A disclaimer: I hate vampire flicks more than I hate two-month old, cold pickled cabbage. It required excessive consumption of Maltesars (chocolate malt-balls) while watching this just to control my gag reflex.
I also hate hyper fast-editing, and LSD-esque lighting and rushing effects as these make me so seriously nauseated NO amount of Maltesars in the world can compensate. Shocking but true.
And so here we are, with my most favourite show paying homage to my least favourite genre. Oh joy.
Still, I know that a lot of fans love this episode, and more power to them, so I’ll try to be fair to this trippy little monster mash.
I had to laugh at Gabrielle playing exposition girl at the start. She left no legend untold, no myth unrecounted, no stone unturned in boring Xena witless to explain the bacchae in all their gothic glory. Xena, looking beyond uninterested, almost pile-drove Argo into a tree she was so zoned out.
Of course Gabrielle’s explanation meant we were right there with her in seeing the dogs chasing Joxer as something more sinister. (NB I refuse to call those happily domesticated pooches wolves – and I am sure at least one was a husky.)
I believe this is the first episode that establishes Joxer as Gabrielle’s friend and equal, and he has no other agenda but helping her. The two actors definitely have a great chemistry together (no, no I don’t mean romantically) in their timing, rapport and playing off each other. Obviously the powers that be noticed that too, worse luck… *grin*
I had to love the iconic poses Xena was striking in fending off the doggies – it reminded me of an old Star Wars poster I once saw with Harrison Ford, front and centre, legs planted, blasting away, while clinging to his arm and peering around from behind his protective manly frame, one very girly, pensive looking Carrie Fisher. Xena and Gabs mirrored that look exactly. What a scene. That, boys and girls, is why they call it the hero shot.
Next, the village – I love that the moment Xena’s back is turned Gabrielle heads straight for the nearest grrl bar, I mean, tavern. Is she an alcoholic after all those "stay in the village, Gabrielle" moments where one lonely drink led to another, or merely bored with the task of being a babysitter to a torso-challenged all-singing, no-dancing big head?
Whatever the reason, one minute later she’s on the dance floor, a minute after that the town’s predatory bacchae are having a loose-lipped, looser-limbed little dance-off with her, and, yes, oh there it is … Gabrielle looks like she’s into it.
Was that a thud I heard as the collective subtext brigade hit the deck in a collective swoon? No? OK, just checking.
Personally I loathed the scene – the imagery to me was of powerful lesbians, I mean bacchae, corrupting the sweet virginal village girl, en masse. These allusions to packs of predatory dark dominatrix creatures seducing others into their lifestyle had me wincing. What are they saying here? Uggh. Hated it.
But, hey, maybe the politics of bacchae bars are much, much shallower than all that and I am reading way too much into a really good club beat, and high quality cape wear. Could be.
Joxer cops an eyeful of all this vixen seduction routine and rescues Gabrielle from the vamp tramps and their Sapphic charms (a role he is going to become verrry used to, one notes).
But rather than suspect Gabs has fallen prey to their unnatural charms, it is Xena who he immediately suspects must be a full-on bacchae. Fancy that. Of course, one look at lovely Gabrielle and you’d never suspect "Bacchic" tendencies, right Jox?
Joxer the Mighty did earn his title for one fleeting moment in that scene. Witness him piece together and rattle off Xena’s entire intended plot, earning an astonished "Exactly" from the big WP. Maybe there’s hope for mashed hubcap boy after all.
Funniest scene of the episode for me was what I dub the night of the long spiders. It starts around a fire with Gabrielle attempting to slice her food, Xena gnawing at her greaves in a ye-olde-world version of Martha Stewart Stitching 101, and Joxer just eyeing them both with ill-disguised paranoia.
It’s actually a significant scene for him, because the girls don’t often invite people to share their fire. It’s also a great showcase for Ted Raimi’s comic abilities – and the way he eyes the dagger suspiciously is a whole lot of fun. Just nobody mention that spider on steroids. It was the stuff of nightmares. And Xena wiping her blade of spidey juice after stabbing it, I mean, eewwwww.
Next up, whoa Mumma, Gabrielle’s had an extreme make-over. Yes our sweet little bard from Poteideia was actually a bacchae all along. Go figure. And she can fly! I kept waiting for Hagrid to turn up, hand her a broom, and tell her "You’re a witch, Gabrielle." Ah well – no such luck. She just hisses and bares her fangs a bit, Callisto style, does a few aeronautics and bugs on out of there back to the master’s lair.
And PS those flying skeletal dryads were super scary. So was "Joxer’s" arm seemingly coming off in Gabrielle’s hand at the grave site. Shriek. Again, like the super spider, I choose not to dwell.
Xena, clearly rattled by this unexpected yellow-eyed, extended-incisor development, abandons her main mission, despite Orpheus’s bleats that she’s following her "selfish desires" (he says that like it’s a bad thing). Nope she’s off on that well-worn mission: Rescue Gabrielle.
Joxer, clearly post-lobotomy now after his rare moment of clarity, is easily swayed and listens when Orpheus tells him he must subvert Xena’s goals and essentially kill Gabrielle. Note to self: do not EVER allow Joxer to be your best bud.
Which brings us to the scene that had a thousand subtexters hearts racing and reaching for hair gel, capes and boots. First there’s a bit of biffo all around, Xena versus the pointy-tooth brigade. Gabrielle plays a deranged frog, leaping here and there. And then, there it is… the Big Bad points out to Xena only a bacchae can kill him.
Cue the kiss, I mean love bite, I mean purely friendly platonic 20-second long zoom in on Gabrielle affixing lips and teeth to her gal-pal’s oh-so compliant neck. Uh huh. You know I don’t think I ever saw Iolaus perform that maneuver on Hercules, for business or pleasure… Hmm.
I did laugh at how a certain yellow-eyed ex-bard paused long enough to get the hair out of her face before completing her sucktastic suckfest.
What can we say - Gabrielle certainly did seem into it, to the point she was virtually savouring that soft-skinned sinewy banquet. No "get in, get out, clock off". No siree, that young lass has what they call in the trade - job satisfaction.
And didn’t the director love to linger. And linger. Someone give that man a hobby. No, another hobby. Hell, what am I saying?!
Next comes the stupidest part in the episode – Xena, despite now being a fine figure of a bacchae, and with help from her creature-of-the-night sidekick, takes down and kills the evil head bacchae.
Um, why? Xena’s a bacchae now and her allegiance would be instantly and irrevocably to him. By rights she’d be turning on the non-bacchae immediately.
Of course this IS Xena – a cut above the rest, right? Mental powers up the yin-yang and all that? So we’ll grant that just maybe she had the super power to resist the alluring purr of her evil overlord. But then why did Gabrielle help her? She had already shown she was an agent of Bacchae. It made no sense – well, no sense within the already nonsensical plot.
But really let’s put it all in perspective – the title says what the show is. And I may not like the look of it, the editing, or the predatory gay undertones, but I can appreciate that it’s just a lightweight nod at B-grade lesbian vampire flicks.
The special effects of the skeletal critters were also pretty impressive for the show’s budget, and I hope the make-up ladies got extra tea and jam scones that week because there was a beautiful otherworldly look to the soul-repossession crowd.
So all in all, if you don’t take Girls Just Wanna Have Fun too seriously, and if you don’t find bright swirls, handheld cameras, fast edits and exploding lights nauseating, it’s probably all just a bit of a laugh with a sexy subtext detour.
If you do take it all too seriously, not to worry - join the club, have another Maltesar and meet you at Callisto’s house next week.