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When in Rome Reviewed

Julius Caesar, Xena`s old enemy returns in a strangely dull tale that has Xena and Gabrielle (and Argo) travelling to Rome to try and free the Gaul rebel leader Vercinix. Politics and plotting(and back stabbing this being Rome) are the order rather than a lot of face punching, as Xena uses Crassus, a member of the triumvirate that includes Caesar, Crassus and Pompey to get her way. The plot is the usual labyrinthine one that the series always throws up. The climax of the episode has Xena thrown into the gladiator arena where she has to fight for her life.

This episode features a whole batch of old friends- well, old actors. Karl Urban as Caesar. Matthew Chamberlain is one of the most versatile and least recognisable - he also played Darphus and Orpheus in earlier episode. Jeremy Callaghan was the brash Palaemon who wanted to kill Xena in Blind Faith, but turned out not so bad. Even Tamati Rice has been seen before as a Horde soldier in The Price. This episode has more of the rather uneasiness between Xena and Gabrielle left over from the rift. Gabrielle questions Xena`s motives and intentions. We also see Xena dragging Crassus behind her horse - just as she did to Gabrielle. You`d think that would bring back a few bad memories. However, Xena herself gets dragged later - a favourite thing of Steven L Sears obviously. This episode again explores Xena and Gabrielle`s characters. Xena while very abrupt with Gabrielle during the plan, apologises at the end for putting her in a difficult situation, but it is Gabrielle who shows a harder edge. She chooses to make a judgement on a man than leads to his death, something unthinkable for the younger more naive Gabrielle of series 1. She is also very much a partner to Xena, her role being just as crucial, if not directly up against Caesar.

I am not a huge Karl Urban fan. I find him a bit wooden in his acting, but it is certainly different to see Caesar embroiled in the intrigues of Rome. Jeremy Callaghan is more successful as the vain and conniving Pompey. I liked the opening fight scenes with Vercinix and the Gaul resistance fighters. Sadly Vercinix is merely the damsel in distress for the rest of the episode. Shame, as he was a promisingly charismatic warrior for the opening few minutes. Kudos to director John Laing for that opening, that has the grimy battle stopped by a vision of gold and white as Caesar in dazzling armour on a shining horse arrives to capture Vercinix. An effective image. Unfortunately, the colliseum is rather obviously created mainly by SFX, the supposedly huge crowd is not very convincing. Another strong image is when Gabrielle walks away from the arena, not watching the execution she could have prevented, merely stopping a for a few seconds as the people cheer.

Steven L Sears is one of the top writers, but for some reason I just found this episode a bit flat. There was none of the trademark humour, the fights were brutal and the situation grim. It just didn`t have the fun factor that XWP episode should have. Perfectly competent, but just a bit dull. I must say most people disagree with me and loved it, but this is one I have rarely rewatched.

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