YOU ARE THERE
Season 6, episode 13
Reviewed by SLK
Rating: 7 chakrams
SCRIBES & SCROLLS: Written by Chris Black. Directed by John Laing.
Edited by Tim Batt.
PASSING PARADE: Michael Hurst (Reporter); Alexandra Tydings (Aphrodite); Alexis Arquette (Caligula); Adrienne Wilkinson (Eve); Kevin Smith (Ares); Renato Bartolomei (Beowulf); Alexander Petersons (Odin); Charles Mesure (Michael); Peter Rowley (Charon); Luanne Gordon (Grinhilda); Joel Tobeck (Lucifer).
DISCLAIMER: Linear time was severely harmed during the making of this motion picture.
STORY SO FAR: A TV reporter tries to get to the bottom of a story involving Xena and the gods Odin, Ares and Aphrodite, by conducting interviews with her friends and enemies.
REWIND FOR: Xena's expression when she first spots the TV camera. Judging by the menace in her eyes, I have a feeling the cameraman was about to start sending video from his lower intestine.
Xena playing the boofhead boyfriend when the TV studio technician fiddled a little longer than necessary with Gabrielle's chest microphone. Seems any non-Xena attention on Gabs is as welcome in the modern day as it is in ancient times.
Gabrielle fending off the Roving Reporter with her bath sponge. First it was dust-spewing compacts, then cocktail forks. What is it with that girl and useless weapons?! *g*
Some more linear time warping in the form of the 'Norse Tavern'. It looked an awful lot like the tavern Gabrielle and Perdicus stayed in on their wedding night in Return of Callisto. In fact, would you believe, the same two people loitering outside the tavern when Gabrielle was there, were the same two people loitering outside the night the Roving Reporter was there?! Incredible! How did Gabs and Perds get from Greece to Norseville so fast?! And why were they spending their honeymoon in a bordello?! Although...this would explain why Gabrielle said she now knew all about love the next morning. As the Roving Reporter said; "We've come to the one place where love is rarely in short supply."
Xena and Gabrielle making goo-goo eyes at each other as little heart shapes float down around them after Aphrodite has regained her powers. Okay, they were floating around Ares and Roving Reporter too, but *they* weren't making goo-goo eyes at each other. Would have made quite a plot-twist if they had though. *g*
The charm of Xena and Gabrielle nudging each other, while exchanging knowing smiles like a couple of giggly school girls as the reporter did his "I'm about to land the biggest scoop of all time' speech to camera. Come on girls, share the joke with the whole class. Smirk.
"She and that bard of hers. Like we don't know what's going on there, huh!" Given that Caligula's area of expertise is sex, one could jump to a few conclusions concerning this statement about Xena and 'her' bard.
"So they have a history. It doesn't mean anything." Gabrielle, after being shown footage of Xena and Ares getting it on. Coulda sworn she crossed her fingers when she said that. *g*
"We're saying things that people who don't love each other would never say." Was that a double negative? Gabrielle messes with our minds with semantics. Put more simply - they're acting kinda weird.
"Get off!" 'Mortal' Aphrodite whacks one of her loyal, but rapidly dwindling flock of supporters, as she demonstrates her first lesson in Love, ie. you have to be cruel to be kind.
"You mortals take love for granted. It slipped through your fingers so suddenly. No one even noticed it was gone." The delightful Aphrodite proving she is a worthy heiress to the throne of the Goddess of Wisdom.
"Gabrielle, I have to say, I'm glad to see you're still travelling with Xena. I was afraid with me away from Olympus, you two might not be so close." A telling comment from Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Desire. Like - hello? Do we need any more clues?
Roving Reporter: "Please, try not to cover anything up."
Lucifer: Cover anything up? I'm the Devil you idiot! I'm really bad. I'm evil incarnate. What do I have to cover up?!"
Lucifer: "You're a real pain. I can't wait to get you down here."
Roving Reporter: "With respect sir, that's not going to happen. You see, I'm not a murdering warlord. No, no, no, I'm an award-winning investigative journalist. (Lucifer squeezes his throat tighter) I'm a member of the Fifth Estate!"
Lucifer: "Like I said. I can't wait to get my claws into you."
I have to confess two personal biases before I begin this review. One, I really detest TV tabloid journalists. They make my skin crawl and give me sudden urges for cold showers after just 5 minutes in their presence, especially when they earnestly ask me whether their hair is neat enough to interview near-dead crash survivors. (This happened.)
Two, I am a journalist myself (of the daily metro newspaper variety), and so I find it impossible to watch journo type stories dispassionately without stopping to scream, mid popcorn munch, the likes of: "What a STUPID *&*^@$ question; no reporter in their right mind would ever ask that" or "Put a tape in your damned tape recorder while youre at it, the half-blind neighbour down the street can see its empty...." And so on.
An occupational hazard, to be sure. It was therefore with enormous trepidation I watched a Xena episode combining both of these pet annoyances. But I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised.
This was an amusingly cutting satire of the TV news business, without descending into either the downright nasty or the ludicrous -- if you can forget about the fact you have a TV reporter who will broadcast his story to... um... no one, using technology not invented yet and thus can not be watched by anyone. (And for this he won an award?! *g*) Add in the fact he seems to have a constant, ants-in-his-pants sense of urgency for some unmet deadline, and yet he has no competition sniffing around and, one presumes, no viewers!
But, hey, its the Xenaverse. If the dead can never die, and Xena can defy all the laws of physics, then this time-folding, or more like, time origami, is just a mere parlour trick in the scheme of things...
Part of what made this episode enjoyable is, for a start, you cant hate the tabloid journalist because he isnt motivated by his own ego. The story is not intended to be about him and how he reacts, although it borders on that occasionally. Instead Nigel is motivated by a quest for the truth -- even though initially he seems to have made up his mind first about what the truth is. At least he has the flexibility and honesty to change his opinion when the facts start getting in the way. Thats why hes likeable, even if he is a major buttinkski with delusions of fame.
And while finding an honest, fact-seeking, tabloid TV journo with an interviewing style that would put Jerry Springer to shame is almost a contradiction in terms, they pulled it off here entertainingly and with a great deal of humour. And by humour I mean, just for starters, I have never heard so many National Enquirer-type teasers spouted in general discussion in such a short space of time, as came seamlessly out of Nigels mouth -- one glorious, unapologetically bad sound-bite after another.
For instance (and dont forget to think tabloid and punch those words when you read it *g*):
"You've always lusted to have the power of a god..."
"Is Xena Ares love slave?"
"Maybe it's not Xena's lust for war that drives her, but Xena's lust for the God of War."
"Xenas in a tumbledown little loveshack on the edge of town in the arms of Ares"
"The public want the truth, a portrait of the real demon behind the myth."
"She's bought herself a one-way ticket to Hell."
"A world without love a world where the skills of the delicious goddess no longer lift us to heights of almost intolerable pleasure."
"You can hear the sounds of an epic struggle"
"Xena, probably the greatest human warrior in history..."
Gotta love that hyperbole, baby. Methinks the writers were having the time of their lives tabloiding-up Nigel into the lean, mean, cliche machine he was. But they go one better than just mocking the overly slick sound bites which substitute as news commentary in real life. They go the whole hog. Every little media trick is up there, in subtle, funny ways.
We see the stand-ups to camera (earnest diatribes directed to the viewer); the walkies (walking towards the camera while speaking, to give a sense of urgency); noddies (cut-away shots to show Nigel reacting to the answers of his interview subject, usually frowning knowledgeably, and normally done separately, after the interview took place); the glasses on and off routine to make the reporter look thoughtful or profound (nice touch jabbing himself with them at the end *g*).
But who can go past the full, war correspondent wardrobe, ala the flak jacket (I mean please, did I miss the grenade volleys and sniper attacks somewhere?) Still, he is on Xenas case, so maybe thats fair enough.
There are the grainy file footage pictures (eg Grindl), the hysterical little captions ("Gabrielle - Xenas sidekick"), the paint-by-numbers spoof of Watergates Deep Throat, not to forget the foot-in-door intrusion on Ares, complete with absurd running commentary to camera ("There is definitely someone in there. I'm going to keep trying..."). And the hidden camera, caught-in-the-act footage of Xena playing tonsil hockey with Ares.
But to my mind the absolute cornball, top-drawer winner was the "extensive" cave graphic showing where Nigel will meet his contact. It shows, you guessed it, a cave, and a shaky white arrow pointing at a "Cave Entrance". Snicker. Um, thatd have taken some time to do. Seriously, it really takes the piss out of all those overdone graphics in the media which have a 20-step process to be understood and even then you still feel youre no closer to understanding Do-It-Yourself Thermonuclear Warhead Disarmament. I laughed so hard when I saw "Cave Entrance" and the arrow, that my cat had a fit and hid under the couch. No amount of promises of not watching Xena again for a week will lure her out.
Thats the journalism satire side taken care of, and top marks there, so lets hit that storyline. And Id be the first to rain on my own parade by saying its a little thin on the ground. Actually threadbare would be a better word. It was as if, in their love of the idea (and it is a GREAT idea), they fell short on joining the dots and properly executing it.
For starters -- they travel that huge distance from Greece to Norway, the passage of time clear by all those moons scooting across the sky. Next stop, hello, theyre back in Greece, because theres Xena is bursting in on Ares at an inopportune time just as Nigel is attempting to pin him down. Huh?
(And slick move it was of Nigey to show everyone where Ares lives now. So much for being incognito. *g*)
Next stop theyre back in Norway again with Xenas hurling Odin all over the place. Er, okay...
And its not just Xena whos the globe trotter. Its Nigel (although this is possibly more believable given his access to modern technology), and Ares -- who pops down to his local tavern and bordello ... in NORWAY!
He must have soooo wanted to not be recognised. *g* Poor guy.
Not to forget Aphrodite heads swiftly to the snowy mountains in her best evening bikini too... (Hasnt that woman heard of frostbite??)
The problem with so much leaping about by the Warrior Princess is it gave a disjointed feel to the episode. And that did get a little annoying (but only a little). Still, I can live with their blink-and-you-have-a-new-passport-stamp endeavours. Sure its silly to have made so many trips -- surely Xena could have burst in on Ares in Norway instead? -- but its an ignorable thing.
But other story problems came in sometimes trying too hard for a gag to work. Most noticeably was the ending thing with Eve wanting to be flagellated. It was just a joke of course, and nowhere before or since, will we see her requiring a whipping in keeping with her religious beliefs, but it stuck out like dogs ears. It was really forced looking because it was so darned dumb. I think I smirked in utter disbelief more than anything.
Speaking of Eve, her long, swear-word laden, (bleeped) diatribe, indicating her displeasure with Nigel, was cut out of the episode by some more sensitive US stations. For those who missed it, it begins where Nigel has been needling Eve about Xena.
Eve: You want to know about my mother? [shoves him hard] will tell you about my mother, you little s..t! If my mother is with Ares, you can bet she's got a pretty f...ing good reason!
Nigel: Are you still jealous that Ares was obsessed with your mother the entire time he was sleeping with you?
Eve: [being held back by other Elijans] "You f...ing brat! Stay the hell away from my mother! You stay the f... away from me or I will kick your f...ing ass!"
Nigel: [to camera] Not the kind of words you would expect to hear from Eve, the Messenger of Eli. [following Eve] Whatever happened to walking the path of light, Eve?
Eve: F... off!
Nigel: You want your mother on Olympus, don't you? You want to see the God of War put back on his throne so Xena and Ares can continue your bloody ménage et trois [Eve punches him in the face, knocking him to the ground, and walks away] Tell me you got that. You got that, didn't you?
Id put this scene in the trying-too-hard category. They didnt need to be this in-your-face. In fact having seen the episode without it, it actually works really well edited.
I know they were using all these small series of incidents, like Eves furious swearing, Beowulfs lack of interest in Gabrielle and Gabrielle saying she doesnt love Xena, to make us sense something strange was up. Problem is -- just because Eve may no longer feel the love, doesnt mean shed turn instantly into a gutter-mouth. No one else seems to have a sudden swearing compulsion. Id argue here they were reaching a little too hard again. Maybe they just liked the idea of someone with such a sweet face having such a foul mouth? How very South Park of them.
I dunno... it was just weird.
Enough of the dodgy, onto the good.
Characterisation was the best its ever been. Everyone tried harder than normal to keep their focus and stay in character and lets face it, it would have been distracting to have a modern-day suited guy running around them while theyre thinking "Ancient times, ancient times..."
Best scenes for keeping the focus were those with Xena and Gabrielle, both actresses in top form, and true to themselves.
I loved the interviews. Xena warning off the microphone guy was so funny, as well as her introducing Nigels teeth to her fist. But the sheer hilariousness of having Xena kitted out in full Warrior Princess garb, wedging herself into one of these cheap TV studio chairs with the even cheaper set around her, was worth the admission price alone. Gabrielle, eh, she looks cool in just about any time frame, but, Xena... hell, I actually thought she looked more menacing glaring at Nigel from her little plastic seat, than Odin did in full god rant, hurling fireballs about the studio. For visual laughs alone, this moment won it hands down.
Aphrodite, the mortal ex-goddess being fawned over by the commoners was quite funny stressing about her wrinkles and adoring the limelight, but could have been far funnier. She has so much more to offer than just being a vain airhead. Well okay, maybe not, but at least she could get some better gags. *g*
Id actually have pictured her, being mortal, as quite the opposite as she was portrayed here. Id see her as really needy for followers and disturbed that her groupies were all drying up and fawning no more. Id see her trying a nutty scheme or two -- like maybe trying to surreptitiously poach from Eves Elijan followers (thatd have gone down well - chuckle) -- to get some more dite-lovin fans gathering around her, just like the heady old days of mass adoration.
(Speaking of heady, glad to see shes not facing the smell problem she had as a mortal in The Quill is Mightier. *g*)
Meanwhile I did like her little "and the moral is" speech at the end about us humans lamely taking the love for granted. Mmm. (Nods solemnly.) Deep.
Archangel Michael was a lot meaner and schemier when not bothering to hide his feelings and this was very interesting to see, as if they are setting us up for something down the track. And his ego at being demoted by the reporter to mere angel implies he may be in serious danger of going the way of Lucifer in at least one of the deadly sins category.
Caligula was very very funny awaiting his boat to cross the River Styx. Those who hated him in The God You Know probably liked him a whole lot more here. The humour was great, as he tried to prove Xenas innate badness -- "You... Who killed you?".... "You did..." Hehehe...
And Caligula definitely wins the best line of the whole season: "And that bard of hers, oh yeah, like we dont know whats going on there...."
Chuckle. Took the words right out of my mouth...
Ares appears to have turned into a bit of a lush -- that beer-foam smiley face ever-present these days. Methinks farm livin aint the life for him afterall... He was not bad at all in his no-comment farm boy scenes, but he was an absolute riot being "sprung" in a brothel. I think it begs the question: what was Thors Hammer and why was Ares so keen to try it. *g*
Roving reporter Nigel was very very well done by Michael Hurst and it left me wondering if theres anything this actor/director isnt good at? Loved the buzz cut hairdo. Very warzone-friendly/deranged public servant look. Ooh yeah.
Gabrielle was classy as ever -- back in form as the touchy feely bard who returns to Nigel to try and clear Xenas good name and set the record straight -- trusting and loyal gal that she is.
I really felt for her with the confusion at seeing Ares and Xena together in the "liplock best-of" clips. And I was also struck with her same blow-to-the-stomach sense of "What the...???" when we find she realises she doesnt love Xena. That was the moment we learn something is very terribly wrong with this world. I was actually fairly miserable until this was finally explained.
The episode spawned quite a few favourite scenes. Xena and Gabrielle outside the studios arguing about Gabrielle not being able to "join the dots" and how Xena lets her walk behind the horse was so good. I adored the way Gabrielle punched the word "plan" when asked to be let in on it, adding sarcastic air-quotemarks. Oh, teeeheee.
And Xena conceding Gabrielle can always walk beside her horse.... what a laugh.
Then, when theyve made up, Gabrielle has an absolutely beautiful self deprecating smile when she finds she must ask Xena what the plan is, once more.
I got the very genuine sense that this is how these two are in real life -- as in, if you asked the actresses to ad-lib a scene where they are amusingly mocking their own characters, this would be exactly what theyd come up with. It was really so fun to watch. Id love to have seen a bit more of it. The writing/acting team is really something when it indulges in the self deprecating humour -- eg Deja Vu All Over Again, the end of The Xena Scrolls and in Herc, the brilliant Yes Virginia, There is a Hercules.
Meanwhile, I liked Aphrodite checking that Xena and Gabrielle were still together even though the love was gone from the world. To me, that spoke volumes. Even without the love theyre still partners, and that shows how much they feel they belong together, even without a scrap of love to keep them together.
Adorable was the way they looked at each other once Aphrodite had her powers back and the little love hearts floated about them. The first thing they did was seek out each others eyes. Which is exactly what Beowulf did with Gabrielle and we know how lovestruck he was with her. That also speaks volumes. The three people *in* love all do the same thing - seek out the one they love.
But the out and out favourite scene (if youll pardon the pun) had to be the ending. It was the body language the likes of which I cant recall since A Day in the Life. The nudges, the winks, the eye contact, the face pulling, it was so funny and so obvious they had a secret. They were carrying on like lovestruck teenagers and it was so fun and great to watch. I totally believed, felt and revelled in the love at that moment between them. Memo to TBTB: You dont need a hottub to do subtext damn it -- just check out the way they look at each other at this moment. (Although I hasten to add, Im sure not knocking those hottub scenes...*g*)
So are they...you know... the lover thing?
Six reasons why the answer was yes:
1. Nigel says he will ask "the question that Gabrielle has been avoiding all evening".
Why would Gabrielle avoid the question? The only reason anyone would duck and weave "all evening" -- something which must be annoying for the bard -- would be to avoid a secret being revealed. Otherwise shed just say no, to quote Barbara Bush.
2. Neither says: WHAT??? and looks at Nigel like hes sprouted Medusa hair. A stunned first reaction or extreme puzzlement are not forthcoming as would befit a pair of women whose minds have never considered this possibility. Of course they may be just used to being asked this, so this could mean nothing.
3. Aphrodite, goddess of love, feared that without love in the world, Xena and Gabrielle would be apart? Why? If theyre just friends what difference would it make whether the world has love in it? Friends would still be more or less friends. Unless theyre more than friends, in which case the risk of them not being together is much greater, hence Aphrodites very real fear.
3. Gabrielle tells Xena to answer the question because "Xena, you know, you just risked everything to bring love back into the world."
Such an odd thing to say. Surely Xena shouldnt have to answer Nigels question just because she brought love back into the world? Unless the two things are related? What could these two things possibly have in common unless the love Xena brought back into the world was the same as the love Nigel refers to -- a love that she shares with Gabrielle. ie they are lovers.
Then the comment makes sense. If they are not lovers, Gabrielle is making a pointless statement. Its like saying: "Xena, you brought love back in the world, so tell the nice man how you dont love me!"
4. Why would Gabrielle be so keen for Xena to answer the question? If she knows the answer, why doesnt she answer it herself? What is the bards motivation in getting Xena to answer it? Shyness?! Sense of fun?
What about: if you were Xenas sidekick and were also her lover but at every opportunity Xena would use her seductive, feminine wiles to beat the baddies, and in the process pretend that you are not her other half, youd be wanting some sort of recognition. Say, for example, PUBLIC recognition. As in - on NATIONAL TELEVISION, telling the whole damned world Xena is your lover and proud of it, dammit. Hehehe... the bard works in sneaky ways.
5. Xena and Gabrielle both have to actually stop and debate the question and whether to answer it and whether to debate whether to answer it and... well... why bother if a simple no would just clear things up?
6. Body language alert. Why so coy and playful if its a no? Why the nudge nudge wink wink antics of people with a secret theyre just busting to share? Could it be because they DO have a secret theyre just busting to share? And since when is NOT being someones lover worthy of this carry-on?
One reason why the answer could be no:
1. She said "technically". No matter how you look at it, thats not an encouraging word. If its "technically no - theyre not lovers", that means theyre not doing the deed but do everything else - eg maybe snuggling etc. Which, while adorable Im sure, is still a no.
"Technically yes" implies while they might be doing the physical deed, theres some problem ... eg they dont feel for the other that way any more.
And this is also a huge come-down for the subtexters. So that one iddy biddy word is a pretty crucial thing.
Be that as it may, I prefer to go into denial about that word (a Xenites perogative *g*) and go with the weight of evidence, most particularly point 6, and conclude Xena and Gabrielle are, were and remain lovers.
Which, if youre buying that theory -- and one well-placed sex expert (Caligula) seems to concur -- that leaves just one final question: since when?
One theory could be itd have to have been between A Day in the Life and Been There Done That. Although they flirted all episode long in ADITL, come night-time it was obvious from Xenas reaction when Gabrielle kissed her that they werent a couple. It was not normal lover behaviour -- ie Xena sort of shrugged off the kiss, pretended it was not what she wanted, while actually looking secretly pleased.
In Been There Done That one can arguably conclude Xena and Gabrielle are lovers at this stage by the hickey comment from Joxer and their very guilty responses.
So when was it exactly? Hell, dont ask me, Im just the reviewer. *g* You tell me...
In conclusion, this was a terrific idea for an episode. It was funny from a situational point of view -- juxtaposing the very feral Xena into the position of being pinned down by a modern, slick interviewer whose weapons were his words -- and watching her respond the way many interviewees have probably wished they could. Entailing much big, menacing, thumping, er, retorts....
It was a funny ep for gently mocking the TV media and playing up so many of the tricks of the trade, but without stopping to wait for the gag -- just seamlessly incorporating them into the scene and moving along.
And it was interesting watching how a world without love would be played out. I really expected to see more fights and the like, but ah well...a lot of the reality of this storyline (like the pinging to and fro about Europe; and whip-me Eve) was brushed aside quite a bit to make way for the gags. I am not really complaining. By and large it worked.
And of course You Are There was every subtexters dream (in properly acknowledging the subtext by posing the question) -- and ultimate frustration (in not answering it). A combination which seems in full force in season 6.
But in the final analysis, this episode kicked butt in the rewatchability stakes. It was charming, original, offbeat and funny. All the things that made this show so watchable way back in season one. Good stuff.
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