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Season 4, Episode 13

May 15, 1999

Reviewed by SLK

7 chakrams

No montage has been created for this episode yet

SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Chris Manheim; Edited by Jim Prior; Directed by Robert Tapert

PASSING PARADE: Jeremy Roberts (Aiden) Mervyn Smith (Garr)

STORY SO FAR: Gabrielle and Xena fall into a Paradise-like world and meet an unusual man who offers to help the bard find her inner peace.

DISCLAIMER: Paradise was found but not necessarily embraced during the production of this motion picture.

REWIND FOR: I am torn between recommending the opening cave scene for the banter, togetherness moment (it’s been far too long) and Psych 101 lessons and rejecting it for the gross close-up sewing bee Gabrielle’s doing on Xena’s leg. Eeww!!

Xena suddenly jumping when Gabrielle gives her an unseen slap/kick to get her to accept the warm bath plan.

Sir... SIR? Oh you gotta watch that between the legs shock-shot again; even if Gabrielle looked so ho-hum you’d think this particular confusion happens to Xena on a regular basis (in which case, see review below).

Limber Gabs Does Stretchies - the exercise tape is out soon. Most impressive, ROC.

Gabrielle on the bed, Xena doing sit-ups - never a more incredible contrast of their characters will you find. And, visually, any movie would be proud of that establishing shot, with Gabrielle laid out beautifully on that bed of white, framed by her gold hair.

That incredible look of pain in Xena’s eyes as she asks Aiden what she can do to stop her hallucinations and he tells her she will start acting them out on Gabrielle.

The Smile. When the stitches reappear, that’s a Genuine Smirk(tm) from Xena.

That’s some seriously weird blood droplet action there. The massage was a tender farewell and quite an unusual contrast, so it works as a nifty, surreal effect.

Why would the medal on the blue soldier still be shiny silver? Or even there? All their other clothing has turned blue and their metal weapons only clank back into place once the illusion is dissolved.

QUOTABLE: "I was just wondering if maybe your fighting for good has more to do with the fighting part than the good part," Gabrielle preps Xena for the talk show circuit.

"You wanna heal the world, right?" Aiden matter-of-factly on Gabrielle’s hitherto unknown Mother Theresa plans. She wants to do what?! Well, why start small...

"Aw Zeus, you don’t really like this guy? That’s it, isn’t it? You LIKE him!" Xena analysing the bard’s taste in suitors, once again weighing up all his obvious flaws, shortcomings and general unsuitability. (He did die by the way... Maybe even being accused of liking them is enough to kick in the bard’s dead love curse. Though, having a jealous warrior-princess companion, doesn’t help either.)

"I realised I never came to terms with my failure as a mother. I kept the guilt in my heart," Gabrielle to Xena - still a touchy subject though; methinks it’s finally time these two had a long, long talk.

"I sometimes talk about your darkness like it’s some sort of disease but without it neither of us would be alive. Kind of ironic." Gabrielle works out what Xena fathomed as far back as season one, Dreamworker.

"Do I really have hands like a sailor?" Gabrielle to Xena. And that time, yeah, the Warrior Princess did smile, boys and girls. Chuckle. No reason, I’m sure...

Best comebacks:

Gabrielle: You smiled - when that big guy came at you and you tossed him at the other three - you smiled.

Xena: I winced. He was big.

Gabrielle: I fell down a hole.

Xena: Yeah, what is it with you and holes?

Gabrielle: It’s beautiful isn’t it.

Xena: Yeah, in that yuppie island paradise kinda way.


Whoa, now here’s an episode to make your seriously question what the colorful ‘70s caterer with the flowers in his hair has been slipping into the writers’ coffees. This is so out there, it’s in there. And if that line makes sense, this was the ep for you.

There were moments of profoundly good highlights in music, direction, visual feasts on a cinematic scale and yet some surprisingly bad plot turns at the end.

But first the good. We are seated for dinner with the beautifully eerie Bitter Suite music (from where they are washed down Illusia’s river) haunting the setting more than it probably deserved for a polystyrene set cave. In the first few seconds we discover this is no run-of-the-mill standard ancient Greek polystyrene cave but, a fair dinkum ancient Indian polystyrene cave (couldn’t you tell?!). And a holy one at that.

So why India? Because Gabrielle decreed it a holy destination in her "spiritual quest". I guess Xena owes her a holiday abroad since the whole Britannia side-trip thing which wasn’t exactly Gabrielle’s idea of fun. So now they’re even.

But, from what we can tell, virtually a minute into the episode Gabrielle is already wondering if spiritual change comes from within not without (no, really?) which kind of makes the whole Indian trip concept somewhat redundant.

Meanwhile, we get the heavy philosophical bent: Why is Xena really fighting - because she likes kicking butt, or because it’s to help people? Well, what’s wrong with doing both back then? The truth is they don’t live in safe times and so a few heroes stepping up with the sheriff’s badge affixed to chest would be more useful than Xena sorts giving it all up for basket weaving and embroidery in peaceful, non-violent seclusion.

They never answer the question, because they never intended to - it is all just a set up for next week’s episode, just as Gabrielle’s sudden mention and interest in a spiritual quest here is further explored later.

It’s funny how the Xena show has gone from finding a path of good, to questioning whether they’re on the right path (ie. the methods they use) to squatting in caves in Indian mountaintops pondering philosophical angsty Big Questions in life. I half expected the Dalai Lama to round a bend any moment. It makes you ask one further inevitable question: Is Xena, the show, on the right path also?

This is miles apart from where the show began. Have the writers run out of ideas so that they have to resort to a different foreign destination each week? And is it a path the fans actually want to be on? Well don’t answer that yet, wait till the full India arc is played out over the next few weeks and decide. But all I can say is there is some seriously weird cow manure ahead, some good, some bad, (one banned), and this is but a sample.

Back to the cave - for those wondering, the moment Xena and Gabrielle entered the cave they were already in Aiden’s world, for otherwise there would have been a mighty big hole in the ground they’d have noticed when they went in. He created the vortex illusion; the illusion of Xena’s stitches disappearing; the paradise; Gabrielle’s clothing (hence them disappearing when he did); and he probably helped Xena get some humdinger visions to try to force the warrior princess away so he could zap Gabrielle’s essence in peace.

I note Billious Green Sports Bra makes a brief encore, after its devastation of last week (hey, would you want it back after where it’s been??) but don’t get your hopes up BGSB fans... it’s fleeting. India has strange effects on Gabrielle’s wardrobe, most of them good.

Back to that hole in the ground - what in Hades’ name was Xena thinking JUMPING into it? What on earth made her conclude on first glance that that was where Gabrielle was and nowhere else? How’d she feel if she jumped and her last sight was of Gabrielle calling out to her from around a rock at the top: "Xena, did you call? Couldn’t hear, the wind and all..."

Even if she knew for certain Gabrielle was down there, do you take a mighty leap into almost certain death? She didn’t do that in A Family Affair and she had actually seen Gabrielle disappear down that hole. No in that ep, Xena carefully climbed down and checked it out to be sure. So either Xena has a "no-Gabrielle, then my life is not worth living" kinda death wish, which while tragically sweet certainly didn’t accord with the determined look on Xena’s face... or she knew for sure this was some artificial construct. True it did just appear. But that is still a mighty big leap of faith. Literally.

Xena doesn’t like Aiden at all. I wonder what she senses about him? Or was it the front-door-via-a-vortex entrance that twigged her suspicions. Gee, I wonder why...snicker.

Gabrielle meanwhile is again very trusting. I am starting to despair of her. She learnt nothing from her encounter from Najara in Crusader and her luck with mentors currently stands at: one psycho leather babe who could snap any moment and drag her behind horses, throw her of cliffs etc (but loves her most of the time, whip-trades notwithstanding); one woman who hears voices and summarily executes people who won’t follow her teachings; and a guy she knows for less than a day who she lets zap her inner goodness from unquestioningly. Starting to think that Gabrielle should pay a visit to the Mentor’s Equity and demand a better service. But she wouldn’t be Gabrielle if she was suspicious and less trusting. And Xena’s line about places which look too perfect generally being that would sound horridly misplaced from Gabrielle’s lips. But you’ve got to wonder that it’s almost getting a little on the unrealistic side for a character which has been through so much to still accept everything and everyone so unquestioningly on face value.

An interesting director’s and choreographer’s moment is the stretchy, dance almost, that Gabrielle and Aiden perform, quite aesthetically pretty in form and shape. And Renee has got some impressive moves there - one scene, just as she thinks of Hope for the first time, she sits up suddenly and you can see how wide her legs are apart in very limber stretch. That’s gotta hurt - or at the very least, be hard to act while doing - or maybe that explains the pained look on her face, and tears in the eyes! Ouch.

I was impressed they returned to Gabrielle’s feelings about Hope. Too often in this sort of episodic television, a character has a situation occur, and it is dealt with and they move on as though it never happened. Gone, forgotten. How can anyone just forget about the day they gave birth to a demon spawn; and then the day they tried to kill it...?! That just boggles the mind. Of course she had to be tormented by it, the same way it is obvious Xena still feels guilty about Solan. But Xena expresses that every now and then. Gabrielle can not - because her child killed Xena’s and she is not free to discuss it - get it off her chest, whatever - with her friend. That’s a lot of pent up frustration. And if she did indeed let go of it as she said she has, then this visit to Aiden was actually a positive thing, despite the unforseen soul sapping, teeth rotting side effects all round!

Perhaps this was why Gabrielle was so ready to believe Aiden - she so badly wanted to be free of that pain, to feel as light as she felt before Hope. It is how cults can thrive - promising to take away your burden. At times, Gabrielle often reminded me of the typical cult believer - her comments to Xena about showing her how to help her with her pain, the way Aiden has helped her, is a recruitment line. The way she softens into an almost awed tone each time she says his name - is the cult leader charisma down to a tee. She genuinely believes, no doubt, she can help, but Xena is not a willing recruitee. I am still surprised, however, how soon after Crusader they would run this episode - two people showing Gabrielle a way to enlightenment; twice Xena saying goodbye to Gabrielle to leave her with them for the bard’s own good. A little too close for comfort.

As for Xena - the scene which summed her up for me was the smug satisfied look on her face when her scar reappears. It is confirmation to her that the mighty Aiden is not so mighty - he is flawed and his powers to control are only so good. Not perfect. She can not fight perfection, but when she sees that scar back, she has had her suspicions confirmed that he is most certainly not Mr Perfect. And in fact there is probably more going on than is obvious.

He does actually unknowingly give himself away to her, but she seems to miss it. Here’s what he says: "You take it from somebody who knows, you get out before it’s too late."

If Aiden was once the Xena type in this scenario and he ran away as he implies, then why is he still there? How is it possible for him to still exist in this world without being either mad or bad? It’s not, right? And since he’s not mad that leaves only one option... Alarm bells, Xena.

The most beautiful cinematic moment is on the yin and yang bed, Gabrielle cloaked in white, hair splayed around her, a picture of serenity, while the increasingly fidgety, frustrated, kinetic Xena is thumping out sit-up after sit-up, her voice as fast and agitated as Gabrielle’s is serene and measured. Wow. That was worth the admission price that shot. For the record, the black (darkness) is the yin, the white (lightness) is the yang - hence Gabrielle is on the white, wearing white. Xena represents the black or darker yin. (Although, I do note that yin is also actually seen as feminine and yang masculine, but you can’t win ‘em all.) One small pout from me: I would have loved to have Xena in her dark leathers on the black bed with the white pillow for the perfect contrast effect, too.

You’ve gotta laugh at poor Xena when she thinks Gabrielle might really like Aiden. Could she sound any more jealous if she tried?! That derisive, appalled head shake at Gabrielle - hell, I laughed aloud. At this point you sense Xena is just trying to figure out what on earth Gabrielle could possibly see in a guy she finds so annoying. And worse, a guy who Gabrielle is now quoting with ever-increasing monotony. That’s gotta hurt a warrior’s pride, after being usually the only person Gabrielle generally quotes.

Xena certainly makes her distaste at staying that extra day well known - you can tell it was a big effort on her part, and she’s making sure Gabrielle shares every second of her pain! But still Xena stays, so that’s a real friend. Gabrielle knows it and it’s why her thankyou is so profound, rather than irritated.

Hot tub fans, yes, twice the charm - although how Xena can possibly drum her fingers like that is beyond me. Time to teach that woman how to unwind. I note she was less tense in ADITL with a giant, a warlord, and a lovestruck villager all breathing down her neck. Go figure. And get that woman a hobby.

Okay, now what on earth would possess any man in the presence of a naked Xena to call her sir?! What did he see that we didn’t! Probably the old soldiers’ panic stammer - if in doubt just say "yessir".

Xena morphed about four different times into weirder and weirder layers of herself so I can only conclude that Xena’s coffee dude was responsible for the following manifestations:

Too Much Caffeine/Edward Scissorhands Xena: this state is manifested early on when she does her turbocharged workout with the birds and critters going nuts, and a turtle writing out its last will and testament. It concluded with her screaming SHADDDUP! And they did. (Who wouldn’t?) Her wild-eyes, and pursed lips as she looks upwards, catches her in the light just so, I swore I saw Edward Scissorhands for a moment.

Just Relax While I Crucify You Xena: Xena giving Gabrielle a massage with a blood nose; and also while in the hot tub having visions - this is a Xena on the edge and fighting so hard for control. She doesn’t get what’s happening to her, but she must suspect if she puts her head between her knees and pinches her nose, that’s a start...

Don’t Argue With That Bush Xena: This Xena is a cross between Meg and feral Xena from The Furies ... she is losing her mind control battle and is taunting Garr from the bushes in a childlike voice that comes out of nowhere and has no real purpose other than it is really freaking him out big time - which will really help get him on-side, er, right?

When She’s Bad She Needs A Dentist Xena: The last Xena, supposedly representing pure evil Xena. The idea behind this being that she has purged all the goodness from herself so Aiden can’t get to her. So this means, that to be really really bad you must be ugly. So why was bad old warlord Xena beautiful, with straight teeth and not talking like a demented four year old?

That aside, think, what is the very first thing that evil Xena does once she has miraculously managed to get all her good to leave her body (as if this is possible!)? She tells Aiden: "Let her go", referring to Gabrielle. Would an evil person give a rats what happened to the bard, whether she was wall mounted as Blue Tac or turned into a coffee table? No. But bad Xena has only one thought, which means she is not bad at all.

Therefore, we must conclude that Xena has not gotten rid of her good, (otherwise Aiden wouldn’t have gone looking for it from her moments later and she would not have rushed up to Gabrielle and scweamed desperately "GABWEEEELLE" at the poor woman). Instead, although the show and writing suggests the opposite, logic dictates she must have taken Garr’s path of trying mad instead of bad. Which might explain her curiously childish speech patterns (although he still speaks okay), but not the teeth. Won’t someone explain why you must have bad teeth to be mad or bad on this show? Oh why.....

This brings me to the plot’s greatest problems. In this whole episode we have been led down a compelling, pretty, and sometimes creepy maze. At the end we find a really simplistic explanation for all that is going on: Aiden sucks out good. That’s it. This whole elaborate set up - of mind over body and hallucinations and madness all led to that. What’s more - despite the man’s incredible powers - he can throw Xena about repeatedly by moving his eyes; he can create objects from thin air; create a whole world from nothing - he is beaten with a simple stab to the chest. That was so wrong.

When you are given a cerebral problem, it should have a cerebral solution for it to work effectively. This had the same solution as Xena’s problem with the baddies on the way into the cave - one flick of the sword wrist.

What would have made it compelling is if she had found a way to turn his goodness on himself - turn the dude into a Smurf himself. Or Gabrielle could have done it - if she didn’t object to it on moral grounds. But better still would have been to get to the end of the maze and discovered a far more compelling motivation and modus operandi for the bad guy. One more layer to him and it would have worked.

As it was, their hard work at the start of the show probably saved the episode at the end and it was not as bad as it could have been - in fact it was pretty good. Fresh, unusual, and tackled themes that made you wonder how these two women are still together, given their such different, often opposing philosophies. Or was that the whole point: yin and yang. They complement each other so well they are meant to be together. I hope so. And if that was the point, then I liked it.



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