COMMENTARY 1 by Beth Gaynor
COMMENTARY 2 by Deb E McGhee
COMMENTARY 3 by Missy Good
COMMENTARY 4 by Videntur
COMMENTARY 5 by Richard Furman
COMMENTARY 6 by Whitesword
COMMENTARY 7 by Philip Teo
This commentary is by Beth Gaynor.
War isn't just hell. According to Xena, it's a bitch. We get the message in wide-screen, super-scope technicolor, with lots of nasty battles, good people dying and suffering, explosions... the works. And just in case we didn't catch the idea, our buddy Phlanagus gets cuts down in the one moment he looks like he might be forgetting that there's "no glory, no honor" in the monster of battle. Whew!
This episode offers an interesting look at how Xena and Gabrielle's teamwork is changing. In the first fight in the village, things are pretty much like they always have been - Xena takes the front line, Gabrielle gets the innocents to safety (of course, the bard is evermore kick-butt, wacking people into next Tuesday with that staff, and now even knocking spears out of the air). By the end of this episode, there are no innocents to protect, and Gabrielle is leading squadrons while Xena sets plans in motion. They're on more equal footing, offering support to each other now instead of just Gab following Xena's ideas and getting out of the way when things get really nasty. She's neck-deep in the nastiness herself now, too, for better and for worse.
We've seen Xena head-butt plenty of guys before. We've even seen her head-butt guys with helmets before. But the village fight is the first time I remember it being accompanied with a soup-pot metal KLANG! sound. Ouch! The Warrior Princess must have a steel plate in her forehead.
We are in serious need of a Roman scorecard to keep these armies straight. I kept losing track of who was supposed to be a squad of Caesar's, of Pompey's, or of Xena's. (Of course, in Xena's case, that was the plan.) I have no idea how those guys kept from skewering each other when the swords started flying. And did anybody else notice that the Roman tunics look a lot like Gabskirts? Every time they showed legs running by I thought "there goes Gab... no, wait... that's Gab... hold on, they're ALL Gab!"
Pompey got good clues to figure out that Xena was now part of the game - the list of tall Grecian warrior women who can kick half a squad's butts has got to be pretty short. But wow, Caesar has a HECK of a Xena radar - one look at a double-sided standard and he knows Xena's involved? Is everybody else in the Xenaverse that unimaginative that no one else would have come up with it?
Blood innocence theme alert! Gabrielle tells Tamecula that when you kill, "Everything changes... everything", the same line used in Dreamworker and Deliverer. And each time it has marked a major look into the wide-reaching effect that killing someone has. Funny that Tamecula lost his blood innocence in the same way many of us would have guessed that Gabrielle would lose hers. (Although Tam killed the centurion AFTER he had done his damage to Phlanagus; was it a vengeance kill, or was he protecting Gabrielle?)
All of the maelstrom in this episode seems to be surrounding Gabrielle and her growth and changes, but look at how much Xena has changed, too. She decided to serve (or maybe ignore) the greater good by rescuing Phlanagus instead of hearing the rest of Caesar's plan. She shows genuine grief at the funeral of Phlanagus and the other villagers and offers words of condolence to his wife. She takes Gabrielle aside to gently suggest that Gab command the battle and takes her refusal to do so without question or reproach, but leaves the door wide open if Gabrielle spots the problem and moves to solve it, which is exactly what the bard ends up doing. (Ever get the feeling someone knows you TOO well, Gabrielle?) Xena wouldn't have done any of these things a few years (or maybe even one year) ago. She would have sacrificed Phlanagus to foil Caesar's plan, wouldn't have understood Gabrielle's reluctance, and wouldn't have given much thought to who died in order to repel Caesar and Pompey's armies.
Speaking of that command business, Gabrielle offers one piece of advice and suddenly she's in the driver's seat. Guess there's no halfway point. Gabrielle carries a sword when she leads the first charge; THAT was a strange sight. But she quickly throws it aside before they actually start meeting baddies.
This episode probably has the biggest body count we've seen yet, both generally and personally for Xena. Caesar had 15 legions. A Roman legion was 3,000-6,000 soldiers. Total that and assume that Pompey had about as many men, and you end up with somewhere around 135,000 dead. And Xena was slicing through baddies like butter - she ended up with quite a death toll on her personal tote board, too. She even ends up with her sword stuck in somebody's body and pulls out a dagger to keep slicing up bodies. I'm surprised that this wasn't enough to bring Ares out of hiding to dance with glee.
I love the three-way brawl between Xena, Caesar, and Pompey, but you gotta feel a little sorry for Pompey. He's obviously outclassed in that group. Which makes me wonder a bit how he managed to hold his own so long against Caesar. Caesar's brash "Rome has won" line when he realizes the battle is over and the outcome has been decided must have tasted like ashes when they got to the top and realized he was wrong. Rome didn't win - Greece did. No more armies.
This commentary is by Deb E McGhee.
SOUNDBYTE SUMMARY: It was a good day for fighting; it was a good day for crying. Despite a rather slow start and complicated plotting, this episode contained a powerful, if not disturbing, story at its heart. Rating: 3.5 quills (out of 5).
ANALYSIS-REVIEW: What happens when a sheltered and optimistic young bard sets out for adventure with a jaded and confused ex-warlord? What happens when this ex-warlord places all her ideals about the sanctity and power of innocence squarely on the shoulders of the accepting bard, but neither of them have the wherewithal to sustain the arrangement? What happens when you choose to bring about a better world through fighting?
These are the questions asked in XWP, and they are the questions brought into sharp focus in "A Good Day". Every major supporting character is but a reflection of Xena and/or Gabrielle, either as individuals or in relationship, and every one of those characters' stories mirrors aspects of the heroes' journeys. While we look at where X&G are now, we are also reminded through those others of where they've been.
"A Good Day" looks at first to be a standard action episode with a dramatic tone. The teaser opens with the Evil Romans terrorising the Simple Villagers, Xena and Gabrielle burst onto the scene to save the day, and we close the scene with the very standard close-up shot of Xena waxing heroical. Embedded within all that deceptive ordinariness are very important bits of character information. First, Gabrielle's primary goal is to defend the innocent. ROC's dialogue is pointedly looped so that the audience hears her call to the women and children before she even appears onscreen. Second, we get a hint of Xena's modus operandi: bring about peace through war (and also Xena's 3rd rule of survival from Dreamworker). These motives are the thematic focus of the story, but their centrality may be all too easy to miss, placed as they are within the context of clashing weapons and trademark Xena crypticness.
As such, the action slows *way* down in the next scene, and there ensues a very thickly detailed establishing sequence that lasts for a good half of the episode's total time. There is a large problem in execution that bears noting here, for it has implications for the series as a whole. A Good Day is fundamentally a character study, a drama, but the character development is tightly bound to the action sequences. The planning and military strategising is not simply background whose sole purpose is to move the plot forward, but rather contains key pieces of the X&G puzzle.
Unfortunately, the director places much greater emphasis on those scenes which are 'apparently' more about character development than on those only involving the military strategising . For example, the first scene involving Caesar, Julius Caesar in which he lays out his motives and plan is a direct parallel to Xena's dialogue of the very next scene. What *should* stand out in that matched pair is that: (1) Caesar and Xena want to carry out the same action with regard to that village for seemingly opposite reasons, but that (2) Xena executes an operation which she believes to be the "only way" that, on the contrary, has no bearing on the outcome of the conflict. In effect, Xena does Caesar's dirty work for him. At some level, Xena and Caesar are mirror images of one another. However, because both Caesar's and Xena's expositions are rushed through relative to the length of the village burning, what results is the impression of an uneven pace and submersion of critical thematic elements that are tightly woven into the 'war stuff'.
Just as "A Good Day" is a crystallisation of series themes, so too is the awkward juggling of action and character exploration within it a prototypical example of XWP's often shaky balance of these divergent aims.
Nonetheless, there are several important issues which are addressed in this densely-packed narrative. Notice that Xena is focussed and sure of herself even in error. Notice also that Gabrielle is not so sure but acquiesces to the plan in the face of Xena's warrior acumen and her strong will. Xena and Gabrielle both make a Fundamental Error: They fall into the trap of going forward on the basis of insufficient knowledge. Xena has Bad Guys to defeat and Innocents to protect, and she does this by first instructing them to take up a defend and retreat strategy but then is not there at a critical choice point. In fact, even though Xena is not quite certain how to get everyone through this, she implicitly guides Gabrielle and the villagers to take up the role of the aggressor. Needlessly. With Caesar and Pompey off the field, their seconds take up the battle against one another; there was no need for Gabrielle to engage Caesar's forces. However, because Gabrielle knows no other way, she must accept Xena's plan, sketchy though it may be.
If this sounds reminiscent of what unfolds with Temecula, it should. Gabrielle enacts the Xena role with her younger self and enables Temecula to take that first step onto the path of violence. There is no sitting to the side, or protection in providing a supporting role. Violence has its own gravitational field, it would seem, and eventually all who are near it get sucked in. There is also the fact that no one can be everywhere at once and that hesitation and error can lead to grave consequences for those under one's protection.
Hopefully, *all* of this sounds highly reminiscent of the story of X&G.
Phlanagus' partner Nxx (who goes strangely, yet in a sense fittingly in an ironic sort of way, unnamed in the dialogue [and I can't make it out in the credits]) is also established as one of Gabrielle's mirrors: The first season Gabrielle who follows Xena's instructions with only the slightest hesitation. Nxx is the first to light the torch when all of the other villagers are unsure of Xena's legitimacy, and she and Gabrielle commiserate over their partners' vocations. While Phlanagus' wife is naive, but unfailingly loyal and supportive, her 'older and wiser' counterpart silently expresses a grim and perhaps guilty knowledge of the truth, a truth she goes on to make plain with Temecula when she echoes Xena's cautionary words from Dreamworker (killing "changes everything").
Phlanagus is very clearly Xena's parallel: One who wants only to help his family but who, in picking up the sword to bring about this goal, finds himself feeding a "monster" that can never be sated. Phlanagus is the Greek who jumps at the promises of prosperity under Caesar's banner. He says he is no traitor but, like Xena before him, he has become caught up in doing all the wrong things, noble though his original reasons may have been. One can only hope that the Xena-Phlanagus parallel does not have foreshadowing properites.
The least highlighted of the parallels is the one between Pompey and Xena. The conflict between Pompey and Caesar is directed as a straightfoward "petty civil war", but underneath it all Pompey reenacts Xena's longstanding weakness when it comes to Caesar. He persists in trying to bring Caesar to his knees despite the high costs, and in his arrogance believes that he is somehow 'above' Caesar. Pompey is no more above Caesar than Xena was in When in Rome or than she is here in A Good Day.
What is more disturbing than the fact that Xena doesn't see this, is that the creators of this series may not see it either. That is, it remains unclear whether Xena's continuing strategy of trying to beat Caesar at his own game is a pointed critique of Xena's character or is seen as a valid example of Xena's heroism. The creators may be cognizant of these issues, but because Xena is the protagonist, because there is no strong counterpoint to her methods, and because stories like When in Rome and A Good Day are so heavily slanted toward the overall success of Xena's actions, any fault in her worldview is muted. At the end of the day, we are left with the message that "war is a b*tch" and that we just have to accept that "there must be a reason" or a "greater good" underneath all the horror.
On the other hand, there are indications that Xena *is* being critiqued. The greatest example of this is the double standard that Xena erects to fool Pompey's and Caesar's forces. That banner is not just a prop: It has an important symbolic function. Xena's entire greater good philosophy can be condensed into one line from The Reckoning: "I'm fighting for a better world." Although that sounds grandly noble, what she is in effect saying is that she has the sense and the privilege to draw blood more 'rightly' than do others. She looks down her nose at Phlanagus and makes no concession that she once erred in the same way that he did. She preaches about the virtues of blood innocence yet has few qualms about capitalising on its loss: In both Rome and in this ep, Gabrielle is directed to proceed with a plan that may put more blood on her hands, chastised when she balks, and manipulated into going forward when all else fails.
One of the most heart-breaking scenes is the one in which Phlanagus concedes command, by direction of Xena, to Gabrielle. The expressions on the faces of Gabrielle and her younger self, Temecula, speak of shock, pain, confusion, and chagrin. True to her loyalty to Xena and to the greater good, Gabrielle takes on the mantle of leadership, but true to *herself* Gabrielle thrusts her sword away at the earliest opportunity and weeps openly when one under her command dies. Gabrielle's pain and rage are never more powerful than when contrasted with the emptiness in her voice when she tells Xena of their battlefield success. That battlefield sequence is superbly written, exquisitely directed, and beautifully acted (the young man who played Temecula was quite good in this ep, as was Renee -- but from the battlefield on, ROC knocked my socks off). I cry each time I watch it.
Finally, although Phlanagus' wife thanks Xena, her gratitude stands in sharp contrast to the more worldly Gabrielle's wary consideration of Xena's words. Gabrielle doesn't seem to be buying it anymore; she knows she must say something to Temecula and we know that she'll probably succeed in bringing him some solace, but the conviction of earlier days is lacking. Moreover, in a tableau so rare as to be striking when it occurs, Xena and Gabrielle are not standing together at the end of this episode. Despite a bit of rushing in her delivery and some forcedness in her expressions of remorse, LL comes through in her portrayal of Xena's uncertainty (as she acknowledges that she has reached her limits as a mentor) and the twinge of guilt when Gabrielle repeats the empty "It was a good day of fighting" back to her. Then the camera shifts to the image of Gabrielle walking away from Xena to provide counsel of her own.
(As an aside, the cutaway to Pompey and Caesar battling it out even after the battle is over was rather jarring. On the other hand, it served its purpose in highlighting the impotency, hypocrisy, and amorality of these two politicos. And there's something about the fact that Gabrielle is cutoff in favour of Caesar and that Caesar's "setback" is caused by gross over-indulgence and extravagance that strikes a chord deep in my cynical, irreverent brain.)
If Season 3 was a period of deconstruction and 're-setting' of the characters, Season 4 appears to be one in which Gabrielle and Xena are starting anew -- shifted over several paces directly parallel to (or perhaps 180 degrees opposite of) their original starting points. At the end of A Good Day, Gabrielle is no longer so optimistic, Xena no longer has her brightly-shining beacon, neither have any clearer answers about how to break out of the cycle of violence yet still bring about a better world, and fighting remains the horror that it is no matter whose side you're on.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven... a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.
Live in harmony with one another... do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
This commentary is by Missy Good.
What I wrote in the synopsis above can't do justice to the ending part of this episode. People can like The Debt, and The Price, and Bitter Suite, and whatever, but for me, this brought home all the intensity, and the gut ripping emotion the series is capable of.
This, for me, right now, was the very best Xena, Warrior Princess episode ever.
Xena is wonderful here: focused and driven, and outsmarting Caesar at every turn. Fighting like nothing on earth, but when she does dig her way out from under all the bodies, the first thing she does is find Gabrielle, and comfort her. No platitudes, no 'you'll feel better in the morninh' just a hug.
When she really needed Gabrielle to lead those villagers, but the bard said no - not a word of protest, not a word of argument, just okay. I'll find another way. But she made sure to cover all her bases, and let Phlanagus know that if Gabrielle did decide to intervene, to let her. To trust her, as Xena trusts her, which is completely. Not only in her heart, but in her judgment - this is Xena depending on Gabrielle to read and react to a military situation, confident that she can come through.
And she does. Gabrielle comes to that choice to kill, or not to kill, and she chooses not to kill, and because of that, Phlanagus dies. And because of her choice, the doe-eye boy takes a life. Xena tells her, "I can tell you it was for the greater good, but with that knowledge in your heart, and that weight on your shoulders, there's nothing I can say that will take that away." What a horrible thing for Gabrielle to bear, and Xena knows this. She realizes it.
This commentary is by Videntur.
If someone were to ask: Why do you look at Xena, Warrior Princess? I would instruct them to watch this episode - it says it all. This was not only a Good Day - it was a Good Episode addressing many issues.
Arrogance - Caesar and Pompey displayed arrogance in their every word and movement. Arrogance was displayed when both parties went after the useless hill - both knew it was useless but as Pompey states: "Caesar wants that hill - I want that hill." When the soldier brought Phlanagus in to be killed, Caesar stated: "...and you bother me with this - execute him." Last but not least when Caesar again assumes he has the upper hand on Xena he states: "That's what I admire about you Xena, even when you've lost you just can't allow someone else the satisfaction of knowing it." In the end, the arrogance of both Caesar and Pompey led to their defeat and predictability. Look how Gabrielle knew that Caesar was too arrogant to retreat. One should wonder: Does arrogance make you predictable?
Prejudice - This issue was addressed in the Roman soldiers feelings regarding the Greeks. When Phlanagus tried in the beginning to stop the killing of the villagers and stated to the Roman soldier that he outranked him - the Roman soldier replied: "No Greek outranks me." Even Xena admitted that her first opinion of Phlanagus was prejudiced by his outward appearance (the Roman uniform). Xena also warned Phlanagus of this prejudice when they went into the Roman camp when she stated: "The regular soldiers won't bother you, but avoid the officers." Gabrielle shows prejudice by her assumption that youth means inability to fight or come through in a war. The young boy shows that not only can he shoot an arrow but he came through when Phlanagus was killed even when Gabrielle could not.
Maturity, Friendship and Trust - These terms are synonymous with the relationship of Xena and Gabrielle. The neatest thing about this episode is that we received back the Xena we have grown to know and love. You could feel Xena's hurt when she asked the villagers to burn their village and you knew Gabrielle had grown when as the village was burning she asked Xena: "Are you sure about this?" No longer did Gabrielle just follow blindly but now she inquires; however, you could see that both women trusted each other implicitly. When Xena replied yes to Gabrielle's question, that was it - Gabrielle did not question any further. When the young boy asked Gabrielle if Phlanagus was safe, Gabrielle replied: "Yes - he's with Xena." In this one statement we can see that Gabrielle equates safeness with being in the presence of Xena. When Gabrielle told Xena she could not lead the men to death, Xena did not question Gabrielle, but accepted her answer and instructed Phlanagus to trust Gabrielle as she trusted Gabrielle - and Gabrielle did come through for Xena by leading the men into war. This was growth on the part of Gabrielle for this was totally against her nature but again we see that Gabrielle's love for Xena is strong enough to go against her own nature of not wanting to lead men into battle. We saw this type of devotion before in the episode of "When in Rome..." in which Gabrielle's helping of Xena led to the death of Crassus, even though leading someone to their death was not in Gabrielle's nature. In "A Good Day", when Gabrielle refused to kill the soldier that ended up cutting short the life of Phlanagus, Xena did not criticize but kissed and held Gabrielle. At the funeral fire for the dead, Xena tried to comfort Gabrielle but never in any of her words did Xena criticize Gabrielle for her actions. More and more we notice that Gabrielle is adopting Xena's words of wisdom as her own when she states she will tell the young man about the greater good and looks at Xena and reiterates her words by also stating: "It was a good day of fighting."
This episode was great. Xena's fighting moves were cool, especially in the beginning when she entered the town and throughout the rest of the episode. Gabrielle has become a fighting machine with her staff (the scene where she caught the spear with her staff in mid-air was good). Xena looked great in Roman dress and we had our wise, b*tt-kicking, warrior princess back mixed in with lessons of morality and honor. Most of all, we had the pleasure of seeing that the strength and love of the friendship between the warrior and the bard had grown. After watching this episode it was indeed: "A Good Day."
This commentary is by Richard Furman.
I believe Temecula's kill was vengeance. Temecula regarded Phlanagus like a father. His arrow came long before the killer could have posed a danger to Gabrielle, and had the killer gotten within sword range of Gabrielle, her staff would have been his death.
Which raises another question about this most crucial scene of the episode. Why did the soldier live long enough to kill Phlanagus? Was it because Gabby chose not to kill? I don't think so. I believe that when Gabrielle picked up the javelin, she had every intention of killing to preserve Phlanagus. But when she picked it up, it looked awkward in her hand. When she let it go her follow through was non existent. And it landed in a Hay bale. No surprise there, Gabrielle has no experience with throwing weapons. It was a desperate attempt to save Phlanagus and it didn't work. I get the distinct feeling that in addition to the stress of killing most of 3 Armies, Gabrielle is blaming herself for Phlanagus' death.
Another question in my mind is why was Gabrielle leading this army? She told Xena she didn't want to. When she went to Phlanagus to give counsel, he essentially said to her: "You're in command." Gabrielle seemed aghast at this, and I cannot help wondering if Xena told Phlanagus to give Gabrielle command if she showed even a slight flicker of interest. Xena wanted Gabrielle leading this Army. Gabrielle does a fine job, from second guessing Caesar to laying waste two armies. But she does not relish it. Xena leading an army clearly relishes it, her eyes flash, she war whoops and appears to have a great deal of fun. Gabrielle, however, approaches it with all the relish of of someone about to unclog a toilet; it is a necessary but distasteful chore.
This is an interesting episode on the XENA front too. Not once, but twice she drops what she's doing and abandons her post for personal allegiances, first missing important intelligence to save Phlanagus, second, to warn Gabrielle about something Gabrielle had ALREADY FIGURED OUT. What happened to all that high talk on the hilltop where Xena tells Gabrielle how much she trusts her, even to figure out what Caesar's undisclosed plan? It is interesting to note, however, that once she left Caesar and Pompey, her actions are peripheral to Gabrielle's work and she is essentially a fighter in Gabrielle's army, slicing through any soldier between herself and Gabrielle. Xena's presence on the battlefield made little difference to the outcome. Gabrielle did what she had to do, did it satisfactorily, and did it without Xena's help.
This commentary is by Whitesword.
"A Good Day" is to Season 4 what "One Against An Army" was to Season 3, only more so. More so in every way, shape and form. There has been much written about this episode in the fannish media, but the uncomfortable fact seems to be that the objection, the hysteria and the sheer obsession has been over Gabrielle's blood innocence, and the pivotal scene toward the end.
This is very sad, and though everyone has a right to their opinion, I also have the right to be angry with the restricted, constipated outlook that takes for granted the rest of the episode and fixates upon a single aspect -- an aspect which is getting real old. If you have a problem with this, if your "world view" revolves around pacifism on an untainted pedestal, then you may prefer to stop reading at this point, because there is much more to consider than that.
"A Good Day" is, in my opinion, one of the finest episodes they have ever produced, equal in impact and emotional involvement to most of my favorites from Seasons 1 and 2, and indeed to OAAA. Everyone gave 110% in their performances, from the leads right down to the extras in the crowd scenes. Even Karl Urban was convincing for once, and that's saying something.
Much has been said about Lucy's performance being below par in Season 4, but if this is the case I couldn't see it. I'm seeing the Xena of old again, with the feeling, the subtlety, the strength and the conviction. I didn't ask for more than this two years ago, it would be hypocrisy to expect more now. And Renee's performance has never wavered, no matter the poor material she has been given, or the objectionable themes of Season 3, she is as fine now as at any previous time.
The Teaser was a tight and very dramatic sequence, but I was rather let down that they would resort to a chakram trick and Xena flying into the scene, as these fantastical elements have always, I feel, diminished, trivialized, the drama that the artists have worked so hard to engender. That's a personal bias, however, and after this point they basically held off on way-out stunts, holding it to fight gymnastics in Act Three. The opening fight was hard and rough, and looked the part, and was only betrayed by the TV necessity of everybody getting up and walking away from it like nothing happened, but that's television and you can overlook the nonsense if you try.
The episode was trimmed for Australia, there was only one continuity break, falling in the final battle, but the show as a whole looked about eighty seconds short. That's long enough for the censor to have removed a whole scene for extra commercial time, rather than piecemeal fight footage which would perhaps have left a more visible footprint. Some things were unremoveable, such as Xena breaking the neck of the legionary about to behead Flanicus. That was sharp, fast, entirely realistic, and that's what I prefer to see.
The historical perspective is that Greece fought the Romans for the last time in 164BC, and in 146BC became a province under a Roman Governor. This was catered to quite well by the hoplites being conscripted mercenaries, as may well have been the case, and leaving the story free to happen some time around 50BC. I've not come across mention to date of Caesar and Pompey doing battle in Greece, but the odd thing is that this time I'm not concerned, I'm really not bothered by the historical skewing, by timeline problems or any other assumptions needed to get to the story synthesis.
Why? I've been notoriously steadfast on the need for an accurate historical component, but this time the history is acceptably "straight" and the program delivers in so many other ways that it makes one seem frankly ungrateful for taking such a stand.
This episode delivers. Joe Loduca's score is always good but this one was remarkable. At one point -- as Xena's troops plant Caesar's banner on the decoy hill -- he borrowed cadences, as he is apt to, from Basil Poledouris' score for Conan The Barbarian, but that's okay -- it's in the genre and a homage to a master. His themes were powerful, energetic, bounding, from the insistent drum motifs to his genius-stroke of scoring in the pipes behind the height of the battle. Bagpipes were played in Ancient Greece, in Thrace and elsewhere in Asia Minor in the First Millennium BC, so the sound is totally appropriate, and behind the slow motion, the flames and the fury, they engendered feelings of drama, involvement, heroism and almost indescribable pride in the courage of these warriors, and of a certain young bard. Indeed, the final battle had a distinct flavor of "Braveheart." Please don't whine about "homages," my patience is down to a razor's edge on that subject.
From the beginning, "A Good Day" reached off the screen and grabbed the viewer by the feelings. It was about raw things, like need and freedom and survival. And it was about sheer courage. We see many kinds of courage in the face of monstrous adversity, from Temecula volunteering -- giving away his innocence -- to Gabrielle taking on a role she believed was impossible for her. And Xena requiring a scorched-earth policy from the villagers, the courage of Flanicus' wife to be the first to burn her home, giving strength to those who hesitated. In this sequence Lucy/Xena was her old self, the expressions she conveyed, knowing the difficulty of what she imposed. The slow motion shots of the burning village, with the magnificent score and Xena superimposed over the flames, were out of the ordinary, they were an emotional jab in the gut. The look in her eyes of regret, of horror that she had had to make people do this terrible thing, destroy their home and kill their stock -- that in a darker age she used to do to them herself with such glee -underscores everything she said to Palamon so long ago. Her memories are not pleasing to her, and she is driven in this by far more than her mutual antagonism with Caesar.
The cinematography was breathtaking, the editing and shot composition, use of CGI composites to enlarge the armies... Nowhere was there stock footage from Roman epics of yesteryear, they put a couple of hundred extras in costume and filmed them to full, dramatic effect against angry skies and fire. This was an expensive episode, they would have had to skim off budget from other episodes to meet the requirements, I'd be guessing two million dollars. They didn't skimp anything anywhere, and it shows. From difficult shots of large groups of extras in vein-bursting effort, to dramatic angles on the firing ballistae, pyrotechnics as the incendiary-shot came down, to unrelenting running, riding, fighting, jumping... The night-time CGI shot of the campfires of the legions stretching to the horizon, the low angle as Temecula releases the burning signal arrow into a stormy sky... From simple to complex, such shots don't happen by themselves.
And despite the massive input from the effects and stunt departments, the episode worked primarily as a triangular friction between Caesar, Xena and Pompey, secondarily as an alliance between Xena, Gabrielle and the villagers, personified by Flanicus, and finally as the personal travail of Xena and Gabs getting through everything the situation would throw at them. This latter is, perhaps predictably, the only one the most vocal viewers are interested in, and I guess that's fair, if not so to everyone involved at each level.
Some thoughts on Caesar first: Karl Urban had actually woken up and started acting, this was easily his best performance as Caesar, he even seemed shocked when he and Pompey escaped the cave and saw the dead, stretching as far as the eye could see... Though not shocked beyond control, Caesar had indirectly slaughtered a million people in the previous eight years or so. And this is an unexpectedly avant garde move: Caesar, far from being "the noblest Roman of them all" as conventional history has remembered him, far from being the politician and the strategist he is usually deemed, is depicted as a warrior and as a ruthless butcher intent only on personal glory. Here, he is no more noble than the lowest warlord or bandit, and his conquests are merely the attrocities of a psychopath scaled up to the magnitude of whole nations. Never before has Caesar been portrayed thus, and there could be more than a grain of truth in it, reading between the tight-packed lines of history.
So, how did Xena and Gabrielle handle this bloodbath? Xena was not the posturing demon she was in "When in Rome," she was collected, focused and very much in control. Lucy's performance was tight, there was no hair-tossing or rolling of the eyes, just visceral feeling that came right off the screen.
But Gabrielle has always been the focus of debate, and many came to the conclusion that she "wimped out" and deliberately missed the spear-throw, ie. placed her own revulsion for killing above saving Flanicus' life, as evidenced by her confessional "I could have saved him," line in the Tag. This is one reading ... but take the sequence as a whole:
Gabrielle, working with the wounded in her accepted role of healer, realized the fall-back was the feint Xena had expected, and through circumstances found herself leading the volunteers back into the battle. She rose to this task, she strapped on harness and helmet and did it. She laid waste with her staff in the midst of "the real thing" ... and this is not the act of a coward, or of one with shaky convictions. As the battle reached its height we saw her abruptly realize where she was, her human revulsion at the whole horror of war surged to the fore as she dropped into slow motion and hell boiled around her.
In this moment of stretched time Flanicus goes down and she acts against the prompting of her conscience, takes up a spear, casts ... misses, and Flanicus is killed, whereupon Temecula loses his own blood innocence by taking out the killing party a moment later. Did she miss deliberately? I doubt it, I really do doubt it. Sweaty hands can throw off your aim, bad footing likewise, a rush of adrenaline that leaves you dizzy, exhaustion robs muscles of strength. A thousand things can conspire to make you miss the target, irrespective of whether it truly, genuinely matters that you be accurate, or of what your intentions may have been. Did she miss the shot unconsciously, her deep-seated imperatives robbing her aim so that her soul would remain clean(er), though the price would be a life and another's innocence? Perhaps. But by the pyres the grief we see in her is real. We would need to infer that the grief is self-pity, rather than for losing Flanicus, and that would be, I think, a grave disservice to Gabrielle.
We are left with the conclusion that she missed. Just that. She missed. After all, she has never thrown a spear with lethal intent before, and it takes practice. And besides, if the producers had committed the sin of having her take a life in battle they'd never have heard the end of it, would they? They're damned if they do, she's damned if they don't. But no-win situations happen, and she tried, tried with all her might, and none can ask more than that.
Some say that such a scene is a manipulation to denigrate pacifism. Many say many things, but the reality is that such situations do occur, and how we deal with them in that split second is all that matters.
Xena's desperation to find Gabrielle as she raged through the battlefield held me rapt with the kind of very human delight I've not felt for a long time. This was the commitment we asked to see, and they have not fallen short. The fear in her face as she screamed for her friend, all the while slashing and tearing through the Romans, was remarkable, this was Xena losing control for one reason only, the eviscerating terror that she was going to lose Gabrielle -- in a plan of her own making. Lucy put everything she had into it, she dominated the screen with her absolute effort, the slow-motion grace of the do-jiri, the Kenjutsu masterstroke in which she reverses the sword and drives it through a target behind her... 'Breathtaking' is almost a platitude.
And Renee had the tears in my eyes as she let go her anguish, shaking Flanicus' body in her helplessness to change the situation. War is indeed as he had said, in that letter to his wife, "no glory, no honor, just a monster that needs feeding." Graegus, perhaps, one can almost sense Ares, or Mars in his incarnation for the Romans, standing outside of space and time, and feeding on the hate, the agony of the fallen, roaring with terrible laughter as his mortal puppets dance to his whims... Through it all, Xena and Gabrielle move like disembodied shadows, neither willing nor obedient, yet still caught inextricably in the warp and weave of the encompassing tapestry of events.
Xena sang her lament for the dead over the pyres on the lakeshore, and there was more feeling here than I would ever have credited. These people were still giving it everything they had, right up to the last visible second of the story. Lucy and Renee are so very, very good. But the writers seemed to miss one little thing -- or they had not anticipated it being necessary as a result of the force of Lucy's performance. Though Xena was trying to salve Gabs' agony, the situation was one-sided and Xena was doing all the giving. Gabrielle was so chewed up inside, so consumed with her own grief that she didn't notice that Xena was hurting terribly and needed comforting as well. No doubt Xena was empathizing with the villagers, reliving the innumerable times she had visited such suffering on others, and was regretting the necessity of bringing the monster to life. Gabrielle seemed to focus her responsibility on the boy, and almost took Xena for granted. She's strong, but even the strongest are human, and there was a subtle sadness in Xena as she failed to receive a word or touch of comfort, though there was that one look ... and in the last shot as she stepped aside above the pyres it seemed she was literally hewn from granite, strength incarnate, for in that moment there was no one there for her. She is strong or she is nothing, and as a survivor, she chooses to be strong.
This is the Xena I have always known. She isn't dead, she was just sleeping for a while, and I'm so very happy to have her back, even for just a few episodes. And Gabrielle has nothing to regret in her actions, nothing whatever. She is as dear to me as at any moment since she first appeared in my life.
Some have spoken against the level of violence, and that's personal taste. This was a sanitized depiction of battle, and the producers tried very, very hard to get it right. These were swordfights, not martial arts sequences with swords added in, they were face to face combat, not torture or pillage. They were infantry battles in the midst of a genuinely complicated story, and with the exception of the Teaser they were realistic in as far as television can be. I have no problem with this whatever, and to those that have, I can only suggest that perhaps it's time they considered foregoing episodes which are clearly going to be physically intense. And yet, to do so would in this case have been at a considerable price.
I watched "A Good Day" a second time before writing this review. There was so much in it I could not have remembered it all, nor done justice to it, and to me it will always rank as one of the handful of episodes that stand out as the best, my personal favourites. "Sins of the Past," "Hooves and Harlots," "The Greater Good," "ITADITH," "Remember Nothing," "The Quest," "One Against an Army" ... and "A Good Day."
I look forward keenly to the release of the library teapes, so that I can see the original, full-length version, minus the messy commercial throws, and the inexplicable necessity of our local channel to crawl a message, "we appologize that closed captioning is unavailable for this program" across the foot of the screen, during the most dramatic and feeling-charged moments of Act Four and the Tag, as if they were deliberately interupting the flow to reduce the impact of the material. This is the kind of messing around the product can do without. And so can I.
This commentary is by Philip Teo.
This was a very nice episode, with all the fantastic fight scenes and teleplay. In the beginning, the Roman guards certainly showed no respect for Phlanagus. What would have happened if Xena never showed up in time?
Gabrielle was fighting very well in this scene, she could even deflect the spear directed at her. Great going, girl! As for Xena, she was in tiptop condition as usual. After last week's comedy episode, it was nice to see our warrior princess back into action. However, is her head made of metal or something? She could use her head and bang it with the helmet the guards were wearing. Xena never even felt dazed after the impact. Guess she's not really mortal after all?
When Gabrielle was recruiting men to help Xena, the young boy, Temecula, she seemed to sense straight away that Temecula was not fit to participate in war. Why couldn't Temecula be one of the guys who just looked younger than his age? Gabrielle certainly was impressed with Temecula's archery skills. You could tell she was speechless, though she mumbled, "That will do."
Was it really necessary that Xena asked the villagers to raze their villages? I know this will prevent any of the Roman army to gather any extra resources, but why couldn't the villagers just pack some of their valuables and head for the caves and then burn the village down?
It was a nice but simple trick that Xena used to fool both Caesar and Pompey into attacking each other. But I noticed that Caesar barely fought in the battle and went straight for the flag, and no one seemed to dare to attack him. Why is this so?
When Xena and Phlanagus sneaked into Caesar's camp and Xena made that hole in the tent, I was just wondering. If it was enough for Xena to peek in, wasn't it also obvious for Caesar to sense that someone is spying too? And why did Phlanagus get captured? He was after working for Caesar, and like Xena said, the regular soldiers wouldn't bother him.
When Xena confided in Gabrielle Caesar's plans and that she needed her help into leading the villagers into battle, Gabrielle turned her straight down. What was this about her goal in life? Going into battle doesn't necessarily meant leading the men to their deaths! In their context, it should be called, fighting for the greater good!
When Xena confronted Pompey in the woods and Caesar "exposed" them, I wanted to slap Caesar on the face. He was acting so conceited, as though he knew for sure he outwitted the warrior princess. I just loved it when Xena delivered back the line and showed him who was the one who outwitted who!
Was Xena planning on falling down together with Caesar and Pompey? There was a look of surprise on Xena's face as she fell, making this a little confusing.
It was a little amusing when Gabrielle led the people into battle. Here, everyone was using shields and swords, spears and Gabrielle was using a staff to battle the guards? It was amazing that Gabrielle never got hit once. I know that individually, none of the guards were a match for Gabrielle, but surely numbers count? Wouldn't one of the guards whack Gabrielle from behind?
If Xena could escape from the cave in so easily, when didn't Caesar and Pompey go after her instead of wasting time fighting each other? Were they as dumb as they looked?
There was a period of time when Gabrielle stopped fighting and stared at the scene before her. The moment was beautiful, but how come none of the guards attacked her? It was like as though the guards knew; this was Gabrielle filming, the star of the show, and they all have to keep on fighting as part of the background. And Temecula was sitting down beside some cart, as though dead. Was he pretending to be dead or what? How come he was not attacked?
I thought that Phlanagus was being foolish. Why must he do that stupid gesture and ignore his back? Phlanagus was knocked off his feet, so why then couldn't he get back on his feet? Even when he lost his sword, he just sat there like a helpless animal, waiting to be killed. He was a warrior, for goodness sake, he could have at least do something to defend himself!
Gabrielle was certainly in a very difficult position. Here, she was about to witness the death of a warrior, and she had the chance to save him, but her own code in life prevented her from doing so, and this resulted in Phlanagus being killed. But was this really her fault?
But I thought it was rather satisfying to see Temecula shoot Phlanagus's killer. This showed that good guys don't always finish last. Justice would be served one way or another. And like Xena said, everything happens for a reason. So, maybe Phlanagus was fated to die one way or another.
Xena did her best to comfort Gabrielle after it was all over. But I thought that Gabrielle was still, at the point of time, engulfed with grief that though, on the surface, she agreed with what Xena said, I felt that she was still feeling remorseful over what happened. This was a great episode, kept me on the edge of my seat!
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