The Xena lookalikes idea has been well used, but while the episodes are still fun- as most of this one is- then I won't mind. The very close similarity in titles between this and series 2's Warrior..Princess..Tramp caused a little confusion for skim reading tv schedulers. It is therefore no surprise that Meg returns, and the new lookalike is a Priestess. A Hestian Priestess. A Hestian Virgin Priestess! Her name is Leah, and Lucy Lawless has yet more fun as this latest lookalike, the prudish, rather naive Hestian priestess.
The episode begins really well with someone who we think is Xena confronting a warlord. Although there appears to be something wrong with the way she speaks, and there is definitely something wrong when she is tied to a stake and the bonfire lit! Gabrielle arrives to sabe her, thinking Xena is testing her, although she soon realizes that it is another lookalike. Conveniently, Meg just happens to be in the area, now running a bordello. The scheming baddie Bailius plans to get rid of the Hestians by getting Meg to read a chant that will cause the young priestesses to commmit mass suicide. Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer are there to save the day though.
The idea is not original anymore, and the story about ridding the world of the Hestians was daft. There were enormous plot holes, and the baddie was a poor actor and a cardboard cut out character. However, this episode worked well for me because it was just so much fun- although the last ten minutes or so dragged. There were numerous quite filthy jokes and double entendres, giving the episode a 'self-abuse' theme! Joxer seems to work well in comedy episode, and the lookalike episodes especially. His musical arrival in Meg's bordello is a hoot-look out for Jodie (Solari) Dorday as one of the girls. It was also nice to see Gabrielle saving Xena- OK,Leah- with a clever piece of trickery at the beginning. However, these episode stand or fall because of Lucy Lawless' ability to convince as a new character. Leah is wonderful! The opening scenes with her and Gabrielle, when she first meets Xena, and a hilarious campfire scene really make you think of her as a different character. The best compliment to Lucy Lawless is that you tend to thinkof them as three different actresses. You can usually tell who is who by the way Lucy carries herself; still and strong for Xena, shuffling feet and shifty eyes for Meg, a saintly look for Leah. Meg is said to be a favourite for Lucy, and she clearly enjoys the challenge. Meg posing as a priestess is funny.'So, come on, how many of you are REALLY virgins?' she asks! The bawdy humour continues as Leah encounters all sorts of combinations at Meg's place. 'Please let that be a petting zoo!' she says, as we hear a bleating noise behind one of the doors. A dig at the NZ lamb lovers perhaps?
Sadly, the actual story really is a dull one, lets hope that if there is another lookalike episode in series four, there is also a better plot. However, this one was a lot of fun, a far livlier script from Armus and Foster, great performances and good dirty jokes. 8/10
Another very funny comedy episode that is that extremely rare thing, a good Xena-lite episode. After one of Aphrodite's temples is vandalized by Xenafans, she decides to get her own back on Gabrielle for spreading Xena's fame far and wide. She casts a spell over one of her scrolls so that everything Gabrielle writes comes true. This is, of course, the cue for various adventures. Xena has gone fishing, and Gabrielle teams up with Joxer, Ares and Aphrodite- the gods made mortal because of Gabrielle's scroll- to try and fix things.
Another rather slapstick episode that finally allows Renee O'Connor to really be the star. She gets to be a super hero, defeating a horde of barbarians with her trusty staff and her mighty abs! Of course, the spell on the scroll doesn't work out as happily as she expects. Writing, 'the drinks are on the house', means it rains beer, 'Gabrielle awoke with a jerk', causes Joxer to appear. More comedy arises from having Ares and Aphrodite as mortals, although having Aphrodite be smelly is amusing the first time, the joke wears a bit thin. Gabrielle tries to write Xena back into the story, but it takes a few tries and Minya makes a welcome return after Gabrielle is imprecise in her words. Eventually, Xena returns with a cartload of fish after her trip, and a very funny fish fight ensues between her and yet another ambitious warlord. A starfish becomes a chakram style weapon, a swordfish making a pretty decent javelin!
The writer Hilary Bader was also responsible for the magic of Been There, Done That and once again this is a witty and briskly moving script. Renee O'Connor proves that she is more than capable of carrying an episode, Joxer is amusing. I like Aphrodite, although I am not sure I want to see Ares too soft. (However later episodes proved that this isn't a problem.) Special mention should be made of the three naked dancing Gabrielles- thanks to Joxer writing a very bad limerick on the scroll. Fun. 8/10
((SPOILER WARNING!! BEWARE))
One of the problems some people have with series three is the extreme variation in tone between episodes. The previous two episodes were highly amusing slapstick bits of fluff. This episode is possibly one of the darkest ever. Xena and Gabrielle meet up with Solan- Xena's son, while Hope- Gabrielle's daughter also reappears. To complete the mothers, Ephiny and her centaur son Xenan also appear. However, this is certainly no happy family reunion as Hope releases Callisto from the lava pit to help get her revenge on Xena and Gabrielle. Callisto learns about Solan, and Hope reveals to Gabrielle that she is her daughter, and that Callisto is planning to kill all of the children in the village. Xena sends Solan to safety, but unfortunately, Gabrielle sends Hope to the same safe place, thinking Callisto might harm her. Very nasty results...
This is probably as close as XWP has ever got to real Greek Tragedy, the death of children, misunderstandings, lies, revenge, murder. I found this episode very difficult to watch and it isn't one I am likely to stick in my VCR too often, however, in terms of quality, this was an excellent episode. When I first read the synopsis, I couldn't believe that they would kill off Xena's son, it seemed a very mean thing to do, and not in keeping with this family show. However, in retrospect, I was wrong. Yes it IS a family show, but Xena has always been a dark show too. It can be easy to forget that the background of this character is terribly evil, frankly. The drama of the rift has been tough going, but while in many ways, Xena deserved to suffer- after all how much has she really paid for her crimes?- I was sorry that Gabrielle suffered so. The arguement about who was to blame for the rift could go on and on, but I have a lot of sympathy for Gabrielle. She was Dahak's perfect victim in that she would always protect her child and see the good in it above anyone else because of her character- she sees the good in everyone. Her only real crime was to try and save her child, and, of course, lying to Xena.
I thought the interactions between Xena and Callisto were fantastic in this episode. It was hard to see what more could be done with Callisto after her S2 appearances, but her little speech about "bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh" was so well delivered by Hudson Leick. Callisto's goal has always been to make Xena suffer as she did and by taking her family away, her revenge is complete. As I said, as much as we love Xena, and her dark side, considering what carnage she was responsible for, how has she suffered? If she was around today there would be war crimes commissions or the UN would be chasing her, she would be top of INTERPOL's wanted list. As sad as is was for her, the death of Solan has a certain symmetry I suppose. It also gave us a chance to see Lucy Lawless at her best once more. She was superb in the scenes at the hut with Solan's body, and in her later confrontations with Callisto. Those scenes were amongst the series best. When Callisto empathises with Xena, she really DOES understand what it is like to lose your family to a murderous monster. The scene in the caves is another facinating one, as Callisto reflects on how she feels and Xena refuses to let her escape. Finally, that funeral scene with Xena refuseing to accept Gabrielle's explanation or expression of regret. Xena's reaction is spot on here. She is angry still, but her face doesn't look murderous (See The Bitter Suite next), merely grief stricken. She even looks regretful after her harsh words to Gabrielle but stoically walks away. Poor Gabrielle has seen her child turn out to all that she feared, and for someone like Gabrielle, killing Hope must have been awful. Her torment must have been considerable, and she gets no support from Xena. Renee O'Connor also turns in avery good performance, particularly in the scene where she realizes that Hope WAS responsible for Solan's death.
A few niggles however. How did they all know that Hope was responsible? Surely Callisto was the prime suspect. She was the one with the best motive, and as a God she surley could have discovered his whereabouts. Secondly, what was that about killing all the children? A rather weak plot device and not really Callisto's style. Another point, and maybe this will be answered in a later episode, why does Hope and Dahak want to destroy Xena anyway? I am a big Ephiny fan, but she had a poor role in this episode. Apart from being the only 'successful' mother we see, where are her Amazons? Isn't she the queen?(Especially as Gabrielle has been describing herself as an 'Amazon Princess') She is the child minder in this episode, little more. The child performers were OK, both battling hard against terribly bad wigs. Amy Morrison as Hope was pretty good at portraying the evil Hope. David Taylor is not quite such a talent, and the scenes between Solan and Xena were a bit sentimental for my taste- apart form when he was dead of course!! The sensitive chats were not really Xena, and once she agreed to take him after Kaleipus' death(a different Kaleipus by the way), well, his fate was sealed.
However, this was a heart breaker of an episode, and a few nasty wigs and slight plot holes don't get in the way of one of the toughest episodes ever for Xena and Gabrielle. Callisto really does seem to have done all she can now, and rumours of the character leaving the show for good make sense. Great Xena/Callisto scenes and gut wrenching events make this essential if uneasy viewing. 9/10
Probably the most eagerly and anxiously anticipated episode of series three, this was Xena-the Musical! It will surely be a much remembered episode for a few reasons. Firstly the musical aspect, but also because it was the resolution to the 'rift' that dominated the first half of the third series. More notoriously, The Bitter Suite contains an especially savage scene where Xena drags Gabrielle behind a horse until she is very badly beaten, then tries to kill her by throwing her off a cliff. A great many fans were extremely upset by this.
Plot wise, we open with a distraught Gabrielle in the third day of an Amazon cleansing ritual- I guess killing her daughter DID affect her. Xena has fled to a snowy mountaintop where Ares stirs her up to get her revenge for Solan's death. A wild looking Xena gallops in and breaks Ephiny's arm, punches Joxer and lassoos Gabrielle's feet, dragging her through fires and rivers and over a few boulders. Stopping at a cliff top, a feral loooking Xena picks up a badly beaten Gab, and is about top throw her off a cliff when she comes to, and kicks free. With an 'I hate you!', Gab rushes at Xena and the pair tumble over the cliff down a long drop to a waterfall, but instead of dying they enter a magical land called Illusia. This is where the singing starts as Xena meets Callisto dressed as the Fool from Tarot cards and Gabrielle meets up with a singing Joxer. As Xena meets her army and Ares, Gabrielle finds herself back in Poteidaia and meets her sister Lila. After a deadly encounter between the pair, and a little tango with Ares for Xena, they find themselves confronting their problems but are unable to hear each other because they are still blaming each other. They are then transported back to the temple of Dahak, where they realize that hatred is the enemy and that only love can save them- aahh! Before they can escape, Xena is confronted by Ming Tien and must admit to killing him and lying to Gabrielle- cue for Lucy's best song- before they leave Illusia through a waterfall, meet Solan who somehow created the whole place, and then find themselves back on a beach, unharmed and reconciled. PHEW!
It is hard to know where to start, and I know I was not alone in that I needed 3 or 4 viewings of this episode to form opinions. First off, the songs and the staging are great. Lucy Lawless' Broadway coreographer helped with some of the set pieces, and highest praise to Joseph LoDuca the composer, and Pamela Phillips Oland and Dennis Spiegel who helped LoDuca with the lyrics. Of the stars, Lucy Lawless, Kevin Smith and Ted Raimi did their own singing, while Michelle Nicastro and Susan Wood sang for Callisto and Gabrielle respectively. Lucy's singing voice was first brought to fans'attention in series one, but the real singing surprise for me was Kevin Smith. His beautiful deep singing voice was just perfect for the seductive Ares. The tango in particular was a stand out. Also definitely worth a cheer or two were the fabulous costumes and sets. There were some very odd hats on show, but the fantasy element and sense of the bizzare were conveyed well via the sets and the costumes. The phrase "a visual feast", is sometimes over used, but this episode really was quite stunning in the visual and aural.
Read my review of The Bitter Suite CD
I am not going to go into a discussion of the merits of the songs and singers here, have a look at my CD review(above) for that. Suffice to say, I thought it was excellent, although the girl singing for Gabrielle had an annoying voice. Very clever lyrics and a really good mixture of styles; solos, duets and group numbers, ballad, tango, wordy and clever . Wonderful to listen to, even better to see all those well staged songs.
In terms of what was the purpose of this episode, a musical was in many ways the ONLY format that would have worked. Basically, Xena and Gabrielle had to work out their differences, which would have made for a dull 'talkie' episode. Realistically, of course, a disagreement like they have had, would take a long time and a lot of going over the same old ground, and recriminations and accusations. The producers have acknowledged that the rift is not totally healed now, and later episodes may return to certain aspects of Xena and Gabrielle's troubles. However, an all singing fantasy gives them the chance to thrash out their grievances in 45 minutes, with no real bloodshed. However, this brings us back to the most conroversial element, that Gabdrag -as it has become known.
The relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is the heart of the show. Xena's quest for redemption and Gabrielle's maturing are also important. We have seen Xena kill and maim, and flashback episodes like Destiny and The Debt showed us how ruthless Xena could be. However, the deliberate violence of the drag, and Xena's glee were a side we never expected Xena to show. Certainly not to Gabrielle, her best friend. In impulsive punch or whack like Ephiny and Joxer got are one thing, but the sustained brutality inflicted on Gabrielle were what shocked some fans. Even allowing for Ares goading, it seemes out of character. I mentioned in my Maternal Instinct review above, that Xena's reaction at the funeral seemed more authentic. This drag was nasty and while the producers wanted to show the degree to which their relationship had deteriorated, I wonder if they made a mistake. No matter what the reasons for Xena's actions, could Gabrielle really return to travelling with Xena as normal after that, even though the wounds were healed by Illusian magic?
Anyhow, this scene aside, I think The Bitter Suite is more likely to be viewed as a triumph for the Illusia segment. Hudson Leick is once again a scene stealer, and the special effects people from Flat Earth show off their skills with a variety of visual effects such as singing animals and magical wheels. I am no expert, but there is apparently a lot of Tarot card symbolism in this episode- a deliberate intention by producer Rob Tapert to give it a cryptic atmosphere. It is also rather odd that neither Xena or Gabrielle get to sing for a long time while in Illusia. When they do sing it is only to each other aswell. Strange, but then the whole place IS about them. The final song is beautifully sung by Lucy Lawless, a real tear jerker. It is amusing that after confessing to killing Ming Tien, she barely gets to the first chorus before Gabrielle has forgiven her! A rather sweet little scene between Xena and Solan follows, accompanied by a swirling cresendo of strings, before Xena and Gabrielle are returned to a beach, unharmed. That Illusia certainly did a lot of healing- their hearts and bodies! Amazing.
A complete departure for the series, and not a tactic that can be used again really, but for this episode, to resolve the rift, the musical format worked well. This episode was a big hit with fans and critics, and was a major undertaking for the production team. Excellent songs, fabulous production designs, colourful costumes, bizzare headgear, great singing- rotten drag scene! This is an unforgettable episode and it will be facinating in years to come to see if this is viewed as an extravagant symbol of the shows' abitious faliure or a triumphant peak of third season audacity and brilliance. For the record, I loved it! This season certainly ain't dull! 9.5/10
After the stunning brilliance and scale of Bitter Suite, we have this fabulous, but more traditional episode that makes you admire the series all over again. Gabrielle and Xena get involved when the Persian army attack. They meet Phiddipedes on his marathon run to Athens to get help, then a Spartan deserter Dorian. Xena decides that they must try and slow down the Persians to give Athens a chance to prepare or Greece will be lost. However, an early skirmish with the Persians leaves Gabrielle wounded, an arrow in the back. Worse is to come as it turns out the arrow is poisoned and the future looks bleak for Gab. Holeing up in an old barn that happens to be where Xena stashed some weapons three years before (wow, not ten!), Xena tries to heal Gabrielle as she refuses to let them leave the battle because they have to slow down the army. Inevitably the Persians arrive, and inevitably Xena discovers that the Persian soldiers have an antidote, but the fight scene is an all action one.
The real strength of this episode is the excellent writing from these two new writers. Xena and Gabrielle's relationship has been through the wringer, but this episode is a reaffirmation of their close friendship. One slight discrepancy- Gabrielle apologises about China, but no mention is made of Hope, Solan or Illusia. This is probably due to this episode being filmed earlier, but the running order being switched. The opening scenes have Gabrielle trying to do a somersault like Xena does, and have a nice playful tone. The meeting with Phiddipedes is another of the historical figures Xena meets periodically. An historical in-joke when Xena tells him to pace himself and that a run in the heat could kill him, as that is what happened to Phiddipedes.
The drama of Gabrielle's illness is beautifully played. Renee O'Connor is superb, and we have never seen Xena looking as helpless and torn. It is reminiscent of the outstandingly good series one episode, The Greater Good, only here it is Gabrielle who is injured. Very well written scenes have a fever wracked Gabrielle returning to her first meeting with Xena, and asking her to take her with her away from Poteidaia, and later imagining a terrible fate for Xena(above). The actual battle scenes between Xena and that army are as long and hard fought as any we have seen for a long time. Xena actually gets sweaty! We see her go down under punches, but a blast of the Xena theme heralds an all action Xena revival. However, the end of the fight certainly raises a giggle. Xena chops down a couple of soldiers, then holds her sword out at about 30 Persians, looks threatening and yells, "go home, there are thousands more like me!". And amazingly they do! I kept waiting for them to look at each other, laugh heartily and shout "charge!". Either that, or Diana, Meg and Leah turn up to prove Xena's point. I know Xena has a great menacing stare, but would an army really do that? A few stay to ambush Xena, but soon she is giving the antidote to a groggy Gab before flopping down exhausted. This is about the first time I can remember seeing Xena realistically get tired. Usually she is superhuman both in her fighting and in her quick recovery. Lucy suits the sweaty look!
Favourite scenes include a really nice scene between Xena and Argo. Xena has made a vow to Gabrielle that they will face their destiny together, which means death for them both. We then see Xena releasing Argo, bidding her not to be stopping for any stallions. Aaahh! A touching scene with really nice music accompanying it. I also loved the end part when Xena gives Gabrielle the antidote, and Gab opens her eyes and asks "are we dead?" I could go on. This was a superb episode in a totally different way to the previous ones. It goes back to the heart of the show- Xena and Gabrielle. Their relationship and their mission. It is Xena who wants to forget about stopping the army to save her friend. "I'm done paying for my mistakes, my responsibility now is you," she says. A very different tune for Xena whose quest for redemption is what keeps her on the road. It is also interesting to see her try and recreate her exploits of The Debt, where she was able to use the power Lao Ma spoke of to destroy Ming Tien's palace. She is unable to however. Due to the shuffling of episodes, there are a few odd moments like the one mentioned earlier, and a lovely statement from Xena, "even in death Gabrielle, I will never leave you." Really? Last week she wanted her dead? Forgotten that drag already Gab? Gabrielle's attempts to learn Xena's flips also reveal that she has a little Xena toothpick dollie- and guess where Gab keeps it!!? A wonderful episode. 9/10
This episode marked a return to more regular XWP episodes, but this one was not a big favourite with me and many other fans. It deals with the theft of the Urn of Apollo from a temple that is used by the priests to forgive sins. Xena and Gabrielle agree to help retrieve the urn, but before they start out, Gabrielle is viciously attacked by a teenage girl at an inn. She is Tara, and she wants to be Xena's new sidekick. She claims to have information about the gang who stole the urn and persuades Xena to let her join them, much to Gabrielle's annoyance. The girl repeatedly disobeys Xena and almost gets Gabrielle and herself killed. Gabrielle gets so fed up that she gives her a beating with her staff. Tara eventually helps them track the gang, but it turns out she is working with one of them. When she is reluctant to hand over the urn, after considering what she has learnt from Xena and Gabrielle, her boyfriend turns on her and Xena comes to save her. The episode finishes with Tara and Gabrielle receiving absolution from the priest of Apollo, but Xena remains at the door and turns away.
The chief objection many had to this episode was the nasty beating Gabrielle took. Gab is having a traumatic enough season, but the attack on her by Tara was vicious. It was supposed to be amusing as she did a Mike Tyson and bit a chunk out of Gabrielle's ear, but frankly it was nasty. Xena was amazingly unconcerned about Gabrielle- not even looking at her injuries and having little regard for her feelings about Tara when allowing the girl to join them. I suppose you could say Shiri Appleby did her job well as she was totally obnoxious. She screamed and whined her way through the episode and made you wish for Joxer! Her sob story was poor, and when Gabrielle did get her own back, she was made to look like a bully and a weakling, having to use a staff to beat up the little mixed up kid. I also didn't like the heavy handed ending, with Xena refusing the offer of absolution but made to look all pained about it. Xena has no time for the gods and is clearly shown to be a non believer in the supposed power of the urn. It would have been more realistic to have her just scoff or roll her eyes rather than making it all misty eyed and pained. The story was OK, a fairly standard bad guy chase. There were a few good moments. Gabrielle invents charades- in a rather nice campfire scene and Xena and Gabrielle have a few interesting discussions about how having someone believe in you helps, but generally this episode was one where Xena seemed to act very un-Xena like in her lack of concern for Gabrielle, and even Argo- letting Tara take care of her when they have only just met, and again later sending her for Argo. Tara was in intesely irritating character and I sincerely hope she never returns! 6/10