Season 6, episode 5
Reviewed by SLK
RATING: 7.5 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Melissa Good. Directed by Chris Martin-Jones. Edited by Rob Field.
PASSING PARADE: Alison Bruce (Kahina); Owen Black (Korah); Rawiri Paratene (Tazere); John O'Leary (Dalius).
DISCLAIMER: Despite severe air turbulence, no sand dunes were harmed during the making of this motion picture, although some experienced periodic bouts of motion sickness.
STORY SO FAR: Xena and Gabrielle travel to North Africa where they help the nomads fight the Romans. Gabrielle is sentenced to death for killing a nomad chiefs son.
REWIND FOR: The pixelated bathing scene (broadcast by most US stations, not all) as yet another example of the Hollywood paradox. It's okay to graphically show a thousand and one ways to kill a person, but not to see a bare butt? For some reason, the censors found Lucy's entire back offensive as opposed to only Renee's bare behind. Curious... Do they know something we dont? *g*
Gabrielle, in the first fight scene, dropping to her knees to pummel the daylights out of a bad guy's knees. Why would someone already altitude-challenged do that?! Beggars the question why she didn't aim a little higher while down there -- that would have really put him out of action.
The dark look on Xena's face when she spots Korah (aka desert boy) washing Gabrielle's feet. But she needn't have feared, for Korah was soon to travel the well-worn path of all Gabrielle's suitors, ie. that of a tragic death. Never thought I'd see the day when the Bard cut out the middle man though. *g*
The Oops! moment of the episode. Keep your eyes on the ground as the polo-playing men on horseys approach Gabrielle in order to knock her block off. Yes, that's right, tyre tracks in the sand. I don't recall seeing any Trojan horseys being wheeled around, so my guess is they were made by the camera truck.
"You were supposed to relax remember? We had bad luck, going inland didn't have to be this way." Xena finding it a little hard to pick a vacation spot for her bard. They don't exactly have good luck at sea either do they? Tsunamis; Poseidons, wooden love-sick Ulysses, sea-sickness, lecherous sailors, oh and that whole trapped on a ghost ship thingy.
"Sand up my yazoo gets me a little edgy." As it would.
"And I suppose you're Gabrielle, the Battling Bard of Potodeia?" And I suppose, you're Kahina, the Know-it-All Knout (it's a word) of the Roman Empire? That woman really needed to brush up on her 'thank you' skills.
"For once Xena, I'd like to be the -- noble, and you the slave." Gabrielle taps into a universal fan-tasy. You'd almost get the feeling the writer has read Xena fan-fic wouldn't you? *g*
"Wait! He isn't the killer - I am." Gabrielle's somewhat melodramatic confession seemed to hang in the air as we waited for the rider: "And I would have got away with too, if it wasn't for you pesky kids..." *g*
Kahina: "We don't have enough people, even with the surprise."
Gabrielle: "You have Xena. What more do you want?"
Heres an episode for those who like their heroes in farflung places, their adventure straightforward and the emotional dilemmas straight up, no ice.
Xena and Gabrielles frequent walker points must be getting up a bit nowadays, given this little jaunt in North Africa.
I wont even pretend to understand what made them get off the boat which was taking them all triumphantly home to Lilla, Gabrielles sister -- now that Lillas daughter has been rescued at last in the previous episode, Whos Ghurkan. This is the sort of emotional pinnacle youd want to be there to see -- if nothing else to take in the look on Lillas face when you say: "Remember that daughter you misplaced a while back and figured was vulture food? Well...."
But no, Xena and Gabrielle seem more intent on delivering Sarah like a Fedex parcel, via a third party -- presumably Eve -- a woman Lilla barely knows. And at such a fragile time for Sarah, too. Youd think shed be clinging to Gabrielle, pleading "dont leave me..." given that much of her life had been spent in a harem and now shes cast out into the big bad world, with only some stranger for company on her way home.
So leaving Sarah at this point made as much sense as deciding to holiday THROUGH a desert (despite Xenas assurances they arent always unpleasant -- sheeah right) when they had a perfectly good coastline to marvel at, as Gabrielle reminds Xena.
Nice one, Xena... *g*
The poorly set-up plot to get them there, aside, I did not mind this episode at all. It was nice to see something back to the basics -- Xena and Gabrielle fighting together, connecting together, bathing together... ahem.
Not sure what to make of that gratuitous tub scene, except to say, nice fuzzy butt ya have there Xena. Really should see a doctor about that. *g*
The tub moment did sport a fun little moment - aside from the start where our duo looked all set to play Marco Polo...
Gabrielle comments on the beauty of the desert, while looking right at Xena. Who, in turn, stares back at her and, without missing a beat comments a little boredly on how good Gabs looks (cant have em thinking youre going soft, right Xena?).
Why do I get the impression neither was actually noting the undulating sand dunes or blue sky? Chuckle.
Into the action: Xena and Gabrielle finally get pulled up on their buttinsky approach to other peoples fisticuffs, and its about damned time, too. One gets the impression, however, they were more than a little miffed that they didnt get their usual accolades for saving the day. Hmmm. Id hate to think theyve been sticking their noses in all this time just for the gratitude it brings. Doubt it, but still...
I love Gabrielles line -- oh the heights of self-deception: "We dont pick them (fights), they pick us." Er.. Sure, Gabs. Yall just get pushed into those fights through no fault of your own.
I see Melosa, er, Talia, er Kahina, whoever, is back to play chief female adversary. This time, I am getting a little worn out by seeing Alison Bruce, fine actress though she is -- now I cant help stopping dead when I see her as she is too memorable from her earlier roles. (Course, by this reasoning, the role of Xena would never have gone to Lucy Lawless either, so I cant have it both ways. Ill just shut my big ole mouth and mosey right along. *g*)
This episode, Gabrielle seems to yet again have to face up to her role as a warrior. Not necessarily come to terms with it -- she doesnt seem to have done that yet. (How longs it been now???) But she is very aware now of the inherent danger in her role, the very nature of it and she realises now that she is no longer just fighting in self defence, she has become the "battling bard of Poteidaia".... A warrior in her own right. The very thing she never thought shed become.
Why has she just woken up to it now? I do think it had a lot to do with being called the battling bard, and being acknowledged primarily as a warrior. Prior to this she was often seen only as Xenas sidekick -- the one who stepped in when and as Xena needed her, or the one who fought to save their lives when their backs were to the walls.
There have been a few exceptions to this -- such as the pivotal A Good Day, where one might have thought she had dealt with her warrior role then. Patently she did not -- as she became a complete pacifist soon after. She might have dealt with this role after Siege of Amphipolis (who can forget that triumphant warcry from the bard?) but I guess with the fall of all the Greek gods and so on, she was a little busy for introspection.
So, in this incarnation, post defrosting, she has not had a lot of time to take stock of herself and analyse the direction her life is now taking. This episode does that. And not before time. Actually some could rightly argue she has done nothing but this since she met Xena -- given the sheer number of episodes dealing with Gabrielles reluctance to draw blood and how she feels when she does it anyway.
Curiously, in Legacy, I found Gabrielles career path angst was not centred on the fact she seems more warrior than bard (when was the last time we saw her with a quill in hand, anyway?). I would have thought this would have caused her some self doubt as per usual. Instead she shrugs off this turn of events and even declares it a turn for the better! (Hmm... that could have used some further explanation -- since when does Gabrielle really dig the kick butt warrior side of things?)
Instead, Gabrielles angst is based on knowing when to maim as opposed to knowing when to kill. When to hesitate and when to be ruthless?
Its an interesting question for any apprentice warrior to ask her master. Of course, Gabrielle is so far beyond being an apprentice it sort of boggles the mind that shed only now ask Xena this. Its a little late in the piece to stop and ask the fundamentals of the warrior biz. By now, after all shes seen and been through, youd think shed already worked out the answer to these questions and much, much more. Shed be pragmatic about the unavoidable innocent deaths, or shed have stopped fighting long ago.
Still, lets pretend she hasnt worked all this out yet. So she turns to her fighting guru for advice on this most weighty of subjects. And what does she get back? pffft. What awful advice. Hesitate and you die? Well duh, and thanks for nothing, Warrior Princess.
See Xena, herself, has been where Gabrielle is --the young boy soldier in Remember Nothing gave her a pretty severe case of the guilts, and she knew, in hindsight, she should have stayed her sword hand instead of killed him. Instead of reviewing that moment with Gabrielle, explaining she understands her dilemma and talking about the shades of grey, Xena instead goes for the black and white (non) answer.
So Gabrielle, heeding Xenas very rigid advice (kill or be killed), ends up facing the same conscience crisis Xena did because the warrior princess wasnt too forthcoming on those shades of grey. And she had no one to talk to about it, because Xena had already made it very clear this wasnt a negotiable point.
This was a little disappointing, even though Xenas advice was intended and correct if she wanted only one thing: Gabrielle to stay alive.
And its also true a hesitant warrior doesnt live long. But one who acts based on very linear unbending rules, instead of their own instincts, wouldnt live long either, methinks.
Its an interesting question. I do believe Xena deliberately held back on entering a debate on this point because she thought it was best for Gabrielle not to think about it too much. Its almost a paternalistic attitude, this sort of advice. I almost heard the unspoken "because I said so" hanging in the air when Gabrielle looked ready to ask "but why?".
But it doesnt give a lot of credit to Gabrielle, who is an adult, does have a brain in her head, and was completely unprepared for what happened when she ended up making the wrong choice and killing unquestioningly.
Was Xena right in that advice? I still dont know. She meant well. But I do wonder how much unwavering faith the bard would put in Xenas advice in the future, given how insufficient this lot was. At the very least she should know to press her for more information if she feels the answer isnt useful to her or as rounded as it could be.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the story: Xena and Gabrielle are feted by the nomads, headed, most unusually, by a woman. Gabrielle gets a groupie of her own, to her amusement and Xenas bemusement. And the warrior princesss "back off MY bard" look is priceless when she decides "desert boy" has played with Gabrielles feet enough for one evening.
The presentation of two cousins for their pleasure was a funny scene, but just for once Id like to know what would happen if the cousins had been cut like Ares and as studmuffiny as Virgil. Here, it is clear they were rejected for their ugliness. What if they werent ugly? Would they still have been rejected? Ahhh... now thats a thing well never know.
Small plot flaw. These people know Xena and Gabrielle intimately through Gabrielles scrolls. Therefore theyd know and believe Gabrielle, the Amazon queen may indeed have a vow of chastity. But theyd also know from Gabrielles scrolls that Xena is no Amazon and therefore not bound by any Amazon vows -- of chastity or anything else. Theoretically, Xena would have been stuck with cousin #2 for a night of ...er...fun.
How did she wiggle out of that one?
Next up, Xena and Gabrielle head off to find the Romans. Gabrielle the slave should never EVER have been speaking at all and even though it was picked up late in the piece by the Roman Governor, Xena should have realised the inappropriateness earlier and threatened her errant slave with something. Or Gabrielle should simply never have been scripted to say a word. It screamed sooo loudly of an error, I couldnt buy the rest of scene.
Perhaps a little more absurd was sending "desert boy" out to meet the pair with a message that a peace treaty had been signed among the nomads. Its not like they wouldnt have been told the second they returned to camp. There was absolutely no reason for that boy to be running around in a desert storm waiting to be stabbed.
An interesting scene, the next one, with Xena washing the blood off Gabrielles hands. Its all so very Shakespearian... blood being a metaphor for guilt; the blood which can not be washed off indicating the persons conscience is still wracked. How Macbethian.
So there is Xena holding Gabrielles bloodied hands -- a curious set-up that, as Gabrielle does know how to wash her own hands. (Although I dont blame her for hesitating -- last time she washed her hands, they fell off. *g*)
Seriously though, I felt this act showed Xena was supporting the bard and telling her she was there for her, and helping her through her despair, more than she ever could with words.
The words themselves were inadequate anyway, although loaded with emotion:
Gabrielle: I never thought Id see this -- you washing blood off my hands.
Xena: I never thought Id see it either.
Well they both patently have seen it before... Meridian in The Deliverer to name but one. But I get the sentiment -- that this isnt what Gabrielle is about, or what she does. And given the blood is symbolic of guilt anyway, I suppose theyre right. Its not often Xena is washing away Gabrielles guilty conscience.
Its funny, had I only read those lines in the script, Id have expected Gabrielle to punch the word "my" in "you washing blood off my hands". As if to denote, its more the other way around. Or its not often her in this position.
But, either to spare Xenas feelings (hell, Xena knows what shes done in the past and needs no reminder), or whatever, the line is delivered flatly and with the emphasis further along the line, as though the blood being on the "hands" was the point, not who was washing them. What a difference emphasis can make. Just a thought.
Now heres where the episode shoots off into the Gabbyverse, as I call it -- where the bard makes decision that make sense to her and no one else. Its more a season one or two Gabrielle thing, like The Price, this attitude -- "Ill do what I think is right, and I dont care how the cards may fall or who they impact."
Anyway, Gabrielle decides that she can not live with this lie. More like her guilty conscience cant stand not fessing up and seeking and gaining forgiveness.
I agree it would have been appalling to see an innocent Roman dragged off to his death for something she did. She was in an awful situation. But even before she knew about this Roman, she was prepared to go to her death ("I accept that" she tells Xena) when her not speaking up would have hurt no one -- except herself.
That Gabrielle would so readily give up her life over a lie, and an accident in the first place, was something I found very hard to watch. It would have been different if she had cold bloodedly intended killing the boy, and then later couldnt live with what she had done. But it was an accident, and she was prepared to die for that -- well it just seemed so wrong. And she was equally prepared to let Xena suffer -- ie by watching her dearest friend die -- just because Gabrielles conscience felt bad.
I just didnt understand where she was coming from -- later with the Roman, yeah maybe, but to give up so easily first ... to just roll over and die, well that seemed pretty unlikely.
And Gabrielle shows she really is almost welcoming death a little later on when she says to herself: "Xena, you once prayed never to see the light go out in me. I just dont think theres much of that left in here. This is best for everyone."
Oh Gabrielle, how can you give up so easily on life, on Xena, on yourself? (And when did she actually personally hear Xena say this, by the way?)
There was not nearly enough background to make us believe a word she was saying at this point.
I can not buy that her accidentally killing someone would make her want to die because she hates herself so much she feels she barely has any goodness left in her any more and this is for the best.
Its not like she did this on purpose, and its not like shes all alone and feeling unloved. Xena was out there, presumably plotting her rescue, and loving her to bits all the while. If nothing else, that had to be something worth hugging to yourself in your darkest hour. Further, this comes only hours after she has conceded her change to warrior was a good thing. Now she thinks its yet another sign of what has gone wrong with her.
I dont buy it.
This is like a suicide but where she is relieved of the responsibility of doing it herself. And Gabrielle, no way, no how, looks anywhere near at the end of her tether, enough to contemplate killing herself -- and considering its for the best.
To be believable: this should have either had some further element in it -- where Gabrielle has cold bloodedly done something so awful she has shocked herself beyond recognition and made herself question what she has become (I wouldnt endorse this plot at all); or it should have had an element taken out -- ie her little "I am ready to die now" speech, because no one would buy her coming to this conclusion as the plot stands.
Other problems with this moment are Xena lying on her bed thinking about what to do next, instead of spending some quality time with the bard on what should theoretically have been her last night ... making her feel worthwhile and loved, and deserving of life. To leave her alone like that was appalling.
Alternatively they should have shown Xena, far earlier, riding like the wind to get to the Roman Governor. To have her pensively staring up at her tent roof is a little unbelievable, with the tormented Gabrielle suffering one tent away.
Two small niggles about this scene: One, you can clearly see Gabrielles little wrists could slip out of those handcuffs. Two, have you ever heard of any "murderer" being imprisoned with the respectfully laid out body of the victim? As if anyone would place these two people in the same room together, let alone all night.
Come daylight, Xena rescues her death-wishing Gabrielle -- digging her out of the sand in a record three seconds, I might add. Even here, the bard looks in no way even close to the depths of despair befitting one ready to throw in life.
And now Gabrielle thinks she and Xena have come full circle. As though her brush with depression for accidentally killing someone is the same as Xena wising up after a life time of mass murder? If I was Xena, Id secretly be a little miffed at the comparison of "full circle". Ah, yeah... okay Gabs. If thats what you reckon.
Fastforward a scene and enter the Romans -- add in some nomads, and stir. Hmm. Why didnt anyone fall in the holes they had all leapt out of? Just wondering...
My favourite scene is Kahina pointing out the bard has left some facts about Xena out of her scrolls. Aint it always the way, those exaggeration-prone writers? *g*
I do believe Minya poutingly made the same observation.
Hey, maybe Xena edits them all before publication... snicker.
The episode ends quite beautifully, with Gabrielle questioning why Xena save her against the greater good. The question is a little flawed in that Xena didnt really do anything beyond what shed always said shed do: lure the Romans into a nomad trap.
She did that. Ahead of schedule sure, but she did that. And if she saved Gabrielle in the process, all the better.
Its not like she handed the nomads hog-tied over to the Romans in exchange for Gabrielles life. That would really be flouting the "greater good".
This aside, the answer is beautiful.
Xena: Gabrielle, in everyones life, theres something that goes beyond the greater good. Thats what you are in my life.
I really do like Xenas very eloquent admission of love here. For thats what it is. You dont get bigger than admitting someone is the most important thing in your life -- and they go above and beyond all other things. Sweet.
In summary, hats off to those poor costumers again, who pulled off some fabulous threads for us to admire.
Down sides were the casting choice of Kahina, which while not the actors fault shes so well known, it was very distracting. Also there was the implausibility of leaving Eve and Sarah sailing for home without them.
But far more importantly, on the plus side is what was added to this episode, and what others have lacked. It was so subtle yet it helped round it out enormously: the amount of time Xena and Gabrielle were alone, to talk, to joke, to flop into bed and debate what being a warrior means, to just be. To exist without having to react to anyone else or any thing around them. And these scenes added up to give us some intimate and powerful moments. Thats what I missed most in season 5 -- the intimacy of the pair alone and being ... themselves.
For this absolutely redeeming virtue, and the reasonable amount of interesting action, I give the episode a higher mark, and hope it is the start of many more with Legacys dose of togetherness.
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