Xena: Warrior Princess 2.22 – A Comedy of Eros

Karl Urban makes a brief return as Cupid in the very silly second season finale. Cupid thinks that his son is asleep, but he’s just playing possum while Mom and Dad are tied up. The little sprog gets a quiver of arrows and a bow and goes out to wreak havoc. Soon, Xena is head over heels for her old enemy Draco (from episode one), Gabrielle is all aswoon over Joxer, and Draco is in love with Gabrielle. Wacky hijinks ensue.

Our son certainly laughed his fool head off, though I think several of the gags were a little too mysterious for him. Unfortunately, I missed out on one explanation. I told him what the phrase “comedy of errors” means before we started, but didn’t explain what “Eros” meant, so not even the pun made sense. It actually only just struck me that Cupid was the Roman name for Eros. That seems a little odd; the other gods and demigods in this show have the Greek names. But we all enjoyed the tomfoolery and the silliness. I was going to screencap Xena giving herself a cold bath and an even colder scowl to quit thinking about Draco, but I adored her calling him “sweetie” and “cute” and clamping her hands over her mouth, embarrassed that she’s using those words.

Poor Joxer steals the show right at the end. The whammy undone, everybody’s getting ready to call it a night and Gabrielle is dismissive and ridiculous about the mad idea that she’d be in love with Joxer, who’s been doing the right thing and trying to keep her at arm’s length all day. Even if Joxer didn’t genuinely adore her, he still wants his friends to respect him. Xena shows him some silent support after Gabrielle cluelessly stomped his heart flat, and the bawdy, silly hour ends on a curiously sad note. Poor shmuck.

That’s all for our look at Xena‘s second season, but we’ll look at a selection of third season episodes in the fall. Stay tuned!

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.21 – Lost Mariner

I hadn’t planned to sit down and blog about the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but I might have to after this. Our son really enjoyed tonight’s episode, which guest stars Tony Todd as a sailor cursed by Athena to immortality and cursed by Posiedon, along with anybody else unfortunate to come aboard, to never leave his ship. Three hundred years later, Xena and Gabrielle end up on board, but nobody’s better than Xena at finding ways to get around the curses of ticked-off gods. Tony Todd’s a reliable, familiar face, and I enjoyed how he played the character as sincere and more sad than angry. The kid was very entertained by all the pirate stuff and tidal waves and whirlpools. He could probably stand to see some more yo-ho-hoing and bottling of rum.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.16 – For Him the Bell Tolls

Well, I’ve got Joxer the Mighty’s incredibly catchy theme song, “Joxer the Mighty,” stuck in my head now. Great.

“For Him the Bell Tolls” is another episode that they filmed while Lucy Lawless was recovering from her injury in America. She’s just in the two scenes that top and tail the story while Gabrielle and Joxer have an adventure of their own. The story introduces a second recurring character for Karl Urban: the god Cupid. It also marks the first appearance in Xena of Alexandra Tydings as Cupid’s mom, Aphrodite. She’d been introduced the previous year on Hercules, and now the two of them are having a family feud over Cupid’s latest targets: a royal Romeo and Juliet from neighboring kingdoms who have decided to elope. This conflicts with some of Aphrodite’s own real estate and antiquity plans, so she puts the whammy on Joxer to drive a wedge between Romeo and Juliet. Wacky hijinks and a pretty good swordfight follow.

Certainly not a great episode, this one’s still entertaining with lots of slow burns and comedy moments and we all enjoyed it both for the laughs and the good character moment for Joxer, who comes to the sad realization at the end that he isn’t being the hero at all, Gabrielle is. He also composes a theme tune for himself that rhymes “sidekick” with “little stick,” and I don’t think poor Gabrielle really appreciated being immortalized in this particular song.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.15 – A Day in the Life

If we run into a better episode of Xena than this, I’ll be amazed. This one is completely delightful. They did it on the cheap, with just five additional speaking parts and a minimum of special effects, and they let Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor have a ball. Our heroines wake up on the wrong side of the ground and cannot stop snapping or finding new and novel ways to aggravate the living daylights out of each other. Clearly they love each other and would do anything for each other, but they are in really bad moods. Frying pans and round killing things are misused, to say nothing of poor Gabrielle’s scrolls, and don’t tell me anybody with Xena’s flawless aim is accidentally throwing the fish that she’s catching barehanded where she throws them.

And then they have two problems to solve: one village a couple of hours away is under threat from a warlord’s army, and another village a couple of hours the other way has caught the attention of a really mean giant. And then the fellow who came to get help for Village # 2 falls in love with Xena. He doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Tartarus, but it’s the blue eyes and the leather… Gabrielle has seen it all before.

This is absolutely priceless, note perfect in every scene. I really agonized over what picture to use, because the whole shebang is one hilarious slow burn after another. Until the end, the only time Xena and Gabrielle aren’t exasperated over either the situations or the latest rotten trick one’s pulled on the other is when they stop fighting to have a bath, which, much like the infamous revelation of Mrs. Peel’s Hellfire Club costume in “A Touch of Brimstone”, has been documented visually quite enough already. And even the bath ends with the two having a water fight. But the day turns out all right, villages get saved, as well as maybe even that dumb lovestruck clod’s relationship, and so the tension relaxes just enough for Gabrielle to surprise Xena twice. Possibly only once. Xena may have let Gabrielle “surprise” her once, because it’s kind to discreetly allow someone you love to win once in a while. It’s unresolved, but it’s wonderful.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.14 – A Necessary Evil

After the previous episode, I thought it was odd that they made two Lucy-lite episodes so close together, with Xena wearing Callisto’s body in one and possessing Autolycus’s body in the other. Since I don’t know anything about the production of Xena beyond “it was made in New Zealand,” I did a little reading. During a break in production after finishing ten episodes, Lucy Lawless was in Los Angeles to do some promotion for the series, and was injured in a stunt for NBC’s The Tonight Show. That rings a distant bell. I’m sure I must have heard of that at the time.

So that’s why they did some episodes with the lead actress either barely present or sidelined and not doing all the high jumps, and full credit to the producers for doing it so well. It must have required an inhuman amount of shuffling and rewriting to make the next seven or eight episodes with the lead actress barely able to move. Their way around it this time is bringing Hudson Leick back as Callisto. Since we saw her in episode eight, she showed up in episode 3.12 of Hercules, somehow became immortal, and ended up locked in an underground prison. And since Velasca, who we met last time, has munched on enough of the cheat-death macguffin to become a “god,” with all the attendant powers of lightning bolts and weather manipulation, Xena reasons the only way to stop her is to sic Callisto on her.

I thought this was a much more entertaining hour than the last one, and piggybacking on what I said last time about Bruce Campbell bringing the only entertainment value to an episode that really shouldn’t have anything to do with men, this installment has exactly two speaking parts for men: two guards at Artemis’s temple get one line apiece before Velasca kills them. It’s certainly not just the fights and the special effects, although they had our son more wowed than any previous episode of the show, it’s watching Callisto just needle Gabrielle and be effortlessly mean. I winced when Callisto pointed out that Gabrielle just isn’t very good at Truth or Dare. Melinda Clarke doesn’t fare nearly as well as Velasca, who could have had a much more interesting objective. Damaging Artemis’s temple was a nice start. It’s a shame they didn’t do more along that line, but what they did was still really entertaining.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.13 – The Quest

You can view most television through a variety of lenses. Me, I seem to most like fresh takes on adventure teevee tropes, light humor, and great actors. I think the presentation is often more important than the plot, which is a good thing in the case of “The Quest,” because this silly hour has a lot of holes and a lot of problems. This one introduces a new villain named Velasca, an Amazon who’s all ham and cleavage, and when Gabrielle takes a detour through Amazon country en route to returning Xena’s body to her home, she… wait, it’s really dumb. Let me start over.

The Amazons intercept Gabrielle because they want to give Xena a ceremonial funeral-by-fire. Gabrielle declines, because Xena wished to be buried next to her brother. Gabrielle’s not in her right mind anyway; she keeps asking why Xena “left” her, when we saw last time that about 1500 pounds of lumber pancaked Xena into a tree and she didn’t seem to have a lot of choice in the matter. The Amazons, including old pal Ephiny (Danielle Cormack), explain that Velasca (Melinda Clarke) has stepped into a power vacuum that Gabrielle, who was made a princess about a year ago, can settle. So she decides to become their queen and let ’em torch Xena’s corpse without worrying about it too much, and then she changes her mind. Velasca starts screaming about how Gabrielle has betrayed the Amazons, and about 90% of them agree and go nuts about it. Lady, she changed funeral plans, she didn’t sell your secrets to the Romans.

So yes, the whole thing is baked in stupid, and yet it’s still hugely entertaining because Bruce Campbell’s wonderful character Autolycus, the King of Thieves, is back in town. Xena’s spirit has taken over his body in order to get her own corpse to some death-cheating stuff, but she doesn’t want Gabrielle to know what she’s up to for some reason that’s never explained either… even Michael Hurst, who played the sidekick character on Hercules, shows up to give Gabrielle about the legal limit of condolence hugs before it gets creepy.

Perhaps it’s wrongheaded of me to look at this predominantly female-driven hour and say that’s only worth watching when Bruce Campbell is onscreen, but I’m afraid it’s true. Even the hour’s centerpiece moment, when astral-plane Xena and astral-plane Gabrielle share a great big yes-they-did-ladies, they-really-did kiss, is anchored by it happening between real-world Autolycus and real-world Gabrielle. I don’t think that’s right; this episode should have been tight and sensible and watchable even before Bruce Campbell got anywhere near the story, and the producers should have had the guts, once Xena was restored by the cheat-death Macguffin, to let the ladies lock lips without letting any man’s body get between them.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.12 – Destiny

Another adventure teevee trope this season: the flashback episode. This time, Xena wraps up an incredibly impressive fight against a gang of stuntmen only to get smashed into a tree by a remarkably unlikely log trap that shatters most of her bones and internal organs. So while Gabrielle spends a few days dragging her to the only healer in the ancient world who can do anything about wounds this grievous, Xena remembers an incident from ten winters previously. Then, Not-Too-Ambitious Xena was a pirate, and she had a little tryst with Julius Caesar that didn’t end well for anybody except the fellow on his way to conquer the known world. Caesar is played by Karl Urban, who had a different part in an episode last season. Since he didn’t get upstaged by a waterfall this time, here’s what Urban looked like in 1997. Caesar appears in seven more episodes of Xena and one Hercules. I hope that they’re not all flashbacks and Xena gets a few present-day rematches with him.

It turns out that Gabrielle was a little late dragging Xena to the healer, and she dies on the acupuncture table. “Destiny” is the first part of what appears to be an arc of three episodes, the others set in the present as Xena’s spirit tries to return to her body. Our son has been growling ever more loudly about cliffhangers and multi-part stories, and wasn’t pleased that they didn’t resolve this one. I told him I’d make it up to him by watching the next Doctor Who two-parter the same evening. That made him about 2% less cranky.

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.7 – Intimate Stranger / 2.8 – Ten Little Warlords

Well, I thought that was cute. Xena followed up the “identical doubles” story with another classic, the bodyswap episode. But they kept it going for an additional week, I guess to give Lucy Lawless a vacation. And just to keep things fun, they also gave Kevin Smith a new role, kind of. Ares manages to lose his seat in Mount Olympus in between installments, so the villain gets to see what it’s like to have a hangover and feel pain.

“Intimate Stranger” is the better of the two, because it’s such fun to see Lawless and Hudson Leick play each other’s parts. They each do a simply fabulous job, though clearly Lawless gets to have more fun because she gets to be really rotten for a change. That’s part of why Ares and Callisto’s teamup feels like it came straight from Batman, since the actors playing the bad guys look like they’re having way more fun than our square and conflicted do-gooders.

It ends with Callisto stuck in the Underworld again, but somehow Xena returns to the land of the living in Callisto’s body. This left our son looking for logic, because it didn’t make sense to him. Ehhh, Greek gods, magic, just go with it, we said.

And so with a name like “Ten Little Warlords,” it won’t surprise you to learn, we get the Agatha Christie plot. It’s unclear how much time has passed on Earth, but there’s been chaos among the gods and with all his wheeling and dealing in the Underworld of Tartarus, Ares lost his sword to Sisyphus, rendering him human. Sisyphus has put together a competition on a remote island allegedly to find the warlord most worthy of becoming the new god of war. Xena and Ares strike up a truce, but he’s not as handy in a fight as he thinks, and eight ruffians, who think that she is Callisto, want them dead.

I thought this was a very fun pair of episodes, but my son was relieved when Ares restores Xena’s body in the end. The kid said he was about ready to suggest that Xena dye her Callisto-colored hair and start over in a new Xena costume. And why not? “Warrior… Princess… Tramp” showed that somebody out there is making custom Xena suits, even if they build the round killing thing from wood instead of indestructible magic steel!

Xena: Warrior Princess 2.6 – Warrior… Princess… Tramp

Most adventure teevee shows feel that they have to do the identical doubles episode eventually, but darned if “Warrior… Princess… Tramp” isn’t one of the most entertaining and hilarious ones I’ve ever seen. We skipped the installment from season one that introduces Xena’s doppelganger, the prissy Princess Diana. This one adds a third, a mostly incompetent nobody who gets press-ganged into posing as Xena in a bid to kill Diana’s father. It’s played for laughs and every gag hits the bullseye.

Like all these doubles stories, you have to gloss over the identical dresses and identical Xena costumes and just enjoy the ride, as poor Meg manages to get her sword caught in the ceiling, and even poorer Joxer learns the hard way that one of the women likes to kiss him but certainly not the other two. Best bit: Diana posing as Xena and realizing too late that she has no idea what that round killing thing of Xena’s is called.