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 2.2 – Shark Bait

Last night, we were watching a cerebral look at causality and time, an innovative and considered hour that inspired hundreds of later adventures. Tonight, we watched fart jokes. To our son’s enormous pleasure, Hori Ahipene returned to scream, yell, and bellow as that firebreathing, farting foe of the Seven Seas, the most vulgar of all villains, Blackbeard.

I thought this kid was going to explode waiting for Blackbeard to explode. During the critical “make the other villain spill all the beans” scene, Blackbeard is just about ready to let rip with one of his inferno burps. The kid was already crying from laughter, and then he pops a cork in his mouth. I don’t know that the kid remembered anything after that. Michael Hurst, who played Iolaus in most of Hercules, plays the other villain, Nardo da Vinci.

Sadly, the end of the episode shows Blackbeard and Nardo getting away together. I’m sure they must have been planning a rematch, but the show’s unexpected cancellation put paid to that. Still, they made two half-hours with a bad guy that every elementary school-aged boy is sure to rank among the greats. Say what you might about Davros, Loki, or the Hood, but none of those also-rans can give a hot-air balloon a spark by way of nuclear toots.