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.

Jack of All Trades 2.1 – A Horse of a Different Color

And now back to 1801, or 2000, and the second season of Jack of All Trades, where history’s not as you remember it and every other line is a double entendre. In this world, Russia apparently has more than the one and a half ports it had in ours back then, because Katherine the Great has surrounded Pulau-Pulau with a massive fleet armed with remarkably accurate cannons. Our Catherine, with a C, died prior to 1801 as a much older woman than this episode depicts.

And why does Katherine the Great care about this tiny, insignificant island? Well, there’s a horse race going on, and you might as well let your mind go straight into the gutter, because that’s where this bawdy half-hour goes. If this kid of ours knew what the heck was going on, then good grief, it’d be inappropriate. Fortunately, there’s exciting horse racing and lots of stunts as the riders brawl from the saddle, and gambling, as Emilia loses everything she owns at the track. So even if our son knew what they were talking about, there were distractions.

Katherine the Great is played by Danielle Cormack, who played Ephiny in Xena. As we learned a couple of weeks ago, Ephiny married a centaur. There’s typecasting for you.

Xena: Warrior Princess 1.24 – Is There a Doctor in the House

We finished our look at Xena‘s first season with an episode that’s so bleak that our son abandoned it halfway through. It’s set in a healing temple caught between two warring forces, Mitoans and Thessalonians. The temple is full of badly wounded people and staffed by incompetents who spend more time praying for celestial help than doing anything. Xena and Gabrielle have found their friend Ephiny (from episode ten), wounded, pregnant, and hiding in the woods after the death of her husband.

It is a dark episode, short on action but full of drama as Xena tries teaching medicine to these clods and tries teaching sense to a Mitoan general who has lost his moral compass. It is bloody and rough and full of people screaming and our son couldn’t take it and retreated, very unhappy with what he saw. He missed Xena amputating one guy’s leg and Xena giving Ephiny a C-section and he also missed the riveting, harrowing climax. Gabrielle went out into the battlefield searching for a lost child and came in badly wounded on a stretcher.

Obviously we know from our distance that Gabrielle recovers, but the audience that summer night in 1996 didn’t. (Had they even been renewed for a second season when they made this?) Xena works on her friend as much as she can before “it’s up to her now” (as it often is in medical dramas) and other patients need her. And then Gabrielle dies and Lucy Lawless gets a completely amazing scene begging her friend to come back and not listening to anyone telling her that she’s gone. I was just desperate for our favorite red-haired bard to cough herself back to life before I lost it, the scene was so good. It’s a completely terrific, powerful moment, and it’s a shame the kid missed it.

It wasn’t all drama and horror. Ephiny ends the episode gently playing with her baby, who is a centaur. Ancient Greeks, man, ancient Greeks.

That’s all for now from the world of Xena, but we will look at a selection of episodes from season two this summer, probably in June. Stay tuned!

Xena: Warrior Princess 1.10 – Hooves & Harlots

I’ve always said that the only fair way to judge a program is to ask whether they did the best they could with what they had to work with. And “Hooves & Harlots” clearly doesn’t have anywhere near the resources that the script demands – about seventeen times as many extras would have been nice, for starters – but it does a simply splendid job with the cast that it can afford to assemble. It also demands that Lucy Lawless become proficient with yet another weapon and fighting technique. Her training regimen must have been beyond exhausting.

The story isn’t anything unusual. This is the second time in ten episodes that we’ve seen a third party try to start a war between two already tense armies. But there’s an interesting hitch this time because the groups this time include a nation of Centaurs, with whom Xena’s old army once battled to a stalemate, and a nation of Amazons. Xena goes off to investigate a murder that’s going to set the two at war, not knowing that Gabrielle is keeping quiet about something really important: before dying, the targeted Amazon made the selfless Gabrielle her heir. When Xena and her new pal Ephiny get back the next day with the evidence they need, Gabrielle sheepishly admits that she is an Amazon princess now. Xena, who really didn’t need any more headaches, quietly growls “Great,” and I about died from laughing.

Overall, it’s a very entertaining story with some extremely good fight scenes. I really enjoyed Gabrielle’s interactions with the Amazons and the way that they balanced the silly comedy of her situation with her desire to do right by the dead girl. It helps that the Amazons have a couple of great characters among their number. Ephiny, played by Danielle Cormack, is portrayed as Xena’s equal, both physically and intellectually. She appears another nine times in this and Hercules. Oddly, Alison Bruce’s character, the Amazon’s queen Melosa, doesn’t appear again, although Bruce does show up as several different characters in this and Hercules.