IDES OF MARCH
Season 4, Episode 21
July 22, 2000
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 8.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by R. J. Stewart; edited by Robert Field; directed by Ken Girotti.
PASSING PARADE: Hudson Leick (Callisto); Karl Urban (Julius Caesar); David Franklin (Brutus); Jennifer Sky (Amarice); Tim Omundson (Eli); John Leigh (Nabcot); Sean Aston-Peach (Jailer)
STORY SO FAR: Callisto, now an agent of Hell, is sent on a mission to ensure Caesar is made emperor of Rome and to remove Xena from the path of the warrior. When Gabrielle is kidnapped by Brutus, during her rescue by Xena, the pair are caught and sentenced to death by crucifixion - not before Gabrielle has taken up the sword to protect Xena.
DISCLAIMER: Xena and Gabrielle were killed during the production of this motion picture.
REWIND FOR:Callistos ironic, muttered know that feeling response of "no kidding" when her lovestruck inmate in Hell explains hes "doomed to be obsessed for eternity with a women who despises me"...
Xena farewelling Gabrielle at the docks places a hand the bards right shoulder. Its missing in the close up.
What sort of nincompoops are running Rome? Xena can hang about outside Caesars office, an unconscious guard (we presume) at her feet (or at the very least missing from his post) and the passing patrol dont go, "Ah, maam, yeah you in the guards outfit, whered those centurions guarding our high commander go?"
Xena less-than-subtly checking out Brutuss goods when hes answering the call of nature. Guess it wasnt worthy of comment, huh Xena?
Gabrielle going nuts to save Xena - now thats love. Shivers still going up and down the spine. Her Roman bodycount may have been nine, but some guards probably felt like theyd died a few times when the bard of Poteideia had finished with them.
Dig that jail/farewell scene. Awww.
Dig that cross/farewell scene. Double awww. Okay, not that I want to detract from such a beautiful scene, but Im gathering if Xenas back was broken, sufficient for her not to be able to walk, she wouldnt be feeling a whole lot of anything below the navel. So why did she scream when her feet were nailed to the cross? Not that it wouldnt make one more than a little squeamish, but still...
Meanwhile, if your finger is still on the remote trigger, the intercutting between Caesars stabbing and Xena and Gabrielles crucifixion is extraordinarily well done, complete with matching music pounding.
Check out, just before this death, Callisto sucking in a mouthful of snow as Gabrielle walks past under guard -- a subtle pointer from the former goddess to show the bard how much she is enjoying this.
What happened to Gabrielles chest mendhi? Its still clearly visible on her hands when shes being nailed so it didnt just fade in one place and not others. Or is it a friction thing and accidentally got rubbed off? (Small subtext joke. So shoot me. *g*)
Speaking of subtext, the final angel scene -- rewind it again, (if you havent already *bg*) and take in the moment Xena and Gabrielle first look at each other properly as angels. If those arent the faces of two people in love, then I give up.
"I wanted to cease existing and you did your best to help but as you can see it didnt take." Callisto to Xena on her particularly thorny existential dilemma... what to do when even death cant stop you living??
"I can arrange for it for you and Gabrielle and all her peaceful little friends to just walk out of here and no one gets hurt and you and Gabrielle can live happily ever after." Dear Callisto, even when shes sucking up, she sounds like shes about to put worms in your sleeping bag. Rewind for the precise, mocking, too-nice way she says the word "peaceful".
"Theres a reason you cant allow you and your partner peace." Almost fell off my chair here. Did Callisto say partner? And were not talking partners in the Thebes Roof Thatching and Door Patching business methinks... What happened to all that Southern Baptist-approved, advertiser-friendly, subtextual ambiguity theyve been giving us for years dammit?! Then again, Callisto never did stick to the programme, bless her dear heart.
Eli: Its only when youve reached that state of emptiness youll be ready enough to be filled with love.
Amarice: Just in time too, youll be able to love the people who crucify us.
Xena: I made you leave the way of love - that was my fault.
Gabrielle: I had a choice - do nothing or save a friend. I chose the way of friendship.
Xena: Im sorry for all the times I didnt treat you right.
Gabrielle: Xena you brought out the best in me. Before I met you, no one saw me for who I was. I felt invisible but you saw all the things I could be. You saved me, Xena.
Wow. Heres an episode that just gets better and better as it progresses until it hits a tremendous finale that makes you wanna scream: "Waitaminute, THEYRE DEAD???"
But yes, those two are (currently) dead as my two-day-old, burnt toast. Dont believe me, check out that disclaimer. Now theres something you dont read every day...
This does tend to break the golden hero rule established by TVs Batman which is that no hero shall ever be sliced, diced, minced or winched without having the appropriate escape means stowed in their utility belt (or cleavage as the case may be).
Not on Xena. No last minute escapes here. No miracle: "Wait, I think I can walk after all - Hey just hold still, Roman pig, while I crush you between my mighty thighs..." And thats kind of cool - well, the heroes not straining credibility is cool, although I wouldnt mind seeing that thigh thing. *g*
My largest quibble would be that the death/resurrection count on this show is now stupidly high -- I think we may be at three deaths/technically deads apiece now for Xena and Gabrielle and even Attus the Apeman could see that, as a plot device, bucket-kicking is getting pretty old hat.
On the other hand, these deaths -- unlike the awfully senseless dud death of Gabrielle in Sacrifice -- mercifully dont come from left field or seem as cynical. After all, weve been seeing those premonitions for some time now. If anything, their deaths here are fulfilling prophesy and so they offer a completeness/symmetry that Gabrielles earlier death-by-hugging-a-lava-pit ever did (not that her Sacrifice death was meant to make you feel anything but sick).
But where this episode rocked most was that it had a properly written farewell, and this was what was lacking in all other deaths/virtual deaths of previous episodes -- which, while sweet, still had a one-liner here or there, a kiss on the forehead and nice knowing ya, catchya in the afterlife feel.
Here, there is a simply beautifully written and cinematically framed scene (posed not unlike the medieval Madonna holding a crucified Jesus paintings) of Gabrielle cradling Xena and them both saying goodbye properly in the Roman cell. Xenas sorry about not reading the scrolls. Gabrielle smiles at that. Shed have liked them, the bard says. Yeah. Xena knows it. Gabrielle thanks Xena for seeing her full potential - for making her not feel invisible any more. Xena is touched. Tears form. This is the end. What a dedication of love.
Then, on the cross. The words are simple but so touching. It doesnt matter how many times youve seen this scene now, it still hits you most when you know its happening for real: "Gabrielle, you are the best thing in my life."
"I love you, Xena..."
Now that is how you do a death scene... If the show had ended right there forever, I dont know many fans who wouldnt have found it a poignant and a brilliant exit - especially given its decidedly unconventional ending. And given Xena is famed for being unconventional, mores the better.
By starting this critique at the ending, I have passed by an equally gripping and major plot point in this episode. Its not that Callisto lives - although god knows Ive missed the way that woman can make even the most innocuous words sound positively wicked. Nice hair by the way, hon.
Its not that Eli, who spends half this episode looking immensely smug, seems to be turning into a Jesus doppleganger faster than you can recite the names of the Apostles -- even if the show still talks about karma and peoples paths, ala Hinduism. (By the way, oh great teacher, Amarice asked a reasonable question about defending ones mother -- why not answer it next time instead of being so patronising.)
Nor is it that the chakram is dead - long live the chakram. (Farewell good buddy - though we never did learn which side had the stun setting and which one was set to julienne watermelons.)
And its not that Caesar dies or that he was still, curiously, obsessed with Xena in his dreams, though shed long gotten over him.
Or even that Xena, curiously, sees nothing wrong with tracking down and killing an unarmed man who is not attacking her. (I guess a six million dinar bounty on your head would make anyone twitchy for revenge though.)
But its Gabrielle. Finally I get why Xenas makers spent so long establishing Gabrielle as an absolute pacifist.
I was one of those who detested the new "Woohoo, I feel nothing", wont hurt a fly Gabs, because it felt like a step backwards to the sword-dropping, getting underfoot peasant girl she started out as, who always needed rescuing. In essence, Gabrielle was returning to the days of not being Xenas equal any more and that was getting under my skin. It may be a fine ideological stance for the bard to take but in reality shes travelling with a warrior, for Zeuss sake, and that means danger, death and well, more danger. And not just for her - for all who are around her, constantly having to protect her.
And so there they were again, highlighting her "peace, man" ways vividly at the start of the episode, by letting Gabrielles immensely loud orange blouse do all the fighting for attention, while she stood back and waited for her friends to save her. I was getting ready to be seriously irked at the bard, the writers, the universe, the guy who leaves the cap of the texta pens in my office... and then it happened.
The impact of Gabrielle picking up a sword, not even in self defence, but to kill those who might kill Xena, was awesome. The woman of peace, who had stood by watching her nails dry while Xena and Amarice dissected the bad guys but half an hour earlier, showed even she had her limit: Touch me, drag me off to jail, threaten my peace-loving friends, all-righty, be my guest. Lay a hand, a finger, on Xena when shes helpless, and youre dead meat.
Oh and shes mad. I mean ma-ad. Since when have we ever see Gabrielle, even in her staff-toting days, causing unnecessary harm? No more violence than absolutely essential to neutralising the threat, was her motto. But the rules were out the window in that cold Roman courtyard. Headbutting, throatcutting, knifing semi-conscious men -- she dispatched them with a viciousness I cant recall Xena exhibiting since shes been a force for good.
And Xenas lying there feebly gasping: Noo..."
Not that I blame Gabrielle exactly - how would you feel if the person you love looked up at you with beseeching, puppydog eyes, their voice cracking helplessly with emotion as they explain they cant move. And their eyes are saying they need help. Your help. Now.
Now thats a toughie.
Excellent acting all through here, by the way. I cant pick which actress kicked ass most.
Interestingly for those who got to see the one-time banned episode The Way, Xena proved Gabrielle's undoing on the road to peace then as well. Youd almost think she likes the gal or something. *g*
The point is that everything in this episode pointed to one thing, which was expressed in many different ways. It was all about the bond between Xena and Gabrielle. Anyone who gets between them is destroyed. Even in death... they will be together. It has been uttered many times and many ways before but now theyre proving it.
Its their destiny, they know it, and heaven help anyone who sees fit to intervene.
This was the thing Callisto failed to grasp. She could never understand why Xena kept the irritating blonde around. She knew that Gabrielle was the key to Xena - and ordered Caesar to use her as bait - but she couldnt get the why of it or the depth of their bond.
So when Gabrielle finally flips out and goes nuts with the sword -- Xena is not so much shocked at the actions as she is panicked about Gabrielle getting off her path. Indeed, the one who is most startled is Callisto who can only gape and say: "Interesting." And given Callisto spends most of her life and death and life again bored beyond belief, and acting as if anything the universe dishes up to her is passe, it takes a lot, a hell of a lot, to interest that particular agent of chaos. Especially given the object of her interest here is actually Gabrielle who she has dismissed in the past as offering all the fascination of a blowfly.
And so, this was the episode that brought the special bond between Xena and Gabrielle into focus for all the other characters. Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Caesar, Brutus, all the gods in heaven and hell have had it spelt out to them that these two are a job lot - not to be parted, and they will kill for the other and do whatever it takes to be at the others side. No one will ever doubt it again. Nor, I think will we.
And any writer who knows so little about the show that he or she tries to do just that in the future as a plot device, will rightly earn the wrath of the fans.
And so it should be.
For, in Ides of March, Gabrielle and Xena have spoken.
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