Season 2, Episode 19
November 28 , 1998
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 6 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by R. J. Stewart and directed by Michael Levine
PASSING PARADE: John D'Aquino (Ulysses); Rachel Blakely (Penelope); Tim Raby (Meticles); Carl Bland (Layos); and Charles Siebert (Poseidon).
STORY SO FAR: Xena helps Ulysses fight pirates and sirens and return to his homeland. He falls in love with her and asks her to stay on with him. However he finds his long-thought dead wife waiting for him on his return.
DISCLAIMER: Despite Gabrielle's incessant hurling, Ulysses' ship was not harmed during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR: Xena stopping to smell the daisies - or did she? She said she was but she just tossed it away after looking at it; have another look at the diverted way Xena says "mmm" as Gabrielle proclaims "What a man" of Ulysses; Gabrielles funny midnight water wakeup call at the point of a sword; Xena flying up the main sail - a trick she learned from MLila, perhaps?. Gabrielle kissing what she calls: "dry land"... perhaps definitions of dry have changed over time?
QUOTABLE: "For someone whos so good at splitting heads, you have a gentle touch." Ulysses to Xena... so thats how you chat up a Warrior Princess? Should have figured.
"Please kill me" Gabrielle to Xena after too many days repainting the side of the boat.
"Gabrielle, youve been so good to me. I dont think Id have ever let myself feel the way I feel for Ulysses if it wasnt for you teaching me how to love." Xena having that talk with Gabrielle, who, curiously, doesnt seem entirely pleased to hear shes responsible for this match.
Xena: "Hey Gabrielle, hows it hanging?"
Gabrielle: "I will remember that in my moment of misery you chose levity rather than sympathy."
Ulysses: "I dont believe you; I think you are in love with me."
Xena: "Well isnt that just a typical man - I give you a few smiles and a kiss and you believe Im in love with you. I was embarrassed by all that mush you were spewing."
This is one of those Xena episodes that simply reeks of having had hours of work put into the script, the sets, the pace, the editing, the direction... but just a pity about the lead guest actor. John D'Aquino (Ulysses) , who may be better known to some as the cheery acquirer on SeaQuest: DSV, in this show divebombs so badly that it was with all the fascination of watching a road accident I wondered how and why it had happened. After extensive reviewing of this episode - and against my better judgement - I have finally discovered the answer: the mans face doesnt move! Seriously. Everything from the bottom lip up is fixed like a Thunderbirds puppet or a bad plastic surgery job gone wrong. The top lip is frozen flat - its one of the most fascinating scientific wonders that this man actually speaks. I was gobsmacked.
So here you have a guy, who, facially, displays all the passion of a glow worm, while trying to portray love with the mighty Xena. The resulting chemistry was in negative figures. This was partly because Lucy Lawless herself expressed grave doubts about D'Aquinos casting and perhaps subconsciously had a hard time conveying any interest in him whatsoever, even when she was supposed to be falling for him. Heck, she had far more chemistry with Rafe in King Con - and that was even knowing he had made a sleazy bet on wooing her with his mate.
Whatever the reason, the chemistry was lacking and so all the actions of the actors seemed a little, well, odd: Suddenly you have Ulysses, who has had no other thought on his mind for years but returning to his homeland, declaring it is not his home any more but his wifes, and he wants to go off with Xena, who he can barely muster a smouldering, grrrowly look for (Marcus knew how). And here we have Xena talking about possibly making it a threesome on the road, when she looks anything but happy about the idea, in fact, downright uncomfortable. Heck, even after Ulysses kissed her she didnt look pleased - more like slightly sardonic. Cynical even. This is love? Glad its not catching.
Another thing that drove me insane throughout this episode was wondering why it felt so sad from start to finish, even though it was supposed to be about our leading star falling in love. There was none of the joy we felt when she rediscovered her "true love", Marcus, in The Path Not Taken, or the playfulness between her and Rafe in King Con. But I think the reason is that the entire episode seems to be filmed from a third perspective - Gabrielles. A lot of it seems to be done as a two-shot. When Ulysses and Xena are together you see them both together. Often their scenes are with Gabrielle watching. On the beach, when they introduce each other, theres the bard right between them in the frame, silently taking it in. Its as though her hidden sadness, seasickness and watchfulness is coming through the episode. This is most unusual. And I believe it was for a reason: to show what Gabrielle is thinking.
We are taken on Gabrielles journey through Xenas new love. At no point does she really seem thrilled, despite her forced "if youre happy, Im happy" speech so at odds with the sick "oh god, no" look she gives from the hammock. It is a definite tit-for-tat moment for Gabrielle given how Xena looked and felt at the bards sudden wedding. Renee was actually quite subtle, too. If you think the hammock scene was the first sign she had any reservations about the match, think again. Check out the scene where Xena flies up the mast. Ulysses says "what a woman". Watch Gabrielles face closely. She starts to smile and then, realising what his line might mean, it quickly fades as she slides an uneasy look over to him.
But to my mind one of the worst threes a crowd moments for her came when she got up to get water... Funny though it was, the images which sprang to mind were of a child interrupting her parents grown-up talking. (And, also, it is children who get up in the night asking for water.) It was a pretty insulting position for Gabrielle to be thrust into, even unintentionally so. She is a grown woman, but was being treated as the little one - the one who is sick, a bit awkward and thus winds up the butt of the jokes. Yup, it was hard not to empathise with Gabrielle - a little thing Xena might want to learn something about. For Xena did treat the bard a bit badly, ignoring her, mocking her, or unwittingly making her feel like the third wheel. How would you feel in Gabrielles position? Like getting off that boat and dogpaddling for shore?
Incidentally, Xena did one unforgiveable thing on this voyage (well the writers did, actually). In the later episode, Lost Mariner, we clearly see Xena knows the solution to seasickness and she tells Gabrielle to tap her wrist at a particular point to get rid of it. Here Xena apparently withholds this gem of information and in doing so damns the bard to a horrific sea voyage.
Enough about characters, lets talk storyline. Now there were some doozy plotholes here:
Why did Xena want so much to help get Ulysses to his homeland - even before she seems to be taken with him? She never has had burning urges to go off to foreign climes before with people she meets in passing. Its usually, "Well, dont mention it; good luck in your quest." We never hear her motive fully spelled out.
Are we to believe that after 10 years, yes one decade, folks, of fighting in the Trojan war and losing friends all around him, Ulysses can simply flippantly dismiss the idea Xena was on the other side, killing his dear pals? And make no bones about it, he is flippant in the extreme over something that is a huge and obviously important chunk of his life.
It would be nice to be told Ulysses gave Xena his boat, because if he didnt, in the final scene, she was making off with it. And what did she do with it later?
Where was Argo all this time? In the hold??
And now for the biggie: Ulysses, back on the boat in the last scene, tells Xena he has decided to come with her. There is Penelope on the shore. There are two things wrong with this scene: One, he travels very light given he wont be seeing his wife or homeland ever again (in his mind). (Penelope is also looking remarkably calm about the whole thing.) But when Ulysses returned to shore to be with her, Penelope should have been stunned to see him again. A "Youre back??? But I thought..." hug/kiss/look wouldnt have gone astray. Instead nothing but another vacant blink.
Unless... he didnt have that talk with her ("by the way, hon, on my way here I met a darly Warrior Princess, were eloping, catcha next time") - which leads to point two: If you disappear for a decade and then decide to naff off again just a day or so after reappearing, this is considered very rude at best, hideously inconsiderate and ghastly behaviour at worse if you dont even tell her youre leaving again. Shed be on the shore screaming: "WAIT, come back. Where in Tartarus are you going?? What about those pirates who want me.... help!"
Ulysses, for all his pose striking and noble sounding words, is in fact anything but noble. Which is why I cant understand why Xena would fall for him. Everything about Ulysses bespeaks a man telling someone what he thinks they want to hear: the dismissive way he blows off his wife to Xena on the boat the first time; the way he moves in for the kiss minutes after discussing his supposed beloved. The way he would ditch Penelope on shore and make off with Xena without a thought to his responsibilities at home (which should tell you what he might do to Xena if another woman later caught his eye). And never forget: this is not some man in love, free to pursue his heart wherever it may lead him. He is the King of Ithaca no less, and a married man to boot. He is being a cad. And despite her feelings, Xena knows it too.
If you think I am hard on Ulysses here, history is harder. The myth has it Ulysses was a renowned womaniser and would probably have had two women in every port given half the chance. His wife, Penelope, as befitting a womans idealised role in literature back then, was supposed to have cried herself to sleep every night of the 10 years her beloved was gone. When Ulysses returned and found some 20 pirates vying for her hand, he was filled with rage and, after bending the bow and winning her, he killed them all. He could not believe she had been faithful to him (which she had) and so his jealous rage saw to it that none could have her.
So really Xenas makers were being quite kind to Ulysses. Nonetheless, Xenas sense of honor at the end, of putting her feelings secondary to her code and what she feels is right, just goes to show how truly good she is. But, by default, it shows how shabby a louse he was in being so selfish. It was clearly unintentional that this is how some of us should see Ulysses, for during the whole episode they wanted us to like Ulysses and feel his dilemma. Instead some fans just saw him as very irresponsible. Others even saw him as a slimy creep. To be fair, I know a few who utterly adore him, too.
To me, Xenas cracked voice saying: "Go home" was a beautiful summation of both their characters. She actually has to tell Ulysses what is right, and then to do it. He, like a naughty boy who has ducked out of his responsibilities, reluctantly concedes to be good - but only because she told him to and even then it is against his will. How could two so different characters ever have been considered compatible by script writers? Next time, give us someone genuinely noble and we might just buy the match.
A few little picky things before I finish: the pirate at the end, when asked by Ulysses to let a peasant have a go at the bow, agrees and says "But only you".
Why? Why only him? This seems a really strange thing to say - what would he care if every peasant in the village had a go? If hes going to let one, why not all? And who appointed him in charge, anyway? I would have thought that was Penelopes call.
Another point: what stopped Ulysses from jumping from the boat as the sirens sang to him? Xenas singing started a split second after he made it up the railings and she would not have been going long enough to mute their effect... that boy should have hit the shores paddling long ago.
One final curious thing struck me in this episode: do supernatural women travel in threes in Xena? Three Furies; three Fates; often three Banshees; and now three Sirens...
Ooooh spooky. Guess threes not always a crowd?
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