Season 3, Episode 16

19 September, 1998

Reviewed by SLK



RATING: 7 chakrams

When In Rome Montage

SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Steven L. Sears; Edited by Jim Prior;
Directed by John Laing

PASSING PARADE: Karl Urban (Caesar) Matthew Chamberlain (Crassus) Jeremy Callaghan (Pompey) Tamati Rice (Vercinix)

STORY SO FAR: Xena must come up against Caesar again when she tries to organise a prisoner exchange - a Gaul warrior hero in a swap with a high-ranking Roman nobleman she has caught. Gabrielle must trust Xena not to become obsessed with Caesar once more, while the bard also faces an awful decision - whether to allow her cruel Roman prisoner to live or die.

DISCLAIMER: Caesar's Palace was not harmed during the production of this motion picture. However, Crassus and the gladiators went down for the count.

REWIND FOR: Some enchanting bits of Celtic-sounding music throughout (such as during the scene when Vercinix kisses his wife); swords that scream and stop precisely when they hit the ground (yeah, yeah, Xena just knew without looking when to stop screaming); a fine acting scene by Karl Urban when he realises he must execute Crassus - the look on his face is priceless; the sick expression on Xena’s face and the blank mask on Gabrielle’s during the execution; the final scene on the boat which affirms why these two friends will be sticking together for awhile to come.

QUOTABLE: "Sorry about your soldiers, we were playing tag ... and they don’t lose well." Xena to Caesar, who presumably has some job vacancies opening up.

"An old friend, enemy, friend, I forget where we left off." Caesar to Pompey about his relationship to Xena... you’d think the splinter scars in his hand from The Deliverer would be a reminder.

"Divide and conquer Crassus, the friend is the key..." Caesar to Crassus. And then...

"It’s your friend he wants. He seems to think she has some sort of power over you. He wants that power." Pompey to Xena. What, is it tattooed on Gabrielle’s forehead? It seems everyone from Ares down has worked out the bard is the way to get to Xena... well except the writers on Forgiven of course. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Hehehe.)

"I don’t know what’s happening to me Xena. I played judge, jury and executioner," a very different Gabrielle to the one Xena first met.

Best comebacks:

Pompey: "Why do they call you Warrior Princess?"

Xena: "Because Caesar was taken."

Caesar: "It’s never just business between us Xena - it’s hatred, war, conquering and it’s love."

Xena: "I’ve gotta go to the bathroom. Are we done yet?" (Way to tell a bloke he’s history!)


Another Caesar episode rears its head and while it is not close to the brilliance of Destiny and The Quest - where Xena and the Roman meshed and clashed so well there were sparks shooting out of the screen - this episode sneaks under your defences for a stealth attack of a very different kind. There is far, far more going on in this episode than first you notice. Don’t be fooled into thinking the plot is another predictable variation on the Xena personal vengeance theme when Caesar trots out his "divide and conquer" patter for a tedious third time. This is not really about Caesar at all, even though he is almost in every scene. This is about trust.

Before I get into the weighty goings on of this episode, let me get the minor quibbles packed away first. Was it just me who wanted to wrap a certain trumpet around whichever toga-wearing goose kept playing that "dododoodo" musical motif every time Caesar gets his close-up or his name is mentioned ominously? Given how much we saw of Caesar it felt like that’s all we were hearing at times.

I note the season three horsedrag motif rears its head again with Xena rightfully on the receiving end for once, along with Crassus - the latter scene begging for a deadpan line from Gabrielle, looking down at him: "Know the feeling..."

OK, which Warrior Princess likes to crawl through forbidden places with knives in her mouth? Worked well in The Debt. The first time we saw it...

Speaking of this particular forbidden place, didn’t it seem Xena agreed way to quickly to attend Caesar’s special function that night without any weapons - in what could very easily have been a trap? All he would have had to do was catch her and bargain with Gabrielle to get Crassus back in exchange for the Warrior Princess... but no, trusting sort and all(!), Xena didn’t even seem to care about his no-weapons conditions.

On the subject of that function, while I found it hard to believe Xena would have allowed anyone to insist on her having a wardrobe change to preferred Roman kit, it was good for once to see Lucy Lawless remember that while she was in the finery she was still the Warrior Princess. It always bugged me in Here She Comes, Miss Amphipolos that a Warrior Princess would know so well how to instantly act the beauty queen and to do it so convincingly and flawlessly. (Many skills, eh?) Here she is very much all six feet of Warrior Princess being trotted out in a dress and at Caesar’s pleasure. She might look the part but she is refusing to act it. Nice.

I did find it utterly unbelievable that the lynch pin of the plan was Xena seeing Gabrielle in the crowd and knowing Vercinix was sprung from jail and she could thus win her fight and get outta there. Have you tried spotting someone in a crowd from that far away? What about if they’re also short, right at the back and you can see maybe an eye, a nose and a waving hand?

Next scene, Crassus also homed in on Gabrielle in the crowd, presumably seeing the bright flash from his gold ring she was holding. But really for all he knew he could have been looking at anyone’s jewellery. Did he really know it was her or took a desperate hopeful guess?

A debate question for you: Did Gabrielle deliberately shine that ring at him so he would know she was right there and intentionally not saving him; or was she unaware the sun was glinting off it and he just happened to see it and cry out?

Also a by the by, moments after Xena has defeated the gladiator she reappears in the crowd to get Gabrielle - how is it no one in the crowd recognised her? You’d think she’d have made quite an impression. Surely a few senator’s wives (or senators) should be fainting in shock that a barbarian is now loose amongst them?

A rather big plot failing: It would have been nice to know how Xena knows Mendola - so much so that Xena would hop a boat and go up against Caesar to rescue the woman’s husband for her. It seemed entirely glossed over Xena’s motive for suddenly making it her mission to rescue political prisoners.

A final quibble, in all of Rome, are we to believe there is only one prison, containing just two tiny uni-sex cells and one dimwitted guard? And one key fits all? Rome must have been a very orderly place.

Onto the important stuff. This episode is the first since the rift - where everything fell apart for Xena and Gabrielle - to revisit those fresh scars and see how they’re healing. I almost missed what was going on underneath the first time because I was too busy watching all the action. I didn’t spot till later that the same sorts of questions were being repeatedly posed in different ways, nor that how each person chose to answer them became more and more important. A picture tells a thousand words and, in this case, keep you eyes peeled on Xena’s and Gabrielle’s facial expressions as they are twisted in every direction and taunted by master manipulators. Sometimes you’ll wonder if we’re back where it all began, just before the rift started, at those critical junctures where one wrong move will make it fall all apart again, like a loose thread in a tapestry.

I said it was all about trust. Can Gabrielle trust Xena not to go half cocked and kill her old Roman adversary when she gets the chance? Abandon the game plan (to get caught in a pretend assassination attempt) and settle an old, awful debt once and for all? It’s a fair question to plague Gabby’s mind. Let’s face it, Xena’s track record on this matter isn’t high. And last time Gabrielle didn’t ask any questions on the subject, she wound up being whisked off, impregnated by an evil god of darkness in a foreign land while Xena was off waging someone else’s battle in full throated "kill ‘em all" mode.

Even Crassus, her prisoner of barely a few days, seems to sense it’s the button to push as he tells Gabrielle: "Have you ever seen Xena around him? Her judgement gets a little impaired."

(Xena, I noticed, didn’t even bother to deny it.)

Crassus niggles and niggles away at Gabrielle, trying to let the doubts creep in, looking for his chance, after Caesar’s divide and conquer advice. She counters his arguments valiantly but her face tells another story. Yeah, she’s unsettled all right. With the horrors of the rift not far behind her, she’s thinking, Can I really trust her? Is it any different now?

We know Crassus got to Gabrielle because she raises his points with Xena. And it’s not a very trusting question, though a highly pertinent one: "I want to make sure there’s not another part of this plan that you’re not telling me..."

The doubts are there all right.

Xena also has her reasons to doubt Gabrielle. Whenever the bard feels she’s right about something, she has been known to simply go off and do it and damn the consequences. Dobbing in Xena during The Debt to Ming Tien, even though it very nearly got the Warrior Princess killed is one example; and so is what happened during The Price, when the bard wandered out into a warzone with water in direct opposition to Xena’s instructions, and was extremely lucky to even have lived to face Xena’s wrath. When it comes to moral issues, Gabrielle can be just as much as a loose cannon as Xena.

You can see Xena’s got her doubts too. When the bard starts asking questions about whether Crassus deserves to die, Xena can barely disguise her disbelief.

And she can sniff out Gabrielle heading for the moral highground from a hundred paces when Gabrielle validly enquires: "You are making me be a part of murder. How can you be so casual about it?"

‘Uh oh,’ you can hear Xean thinking here, ‘She doesn’t understand at all and I could talk myself blue in the face and she still won’t...’

The Warrior Princess doesn’t even bother to try and convince her properly. She knows they’re simply at ideologically different positions in this argument. With a harsh resignation she tells the bard to just: "Drop it." If ever there was a time for Xena to overcome her recalcitrance for talking, this was it. It was the time for Xena to convince the bard Caesar was no longer a threat to Xena’s control and that Xena was also knew how hard it was for her to be putting Gabrielle in the middle with Crassus, but that she wouldn’t do it if she didn’t think it was vital. A little empathy would’ve gone a long way right about now. She does not take that option.

And there’s where the flavor starts to taste familiar. There’s that rift crossroads again.

So here they suddenly both are - dependent on each on the other to do their bit in the plan. For it to work, Gabrielle must put aside all that has happened in the past and possibly a large chunk of her good judgement to put her faith in the fact Xena will not suddenly flip and go off on a vengeance kick. Xena, meanwhile, must trust Gabrielle will get Crassus into the prison, even though he may be killed as a direct result of Gabrielle’s actions, and this would be something that would not sit well with the bard’s conscience. At any time Gabrielle might well have what Xena describes as a "crisis of faith" and just let him escape rather than have a part in possible murder.

It all came down to one fascinating crunch moment - all this unspoken emotion and old pain was revealed in just five words and some dark looks:

Gabrielle (through gritted teeth): I’ll do my part.

Xena (coldly and with a finality that did not bode well): Good.

You got the impression if they did not live up to their ends of the bargain, that was it. The trust would have been irreparably gone this time, never again to be salvaged. They would have had to have gone their separate ways after this if they didn’t do what they said they would, because they simply never would have been able to trust each other to work together again. This is why this episode delivers a stealth attack. If you blinked, you missed it. And yet it was vital.

Obviously, they did each fulfill their end of the bargain. They both paid prices in doing so. For Xena she had to let go of an old bitterness and move on - a very difficult thing to do for someone like Xena, who had so much passion invested in something - so much hatred, and a bruised ego to boot. For Gabrielle the price was a very high one. And she paid it bravely. From the get-go this bard from Poteideia has had an almost black and white view of the universe. Killing is wrong. Helping people is right. Shades of grey have almost been a foreign concept to her. Now she has faced a beauty - what if killing a person in fact helps the people? It’s like the old Adolf Hitler argument - what if you could travel back in time and bump him off as an innocent young boy who had never harmed a soul at that point, would you?

Gabrielle has shown that she has grown up over time and it’s evidenced by her allowing herself to consider the shades of grey in moral questions. I was personally surprised she did indeed go ahead with allowing the killing, because I am so used to the bard who would find a way to wiggle out of it somehow. For instance, over the seasons Gabrielle has never been adverse to allowing Xena to do her dirty work when it has to be done (urging her to kill Callisto was one example). But she has never been in a position when she absolutely had to roll up her sleeves herself. This time she was. And she did.

It was awful for her and you can see in her steeled eyes and clamped down jaw her pain. It also reflected on Xena’s sickened face as the Warrior Princess works out what Gabrielle is doing. Incidentally, the bard could have gone off somewhere where Crassus couldn’t have seen her and not had to face the consequences of her actions. But I suppose she thought if she was going to indeed play judge, jury and executioner, she would face what she had done. That was brave. And she’ll be guilt-ridden over those actions for a long time to come.

This all reveals how far Gabrielle has come. It’s almost a pivotal episode. Gabrielle has changed and it’s now unmistakeable. Some fans believe it is not a change for the better.

Certainly Gabrielle is not so much the innocent wandering a bloodthirsty world and seeing only the good; she is now a grown woman who sees what is going on and no longer suggests only black or white is the answer. She concedes sometimes the morally hardest option is the right option. This makes her more like Xena and therefore more of Xena’s equal than before. As a side effect, as this development continues (and there’s no reason why it wouldn’t), Xena will be able to talk to Gabrielle more and more now as an equal without any of her early fears of shattering some of her ideals or exposing her to things she’s not ready for. With a true equal for Xena, logically the Warrior Princess will be happier. Lopsided friendships are ultimately tiring to maintain.

But what of Gabrielle? Will she be happier seeing the world without rose-colored glasses? Knowing what she now knows; seeing what she has seen and doing what she has done and will continue to do? And knowing that her changing perspectives and lost innocence comes from her association with Xena?

Hmmm. It’s a thought that’s obviously playing on Xena’s mind too. In the final beautiful scene, Xena asks Gabrielle an interestingly guilty question: "How many more times are you going to follow me into battle, huh? How many more times am I gonna hurt you? You are the most dear thing to me in all the world, yet instead of protecting you..."

Actually, this whole scenario was inevitable. No one stays innocent forever and Gabrielle figured out what was happening awhile back. You may recall it was predicted in The Dirty Half Dozen - Gabrielle asked in those cheery pre-rift days how much of her was now Gabrielle, and how much she was what Xena had made her. Here was Xena’s reply back then: "You’re Gabrielle: Bard, Amazon Princess, best friend. No one made you who you are, it was already there."

Well I didn’t buy it then and I don’t now - but I understand why Xena would say it: Who wants to live with the thought they turned a pure, good, young woman from an innocent to someone seeing the world for what it really is?

I think either way you decide who made who and why, it seems obvious after this episode that Gabrielle has completed the transformation into a grown woman. She will not change back and she knows it. Her answer to Xena’s earlier question about following her into battle proves that and her maturity: "I’m here because I want to be here."

It’s a simple acceptance of who she is, while taking responsibility for what she has become and alleviating Xena of her guilt over her role in the changes.

It is the start of a new Gabrielle. And I sense the start of a new closeness between the two. You sense they really understand each other’s perspectives now. And thanks to the trust they gave each other, they have managed to overcome the rift and move on.

And finally, as an aside, I note their final "I love yous" are unique here. I believe it’s the first time they have both said the words without any enormous baggage attached. No one was on their death beds; no one was hiding a betrayal at the time or feeling guilty for the murder of the other’s son and trying to illicit a return ‘I love you’ to feel better. This was just a simple affirmation because they felt like it. How novel. And how very sweet.


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