Up until the final scenes, our son was really enjoying this one, which is nice, because he certainly didn’t enjoy the previous three. It ends with a long, long meditation on the horrors of war – there’s slow motion and “noooooooooooo” and a quite unsurprising death among the guest stars – and then Xena sings at another funeral. To be fair, I was enjoying this one quite a lot until the slo-mo myself, but the kid’s precise criticism after five minutes of the show turning into a tear-jerker nails it best. “I really don’t like it when it turns into a sad relationship broken drama.”
Anyway, it’s a heck of a good plot and a very, very good production. Caesar and Pompey have brought the Roman civil war to Greece, and while Pompey’s forces are larger, Karl Urban’s Caesar inspires far greater loyalty and morale in his men, plus he’s a much better battlefield tactician. Xena schemes to assure a little mutually-assured destruction so what’s left of their forces will return to Rome and leave these hills and villages alone.
Pulling this off required probably the largest collection of costumed, combat-ready extras we’ve seen in this series, augmented by some of those CGI-enhanced crowd scenes that were a lot harder to spot in the 1990s than they are today. But the brawling and the scope is very, very impressive: much higher budgeted weekly TV series rarely pull off anything this spectacular. To be fair, the effect was slightly spoiled tonight, because afterward, Marie and I watched the first half of Akira Kurosawa’s 1980 epic Kagemusha, which has one of the largest collections of costumed, combat-ready extras I’ve seen in anything, period. But Xena nevertheless deserves a lot of praise for what it could accomplish with so much less money, and the fight scenes really are golden.