Xena Warrior Princess Episode Reviews
The Path Not Taken
Season 1, Episode 5
RATING: 6.5 chakrams
Reviewed by SLK
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by
Directed by Stephen L. Posey
Bobby Hosea (Marcus)
Stephen Tozer (Myzantius)
Nicola Cliff (Jana)
Jimi Liversidge (Agranon)
John O'Leary (Antonius)
Iain Rea (Brisus)
Crawford Thompson (Dictys)
Peter Saena-Brown (Soldier #1)
DISCLAIMER: No disclaimer
STORY SO FAR
Xena meets an old flame while infiltrating an arms dealer’s stronghold to rescue a kidnapped princess and stop a war.
Gabrielle explains to Xena that life is about adventure, adding: "Granted, with you it gets a bit too adventurous, but that’s what makes it interesting…" Check out Xena’s inclined head in a silent, deadpan agreement.
Xena snatching back the pendant off Gabrielle in the inn. How on earth Renee didn’t burst out laughing at the Surly One’s "Give me that" pout is a mystery for the ages.
Big tough Xena in the inn and showing everyone who’s boss. Everyone except clueless Gabrielle. Love Xena’s over-the-head, backward fully extended kick and Gabrielle’s half-embarrassed "Sorry, that sometimes happens" wave.
The look Xena gives an old chum in the gun-running gang who tries to touch her. It was so cutting it could have sliced salami.
The only arms dealer in history never to haggle. Even as he declared Xena’s offer to be shallow, moments later he agrees instantly to a ludicrous deal. Is this guy Business Loser of the Year or planning to make bankruptcy a tax write-off?
"Did you ever notice we never have trouble getting a table?" Gabrielle puffed with pride at her keen observation skills.
"I’m getting in there, getting the girl, getting out." Xena’s priorities stay consistent.
"You’re terrible at reassurance; did anyone ever tell you that?" We suspect not, Gabs.
"What we have here is a failure to communicate." Gabrielle explaining her alternative reason for getting clapped in stocks. Naive stupidity being the omitted option.
"You’re going to cut your throat and jump? That’s overkill don’t you think?" Police negotiator Xena aint.
Here’s one of those Xena episodes that tend to be lost in the mists of time, only vaguely remembered for its plotline (Xena saves a princess and sees Marcus die) and totally overlooked for a rather astonishing introduction. Namely, Butch Xena ™.
Now bear in mind, this is only five episodes into a new show, there’s no fan base yet, no advertising support, and anything remotely out of the ordinary is considered risky enough for network execs to start bulk-ordering their Valium. And, suddenly, from virtually nowhere, in swaggers the Warrior Princess – with emphasis on warrior for the first time. She’s the Xena we have come to know now but at the time it was the first true glimpse of who she was, in fact more so – this incarnation is almost a caricature.
Xena’s at her most masculine best (Lucy always said she deliberately played the role "male") and having the time of her life. Witness her entering the local inn as clueless Gabrielle natters on, while a catlike Warrior Princess is taking in every lout and oaf and instantly assessing potential threats.
Look at me funny? Here buddy have a fist. Touch me? Eat elbow. YOU, swallow my boot. Leer at me? Do ya like singed eyebrows?
THWUMP, Xena’s legs go up on the table at the inn, defying anyone to tell her to watch her table manners. You can almost imagine the bar keep swallowing nervously and locking away his breakables. The big girl’s blouse of a fiancé (he’s so bubblegum nice my teeth hurt) has to stand before this majestic creature and beg favours while eyeball to boot with all that imposing, creaking black leather.
Power purrs from her lips, flows from her fingers as she rubs a tankard menacingly. She plays games with her prey, watching, bemused, as he asks miserably for his bride-to-be to be rescued. She spurns him with an imperious tilt of eyebrow and derisive curl of the lip for he has misunderstood that her motives are neither monetary nor mercenary.
We’re left to wonder: Who IS this vision? She surely can’t be the same kinda tough but considerably less imposing woman batting eyelids at dear old widower dad a few episodes back?
Lucy Lawless is having the time of her life in this and for the first time viewers gain two blinding insights. One: this is at last a revelation of the character of Xena, fully formed, set in granite, and believable as a conqueror of whole armies, whose battle cry could send shivers of terror down backs of grown men.
And two: this show is going to be amazing.
At this point and time, and probably since, no TV actress had ever done what Lucy Lawless did in these few frames, and with such authority and indifference to the fact she was flying in the face of all convention as to how a female hero "must" behave. Ladylike and feminine? Excuse me while I go knee a bloke in the groin. Wait, whoa, hold everything. Isn’t that being a man-hater? You can never, ever, ever have that.
Snort – like Xena cares. You could almost here the thud, thud, thud of double-chinned jaws hitting floors in the executive suites in Hollywood after this defiant episode aired. Bold, brave, strong and uncompromising. A gutsy, unique and unheard of acting choice and Lawless (and the viewers) have been amply rewarded by her decision to cut loose and toss that sorry-assed limp-lettuce girl hero mould out the window and stomp on it repeatedly until it was dust.
Yep, this is the episode that made you sit up and take notice of a certain warrior princess. It’s what rescued the show from descending into the slow sleep of television mediocrity; it’s what made it remarkable. It’s what got tongues wagging, saw world-weary women enviously eyeing all that grrl power, amused men nudging their girlfriends and lesbians logging on in droves to say to each other "Did you see THAT?"
Unfortunately, despite the eye-opening entrance, the episode doesn’t fulfil the great promise it began with, largely due to a slow pace, lots of walking, talking and pontificating, and too little of Gabrielle to lighten things up beyond her usual slapstick brand of Oh No I’ve Been Captured Again, Help Help™.
Marcus was a bright spot, and I’ve always liked the studly dude, for he is both romantic and tough, a rare combination in Xena. He is also the guy who looked into her eyes and saw that she was different. Not unlike the unmasking of Superman as Clark Kent, he notes with a hint of wonder and a lot of subtle speculation that "The old Xena would have taken my head off for a story like that…" He was the man who got too close and you can almost taste Xena’s discomfort at his undeniably keen observation skills. It’s a game of cat and mouse as each sounds out the other to see if they are still on the same side. Which side that is, is the bigger question.
That Marcus would one day hence be described as Xena’s one true love is a little bit rich based on this hastily hobbled-together back plot, still, these are early days…
On the story side, we’re talking threadbare here. As I said, lots of walking, talking, posturing and pontificating, as arrows get pointed at Xena, then away from Xena, then at Xena, then at a box holding the princess, then at Xena, then at Marcus. You get the drift.
The only exception to all this yakking was the glimpse of an enraged Xena when Marcus died doing what I can only sadly call "The Joxer". That is, a brave but foolhardy stunt which was easily avoidable and which ended in his death. A pity for him to die like that – I’d have rather he died in a less foolhardy fashion, saving the girl when Xena wasn’t in any position to. But great death scene, dude, love it, feel the pain. And I was almost cheering when we discovered the chakram aint no butter knife as Xena dispatched the arms dealer with steely fury.
As for the rest of the cast, the arms dealer was a fairly decent actor, while the young prince and princess were doubtlessly hired for their ability to look as virginal as possible. In which case, good job kids.
I’d give Renee some extra credits for managing to make every short scene she was in count, and also doing as Lucy did – succeeding in fleshing out her character more fully. We discover or confirm a number of things about Gabrielle this episode, such as that she is a little, well, clueless.
The world is filled with lecherous drunks attacking left and right and Gabrielle is discussing their last mission’s victory and marvelling that they always seem to be able to get a good table. A table Xena has successfully cleared with a pointed glare at its previous occupants.
We see again Gabrielle loves to talk up a storm and tell tales and is only interested in our young Romeo when he mentions the subject of undying love for his fiancée. Antenna up, Gabrielle moves swiftly in for the kill, demanding every detail. She’s a keen absorber of all things love-related, making her character as idealistic and romantic as Xena’s is practical.
We also see Gabrielle is seriously naïve, and her, ahem, cunning plan to march up and tell the princess’s father how much her intended loves Jana is not what you’d call the most clued-in tactical solution. Give her points for trying. You can see this bard-in-the-making is not buying the "being left at the nearest village" routine any more.
But the big thing lacking in this episode, aside from a riveting plot, was giving Gabrielle’s storyline any resolution. One minute she’s in the stocks, execution scheduled, the next she’s at Marcus’s funeral getting all teared up at Xena’s haunting funeral song over a man she never met. We also didn’t get to see the lovers’ reunion, or hear the war was over. They may as well have just flashed up "Two days later, everything is back to normal…"
Still I love the way they do funerals in Xena and that song just gets you right there. Beautiful. And if they had to cut the resolution to get that in, well I can live with it.
The only thing that lacked resonance for me personally was Xena’s big, emotive, voice-cracking power-finish, "He was my friend. My friend."
Yeah, yeah, we got that already. He was your friend. No kidding. That’s why you’re singing at his funeral and looking sad, right girlfriend? See, I kept thinking "And…?"
Sure, it occurred to me Xena must not have too many friends for THIS to be the thing she takes away from his death. Not his bravery or shared camaraderie, or even his love, but the fact she could count him as a friend. I suppose that given the lonely existence the Warrior Princess had until she met Gabrielle, where she couldn’t trust anyone, would give her a unique perspective on the importance of friends.
But then I decided the import of the moment was that for all their ducking and weaving earlier in the episode as they worked out how much to trust the other or not, it was only in his death that Xena finally discovered not only could she have trusted this man, but that he was more than that – he truly was on her side. A friend. It hit her hard that discovery.
It was a little too melodramatic in delivery, but nice. I give big brownie points for aiming for a profound spoken moment rather than the tortured silence Xena’s also so good at.
In sum – this is the gold mine episode, often forgotten, and wrongly so. Go plunder it and discover the moment a little hokey spin-off show called Xena turned the corner and rocketed away to become a cultural and social phenomenon. Here’s where it all began…