COMMENTARY 1 BY Beth the Gaynor
COMMENTARY 2 BY Beboman
COMMENTARY 3 BY Josh Harrison
This commentary is by Beth Gaynor.
Wow, give it up for the ex-goddess of love: Aphrodite is the central pivot on which this whole episode turns. Caligula wants to steal her godhood. Ares wants to protect her. Gabrielle also wants to save her friend. Xena is more worried about Eve, but will save some concern for Aphrodite, too. And Aphrodite accomplishes all this while sitting stoned as a skunk through most of the episode, barely managing to stand. Gabrielle makes much of the fact that she now officially considers the goddess of love her friend. It doesn't seem to make much of an impression on the strung-out surfer babe, but that's quite a kiss Aphrodite tries to lay on Gab. It's probably a good thing that Caligula found them, who just gives a bunch of vague threats, instead of Xena, who probably would have chakramed Aphrodite's spaced-out head to the wall.
Other than to continue the Christian parallels, why does Caligula call the followers of Eli "Elijians"? His name's not Elijah.
Speaking of Christian parallels, Eve's line about giving unto Caesar that which is Caesar's is Mark 12:17. But we all better make a pact not to let the Religious Right know that the Archangel Michael is turning into a bad guy on the show. The last thing we need is a boycott organization before the show gets to finish up.
Xena's "Saba" costume is pretty cool, especially those overhead shots of her with the mask that were so nice, the director had to give them to us twice. Her mini-costume is pretty zippy, too, especially with the unveiling that Gabrielle gives it. Gab doesn't get as spiffy of costumes this time, but she makes up for it with some extended nekkid-in-the-tub shots.
So what the heck IS Caligula? Where did he get this succubus power to drain gods dry? What's with the voices in his head? (At first I thought Hera was toying with his brain until I remembered that she's long gone.) And why does he need to slowly steal godhood; is there a limit on how much he can take at a time? We never get a good explanation of what he is and how he got there.
And as long as we're on the subject of Caligula's character... I saw a posing, fey, powerdrunk homicidal madman. And a pretty pathetic fellow. He's supposed to be a sex maniac, but he never gets beyond groping a couple of folks (I'm being gender-neutral since I lost track of the arms and legs) providing him entertainment at the bacchanalia. He even says he "can't" join Xena, Gab, and Ares in their show. Why on earth not? Methinks he's all talk and no show. Lots of preening, but lots of chicken flinches every time something happens. Most of the episode, he just made me think of a bad Doctor Franknfurter impersonator in search of the next Rocky Horror showing.
I liked the plot touch that said that the Goddess of Love would be out of balance without a God of War. Including the fact that Aphrodite, once she lost her godhood, was perfectly sound and sane again, since she was no longer out of balance. Interesting idea.
Lately, Xena and Gabrielle are breaking into vaudeville shows every time they want to stall. Gabrielle's performance was... well, weird. I'm not sure what holding some fireballs and walking on some convenient tabletops was supposed to do, but it sure caught Aphrodite's attention. Xena's attempt at a show is much more direct, and wow, it sure makes Caligula forget what it was he just ordered her to do. Her "show" was a bit of a reach, but her lip bite to let Caligula know she could get him was a VERY nifty touch.
Eve, Eve, Eve. Writers, writers, writers. If I've said it once, I've said it a dozen times: turning good/devoted/religious does not mean that you've turned idiotic. Eve, the former military commander of Rome, should know that a war of words or ideas can be waged just like a war of weapons, and should have been trying to accomplish a heck of a lot more than throwing herself in front of the sword, crouching in a cave, and being suckered out as XenaBait. Eve must not have inherited Mom's strategy mind, no matter how well she did as a military commander. Made me doubly glad when Xena clocked her.
Michael is none too bright; he pursues his goal with such blind drive that he doesn't notice when he's destroyed his own mission. He sends Xena to kill Caligula. Then he draws out Eve for Caligula to capture, I suppose to encourage Xena to step up the assassination attempts. Then he tries to kill Aphrodite to keep her from preventing Xena from killing Caligula. Then when Xena gets a little upset about all this, he/Eli/their God takes away Xena's god-killing power... and all the work that Michael has done has been for naught. And he disappears with an evil laugh, as if he hasn't even noticed that his whole plan for Caligula is now shot to hell, pardon the pun.
Nifty twitching wing effect when Michael had the pinch on him, although he violated a couple of neck-pinch rules when he was able to tread water and shake hair out of his face. Xena was about to kill an archangel with her bare hands... now THAT'S a cheesed-off warrior princess. Advice to all comers: don't mess with Xena's daughter and "girlfriends."
Excellent writing in the scene when Xena convinces Caligula to kill himself. That was a vicious, nasty piece of work; totally necessary, but no wonder Xena feels dirty when it's all done. But with that said, there are two exceptions to the great lines. One was the "do you feel lucky" shtick - that SO didn't belong in this scene. The second was Xena's "the only person in Rome who could kill Caligula was Caligula" line. As if we needed that explained to us?
Line of the episode goes to Ares for his much-expected "Welcome to my nightmare." Loved Aphrodite's annoyance at not being able to zap anything. She even looks a little less polished than normal, without her godliness to shine up her 'do.
Xena's whole sell to Caligula of herself as "the Celtic goddess of sex" was pretty cool, but she really outdid herself when she waved her arms to get Caligula's own guards to let her walk out of the room. Oh, that was SO cool.
This commentary is by Beboman.
This was an interesting episode on various levels. I will try to take a look at it that way.
To begin, it was interesting the way Aphrodite was stripped of her Godhood and immortality. It does seem interesting that, as far as I can determine, of the entire main Olympian Gods, only Ares and Aphrodite were left alive. Both of these people had close relationships with Xena and Gabrielle. Ares gave his immortality to save Xena and, in doing so, he saved Gabrielle and d Eve. On the other hand, Aphrodite left the battle area and, in doing so, she was spared, so she was able to walk away with her powers and her life.
Now, my question is when and where did she hook up with Caligula and how was Caligula able to suck out her immortality. I know Ares said he was a parasite, but I got lost in that entire concept.
Then we move along to the Archangel Michael, who has gradually shown his true colors and is really no angel.
I believe that from day one when he and Xena crossed paths, he has been manipulating Xena's and Gabrielle's lives (well, mainly Xena's). But this is much more evident in "Hearts of Darkness", when he manipulates Lucifer (who needed very little manipulation) to go face Xena and try to send her to Hell. Then to send the point home, he forces a fight between himself and Xena, knowing very well what the outcome was going to be. With this action, he got Lucifer to hell, got rid of a possible rival, and kept Xena alive to kill other Gods who got in the way.
So, Michael knew that by putting Eve in harms way, it would be a great way to get Xena interested in getting rid of Caligula. Once again Michael used Eve and Xena to do his dirty work. But one thing Michael did not take in consideration was that Xena can be pushed only so much before she turns on her attacker. Her attacker in this case was Michael, when he tried to kill her "girlfriends". Michael finally got a good dose of the Warrior Princess. Although he got the last laugh, he came very close to losing it all.
During that scene at the bath, I just loved Gabrielle's reactions at the beginning of the fight. It was as if she was encouraging Xena, then she changed her mind when Xena put the pinch on Michael.
So, after this fight Xena finally loses her powers to kill Gods (something that was long due) and she has to come up with another way to kill Caligula.
As we move down the list of characters, we come to Eve. I have to say it was about time that she got some backbone. I liked it when she stood up to Xena. Eve was right in saying it was her life and her decision and Xena had no right to steamroll over her decision. Xena has always known that Eve was Eli's messenger and that she would face a lifetime of perils. Since birth, people have been trying to kill her, so nothing has changed there. In addition to being Eli's messenger, Eve was also Livia, the Murdering B***from Rome, and that by being Livia, she definitely has a price on her head. Xena has to realize that and start taking her daughter's decisions a bit more serious.
Then there is Caligula, who is just crazier than all get out. He has developed a way to suck the spirit out of Aphrodite and by doing so, he has robbed her of her immortality and her Godhood. How he accomplished that we still don't know, but he was able to become a God. That is what was important to all parties involved.
Then there is Xena. In this episode, Michael, who is using Eve as an emotional weapon over Xena to force her to kill Caligula, corners her. Then there is Aphrodite, who has been Gabrielle's friend.
There was Eve, who was trying to do what she was meant to do, but as a mother Xena could not and did not want to let her daughter die at the hands of Caligula. Maybe because of her sense of guilt about not being able to raise Eve the way she wanted or an exaggerated sense of motherhood, Xena is not allowing Eve to be who she was meant to be. I would like to say that Xena has some really big stones. After knocking her daughter out in front of Caligula, she asks for Eve's help to set Caligula up for his downfall.
Then there is Gabrielle, whose role in this episode is to help Xena accomplish what she was suppose to do and keep both Eve and Aphrodite as safe as possible. Tough job and the Bard tried as hard as she could.
So, these were the players and the game began. In the end, Xena lost her powers to kill Gods, Aphrodite lost her Godhood and immortality, Eve got a shiner thanks to her mother, and Caligula lost his life.
Xena's plan worked because she, Gabrielle and Eve worked together to make the plan work. Once Xena knew she could not kill Gods, she had to orchestrate a new plan where she did not physically have to kill Caligula. She arranged to put him in the path of his own demise and the plan worked. In the end, Caligula killed himself, because only a God can kill a God. Not bad for a day's work.
At this time I would like to take a side bar to say: boy, has Gabrielle's dancing come a long way from its beginnings in "Hooves and Harlots" when the Amazons were trying to teach her to dance. The dance sequence in this episode was so sexual and provocative, I would say it even had a bit of animalistic sensuality in it. I really enjoyed it
The chariot race in this episode was excellent and brought back memories of the chariot race between Xena and Callisto. The only thing I found a bit predictable in this race was when we saw the ramp on the side just as Caligula's chariot was approaching the finishing line. Definitely an accident scene was soon to approach. Then suddenly, surprise, Caligula's chariot hits the ramp and down he goes. But this chariot race definitely proves once again how proficient Xena is in a great many things. Her knowledge definitely encompasses many skills.
The acting by all was very good; there were some good lines, especially "Do you feel lucky?" Where have I heard that before?
Without a doubt, I absolutely enjoyed this show. The pace of the show was rapid and kept us interested all the time. There was something for everyone, some good action scenes, some good bonding scenes between Gabrielle and Xena, and even a little comedy, thanks to Ares and Aphrodite.
This commentary is by Josh Harrison.
The past few episodes have been examples of the finest the series has to offer - from pulse-pounding action to light-hearted comedy to dark psychological drama. It seemed as though the series (which some believe veered far off course in the fifth season) had found its way again. As the saying goes, there was much rejoicing.
But even the smoothest road can have a few rough spots. This week's episode is an example of this phenomenon. While it isn't absolutely horrendous, it certainly doesn't live up to the standards set in other recent adventures.
The story is rather forced - clearly intended to set up and advance the season's overarching plotline. Skopov's script - while it contains good moments and a handful of memorable lines - seems to lack a thorough understanding of the characters (a flaw all too common in her scripts, as technically flawless as they may be). It sacrifices character for plot, and that more often than not leads to a flat, lifeless story.
The pre-credit teaser for this episode introduced far too many characters; the inclusion of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Caligula, Ares, Aphrodite, and Michael makes for a storyline where we must rely on the backstory of too many previous episodes to understand what's going on. While the hard-core fan possesses this knowledge, the more casual viewer is likely to be lost.
Many of the characters get short shrift - most notably Ares, whom I feel should have been given more of a chance to display aspects of his newfound humanity. Instead he languishes in a prison cell, only trotted out when a bit of beefcake is required.
Aphrodite is almost extraneous in this episode. She spends much of it in what appears to be a drug induced haze. In the past Aphrodite has brought delightful energy to the episodes she appears in. This time around, that energy isn't seen until far too late - after she has served her purpose as a plot device.
As much as I like Adrienne Wilkinson (she's a delightful young woman and a pleasure to talk to) Eve seems to have entered the realm of the cardboard cutout. She is basically a replacement for Eli - without the same degree of passion or fervor the avatar brought. I think a large part of this has to do with the lack of attention she has received this season. In "Coming Home" there was a nice bit of internal conflict because of Eve's role in the decline of the Amazons, but those moments of self-doubt have been few and far between. Her faith feels all too false.
Even the battle of wills between Eve and her mother (which could have been a wonderful moment for character development and interaction) felt extraneous.
Gabrielle is also shorted in this episode. It was nice to see her improvisational skills come into play (when she covered for Xena's aborted assassination attempt). It was also nice to see the care she had for Aphrodite, and the rapport the two characters have developed over the years existed in some small part.
Alexis Arqutte's Caligula was a weasel; an annoying little slip of a goober that didn't evoke any real feelings in me except annoyance. While I understand the desire to curb the excesses of the historical figure for television, the character lost a certain amount of the twisted charm that has made him perhaps the most repulsive ruler in the history of Rome.
Speaking of which, what was going on with the voice-over sequence leading up to Michael's appearance? Was it supposed to evoke pity? Was it supposed to convey some sort of understanding of his obsession with power and immortality? Were the voices the result of his derangement, or was it manufactured by Michael to further his own agenda? It was unclear, and thus (in my opinion) wasted.
Ever since Michael's first appearance in the Xenaverse (in the Hercules episode "Revelations"), the character has had a dark side to him. He isn't a dark like Lucifer was, but he is a dangerous zealot, willing to do anything necessary to further his agenda, and that of his lord. A recent Whoosh! interview with Rob Tapert hinted that all wasn't sweetness and light up in heaven, and I believe we got the first indications of this in this episode.
The episode was loaded with T&A. While this is almost a trademark of the show -especially in recent episodes like "Who's Gurkhan?" and "Heart of Darkness" - it is getting a little bit ridiculous. Garth Maxwell does an excellent job filming and directing the sensual aspects of this episode, but they lack the over-the-top antics of the latter, and the class of the former. The sex didn't seem to serve any relevant story purpose, except perhaps to highlight Caligula's debauchery (and that, poorly).
The highlight of this episode was, inarguably, the chariot race and final end of the immortal Caligula. It was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise turgid and ponderous story that could have used more judicious trimming. Xena's psychological influence was heavily telegraphed, but it was nice to see that she didn't need the blessing of Michael's boss to kill a god.
Speaking of which, was it just me, or did Xena say that Eli had revoked her ability to kill gods? I didn't realize that he had given her that ability in the first place - it seems inconsistent with what has gone before.
Ultimately, what holds this episode together is the performance by Lucy Lawless. She attacks the role with abandon, and there are many delightful little moments that kept me watching. Highest among these was the dismissive gesture she gave the guards as she left Caligula, the Dirty Harry line "Do you feel lucky?" and her invitation for Michael to get a butt whooping.
If it weren't for the obvious setup of conflicts that come in the latter half of the season, there wouldn't be much to recommend this episode. But I believe that if you want to make sense of what comes later on, you should see this episode at least once. There isn't really anything here that hasn't been done before, but you should be aware of where the seeds have been sown.
Final analysis? I feel that this script is more concerned with advancing the overall plot arc of the season than examining characters and their relationship to one another. A few nice moments and a somewhat thrilling conclusion save this from being a total dog of an episode, but honestly not by much. Skopov just doesn't seem to have the flair for character that more seasoned Xena writers possess. In the end, I have to give this episode a C-minus.
This article originally published at Suite101.com.
Click here to return to the THE GOD YOU KNOW page.