Here are three deep and profound things I never knew about the Warrior Princess until this episode:
1) She has a groinky older brother who looks like a gay Kevin Sorbo, minus the chest the size of a Vee Dub.
2) Her sidekick’s sister is really Colonel Sanders.
3) Groinky isn’t a word but it should be.
Okay so this isn’t exactly the most moving, memorable, adroitly acted or best scripted episode in the Xenaverse. It may even rate somewhere in the bottom 10 episodes of all time. And it might be proving a bit tiresome popping out yet another relative of Xena’s every time they run out of ideas. First Mamma and Xena’s dead younger brother get trotted out so we can deal with Xena’s Issues™ , then Daddy, and now – oh, look, an older brother.
Mercifully they stopped these "Hey wasn’t I related to you once?" reunion episodes after this particularly unconvincing offering. After all, by the end of this ep, Gabrielle’s relationship to Xena was starting to prove far more fascinating to fans (on both sides of the subtext divide) than anything the flat-chested, light-of-feet Sorbo clone on a revenge kick could offer.
But for all that it’s hard to loathe Death Mask, primarily because no one can ever remember it. You have to actually say to fans "You know – the episode with her other brother…"
So here are a few refreshers for those who, quite rightly, can’t face digging out the disc again for another go-around.
We find out Xena has another brother and he ran away when the fighting started in her village those 10 seasons ago. Not to worry – see the village had already rallied behind one untrained, completely inexperienced village girl lacking any and all military or tactical experience called Xena, who somehow defeated the highly experienced marauding army led by Cortese. Now this little lass also knew he’d come back so she began shoring up defenses in neighbouring villages and, before she knew it, one kill ’em all massacre led to another, and oops, she was ruling the known universe. Hate it when that happens.
Toris – the other brother – came out of hiding and, as he explained to Xena, he had his own, cunning, cunning plan to feel better about turning tail. Revenge. But, see, it was a cunning plan with a twist – ie to seemingly wait as long as humanly possible, perhaps for natural causes to set in. And then he’d pounce.
See, while Xena immediately figured out Cortese would be back to try again (thus she knew exactly where he’d be next), Toris told little sis that it took him "a long time" to track Cortese. So while any half-blind old crone could fairly easily follow the trail of destruction left behind by a retreating, the re-attacking, warlord, Toris needed YEARS to work out the man’s whereabouts. In sum: Toris is either even more cowardly than he finally confesses or Xena really did get the deep end of the gene pool. And given how scary she was 10 seasons ago, that’s not exactly a compliment.
Meanwhile, as all this is going on, Gabs taps into her inner warrior to master the art of arrow deflection in a truly lovely scene otherwise known as – don’t leave the kids at home unsupervised.
This episode marks some hilariously bad, soap-style exposition moments, like Xena, upon catching sight of her brother, announcing as she stares him down: "He’s one of Cortese’s raiders. Alone. Still … I don’t like it."
I’m surprised she didn’t add: "I might just go over there and see what he wants. Could be dangerous. But I have many skills that I have learnt since my days commanding my own army some 10 years ago. I strongly feel I am up to the task."
Now for the most unintentionally funny moment, bar none, is Gabrielle showing how deadly she truly is. Please witness her disturbing attempts at cooking chicken/quail over a fire the size of a potato. At most, if she’s lucky, the very tip of the end chunk of bird on her droopy stick, which she is holding marshmallow-toasting style, might have felt a slight warming sensation. No wonder Toris, when handed a drumstick, dropped it immediately on the ground and didn’t even look at the likely salmonella-infestation again.
This is also where we learn Lila has a chicken recipe with "17 secret herbs and spices". So she’s to blame …
The most intentionally funny moment of the episode was Gabrielle’s line to Xena: "Have you ever considered there isn’t a safe time to be around you?"
Fair enough question come to think of it – and it’s good to see the bard finally digging her heels in about being left behind for once. Of course Xena does rudely gallop off without so much a by your leave to attend to various stoushes and warlords several times, leaving poor Gabs to hotfoot it to each destination on her own.
If nothing else her Xena: Warrior Princess Diet and Exercise Regime she’s being forced to adopt could make her a mint, so she doesn’t have to beg for accommodation from people whose lives she’s saved. Yes, people, in this episode Xena actually tells Gabrielle to go back and hit up the lady whose kid she saved for a free bed. Novel approach, sure, but I never read that one in the hero manual before this. Imagine Herc asking Iolaus to do that…
Best debate for the episode – was it Xena or Lucy who cracked up at Gabrielle when she apologized to Toris for him having to witness her sweet little outburst at Xena? I’m still not entirely sure if it was the character or the actress losing it there, but that moment definitively answers Toris’s snippy question about why Xena keeps the bard around. Cos she’s hilarious! And maybe one or two other reasons (although her Raw Chicken On A Stick is definitely not one of them).
Meanwhile, after the lessons learned from Callisto you’d think the powers that be would now understand that a good villain means all in a show like Xena. Well you’d think that wouldn’t you…
I have never seen so much ham as Cortese was smoking during this episode. From calling Xena "Sheena" or "Tseena" or anything else the actor thought sounded more Shakespearean to holding up his PINKIE finger to indicate the number one, and his "drat it/curse you Xena" fist shake, this bloke was a shocker of a scene-stealing hack. All while his 2IC stood there like some butch bathouse boy. Cortese wasn’t helped by the writers who gave him more Perry Mason confessions and James Bond villain style monologuing than should ever be witnessed in polite company.
I am surprised he didn’t just strike a pose and declare "It was meeee, I confesssss…" Sideshow Bob style and be done with it.
Stupidest line of the episode – ah that’s easy… the villager running in and saying to Xena with full-blooded mighty earnest Kiwi twang: "The elders are gathered, you better come quick."
Really? OK, just how elderly are these elders exactly?
And stupidest action of the episode…
So, you’re an archer. You’ve been practicing on your archery range for a few hours. You know, doing the thing with arrows. As in your weapon of choice. A man who you know should be in prison runs around the corner shrieking "Cortese!", so do you:
- Threaten to shoot him with the bow you are already holding
- Shoot him
- Take your bow and beat him ineffectually over the head with it.
- Tell him to stop shrieking like a big girl’s blouse and beat yourself over the head with the bow.
Don’t make me say it.
I have to say, though, the above Bow Battering Strategy was only marginally better than the big all-in fight at the end where Xena teams up with her brother, aka SEOTGP (Shallow End of the Gene Pool).
Anyone ever see Galaxy Quest? There’s a scene where the captain does, like, 15 somersaults to cross a patch of dirt that the rest of the crew just walks over. In Xena, the WP and her brother link arms back to back and toss each other over each other’s heads and then… while in virtually identical positions to how they began … stand still and kick their opponents. Then they repeat it. Cute but stupid. Funny, though.
(Note: I refuse to dignify the wet towel whipping of bandits by even rating it in these Xenascapades. Suffice it to say, it was stupid without the cute. Not unlike Toris really.
Which reminds me - I really liked only one line to come out of his mouth the entire time.
He says of Gabrielle, half awed, and half disgusted (with himself probably): "She’s brave because that’s the way she is."
For some reason I really loved that acknowledgement that the bard is a plucky little contender who had been dismissed a bit too much in earlier episodes. It’s nice to see she’s getting a bit of acknowledgement in her own right.
Beyond that, most of Toris and his plot was just a pointless waste of space. Even Xena didn’t warm to him (well he is a coward) and given neither asked after each other before, during or since this episode, I’d say there’s no love lost there.
Still, he did give me a new appreciation of barbers as I grew mighty weary of shouting at the screen: "Get a haircut, you lout!" What is it with long hair on men (and boys) in that show that looks so appalling? It’s like the damp Auckland weather sucks the life out of it or something.
Well there’s really nothing left to say – so here are three entirely useless things to take away from this underwhelming experience:
- Death Mask is so forgettable that if I hadn’t just said the title again you’d have forgotten it;
- Gabrielle can’t cook for crap;
- Groinky really should be a word. Its time has come.