Season 3, Episode 8
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 9 chakrams.
Montage: Maternal Instincts by MaryD
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Chris Manheim; Edited by Robert Field; Directed by Mark Beesley.
PASSING PARADE: Callisto (Hudson Leick); Amy Morrison (Hope); David Taylor (Solan); Ephiny (Danielle Cormack); Jeff Boyd (Kaleipus) and Reece Rodewk (Xenan).
STORY SO FAR: Xena visits her son, Solan. Gabrielles daughter, the child of darkness, Hope, frees and teams up with the now godlike Callisto and they cause havoc together. By the end, Solan is dead; Xena blames Gabrielle and Callisto realises despite getting revenge on Xena at last, nothing has changed.
DISCLAIMER: Xena and Gabrielles relationship was damaged during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Gabrielles rear elbow moving up and down between shots as she points her staff at Hope; Hope at first gives her name as Vala - which if you rearrange the letters you get lava - the type of pit she rescued Callisto from; Gabrielle looking at her best yet in a cloak after she is exposed as a decoy; the orgasmic look on Callistos face as she hears Xenas screams, followed by her face falling as the truth dawns for her (alas cut inexplicably by Channel 10); Solan seemingly getting a new dad for this episode but not noticing any more than Xena did (time changes people though); and, well, all the Xena and Gabrielle scenes from the moment Xena sees her dead son.
QUOTABLE: "She knows your little secret and shes going to take it to the grave," Callistos chilling message to Xena via Hope.
"Flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, blood of your blood; cant wait to see all that." Callisto flirting with Xena again.
"Now its my turn to host the cookout," Callisto dusts off her Kiss the Cook apron.
"You still have m... many many friends" Xena almost not keeping mum to Solan.
"Got to crush their dreams, destroy their future and kill what they love most: their children," Hopes long-term planning shows up the more live/kill-for-the-now Callisto philosophy.
"Xena you were always so quick to blame her. Well she is *not* evil; she is not. Xena she is my child," Gabrielle more gullible than usual - but with reason.
"Hurts doesnt it? Losing your family; rips out your heart and guts and feelings - all thats left is the pain. Welcome to the club." Callisto waking up on the wrong side of bed.
"Like to kill me? Wish you could. You dont seem to get it do you? Youve won. All these years Ive spent living to destroy you, thinking if only I could give you the same pain you gave me Id be rid of it and lifed go on. I did and nothing changed. I dont feel better, only empty." Callisto bows out of the game with Xena.
"I trusted you and you lied to me. Now Solan is dead. My son is dead because of you." ... the final nail thuds dully into the coffin of the friendship between Xena and Gabrielle.
Whoa, what a ride. If this episode doesnt rip out a Xenites innards, then youre made of stone. From the moment Maternal Instincts begins, the tension just steadily builds and builds until all you are left with is Xena and Gabrielle strung so tightly somethings got to give - and it does. Or rather it shatters - a closer than close friendship of several years left in awful little pieces at the base of those funeral pyres.
And judging by the achingly powerful ending, it can only get worse before it gets better.
In one sense, this episode was quite straightforward plotwise given all the intrigue. ambiguity, betrayal and suspense of those other recent Rift efforts like The Debt and The Deliverer. But that does not make it any less compelling, thanks to some marvellous acting all round - and it was the acting for which I gave this episode its high marks: From Lucy Lawless, as Xena struggling to contain all her warring emotions rippling barely under the surface, while setting her face into a mask of cold pain; Renee OConnor, an unsmilingly grim Gabrielle, as, piece by piece, her hope (both upper and lower case H), is stripped away before her eyes to reveal only the awful truth - that her daughter is evil, and Gabrielle thus unwittingly helped kill Solan; and Hudson Leick, showing remarkable form as the evil Callisto who realises there is nothing left to live for. She has achieved her aim - to give Xena the pain she herself received - and she is just the same, only empty inside. Her realisation, her hollowness, her portrayal of someone who no longer cares was superb. It is an absolute outrage this scene was cut from Australian screens; furthered by the loss of the scene of Xenas primal howl of pain and loss that prompts Callistos reaction.
As an aside - I thought it interesting to note that when Callisto stopped playing her game of one upmanship with Xena, and declares herself the loser and turns away, she reveals that she does care more for Xena than mere hate. She gave the Warrior Princess several opportunities to leave unharmed from the caves ("walk away" and "Im warning you Xena, youre nothing to me now"), when she realises her own fate is lost. These were not the actions of one who has blind fury for another. These were the actions of one who has been obsessed - which always tends to involve a degree of love within the hate - which aligns with what Leick has been telling us about Callisto for awhile. It was a fascinating moment that could almost be described as compassionate if we didnt know better (and we do).
I think the nexus of this episode was summed up in Gabrielles opening line: "What a difference a year makes". Who would have imagined a year ago that this would be where Xena and Gabrielle would end up? Gabrielle poisoning a daughter she had after being forcibly impregnated (a euphemism for rape), lying to Xena, betraying Xena; Xena lying to Gabrielle and urging her to kill her daughter and, now, no longer even able to look at her. And for the show itself now to have one child killing another as a major episode point.
Now thats dark viewing. But is it good viewing? Some could say, whats the point? Is it just to play the Xena fans emotions along while hitting for higher ratings?
Xenas co-executive producer Steven Sears has explained in interviews that the rift was almost inevitable as they hadnt ever had any time to ever work out their differences (as sisters would as they grew up) since being thrust together. So, any problems simply didnt get worked out and just got buried and festered. And thus Xena and Gabrielle must inevitably go back to basics, with everything they thought they knew about the other stripped away. They must start again from scratch.
Thats the rationale behind it all. But frankly, I doubt many sisters would go through anything even close in their growing up years that would prepare them to cope with what happens between Xena and Gabrielle in the rift. And if they had, thats one childhood and one sibling rivalry I am very glad I missed.
What happens to Gabrielle and the Warrior Princess seems like a pretty extreme way to prove Sears point that they havent had a chance to work out their differences yet. And Xenas makers certainly arent shy about making the most of these extreme plot shifts. They get milked for every emotional beat they can.
For some fans, who only wanted to see a show about two good friends fighting the good fight, this is not what they signed on for and they will be very unimpressed, if not downright distressed; for others, it;s compelling, brilliant, albeit harrowing television. While I also find the episode hard to watch, I hitch my barrow to the second group. But with a proviso - if Xenas makers ever try to toy with us and do a rift again after this lot, they will not win many friends. Once is it, I say.
There are few specifics to really look at in this episode - it was intended to be looked at as a chapter of a book not as a series of pages. But Ill pull out a few interesting points: I thought the look on Xenas face when she shoots her first arrow into Callisto was one of the most incredible I have ever seen. We have seen Xena hooting it up as a barbarian, and in pain in stocks when Gabrielle has betrayed her - but there was a coldness about her face in this one, as though she had just shut down the part of her which cares. She had moved beyond it. She was almost into revenge mode. And I thought the look she gave Callisto there, was the mirror of the one she gives Gabrielle from the bushes when she sees her with Hopes poisoned body. The love for her bard and the softness she has for her seems utterly gone. All that is left is coldness.
The look on her face at Solan and Hopes funeral was different again. Gabrielle had actually, miraculously, managed to reach her again. But she didnt know it. When she told Xena she loved her, if only she had waited a minute more to see the effect of her words - because it did get through that veneer, as Xena was so fragile at that moment. Instead though, we see her, walking away just as Xena finally loses her control over her emotions. That was so gripping. I just wanted to run after Gabrielle and tell her to go back ... now.
The window of opportunity was only brief. All too soon Xena gathers her emotions, her tears, her anger, sucks them all back in and readjusts and re-sets that mask. Its a mask I dread for I just know she will be wearing it when next we see her.
The composition of that last scene was simply awesome in its subtleties. Note how Xena and Gabrielle are side by side but not anywhere near as close as they are normally, and even divided by a small rivulet of water - just as they are divided in friendship. They dont look at each other throughout the singing; and they even walk off in opposite directions. What could highlight the rift more?
But it was a little unpleasant, to say the least, I thought, for Xena to be attending her sons funeral in a joint ceremony with her sons killer. And, on a small, picky note - where the heck were all the centaurs at the funeral; and why were all those humans suddenly in a centaur village, let alone bulking up numbers at the funeral?
Lastly, on Gabrielle... so obvious and overt were Xenas overpowering emotions throughout this episode - everything from the look on her face when she realises Hope has been sent to Kaleipuss hut, to her realisation that Hope is the child running around with Callisto - that the bards own pain is easy to ignore.
I thought Renee actually may have under-acted her pain to Ephiny at the start - I almost expected it all to come surging out because she has kept it locked away for a bit: as it was a bone of contention between her and Xena it was unlikely she had any opportunity to get it off her chest with her best friend, so here was her moment. But instead, she had a few sniffles and spelled out the barest of bones. Shes obviously learned how to repress her emotions from a master.
The scene where Gabrielle kills Hope and then contemplates her own suicide was incredibly powerful and played just right. I would love to have known exactly what thought went through her mind that made her drop the poison to the ground. What was she thinking: Life is precious? No, I must make amends with Xena? I cant leave Xena now, she needs me?
Or maybe it was as simple as "I dont want to die".
Whatever the reason, she did not take what must have seemed an easy option - and she went on to face her fears and Xenas wrath. I thought Renee acted all of her last few scenes superbly and, if Lucy stole the show, Renee put in a valiant, closesecond. What understated power in her scenes - and in those simple, quavering lines like "I love you Xena".
As I said at the start: if this episode doesnt rip out a Xenites innards, then youre made of stone.
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