Season 6, episode 11
Reviewed by SLK
Rating: 5.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Joel Metzger. Directed by Reneč O'Connor.
PASSING PARADE: Tsianina Joelson (Varia); Sandy Winton (Prince Morloch); Craig Hall (Raczar); Sela Apera (Marga).
DISCLAIMER: Raczar mysteriously disappeared at the completion of production of this motion picture and is rumoured to have been living under the guise of "Prince Vladimar Barbeque Raczar".
STORY SO FAR: Xena tries to temper the headstrong Amazon, Varia, as they go after a powerful trophy hunter who has murdered the Amazons Queen Marga for sport.
REWIND FOR: Varia giving the suspended Morloch minion a whack in the bread basket despite Xena's instruction of "Don't hurt him, just watch him." Following orders is not one of the Amazon's strong points. This did make her perfect, however, for the job of head honcho Amazon.
The five second wardrobe changeroo between Xena and Varia in the forest. What? Had they been practising? Varia is also a much smaller build than Xena, so technically, Xena should have been arresting us all with her indecent exposure while in Varia's costume. *sigh* Ancient Greece truly was a magical land....
The look of abject horror on Morloch's face when he holds up his sword, recently emasculated down to it's hilt by Xena's chakram. You know what they say about men and their swords...
"Are you crazy?!" Varia begins to cotton on to Xena's modus operandi.
"Believe me, this chain's the best friend you've got right now." As annoying as Varia was, even she didn't deserve this barb from the Warrior Princess, who proved her sword is not the only sharp implement in her arsenal.
"Get ready to take your clothes off." Xena to Varia after spotting a hot tub. *g*
"I'm not a murderer Xena." Prince 'if it moves, I'll hunt it' Morloch, tries to sell the Warrior Princess a line. She didn't buy it and neither did we Prince Pinnochio.
Varia: "I hate you!"
Xena: "Yeah, well it won't be the last time you say that."
Raczar: "She has the speed of lightning, she has the strength of many men, she thinks three steps ahead."
Morloch: "Only three?"
Morloch: "But you're so tall"
Xena: "It's the boots."
Morloch: "I'm Prince Chesnick, Bloodicarr Morloch, Upper Scheherazadestan."
Xena: "Oh, Xena of Amphipolis, Warrior Princess, Warrior Mom, who conquers Prince Chesty Forlock of Upper Whateverstan."
I can sum up everything thats wrong with this episode in one tired word: the godawful script. Okay thats three, so sue me.
Hard to believe, with Xena in its last season, and every episode counting because its one step closer to the last, theyd pull something out of their hat so old, cliched and doing absolutely nothing to further the lead characters or our understanding of the Xenaverse.
One could argue, "but wait, theyre furthering the character of Varia in this storyline, so see, they were making some effort at plot development". And I could argue George Dubya Bush probably once had a meeting with an environmental group in a weaker moment. But, folks, it dont mean a thing.
Do we actually care one whit about Varia and her annoyingly cocky rite of passage into the role of Queen Varia? (To think I thought Eve had the whiney market sewn up... hoo boy, was I wrong.)
Did we actually see what it was about Varia that was even remotely queen material? I mean if this is the Amazon nations last, best hope for a future -- nay, according to everyone from Marga to Xena, their ONLY hope -- wouldnt it be nice to see a single redeeming feature she offers to her people, aside from enjoying biffo and fancy pants cartwheels which she pulls out at the slightest excuse?
The way I see it, Varias not too bright -- given she can see no merit in planning an attack and only wants to rush in blindly into a situation she knows nothing about; and, worse she keeps rejecting a superior fighters offer of better training.
Shes not particularly mature, in that shed seriously rather die than lose a fight to Xena (who isnt even her enemy) and she puts what she wants to do (revenge) ahead of the good of the group (their continued survival).
Shes not especially observant, given, like her equally dubiously talented queen before her, she has a penchant for walking into traps. Not that most folk would do too well against those traps -- but the point was supposed to be Varia was some sort of a anointed one and thus special. Itd be nice to see one thing she can do right that makes her natural leader material.
By the time both Varia and Marga had each got themselves hung, drawn and/or quartered in Prince Morbids traps, I found myself nodding profusely to the line: "Is this the best the Amazons have got to offer?!"
Yeah, good point Caped Chunder. Its a miracle they survived this long at all given what happens when their chain of command is broken down.
That is: Their queen goes missing so the Amazons apparently have decided to HIDE every time someone wanders into their camp. None of this stopping them at their borders like the good old days when they had lookouts and snazzy birdcalls and wicked little vertical vine dismounts. Nope, they just let them (in this case Xena and Gabrielle) amble right into the heart of their encampment before they nervously show themselves and then have another directionless spat about what to do next.
Its apparently taken them two days to decide that two days is too long to be worried and do nothing about their queen. Fortunately Queen Marga struggled back to camp or theyd probably still be debating it now. Unfortunately shes now very dead and some dude has tested out his ancient Greek past participles on her leg. This actually was a decidedly and suitably creepy moment, which was pretty well done.
Creepier still was Xenas reference to the pressure points used to kill Marga -- something they might have followed up on but didnt. In fact, with the chakram-wannabe weapon he used, and the pressure points, I was getting ready for a mind blowing plot twist at the end where wed find hed been trained by MLila or someone funky from Xenas past who would really rattle the warrior princess.
Gee wouldnt that have been novel in this episode: a plot twist. Instead we get the most straightforward, paint-by-numbers, telegraphed storyline without anything so interesting as a slight dip in the road, let alone a twist. And, from beyond this moment of Margas death, its all downhill from there.
Their queen is dead. What to do? Never fear, Varias here, and without any thought as to how stupid an idea this is -- taking into account how many other Amazons have gone missing doing exactly what shes about to do -- she runs off ALONE into boobytrap valley to seek her revenge. Dada! Good one, Varia.
No consulting the group (given shes not even a queen yet so really shouldnt just make arbitrary decisions), no formulating a plan (bah, itd only get in the way), no talking to the most experienced hunter/killer machine this sorry assed group of amazons will ever have the fortune to have before them bar only Eve (what would Xena know anyway...), nope, shes just off and outta there.
THIS is the wisdom of their new queen? With logic like that, shed make a really good Joxer.
Speaking of annoyances, did anyone else notice that when Xena says to Gabrielle the equivalent of "stay here, Ill be right back" it takes her a whole episode to do that? I get that Renee was wearing her directing cap and clearly wanted to focus on this aspect, but I did think it was too long a gap for the character of Gabrielle not to have become concerned, (especially with a forest fire breaking out where Xena was) and girded the loins, unsheathed her cocktail forks and gone a-Xena-hunting herself. (Preferably with a better plan than Varias.)
At this point it might have made more sense had Xena caught up with Varia and hauled her back into camp so the Amazons together could work out what their next step should be. That way Gabs would be more believable in later accepting patiently Xenas lack of return.
Before I go on I have to say it was a bit sad to see another almost recurring Xena character bite the dust, and just as we were starting to like her, too. Queen Marga, rest in peace, and it aint your fault you had a half-cocked bratty choice of successor. No wait, it is your fault. Oh well...
Note, I dont dislike the character of Varia so much as I just find it silly this unquestioning belief of all around her (before it was known Varia had right of caste) that she is the only one who could possibly be queen, especially when she keeps doing very stupid and undisciplined things that many of the other (potential Queen) Amazons havent done. Still, it never stopped Gabrielle back in season 2, when she was at the peak of her "oops, I unleashed the Titans" phase. Must be an Amazon thing... may the least likely, least prepared woman rule. Gee, do you think THATS why the Amazons keep getting wiped out? Hmmm....
Moving right along, Prince Fullofhimself was immensely predictable as a trophy hunter. Well I havent half seen this storyline in just about every sci-fi/fantasy show out at some time or another. Just like we always see the bad-guy showing off his prowess blindfolded, by beating the crap out of his own men. I think the show started out with Draco doing something similar.
In this case, however, I almost laughed aloud at the last man standing, making all sorts of hilarious mystical eastern martial arts hand movements while actually making no aggressive step at all towards his boss, and essentially just doing it all for show while waiting to be thumped. Quite funny when you consider there was no one there to see his efforts given the boss was blindfolded and the rest were out cold on their faces. Snicker.
Was Princeypoo a worthy adversary? Eh. Well at least his accent wasnt as bad as his predecessors so Ill give him a point there. He wasnt bad at all. But my problem was it was all so obvious. Xena against some freakishly good baddy. Yeah, yeah, and whats the twist? Oh wait, thats right, there is none.
So maybe its made up for with witty dialogue, ala Xena and Lucifer perhaps?
Heres the cliche roster which is so bad, they should be ashamed of themselves and forced to sing Joxer The Mighty 1000 times on a full stomach:
Marga: "If you're gonna kill me, just do it!
Morloch: "Where's the fun in that?"
Xena: "...We come alone. And in peace."
(Actually they werent alone. They had each other. *g*)
Morloch: "Face to face at last. What's the matter, Xena? Don't like seeing your friend up there? Why don't you go and get her?"
Xena: "Why don't you come and get some of this?"
Morloch: "No one ever drew my blood before."
Xena: "There's plenty more where that came from."
Morloch: "I enjoyed making your friend beg for mercy. But even more fun-- I get to watch you die."
Varia: "You're the one that's gonna die."
Sigh, groan, moan. If theres one thing I detest more than your hands falling off when you wash them in a house with a portal to Hell out front, its cliche-ridden Xena scripts. Its so lazy. Its so unnecessary. And as I said before, this is their LAST season, and theyre wasting it on uninvolving pointless pap like this?
As for the directing, I think Renee did a far better job on Deja vu All Over Again, but then she was at the mercy of a bad script here. However I think we could have done without the sight of Xena in slow motion running through the flames ala Bionic Woman. Slow-mo in action can look pretty cheesy sometimes unless handled really well and differently like in A Good Day. There were, however, a couple of interesting camera angles in the ep which showed Renee was doing her utmost and the cave scene was pulled off well -- top lighting and good atmosphere. In sum, tried hard, shame about the script.
I doubt even the best director could have pulled a better performance out of the actors though. Actually Lucy Lawless was very very obviously switched on and working hard to help out her friend here, given how much Renee was up against it. All things considered, it might have been a lot worse without Renees and Lucys efforts.
I watched this episode a second time for the purposes of this review and discovered I got so bored that I found it more fascinating to discover the cupboard doors on my VCR cabinet were slightly misaligned and spent 10 minutes fixing them instead. And I didnt miss anything. Xena was still running through a fire screaming "Vaaaaaariiaaaaa" when I stuck my head up again.
This episode was the ultimate dumbed down Xena. Apart from the Warrior Princess, everyone else in it was acting stupider than normal. The "fierce" Amazons seemed like out-of-shape, wussy, lost sheep. Varia has had some odd lobotomy to remove any lingering common sense she might have had and its turned her into a prideful willful brat. And Gabrielle I think should be renamed Exposition for her little pearlers like "Where is everyone?" and "Why would someone do that?"
Come on, the bard should know as well as Xena when an ENTIRE tribe of Amazons is watching her, and she should know as well as Xena that the Queen was meant to stagger back to camp alive as a warning. Its almost insulting that the bard must now utter such clueless statements at this late stage in the show, just so Xena can fill us in on whats happening. Id have preferred Gabrielle to have said: "Why are they hiding?" ... allowing Xena to still get to be the smartypants and answer, but allowing Gabrielle the dignity of having some brains.
I did have two favourite scenes, and they were for the looks Xena gave. The first, when Xena was thumping henchman while Varia was hanging upside down in a trap. She looks the second-in-command right in the eye and watches him, while shes thumping the other guy. A killer stare. Ouch. He may well have winced.
But she was at her most daunting when she rounds on Varia and gives her a furious dressing down: "These men have a leader and theyre more afraid of facing him than death. Now what does that tell you?"
I thought Lucy was absolutely on fire at this moment. And the actress she was playing opposite (Tsianina Joelson), let her down a smidge. Not that Joelsons line was too fabulous: "All I need to know is where to find them."
The line was presumably supposed to be delivered supremely confidently but it lacked the correct inflection and I winced instead. I found myself recalling a scene from the movie Aliens where the ultra-cocky female Marine informs her civilian instructor Ripley that all she needs to know is "one thing, Where They Are..."
Her fate was considerably grislier than Varias, I note. But at least she did the line right. *g*
Another little moment that made me smile was Xena being hit in the chin by Varia but "giving her that one", and showing admiral restraint. See *thats* maturity. Knowing when and who to pick your fights with.
Next up, at some unfathomable, inexplicable plotpoint (ie Varia has goofed up again albeit with good intentions), the Warrior Princess declares she can now see why Marga put her faith in her. Again I say: Care to share???
Also on the weirdness moment was Xena declaring her credentials as Warrior Princess Warrior Mom -- took me a few seconds to work out why she said that. She was mocking Prince Megalongtitles too-proud introduction. By taking the piss (as they say in Australia) it was as skilful a blow to a guy like that as any that might follow with the sword.
Which brings me to The Arena. Prince Morepointlessdialogue has declared that Varia shall be taken to the Arena. The henchmen, who have not baulked much at any of the unfathomable tortures they have been asked to wreak up to this moment -- including setting fire to their own comrades, baulk at this. Dear gods no, not the arena, is their look. And the second in command stops and says "Shes half dead, what use is she to us now?"...
So one could be excused for thinking this arena must be a truly scary place and the stuff of nightmares, huh?
Would you believe, a dirt patch with a log pile and some material strung around it?! Wha...?!
And are we scared? For Varia or Xena? Hell no. Theres not even any lava/acid/bottomless pits to fall down; no cliffs to slid off; no sharp objects to impale oneself on (excluding what happened to Prince Holeychest), absolutely nothing even remotely oooh-ahhy about the grand finale at all. Hell, the caves were creepier.
Big let down, Xenabods. Whos afraid of a falling log? While its gotta hurt if it lands on you, it hardly gives the chill down the spine visual effect. And it wasnt even high enough to tap into everyones primal fears of falling, ala Callistos ladder fight scene.
Assuming you can firstly buy anyone slicing and dicing a log like a carrot, I also found the tight closeups confusing, too hard to work out what was going on with all those shifting logs. It was a bit hard to follow as to how cleverly they were hurling them about to prevent the structure falling.
So the end, when it inevitably came, was no let down because we had already been let down the moment we entered the arena. Xenas choice not to fight was a good one if only to hear Prince Boohoo whine from above "YOU WILL FIGHT ME"...
Hehehe. Sucked in.
I did however love the funeral pyre moment at the end and that music still gives me a little shudder. Very nice indeed. Seeing Gabrielle standing there, softly lit by the fire, made me realise how much I had missed her and how short-changed we were in the Xena and Gabrielle interaction department. One more time for the record: Why are they wasting their final few episodes on dogs like this one when it should be about the two lead actresses?
So its one big old raspberry from me. In sum -- pointless, plotless, cliched, boring, predictable, lazy, humourless, irritating, paint-by-numbers, wasteful and lacking.
But at least my VCR cupboard door is now straight so it wasnt a total loss....
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