Season 4, Episode 18
September 4, 1999
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 6.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Chris Manheim. Directed by Andrew Merrifield.
PASSING PARADE: Ted Raimi (Joxer); Kathryn Morris (Najara); Darryl Brown (Kryton); Arman (Mfundo Morrison).
STORY SO FAR: Najara returns for Gabrielle, promising she has changed. Joxer has his first kill.
DISCLAIMER: Argo's gastronomical condition was cleared up upon the completion of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Najara very subtly stakes her claim on Gabrielle very early on, in the scene where Xena is looking at an injured Najara and says "and shell get it (help)". Najara meanwhile sneakily leans back and across to Gabrielle to make sure her head is well and truly on the bards bosom.
Nifty camera effect when Joxers drunk with the town hangers-on. The camera gently rolls left and right to mimic his mood.
When Gabrielle ties up Najara, we get a close up of the bards mehndi tatt on her right hand... a heart. Wasnt it Xena who did Gabrielles doodles, and vice versa? In which case, what was the Warrior Princess trying to say here?!
One heck of a vine fight... quite the upper body strength our girls have there... Now keep your eye on Najaras blood smear. Did you see it shrink? Also look out for Najaras skirt. When was the last time you hung upside down in a skirt without it coming up to your ears? That outfits almost as gravity defying as Gabrielles in The Quill Is Mightier.
Check out the priceless cut glass "I told you so" look Xena shoots Gabrielle moments after she puts Najaras body on the ground after their big fight. Ouch. Hope Gabs is insured for slings and arrows.
Notice the new trend in Gabrielles costume development - when the bard enters and exits towns these days shes wearing this long orange scarf ... but not in between. Must be just the thing for those grand entrances.
QUOTABLE: "Najara, what are you doing here? Don't tell me, you got time off for good behavior." Xena, ever the optimist.
"New outfit. New religion. Same old wacko underneath." Xena showing her forgiving streak to Najara.
"You claim to have changed, why can't I? After all, we've both had the same inspiration, Gabrielle. But, unlike you, I changed my whole life for her, you just changed sides." Najara batters Xena about in her non-violent Way.
"You hurt Gabrielle and I will change you in ways that are anything but peaceful." Xena promises to batter Najara about in her Warriors Way.
"I want to share a life of peace with her, you want to share a violent death. You tell me who's the villain here, me or you?" Najara wins on a technicality.
Gabrielle: "Xena, I've been thinking. I know there's no excuse for what Najara
Xena: "... Sure there is, she's a nut."
Najara: "I've changed, Xena. I put down the sword."
Xena: "And I'm the Queen of Egypt. [pause] Gabrielle, please tell me you're not buying this."
Joxer: "I hate this."
Gabrielle: "I've cooked better."
Xena: "You said it."
Xena: "She's the same zealot she always was, only now she's even more
Gabrielle: "How's that?"
Xena: "Because she's won you over."
Gabrielle: "It's funny, it seems that when push comes to shove sometimes the
only choice is to shove back. But with this path that I'm on, I can't do that."
Xena: "With me around, you won't have to."
Whatever Gabrielle gives off, it must be potent. Najaras got the Gab-bug and shes got it bad. So much so shes willing to get beaten up by thugs to prove her dedication to Gabrielles path of peace; shes willing to confess before Gabrielle all her "regrets" for her past deeds; to stay tied up night after night on the promise of being near the bard (hey, maybe she has a rope thing) ... and is willing to put up with Xena giving her a nasty ole time every step of the way (but she gives as good as she gets).
Why? To be reunited with Gabrielle, of course. O-kayyy. We knew Gabs had this extra-special goodly power ever since Locked Up, Tied Down which revealed a conversion rate from evil to enlightenment in under two minutes flat. But Najara is flat out loopy and has, with it, an incredibly focused, creepy intensity which makes one think of only one word: S-T-A-L-K-E-R.
Not that such thoughts trouble Gabrielle, who has proven since last week she believes all things uttered by all people as long as they sound genuine at the time.
And, after all this time travelling with Xena, who is right more often than wrong about con artists, Gabrielle still takes an acquaintances word over her nearest and dearest friend. No wonder the warrior princess was in a snit most of this ep. Well that, and the sight of Najara trying to woo her bard off to the land of bardic dreams - an Elysian Fields of hospices and happiness.
Still, for it all, I enjoyed the episode. Sure they were doing weird things all the way through - like carrying the warlord back to the village, when normally they leave them where they lie; travelling with Najara when she could have been left in a hospice at the village with the authorities; and setting up two camps every night... for no reason whatsoever. And dont even start me on Xenas broken promise to Joxer:
Joxer: "You know what, Xena? You're always in everybody's
business, and this time I'm gonna tell him by myself. Promise?"
Xena: "I promise."
Okay, not only did Joxer *not* get to tell Kritons son about his dads death "alone" (in fact there were FIVE people in the room at the time they were scheduled for this revelation) but Xena makes a special point of getting right into the business by telling the lad his daddys dead. Sure, sure Joxer seemed incapable at that moment, but thats not the point: a non-intervention promise is a promise.
Despite all this, where the logic failed, a crackling dialogue always helps and theres nothing but sparks flying every moment that Xena and Najara are alone. And thats the Xena I remember and love.
Najara is a very skilled debater and comes out with the most damaging verbal body blows, albeit some a little too similar from those we heard in Crusader. Still who can answer arguments about why she cant change if Xena can, when their inspiration is the same?
Unfortunately the thing that made Najara really great as an adversary is undone in the ending and it was a crushing disappointment. Najara is creepy because shes close to being right, say 90% of the time. Its that 10% thats very wrong and freaky and what you wouldnt want to meet in a dark alley. Last time that 10% was her zealotry and a careless disregard for life - a belief that she could kill with impunity because it would be sorted out later.
This time that 10% is her total conviction Gabrielle is destined to be hers and she will not take no for an answer. But such a compelling plot - is Najara really reformed or not?; and how dare we judge her as unchanged if we dont then tar Xena with the same brush? - is unravelled with her scene in the end where she loses it to madness.
She grapples with Gabrielle and shouts: "Tell me you heard them".
Najara was made to unravel so we would know Xena was right and she was faking the conversion. But why did she unravel? She has never done so before -- her hearing voices was as normal to her as eating or breathing and in the past she has shown no need for anyone else to have heard them, too. She would have been genuinely surprised in Crusader had someone else heard her gin speaking to her. So why her sudden interest in the gin going public? It was just a plot device so we knew it was all a thin veneer and underneath lay some crazy woman - just as Xena had been saying. This is too easy a cop out. This is not unlike those cheesy endings to those Perry Mason court scenes on TV where in the last five minutes someone on the witness stand will suddenly confess - despite it being against all their interests - just so we all know our hero was right all along.
How more interesting if Najara had not lost it but made one of her well reasoned, impeccably logical arguments for Gabrielle to say, stay out of the fight, arguing it was indeed Xenas way and Xena wouldnt have wanted Gabrielle sacrificing her own way to save her. Forcibly restraining Gabrielle was, again, just to spell it out for Gabrielle (and thus, us) that Najara really just wanted Xena dead and was unbalanced.
However, this is what bugs me: the Najara we have come to know has been way, way too smart to have done anything like this to tip her hand. She has carefully planned everything about her meeting with Gabrielle... everything. She is intelligent and manipulative. She is hardly going to lose it at the last hurdle when she has the bard finally where she wants her (in her mind); that is, believing her confession and conversion, and willing to spend time with her.
So to come apart at the seams like that is not even close to her character. It was just an easy writing option and a disappointing let down at that.
Also going on in the background of this episode was an examination of Xena and Gabrielles relationship, as Najara has a tendency to scratch at old wounds. One of the most disturbing things for Xena is seeing how quickly Gabrielle buys Najaras reform line. And rightly so - Gabrielle is terrifying in her gullibility these days. Some may call her naive, and while that title may have stuck back in her peasant girl days, shes been through far too much to be this trusting. Or are we to believe this is now her appeal - in spite of it all, she can be fleeced, duped, tricked and mocked by every passing conman, guru, or reformer with a messiah complex? Endearing for some, a little uncomfortable for me. Gabrielle is smarter than this. If not, she should be.
Also unsettling for Xena is the knowledge Najara, as always, makes a good argument.
Xena does know where Gabrielle will end up if she stays with her - on a Roman cross. She knows its unlikely Gabrielled meet the same fate with Najara. Xena knows her violent path and Gabrielles are hard for them to both be on together and still walk beside each other; and with Najaras peacable ways, it makes the other woman seem appealing. We know Xenas thinking about it because when Gabrielle does her foot-in-mouth line: "Isn't it better to have peaceful people around who do good than people who fight?", Xena bites back, with clenched jaw, the line: "Like me?"
Xena is also more than a little jealous at how easily Najara can win over Gabrielle; and I find it not a little amusing to compare this situation to that of Gabrielle and Tara in Forgiven. Both Xena and Gabrielle have now had groupies trailing them and being horrible to the other half of their duo. Both Xena and Gabrielle have been told by the groupie of the other that theyre about to be replaced. Both women have felt a little threatened as a result. Interestingly, a hearty whopping has been the only solution each woman has explored in both cases. Guess the moral of this is it pays not to ever get between Gabrielle and Xena. Perish the thought.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle has been doing some thinking of her own. Najara knows exactly the right things to say to woo Gabrielle to her side, and I laughed out loud when she said, with a straight face no less, that, to keep busy, Najara had been "planting crops, helping harvest, mending clothes".... Chuckle. Yeah Ill bet. So noble. Give that woman a medal.
She continued that she was "working towards the day the Gin said was coming, the day you and I would meet again, united in a common bond not even Xena shares".
Talk about boldness. Could she be any more blunter if she tried?
But this time Gabrielle seems to know her own mind, and says no straight away: "My place is with Xena." But Najara has a way of not taking no for an answer and knowing how to needle in just the right way:
Najara: "I know, and it (Gabrielles place with Xena) always will be, until her continuing violence makes her do something that even you can't excuse."
Gabrielle: "It's not going to happen."
Najara: "It has to, and then you will have to chose, not between me and Xena, but between Xena and your own soul."
Nifty line, and that may well have played on Gabrielles mind. How much, we arent told. But the bard seems to look a little worried, despite being adamant that leaving Xena is not an option. I think the line might have been more effective a while back, whereas now Gabrielle seems to have her mind made up that her path is with Xena.
On the B-plot arc we had Joxer The Mighty finally seeing what the point of being a warrior is all about. An interesting thing happens here - his character actually develops; not a lot mind you, but somewhat. Ted Raimi does a pretty good job at portraying his guilt. While still on the subject of Najara I noticed an interesting juxtaposition between these two characters when Joxer runs up to her after shes spilled the beans to Arman, and he says, horrified: "Why, Najara? Why did you tell him?"
At that moment it hit me how Najara and Joxer are exact opposites in almost every way. Joxer is so innocent and lacking in any guile or deceit (apart from self delusion, which he shares with Najara in varying extremes), whereas she is more complex than a Hong Kong department store and lives by wit, intellect and manipulation. Where Joxer cant even work out what hes having for lunch, shes 20 moves ahead of him and most everyone else. So when he bounded up to her, genuinely confused, I thought, Poor sap, he really is out of his depth with this schemer, he really wouldnt have a clue that hes been used.
And her answer wouldnt have shed light on anything for him, because Joxer just doesnt get that anyone could be so manipulative. She replies that she told Arman: "Because Gabrielle's right and everyone deserves to know the truth about someone they love."
She told the boy about Joxer only so she could use the above line on Gabrielle (who agreed he had to be told the truth) to make her see she was telling Gabrielle the "hard truths" about Xena to help her.
So Joxer suffered and the boy suffered just so Najara could get a point across to Gabrielle about Xena. She is a nasty piece of work indeed. Thats focus, 20 moves ahead all right.
But back to Joxer. I love how he told Xena off for butting in all the time. She does, you know. Of course she didnt take much notice. Thats our warrior.
I liked the line where Joxer tells her hes "Not going to tell him his father was a murderer. Every boy needs a hero." And Xena says "Then be one."
Joxer is finally getting it - that being a warrior is more than just a word. It comes with all sorts of consequences. It comes with pain and anguish and guilt and retribution. That came over well, even if the point was a little belabored.
Joxer also throws the first punch in a fight for once. While a warriory thing to do, it seemed a little counter productive seeing he had just spent a few minutes convincing his young punk opponent thered be no fight and it was all a big mistake. So then he starts one... okay, Joxer, calm down dude.
What was inexcusable about this episode was the worst piece of writing I can recall on Xena for ages. In one moment Arman was believing his daddy was the bees knees and could do no wrong and Joxer needs to die. Xena has a few words with him and he comes back, only moments later with this profound pronouncement for Joxer, based on nothing but a conversation or two with near strangers: "No, you didn't kill my father. You killed a man I didn't even know, an evil stranger who died like he deserved. My father's not dead, Joxer, he lives where he's always lived ... right here ... and that man would call you a hero."
Uh huh. Not only was this contrived but its simply out and out ridiculous. He goes from denial to believing to acceptance and forgiveness in a few heartbeats. And he hasnt even corroborated anyones stories with the villagers, to see if his dad really was good. This was unbelievable. A less melodramatic speech, and one not designed wholly and solely to get Joxer of the guilt hook, might have stuck less in the craw. But that line stunk up the town.
Lastly, Gabrielle, pacifist she now is, since The Way, has a new weapon. "Pretty effective, huh?" Xena asks of the mighty smoke compact.
Mighty stupid looking, one might reply. Hated it. How can we take Gabrielle seriously if shes running around blowing icing sugar at people? Or whatever it is. Gimme a break, she looks less ridiculous being a deadweight on the sidelines the way she was in the first season. I dont know if I like that idea better though...The return of the helpless bard waiting to be rescued is so groaningly awful.
And she just becomes a target now, too. A fact Xena also notes: "I don't like you being in the thick of things knowing you won't fight."
Indeed. Although by the end of this episode she has pledged herself as Gabrielles bodyguard. It all just gives me the heeby geebies. Helpless Gabrielle or icing sugar blowing Gabrielle - what a choice. Seems to me like someone out there in Xena writing land really likes messing up bards. This just aint right, folks.
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