THE KEY TO THE KINGDOM
Season 4, Episode 10
April 24, 1999
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 4 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Eric Morris; edited by Jim Prior; directed by Bruce Campbell.
PASSING PARADE: Bruce Campbell (Autolycus); Ted Raimi (Joxer); Craig Parker (King Cleades); Paul Willis (Ormestin); Martin Howells (Kryptos); Norman Forsey (prisoner with long nails); Yvonne Lawley (Gryphia); John Stubbs (Tax collector).
STORY SO FAR: Meg cons Autolycus and Joxer into helping her steal a royal baby.
DISCLAIMER: Priceless Porkers, of either organic or ceramic origin, were harmed
during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Big Hair Xena ... the very first scene where Autolycus meets a warrior princess lookalike, he should have twigged the Xena he knows never goes for the Marge Simpson feral follicle look.
The tax collector wins the Worst Kiwi Attempt At A Yank Slant for the season; beating out A Good Days endearing archer boy. Actually this guys accent is so bad, we probably have a winner for the entire series -- and he may need subtitling in at least two States of America.
Same scene, the fake fight staged for the crowd, listen to the music and youll realise were getting a send-up of the silent films bad fight scenes, complete with the exaggerated villain and victim poses. Now wheres Charlie Chaplin cameo-ing when you need him?
The amazing super-ageing baby -- and thats before hes supposed to. He starts off at drooling size and needing his head held, and by end of the ep hes doing Babys Day Out crawlies through the market place and holding his head up fine in a (remarkably still) horses carriage and being bought strong cheese and pickles for munchies (speaking of Mr Stinky...). He even talks: "Uh oh".
Spot the reused decorations in the Kings secret crown room: the weird yellow glowing arrangement above it is the same as the red jewel/eye thing that was in Ares tomb in The Xena Scrolls.
Pity the cat skewered by Autos climbing claw. As Xena said two episodes ago, "Ooooh, thats gotta hurt."
QUOTABLE: "Ive worked it out, its all even stevens - I get half, she gets half, you get half." Joxer showing why hes the brains of the outfit.
"She goes around righting wrongs, saving people, all pretty sappy but she seems to get her kicks out of it." Autolycus giving the 20-words or less TV Week version of Xena.
"I got a shamrock and know how to use it," Megs so scary when she talks tough. Guess she glued it up since last time, huh?
"You can call me pumkin," King Cleades doing the introductions mid-fight.
Joxer: Well what do you think?
Autolycus: I think its inbreeding.
Xena: Youve got so much depth that it scares you when it comes out.
Meg: Well look whos talking.
This is one episode that had me with my mouth hanging open and eyes glazed in mute shock by the time the closing credits rolled. It just plain dudded. Tried hard but failed, in the ole school report-card lingo. It aimed for laughs and got only one or two; it tried for pathos and hit the mark only once or twice (notice a pattern here?); and, finally, those fans who live for the fun interplay between Xena and Gabrielle got only the Warrior Princess and, even then, for a split second. Gabrielle, presumably, was finally off getting her boots repaired along with Argo. Renee was showing a lot of taste by not getting a single red hair in this affair.
Directed by Bruce Campbell (Autolycus) The Key to the Kingdom was allegedly an homage to Raising Arizona -- although it was unworthy to even be referred to in the same sentence as that offbeat black comedy on childless baby snatchers with hearts of gold. The inconsistency of Xena is never more apparent than now - seesawing between the highs of Crusader to the depths of Tale of Two Muses and to this, it makes one wonder what theyre slipping in the writers soups over in New Xenaland.
This episode had too many lack lustre moments in it and a couple of whiskered one liners that were recycled from the dawn of time, eg: Meg: "Over my dead body"; Autolycus: "That can be arranged."
Bad man: "Xena? Two Xenas?"
Xena: "Thats right, makes you want to cry like a baby."
Oh hehehe - laughing so much, it brings tears to my eyes. Maybe Im being unfair and am putting an adults perspective on an episode clearly pitched at the young uns. But if thats the company line on The Key To The Kingdom, Id argue,even then, Xena has made family/kids slapstick fare far superior and funnier than this: In Sickness And In Hell, Comedy of Eros, The Quill Is Mightier, to name but three.
The plot holes alone were simply appalling: For years the bad guys running the kingdom have been waiting for the key to show them the way to the crown. Meg et al figure it out quickly from the babys map. So how do those bad guys (minus a map) get there, and bare seconds after our trio? They should have thrown in a line about following Meg there.
Athena turned the king into a baby so he could see the world anew through the innocent eyes of a baby. One presumes his view of the world is that it is one room, a bit of tapestry, five guards and an old woman. This helped him broaden his horizons, how exactly?
Meg cites the reason for her actions as saying the baby had no one to love him, hug him or tell him stories. Clearly his partner - Gryphia - loved him - in both his forms - dearly and so he was anything but unloved.
Gryphia meanwhile mysteriously withholds the abduction of the baby from the guards when they probably could have captured Meg immediately and returned it. Instead its easier for her to...gee... prowl all of ancient Greece looking for a famed warrior princess who may or may not help her get the baby back, if she finds her at all. Uh, okay.
Meg was unnecessarily unkind to Autolycus, by making the guards lock him up in Sythian double latch locks. She had no idea he could actually get out of them because he gave no indication he could -- quite the opposite. So if he hadnt escaped, would Meg have done anything about it, or left him rotting there indefinitely? Seems a little callous, really. And it could have been easily avoided by her omitting the line about the Sythian double latch locks. In fact, she would have seemed nicer if she had warned guards against using them by saying they were his forte. It just seemed her whole using/betrayal of Autolycus and Joxer was unnecessary. Jox would have helped her get the baby if she had told him its sobstory (he did love the idea of being a daddy); and Autolycus, maybe could have been brought around as well, with an equally sappy story.
But probably the worst continuity problem was Joxer, or rather what the writers are doing to him. Who he loves varies from week to week it would seem. One day hes making lovey dovey eyes at Gabrielle and the next, Megs his girl. He and Meg seem a good match incidentally - in that Meg respects him and thinks hes funny (in a good way for once) and all he ever seems to want is respect, which Gabrielle will never give him. But his love for Gabrielle seems pretty shallow now and its time the writers made up their mind who Joxer really loves.
There were a few funny moments - the shamrock line hit the humor mark; and the ending hit the heartstring mark. One thing I really liked about that end scene was when tough-as-guts Meg tells Xena she cant have a baby and starts crying. Xena reaches out to touch her but recognises the "dont" look in Megs eyes - her own eyes, in a way, and knows instantly she doesnt want sympathy/comfort at that moment -- and so freezes and drops her hand. These two are more similar to each other than are Xena and Gabrielle in many ways and that scene summed up how so - they know what the other wants. They both have had a rough start in life and are born survivors. They know how to hide and bury their pain. And so they know how each other feels: witness Megs comeback as Xena refers to Megs hidden depths scaring her. It took the wind out of Xenas sails for a split second.
Yep, for the fleeting moments spent in each others company, they have worked each other out eerily well and accurately.
I liked the looks passing between the women - which is quite nutty to say when you think about it - in that it is Lucy Lawless passing looks back and forth to herself! So really the credit is all hers in that scene for showing two completely different characters reacting to the same scene in unique ways. And you never confuse them for a second. Excellently done.
Alas, my thumbs down acting award also goes to Lucy for earlier in the episode for over-Megging and/or mugging her Meg. It is a problem with Megs baby-ish speaking voice that too much of it is a bad thing and it starts to grate. I love Meg in small doses but this was no small dose. So instead of under-doing Megs baby voice slightly to prevent us overdosing throughout the episode, it felt she upped it if anything. This could have been a perception, though.
I had a look back at some of the earlier Meg episodes and was surprised to conclude that not only did she do the baby voice less often (except when Meg was feeling sorry for herself, then up it was cranked), but Meg also had more street smarts. So Lucy/writers have actually dumbed down Meg in this ep a little bit too.
In Warrior Princess Tramp, for example, Meg seemed to have the intelligence of a conniving 14-year-old, which trust me, can be pretty smart and wicked and Meg always knows whats what. This one, she seemed to have the voice of about an eight-year-old (no offence to all well-spoken, articulate eight-year-olds), and with it the more instinctual short-term planning intellect of an eight year old: ie. I want a baby; Ill go get a baby. No long-term thought into how shell look after it or how much work would be required to look after it, as was obvious from the silence she gives Autolycus when he asks this very question.
I really preferred the earlier Meg who was a little brighter and didnt do the "Doh is me" voice every second. Actually the IQ levels in this ep were appalling all round - between Joxer regularly being called a moron by Autolycus and jumped on, and Meg sounding like shes just acquired her first tooth, I was rolling my eyes heavenward.
In conclusion, the main problem in The Key To The Kingdom was that since the humor and pathos were largely lacking (cute star stories aside), all we were left was a romp. And the action in this romp wasnt really that gripping - baby chasies are a yawn a dozen - so what we were left was actually very little. Some might like it a lot more than me, but my protest comes also because I appreciate what the Xena bods are well and truly capable of. And its a lot more than this. They can do better.
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