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It is an episode of two parts: One, set in the present day where a secret scroll has been discovered that brings together Harry, Mattie and Annie once again. The other part is set in the show's past - between the episodes Adventures in the Sin Trade 2 and A Family Affair. Xena knows Gabrielle is alive after her vision from Alti, but needs Ares help to find her. His price? Xena's soul - and to marry him for all eternity! This tied up with the shocking news in the modern day part of the episode, that Xena and Ares were in fact married. The lost scroll is the marriage contract between them that Xena has stolen and hidden years before.
Of course, now that the immortal Ares knows where it is, he wants it so he can reclaim Xena.(Even if she does look like Ted Raimi in the modern day section.)
For a final standalone episode before the series finale, this was a very atypical episode. Previous flashbacks have been to a time before the show began - ie, to Xena's evil past. This time, we go back to happenings in Xena's life that we just missed seeing. Personally, I was very happy to see them go back and deal with how Gabrielle survived the fall into the lava pit. That scene in Sacrifice 2 was possibly the very best cliffhanger in the show - I LOVED that image of Gabrielle grabbing hope and looking at Xena as the two of them fell. Unfortunately, Gabrielle's explanation in A Family Affair was ultra-lame. She fell into a niche in the wall?? Pur-leeze!
On the other hand, the last stand alone episode of the series seems an odd time to go back to this. However, it did give us a chance to see Kevin Smith as dastardly Ares, and Ted Raimi as bumbling Joxer again.
Many fans were not hugely impressed with this episode, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. Xena and Ares' battle of wills is one of the strengths of the show I think. Yes, OK, so the Xena/Gabrielle relationship is central to the show, but Lucy Lawless and Kevin Smith are just so good together. Of all Xena's foes, Ares is definitely the sexiest and most seductive. I like that his motives are hard to read - his obsession with Xena went a touch soppy in Season 5, and mortal Ares in Season 6 was just not quite right. Yet despite his immortality and many evil deeds, Xena has always managed to get the upper hand - sometimes by outsmarting him, but often playing on his attraction to her. She does this once again here, and it is just great fun to watch.
It is also surprisingly great to see Joxer again. He could sometimes be a rather annoying character, popping up in so many episodes, but this one reminded me of what a good comic actor Ted Raimi is, and that when used well, Joxer was a lot of fun. It is also an episode where he doesn't just get in the way. The scene between Joxer and Xena as she is getting ready for her wedding to Ares is very sweet, and I did find the idea of Joxer throwing a bachelor party for Ares quite amusing...rather pointless though.(I mean he is hardly going to change his mind, or have Xena refuse to marry him because he has been unfaithful - that is hardly a priority for her.)
That bachelor party also gives Lucy a chance to play her third character of the episode - Meg returns for a final fling, and she is at her tackiest ever in a quite stunning whipped cream outfit!! I know Lucy loved to play Meg, and she also gets to be virtually naked (again!) as Meg pops out of a cake wearing some whipped cream and a couple of cherries....She also gets the best joke, when trying to spell Ares name. Love it.
The main problem I had with this section of the episode is that it simply doesn't make sense that Xena would agree to marry Ares. She *knows* Gabrielle is alive, so why would she need Ares help to find her? When has she ever needed his help before? OK, so her plan to con Ares worked, but it was pretty risky. Plus there was no Gabrielle in this part of the episode - maybe Renee was getting some time off to edit her episode Dangerous Prey, or as she was pregnant by then, she just had some time off.
The modern day section of the episode contained some good gags once again. Lucy as Annie - Joxer reincarnated of course - was suitably daft. However, Ted Raimi once again proved how crap he is at being mean and menacing. Ted as Xena just didn't really work, and thankfully they soon swapped back to Lucy as Xena and Ted as Joxer. Renee O'Connor as Mattie was a rather odd portrayal. She didn't have a large role (back to the Renee having time off theory) but also seemed rather out of it. I can't remember anything that significant that Mattie did, apart from walk off with Annie/Xena at the end. One thing that did strike me, was that Mattie sat like a guy! It was odd, but when they are in the conference room, she sits with her arms on the seat backs and with her legs crossed like a man... huh? Maybe it was just me, but I thought it was strange.
For the third episode in a row, we have a cute happy ending. When Fates Collide and that ride off into the mists as they discuss Gabrielle's play; Many Happy Returns and that feelgood birthday poem from Sappho; and now modern day Xena and Gab in the correct bodies walk off together. You could also argue that Last of the Centaurs and definitely Send in the Clones had sort of happy endings too. Xena managed to stop Lord Belach from killing Ephiny's son, Ephiny got to see her son too. Then in Send in the Clones, Alti was defeated again, and Xena and Gab were seen driving off in a taxi drinking champagne. Someone else pointed this out to me, but the relentlessly upbeat endings were another reason why the ending to A Friend in Need 2 was such a shock. We had been lead to believe all would end happily. Actually and one of these last three episodes could be a finale. All COULD have been, and even felt a bit like a last episode. I guess you can watch any of them as the final one if you like.
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