ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE II
Season 4, Episode 2
13 February , 1999
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 8.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Story by Robert Tapert & R.J. Stewart; Teleplay by R.J. Stewart; Edited by Robert Field; Directed by T.J. Scott.
PASSING PARADE: Marton Csokas (Borias); Claire Stansfield (Alti); Sheeri Rappaport (Otere); Vicky Pratt (Cyane); Kate Elliott (Yakut).
STORY SO FAR: Xena continues in her quest to kill an evil black shamaness and right a wrong from her past which has kept a tribe of Amazons trapped in the Land of the Dead. She is helped by a group of young Amazons in a far off land, whom she leads. Meanwhile, the shamaness haunts Xena with images of Gabrielle, her future and past - revealing a secret curse that was placed on the Warrior Princesss son.
DISCLAIMER: Xena's search for Gabrielle was not harmed during the production of
this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: The fastest outfit change in the west (now thats a gal to go clothes shopping with); followed by a tree-limb sprint that would have put Tarzan to shame; Xena, either by sheer insolence or accident (most likely the latter given her views on Caesar), gives the Roman salute (a single chest thump), not the double chest thump Amazon sign to Cyane at the funeral of the "little redhead" Amazon who Xena killed; the tree swoop fight, overlong, but with enough mystic ambience and originality in places to make you forget theyre just swinging about on ropes; and finally, hey, I know its obviously from some upcoming episode, but that flashfoward of Xena and Gabs on the crucifixes saying their final goodbyes, wow, theres a heart stopper that almost stole the show.
QUOTABLE: "This is good for me, right?" Otere cynically questioning Grasshopper Xenas unusual cleansing ritual and/or seduction techniques. The big question remains: Since when does the Amazon administering the Great Palm Frond Whupping have to be nekkid themselves... hmmm? No wonder Otere had her doubts!
"I can never ask your forgiveness. I do ask you let me help you build a new life. Thats what my friend Gabrielle did for me..." And Gabrielles been gone how many minutes, Xena? That Warrior Princess sure hangs the Sidekick Wanted sign up fast.
Borias: Trying to assassinate her was idiotic.
Xena: Youre right, shes much too tough to die. We should definitely hang with her for awhile. (A rather prophetic choice of words about Cyane.)
Xena: You think I deserve better than that (Borias)?
Cyane: No, I think he deserves better.
Alti: Tell me who she is. Tell me who the blonde one is.
Xena: Shes goodness and innocence Alti. And she lives inside me forever.
Xena: Gabrielle, youre the best thing in my life.
Gabrielle: I love you Xena. (Okay, okay, so I cheated, and its from the future. So shoot me cos I cant wait that long.)
Alti: Your little friend is dying. How does that make you feel?
Xena: Good. Cos if shes dying in my future that means shes AL-II-IIVE...
Egad, dear fans, there are so many problematic plot holes in this script you could drive ten laden chariots through it. Not to mention the fact this conclusion of the two-parter turned out to be the mother of all red herrings - Xena might have started out to find Gabrielle. But do we see a bard anywhere in sight? Er, no. It was a mere diversion from her main mission. All that aside, I dont care. It was fun. It had some really great scenes amid it all. Heck, they papered over the cracks so well you dont even notice the contrived plot points until at least the third viewing. But Ill get to those in a moment.
On the up-side, we are launched full bore into a sumptuously funny moment between Xena and the Amazon Queen - at last bad Xena gets her come uppance with one mighty feisty counterpart, who never looks for an instant to be afraid of such a feral power-hungry, dangerous woman. Even Lao Ma, for all her powers and superiority in many ways, looked constantly unsettled by the end at some of what Xena was capable of.
Dear, Cyane. Nothing Xena could do would faze her - except maybe the cold blooded killing of an Amazon to make a point. Thats a point in the downward development of Xena that shows shes so far off the rails, she wouldnt know what a warriors code was to save herself. At some point between here and her meeting with Hercules, she develops this code, so one hopes they plug that quantum leap in character somewhere down the track.
I loved the marvellous tree-top sprint by Cyane. It simply took the breath away. Obviously it was sped up to make it more impressive and in doing so they had to speed up Xena too or it would have looked a little weird. The point is, this is the first time we have seen Lucy run where she looks good doing it, and serious at it. In all other episodes where she has had to run, she has this oddly slow lope. Perhaps she is trying to look so confident that, even in battle, she can afford to do the runners equivalent of an amble. The truth is probably more likely that Lucy Lawless is a not the most gainly of runners to look at, downright uncoordinated at worst, and so they figured thats less obvious in a striding lope. Anyway, it was a nice change and I hope they took mental note that Xena looked terrific at full speed.
This episode added humor where the last one lacked it, which gave it an extra oomph, both in chakram score and viewing pleasure. There were little things - like Yakut whacking Otere to see if she had acquired Xenas powers yet. The smarmy eyebrow raise Cyane gives Xena mid costume switch. On that latter note, can you imagine either Cyane or Xena, especially, (remember the lake scene from Altered States?) when half naked, feeling in any way modest in front of another woman? It actually jarred the way they were shyly covering up their relevant bits and pieces. An ongoing back camera angle might have been less silly and more believable than that odd overhead angle. Still, to keep this show PG rated, its clear why suddenly Amazon Queens and Warrior Princess get blushy all of a sudden.
Oh yeah, and I couldnt believe the start of that scene - Xena, Warrior Princess now a Peeping Tom?! Did you see her eyes boggling?! What the...? Its a good thing Cyane pointed out she was trying to kill her because I was still trying to figure what the heck she was doing up there in the first place. Reconnaissance of Amazon steam room rituals??
Anyway, the overall feeling of this episode was a sense of fun mixed with a real sense of purpose. But it wasnt till the end I noticed what small piece was missing. No, not just "The Blonde One" as Alti so elegantly puts it, but Gabrielles connection with Xena. That five seconds in the flashforward, of Renee and Lucy, just looking at each other, had more sense of crackle and zing than a quarter of this episode. I dont mean this in a subtext sense, either, but in the fact Xena looks so comfortable being with someone she knows so well and has been through so much with (heck, even while nailed to a cross!). There is that obvious, palpably strong connection, and that is why the show has worked so well for four years. Take it away, and it feels, well, different. A little lacking... but they certainly tried to fill the void here, and then some.
This brings me to one of the major plot problems. They also had this problem last episode. Xena has to tell someone what happened in the past so we know what the heck is going on now. The problem is Xena doesnt like to talk about the past. She keeps whole chapters of those days from her dearest friend, Gabrielle; heck, she almost thumped up Palemon in Blind Faith for trying to relive those "unpleasant memories" with her.
And yet here she is with verbal diarrhoea. She cant shut up talking about the bad old days. So much so shes even making up the most absurd reasons I have ever heard of to break into a "I remember when..." soliloquy.
Example 1: The Amazon troops are primed and ready to go take on Alti. They have asked no questions and yet, suddenly, Xena stops them dead with this lovely little line:
"Before you follow me ... against pure evil, you have to hear everything that happened so long ago..."
Excuse me? Actually, all they have to do is do what Xena tells them to do. Knowing the nuances of her time with Alti is merely window dressing along the way. They dont have to know anything more than: Alti bad. We stop Alti.
Example 2: Xena, who was so protective of her son she didnt even bother to mention him to Gabrielle until they virtually were standing on top of him, discovers Solan was cursed thanks to Alti. Upon hearing this incredibly personal and sad revelation, Xena, our Xena, the Xena who has emotion-bottling down to a fine art, not only blurts out this awful secret, but to the entire group of gawping Amazons. So now she has the pity of a horde of very curious young girls all staring at her, somewhat agog. Thats the last thing the Xena weve seen in the past three seasons would want. But Ill put that down to the first rush of being overcome with emotion...
On the subject of Xena here being a little skewed from the Warrior Princess we know, there is now the subject of Otere. Xena has not known this young woman for very long. But already Xena seems to have let her in, past the warrior barricades, enough to be sharing steam room rituals and tears. That seemed way too sudden, especially as it was very early into the episode, and uncomfortably soon after Gabrielles absence.
Xenas offer to help Otere "build a new life" is also a strange promise. It implies a commitment that we know she cant keep if she is off to find Gabrielle next episode. And yet, conversely, she appears to be almost implying an intention to replace Gabrielle in her life with Otere - a situation many fans would howl in protest at if true...although we know it aint so. But if you knew nothing about the inevitability of Xena and Gabrielle getting back together, ones first thought would be, "Oh, I see, Xenas decided to move on with her life, and is doing so by doing what Gabrielle did as a tribute to her - helping a lost soul."
But it still makes little sense, that promise, given shes off and outta there, headin for home, by the end of the episode. (By the way where was our big inspirational/touching farewell speech to that group from the den mother? I was hanging out to hear it and it never came.)
And as for Otere being numb inside, she didnt seem to be that numb to me. She may have underplayed her "deadness" a little. I couldnt buy her as being someone in need of Xenas help. She didnt seem even slightly lost. Or numb. Whatever.
Another plot problem was that marvellously provocative prediction made last episode that Otere would take Xenas powers from her. Okay, writers, thats one mighty tricky corner youve written yourselves into. How are you going to get out of it?
Oh, I know, have Xena saying bye bye to Otere with the throwaway line: "You take my power as leader of the Amazons." Oh please, thats so painfully thin Im surprised they even tried to stand it up.
Xenas powers are many and mighty and the writers take us for fools if they expect us to believe any fraction of her power at any time resided in her saying "powerful" stuff to the Amazons like: "Wait, were going the wrong way. Its this way..." That is nothing she hasnt done a thousand times and nothing she couldnt do in her sleep. Power, sheeeah right.
Now for some little, teensy weensy observations...
Xena had another crossroads this episode. Cyane asked her to join the Amazons. This was a far easier deal than Lao Mas - of renouncing all desire. All Xena had to do with the Amazons was merely turn up and no longer live just for herself. She even had the advantage of knowing Cyane was more powerful than Alti. And Cyane spelled it out so basically that even Xena, going through her terrible twos again, could understand it: "Side with us and find life; side with Alti and find death."
But nooo, Xena was going through a phase of a distinct lack of self control. Not her brightest move.
Other points: Yes, the spider was real; no it was not a biter, and Lucy has no fear of spiders (fortunately).
Speaking of spiders, look at the scene where Alti is getting Cyans blood. Her fingers are really creepily long, thin and spiderlike... they are almost scary in their own right.
I dont know what drugs the editor/director were on for some of those mind altering effects, but they can keep it.
There were some beautiful cloud effects in this episode - keep your eyes out for them.
The music played as the demons have been driven out of the Amazons was the same piece played when Xena says her sad prayer for Gabrielle on bended knee in Return of Callisto.
The violence in this episode is probably as high as youll see it in Xena (Gab horsedrag aside), but I suspect much will be cut when it airs in Australia - the brutal ends the Amazons meet at Xenas hands are quite gory. Also the animal sacrifices - dead heads on poles, blood being poured down them, while doubtlessly historically accurate, seemed a little unnecessary - this may also get the snip at the hands of Channel 10. This bit I personally would say is no great loss.
Ghost Xena showed us that if ever you get a neck pinch put on you, all you have to do is crack your head left and right, and youre okay again. Curious: why not just unpinch herself the way she does her many pinchees?
Meanwhile, all those dances - it seemed like they went on and on and ...yawn... its not building tension watching gals bouncing around a fire over and over, we get the point after the first circuit. They should have cut to the chase. Oh, yeah, the chase: The fight scenes also seemed a little long. They were also using an old film editors trick in the Alti/Xena fight which ruined it after a bit for me. In order to make a cut, so you dont have a "jump cut" - that is, two scenes back to back which are very similar and so seem to jump slightly when spliced together - they instead cut to the Amazons lying on the ground. A piece of fight, back to the Amazons, a bit more fight, back to the Amazons. Theyre not doing anything different to the last time, incidentally.
Imagine if, in One Against An Army, every 10 seconds they cut back to Gabrielle lying there, eyes shut, dying quietly. Every 10 seconds, yup, there she is again... Well thats how annoying it became for me in this episode. Yes, they probably had major technical reasons for having to do this, but the other solution is to cut to a close up of the combatants faces and then cut away again to the long shot of them fighting.
Instead, la la la, there they are, all those Amazons still lying on the ground....again...
It seemed to make the fight drag on interminably. But, on the up side, there were some lovely effects in that fight at times, with that odd misty look. And the flashforwards were exciting and tantalising.
In sum, this was a compelling episode that had far more good in it than bad. It was a bit naughty/frustrating to tease us with the Gabrielle quest that turned out not to be. But they also gave us some wonderful new characters, too. Sure Xena was verbose and spilling her guts to anyone who didnt ask, crying and stripping off with women shes just met, but shes obviously become accustomed to having someone around to do all that with - so shell settle for the young woman she tried to kill as a child... Well in the Xenaverse it makes perfect sense somewhere, Im sure. Besides, guilt is a powerful thing.
I would hesitate to endorse the overly sorcerer type feel to this one, where magic seemed to be in the air. The one constant about Xena is it seems more grounded in day to day, standard issue problems (like giants, eels and cyclopses) than the supernatural. Start too far down that path and soon enough spells will be flying thick and fast and used to solve and create problems; taking away from the idea and theme of outthinking your enemies. And that is never good. But Im guessing this is just a one-off on that path.
All in all, a thumbs up, and a suggestion to parents that it may not be a Xena
for the little ones.
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