
Everybody else was fantastic. I applaud Marton Csokas as Borias. The warlord with a heart became a true, tragic hero. He showed love, compassion, hurt and incredulity equally adeptly. Xena is a woman, that even though he loves her with all his heart and soul, Borias could NEVER understand her. Like Xena says in Sin Trade about Alti, "This is way over your head, Borias!" And that's right. Borias just wasn't smart enough to see into Xena's soul, and it's this lack of brilliance in the face of Xena that makes him almost an endearing figure. It's Csoskas' skill as an actor that pulls off this difficult feat.
Mark Furguson's Dagnine was less feral, less mad, and far more terrifying this time around. He knew all of Xena's worst traits and he played to them brilliantly. But like Borias, he didn't have the brains to keep up with Xena, a genius of the highest order. Well done.
How many more superlatives can I heap on Lucy? I can't. I give up! All I'll say is that Xena's thousand yard stare at the end of the ep will haunt me as long as I live. Renee's new tough Gabrielle is a compelling character. She now knows how to love Xena truely by being tough on her as necessary. As usual, Renee is superb.
The episode was excellently directed. Garth Maxwell shoots both stories very darkly and almost claustrophobically, almost as if we are inside Xena's chest experiencing her pain. The fight scenes are especially brilliant. The Great Birth of Solan, Death of Borias scene is one of the most compelling in ALL of Xena. The quick cuts used by Robert Field drives home the double tragedy with incredible power. The sword fight between Borias and Dagnine was the single most brutal and compelling fight between supporting players I've ever seen. Dagnine's sadism by sticking his hands into Borias wounded leg was chilling, as were Borias' screams in pain. THAT is how a man screams when wounded.
Sear's script was compelling, using someone that knows Xena's military methods was an interesting choice to plumb into Xena's character and her past. As always Sears dialog is distinctive and wonderful. The story of the defence of the defenseless town is interesting. I always love Xena as general. She is SOO good at it. Xena is also a great deductive reasoner. Perhaps one day, Xenastaff will present us with a real Xena mystery. I'd love to see that. But this story was meant to support the flash back sequences. Since the script didn't have overwhelming surprise often found in Sears scripts, and we knew a broad outline of the events of Xena's past, It didn't have the overwhelming emotional wallop of say A Good Day. But that wasn't the point. The point of the story was to show Xena's new perspective, and how far she's healed. In that limited task, it succeeded very well indeed. Xena isn't awash in horrible shame anymore. She's just sad over what happened to her, and she has every reason to be so. I wanted to reach out to Xena and do what Gabrielle did at the end, comfort her.
Past Imperfect does an important job. It fills in the spaces in one of the most important periods in Xena's life, and it shows us that Xena is truely on the path to emotional healing. This is a profoundly mixed event. For while I'm very happy for Xena at the progress she made in this ep, I am extremely sad at the constant tragedy that this great woman has had to endure. I'm sure Gabrielle is right. Xena's vision is no prophecy. It's a harbinger of something wonderful. Well Done Xenastaff.
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