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Xena poses as Cleopatra as Mark Antony, Brutus and Octavius are all struggling for the Roman leadership. Egypt`s navy is a key factor for those seeking power. Mark Antony is the general Xena feels she needs to get to know, and so she goes for seduction - all in a good cause of course. Gabrielle poses as her hand maid, and is worried that Xena is falling for the admittedly gorgeous Antony (Jon Bennet). Meanwhile Brutus(David Franklin) gets a surprise seeing Gabrielle again - last time he saw them, they were being measured up for crosses!
As Xena gets more involved with Antony - while assuring a sceptical Gabrielle that she is in total control - young Octavius, nephew of Julius Caesar arrives. My goodness, Egypt is busy this time of year! Xena realises that while he may be sexy, Antony is a ruthless Roman, Brutus is the murderer of Cleopatra, and Octavius is the only one to trust so she sets up Anthony and Brutus. A sea battle ensues, during which Gabrielle is aboard Brutus` ship and Xena on Antony`s when the Egyptian fleet attack...
This episode succeeded for me on many levels. Firstly, the look of the episode was wonderful. Director Michael Hurst tried something similar with A Tale of Two Muses - outdoor scenes filmed indoors and lit in an unusual way. The whole episode is light and bright, with a sand swept look and full of bright white clothing, gleaming white ass`s milk baths and red, red blood! Most Xena episodes are fairly grungy and dark - reflecting an ancient Greece the show is set in.
Xena and Gabrielle are dressed as Egyptians for most of the episode. The black wigs especially suits Lucy Lawless in my opinion, who looks just wonderful in this episode. The white togas were apparently very hard to keep clean! I liked the little touches too - the Sphinx WITH its nose was nice.
Another plus was the story. Based on the tales of a love affair between the queen of the Nile and the Roman general, seen in Shakespeare`s play and Liz Taylor and Richard Burton`s most famous movie, the writer Carl Ellsworth plays around with the myth and the history - and throws in the odd Shakespearian line or two. Little things like Cleopatra actually committing suicide after she and Antony were defeated by Octavius don`t worry us do they?!
Of course, there were a few plot hole, one biggie being WHAT ON EARTH WAS XENA DOING!!!? Exactly *why* did she have to seduce Antony when finding out what sort of a man he was, didn`t *really* need to involve feeding him honeyed strawberries by hand did it? We have had Xena use sex as a weapon twice in the last few episodes - and be the duplitous seducer that we saw right back in the Hercules episode, 'The Warrior Princess.' Of course, in Amphipolis Under Siege, it was Ares, and it was a desperate move to get some godly help to save Eve - and it was Ares after all. Here, Antony`s only crime is being an ambitious Roman. He is portrayed as a pretty sound man - OK, so he intends to annhilate his enemies, but Xena did that sort of thing didn`t she? However, I didn`t really mind the deceptions, I thought it was a very intriguing relationship, and Antony`s lack of nastiness made his eventual death all the more sad and romantic.
The other thing that made this episode so enjoyable for me were the guest stars. Jon Bennet brought a charisma to the role of Antony that had most of the (straight) female fans swooning. He had just enough sensitivity and strength that I could completely see why Xena would find him attractive. It was also fun to watch Gabrielle as Xena flirted him into submission! Lots of glares and stares - jealous? Or just concerned that her friend was wasting time?
David Franklin`s Brutus is an interesting character. At the end of season 4 we were not sure whether to like him or not. After all, he DID kill Ephiny...Yet he seemed the most honest of the Romans, and had a bit of a soft spot for Gabrielle. However, he did nothing to stop the crucifixions and orchestrated the murder of Julius Caesar. In this episode there are yet more twists and turns to his character, and I especially liked his final scenes with Gabrielle. I was a touch confused about why Gabrielle agreed to go with Brutus anyway. Surely she and Xena realised that once Brutus and Antony knew they had been tricked, they were always likely to turn on their betrayers? I suppose they had to convince him it was a real deal.
Brutus and Gabrielle have an interesting discussion on how each has changed. Then there is the fight between them, which is one of the most brutal Gabrielle has even been in. Michael Hurst showed with 'Amazon High' - that we saw sections of in Lifeblood - that he seems to like having no holds barred slugfests. Well I know I winced several times as Gabrielle gets kicked and punched by Brutus when he realises he has been tricked. And surely that was a broken nose she got too.. Ouch! I was half waiting for Xena to come and save her - that is what usually happens isn`t it? But no, Gabrielle has shown herself to be a warrior this season, and I loved the expression on her face when she swung that sword up to slash Brutus` throat. Renee O`Connor obviously found some savage depths to herself for that.
One of the most memorable scenes for me, was that food scene backed by the Natalie Merchant song. I know some people didn`t like the use of a modern piece of music in a Xena episode, especially a very historically based story like thie one, but I loved that scene. It was a very stylized seductive sex scene featuring extreme close ups of Lucy and Jon Bennet (was it me or was Lucy looking a touch bleary eyed? New baby keeping her up?) To my mind, it was almost a fantasy scene, filmed so extragagently (wonder if that was scripted or Michael Hurst`s idea?) that the music - hypnotic and sexy - fitted perfectly. And I loved Gabrielle`s break up of it! Xena`s getting a bit carried away, yet Gabrielle is quick to take Antony`s place on the cushions and tuck into the strawberries.
The season 5 naysayers have pinpointed this as another episode where Xena and Gabrielle don`t have enough contact, and I have to admit, I agree to a certain extent - mainly at the end though. That fight scene had them entirely independent of each other. Xena seemed to show no concern for Gabrielle at all and was focussed on Antony alone. I was glad that Gabrielle didn`t need saving and was shown to be a more than capable warrior herself, but it just seemed odd that her fight was separate from Xena`s so completely, and in the following scenes as well, Xena barely even looks at Gabrielle. I mean she took a real beating there!
Fabulous to look at, great performances, an intriguing script and no baby (she`s with Cyrene), I loved this episode, despite its flaws. Lucy looked great, her body double even better and I wish we could see more of Jon Bennett! What a lovely man! Michael Hurst is doing pretty well..three Xena eps, and two great ones - this and A Day in the Life. Might even forgive him for A Tale of Two Muses.
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