Whoosh! Issue 64 - January 2002

OLD ARES ON THE FARM
By Karla Von Huben
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
4188 words


Introduction (01-02)
Hints That Were Not (Of Course) Followed Up (03-04)
The Show's Best Moments / Oddities Noticed (05-19)
The Threesome (20-24)
Ares/Xena (25-28)
Ares/Gabrielle (29-39)
Old ARES ON THE FARM Critiqued as Film (40-48)
Biography



OLD ARES ON THE FARM



Introduction

How much for the pants?
Sooner or later someone had to come up with an excuse for Kevin Smith to be shirtless for most of an episode.

[01] OLD ARES HAD A FARM (122/610) is a delight from beginning to end. It is playful, has many genuinely funny moments, and, as usual, left Ares fans frustrated and dismayed at all the missed opportunities. For those of us who watched the series only because of Kevin Smith (you mean there were other people in it?), we had a blast drooling over the sexiest, most gorgeous man on the planet.

[02] It was nice that we saw so much of that delicious body for such an extended period. Although I am no fan of sexism, Smith is filmed so beautifully throughout the entire episode that it is obvious he is intended to be a sex object, and for once, I do not care.


Hints That Were Not (Of Course) Followed Up

[03] Although there is an Ares/Gabrielle kiss in FORGET ME NOT (63/317) and a hint of sparks between them in THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER (56/310), it is not until OLD ARES HAD A FARM that the possibility arises that their relationship might become more than the brother/sister or adversarial one that had existed up until then. As explained later in this paper, if we look at the episode solely in terms of cinematic techniques, it appears that an Ares/Gabrielle realignment was being considered. Furthermore, the suggestion of making the three of them a "team" may have been under review because of the three actors' charisma meshing so well.

[04] Neither possibility, naturally, went any further. In fact, later episodes, particularly SOUL POSSESSION (132/620), almost succeeded in destroying the Ares character. Fortunately, even when he is at his worst, Ares is still somehow sympathetic, attractive, and very seductive. He has managed to make the character Tapert-proof, leaving him alive, intriguing, charming, and, his fans hope, part of any future Xena projects. Of course, Smith's involvement presupposes a script that calls for him to do more than stand around and look good until somebody shows up to trick him and then beat him up. However, I digress.


The Show's Best Moments / Oddities Noticed

How will you keep them down on the farm after they've seen Athens?
Greek Gothic?

[05] When did Ares start wearing a dagger on his right hip? It somehow makes him all the more dangerous, and not simply because it is an additional weapon.

[06] His lines when they first arrive: "When I was a god I couldn't have fixed this place!" and "Do I have to answer right away?", capture his immediate predicament. There is also a hint of regret in the way Xena says her grandmother used to sit and "tell stories of the Olympian gods". Her voice softens just slightly on "Olympian gods". Of course, Ares challenges her immediately, but she refuses to acknowledge her actions.

[07] Soon after that comes Greba's first appearance. The way Ares surges to his feet and purrs that deep "hello" at her is very effective. He runs his hand up the pole as if it were her leg. As she tells her story, he starts panting. He finally bites the air and claws the pole. However, in direct contrast to what he is obviously thinking, he says "oh, the beast!" The difference between what he is thinking and what he is saying is so obvious that Xena almost has to slug him.

[08] This might be offensive were it not for the fact that Greba, far from being upset, frightened, or distressed by the idea of Gascar's putative molestation, quite obviously wishes he would enact it on her. At least she has in the past, for it is now equally obvious that she would like Ares to do the same thing. Her enthusiasm for the idea takes the sting out of Ares' reactions and renders them, instead, pricelessly comedic.

[09] Of course, the moment when he flexes his pecs to the sound of rubber stretching is hysterical. Smith's sense of comedy timing is perfect. Further, although he obviously takes his conditioning quite seriously, he is able to make fun of himself.

[10] His appearance the morning following the first night with Xena and Gabrielle is stunning. That gorgeous bronze skin of his, the long, full eyelashes -- he is simply beautiful. The shot is a perfect example of how he is objectified throughout the episode: Ares as walking sex, nothing more or less. It is fantastic for Smith's fans to be able to wallow as we watched him, but it also points up the fact that it is demeaning for both men and women to be used as sexual objects. In this case, however, we have decided to live with it, and no one I know has the slightest objection to stripping him in any future projects, either.

[11] This luscious objectification of Ares continues in the following scene, when he drops over the balcony and follows the women into the garden. The entire set up is so suggestive it is almost unbelievable. The pants that are barely decent, giving us our best look at that fabulous body. The sword is a phallic symbol. There is even the slight hint, with Xena and Gabrielle on the ground and Ares standing over them, of sexual slavery. All incredibly sensual, it is the first time Ares' sexuality, always an integral part of the character, has been so frankly depicted.

[12] The next scene that stands out is Greba's second appearance. The way Ares "struts" down the ladder, the way he delivers the lines, his expressions, everything else he does is perfect. The very best line is his somewhat panic-stricken remark about his gray hair and the "yuk it up!" to Horace.

[13] The next scene, where Ares is lying on the floor, is a comic gem. Xena's line "What are you doing?" is funny for two reasons. First, Lawless' delivery is perfect. Second, the line is so stupid that it is hysterical. It reminds me of an incident in an office where I sometimes work. One of my coworkers came in and said an employee from another office was in the women's room, vomiting. "Do you think she's okay?" she asked. Anyone tossing their cookies in public is most definitely NOT okay, and the question struck me as one of the silliest and most pointless I had ever heard. The same thing applies here. Ares is lying flat on his back in a heap of rubble, there is a gaping hole in the roof, and Xena wants to know what he is doing? It is obvious what he is doing, which is why her question is so humorous.

[14] His reply, which has become famous, includes the line about the dog having "his tongue in my mouth". Again, Smith's delivery, in that soft, long-suffering voice, is perfect.

[15] In the following scene, it is amusing to watch how excited he gets when he has the chance to kill something. Here, Gabrielle seems to have the most sympathy for him. She suggests petting the dog, and she has a great big smile on her face when she says "only one chicken".

[16] Of course, the first few moments of the "chicken killer" scene, when he does the exercises with the sword and starts into the pen are to-die-for. There is something about him half-naked with the sword in his hand that is extremely hot, and although it is completely gratuitous, I loved every second of it. It is also droll, if predictable, that he cannot catch any of those silly birds.

[17] The scene in the barn is charming, and when he says "Run, Horace!" he looks not like the fearsome God of War, or the sensual mortal Ares, but like a lost little boy. Again, Smith has brought another dimension to his character.

[18] The episode's final scene is very melancholy. Ares is stunningly gorgeous when Xena throws his gauntlet to him and he stands up and moves toward her. However, even his physical presence, and his obvious love for her, cannot win her over. This is frustrating, particularly since Xena is wearing his gauntlet over her own. This is a startling thing for her to do as it implies a high degree of intimacy. However, the sensuality indicated by her action is not acted upon.

[19] As the women ride off, I found time to reflect on how sad this is for Ares. This man, this poor mortal man, who used to have millions of people literally at his feet, is now completely alone. He will have to go to town for supplies, and every time he does, he risks being spotted and captured. He may or may not have a sexual liaison with Greba, but that is all it would be: a way to relieve his physical frustration. He has no one to talk to, no one to share his thoughts, and no one to love because the woman he adores has ridden away again.


The Threesome

[20] The "root vegetables" conversation with Greba has taken on a whole new meaning since Kevin Smith's appearance in The Great Comedy Debate.

[21] The Great Comedy Debate is a New Zealand TV program in which two teams debate issues of "great importance". The subject of the first debate was whether sex is the most important thing in a relationship, and Smith was arguing on the side that says it is. It was during this debate that he said when he met a new person, it was a given that they were his, instantly. The only decision he had to make was whether he was going to do anything about it. "Root" was the term he used, which I assume is New Zealand for "have sex with". Thus, his remarks about root vegetables take on interesting nuances for those who know about his remarks. Of course, he was not serious, and those who know anything about him also know that he is astonished by his own popularity.

[22] Nevertheless, it is interesting to watch Xena and Gabrielle react to Ares/Greba. While Gabrielle looks on with interest and amusement, Xena seems furious.

[23] At one point, Ares pauses, and when he does, Xena turns to say something to Gabrielle. Just then, Ares resumes his chat with the "neighbor lady", and Xena whirls around with a murderous look on her face, as if she cannot bear to have him even glance at another woman. Given the fact that she has told him to get lost on numerous occasions, this seems like a strange reaction, and suggests that she is not nearly as indifferent to him as she likes to pretend.

[24] During the chicken-killing scene, when he is thrashing around outside and giving the occasional earsplitting bellow, Xena seems impatient and a bit upset: "He can hire in some help or get his dancing girls for all I care." Does she care or not? Or has the remark about the flute-playing girls bothered her so much that she is still kicking it around a day later? Again, while Xena is somewhat harsh, it is Gabrielle who softens things by saying, "let's enjoy it while we can", meaning their stay on the farm. Of course, Ares is also there, which means that Gabrielle is finding an enjoyment in his company that perhaps is new for her.


Ares/Xena

No animals were harmed...
Ares and Horace bond.

[25] Unfortunately, there are none of those sizzling moments that Ares and Xena often provide when they get together (AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE, LIVIA, ETERNAL BONDS, etc.) Instead, there seems to be only marginal interaction between them. It is Gabrielle who "connects" with the erstwhile War God in this episode.

[26] One of those moments is in the classic bedroom scene. Gabrielle is out like a light, which in itself is interesting, but neither Ares nor Xena can get comfortable. Maybe the mattress is scratchy, maybe the bed is lumpy, or maybe they are so aware of each other they cannot sleep. Ares/Xena shippers hope for the latter.

[27] The other moment when Xena seems to soften slightly towards Ares is in the last scene, when she says she might come to visit him. It is sweet and slightly pathetic that he is so eager for her to come back that he agrees readily to stay on the farm. That would have been a charming episode, if she had come back, and if they had finally made love. Since it has been already been demonstrated that both Gabrielle and Xena have been with men, a liaison with Ares, especially since he is mortal, would have given the Ares/Xena people the scene we wanted to see so badly. Furthermore, it would not have prevented Xena from finally leaving Ares to return to Gabrielle and their adventures. I will never understand why, given the truly electric chemistry between Smith and Lucy Lawless, the consummation of this relationship was never shot.

[28] At any rate, she treats him like a child or a puppy, denying him a kiss and instead pinching his cheek and leaving him bereft. Despite its overall comedic tone, the ending of OLD ARES HAS A FARM is bittersweet.


Ares/Gabrielle

[29] There are some very interesting things going on with Ares and Gabrielle in this episode. It is unfortunate that the writers did not follow it through. Much of what is seen is subtle and is found more in the performances than in the script.

[30] In the first scene, the line about "animal magnetism" gets a smile from Gabrielle but leaves Xena indifferent. In addition, the line "if the cult was sexy enough" is to the Bard, not Xena.

[31] In the next scene, when they arrive at the farm, there occurs the "physical isolation of Xena", that is the times when Xena is either out of the shot or in frame but apart from the others. In this case, she is riding ahead while Ares and Gabrielle follow on the wagon. One would have expected all three of them to be on the cart, probably Ares and Xena on the seat with Gabrielle in the back, with both horses tied behind. Instead Xena is alone and the other two are together. They make a gorgeous couple, although it would take a great deal of thoughtful writing to put down the necessary groundwork to bring them together. Nevertheless, physically, they are visually striking: tall and dark against small and blonde. The contrast between them is far greater than it is between Ares and Xena and it works very well.

[32] As they go into the house, it is Gabrielle who turns, says, "come on", and smiles at him. She seems far more ready than Xena to accept him into their lives.

[33] The scene in front of the fire is charming, and gives hints of both an Ares/Gabrielle relationship and a more complex, three-way bond. Both possibilities, which would have been challenging, interesting and great fun, were completely ignored.

[34] The Ares/Gabrielle scene is notable for several things. First, she says "thank you" to him, apparently the first time she has said anything or recognized the magnitude of his sacrifice. Although he says "you were an afterthought", it seems unlikely to me that he would waste time and precious energy bringing Gabrielle back unless she were important to him. If he had really wanted to get rid of her, he had the perfect opportunity. He saved her because she means so much to Xena, and because, as I see it, he has some regard for her himself. She has learned a great deal, and she has become a decent warrior in her own right. In fact, at one point in SUCCESSION (93/503), he offered her the job as his second-in-command. At the end of that episode, he left the offer open, something he had no real reason to do unless it was genuine. It is clear that he has learned, or is learning, to respect the Bard, probably much to his own surprise.

[35] Gabrielle, in turn, is coming to have some regard for Ares. When she says "there's some truth in that", she nudges his foot. That is the first time she has ever voluntarily touched him. The look he gives her in return is odd. It is a sort of speculative glance with a slight smile, as if he is wondering what's going on. This could have been the start of a fabulous arc in which Ares intrigues Gabrielle. Oh, the possibilities that might have engendered! How would Xena react? How would Gabrielle react to her own emotional turmoil? What would Ares have done? If he saw that Gabrielle liked him, would he have responded to that, or somehow tried to use it to get to Xena? It would have been great to have such a complication, and could have given a cohesiveness to a season that seemed to be unraveling. Instead, as usual, the opportunities were wasted, ignored, or simply not recognized.

[36] The three in a bed scene is interesting for the Ares/Gabrielle dynamic as well as for the Ares/Xena interaction. First, Gabrielle is sound asleep, which implies that she has no hesitation or need to keep up her guard even when she is plastered to Ares' side. This in turn implies one of three things: that she trusts him completely; that she is totally indifferent to him; or that she thinks there is no possibility of any relationship between the two of them. It seems unlikely that Gabrielle trusts him completely, given what he has put them through and vice versa. It also seems unlikely that she is totally indifferent to him. Whether she feels hatred, dislike, attraction, exasperation or many other emotions is not important, the point is that Ares is a constant in their lives. He has in fact saved them both, and it would be difficult for her to feel nothing toward him. She must have some emotion, even if it is negative, yet she sleeps quite peacefully.

[37] That leaves the third possibility: that she does not consider him as a potential romantic partner. There are a number of clues in the episode that lead me to believe there was some intent to introduce a possible romance (or non-romance), but at least an Ares/Gabrielle relationship of some sort into the series. Unfortunately, nothing came of them.

[38] When the warlords arrive, his "I'm going to need a moment" impression of a pompous actor preparing for his role is very funny, as is his reaction when Gabrielle messes her hair and tears her top open. He is perhaps seeing a new side of her, just as she is of him. Gabrielle's delivery of the word "busy" makes it sound like she and Ares have been rolling around in the hay for the last week.

[39] The warlord is a cutie, yet Smith comes out and steals the whole thing. From his chipmunk cheeks to his potbelly to his Arkahoma accent, he is a hayseed riot! Gabrielle is obviously surprised and pleased by the transformation. It is obvious that the Bard was not sure he could pull it off. It is a rollicking scene, and his ability to do the accent, gasp, and strangle at the same time is entertaining.


OLD ARES HAS A FARM Critiqued as Film

But is she really asleep?
Being the meat in a warrior-princess/bard sandwich.

[40] In film analysis it is important not only to follow characterization and plot, but also to pay attention to the way shots are set up. Nobody winds up where they are in the shot by accident: people are in certain places on the screen for definite purposes. Considering this, the episode is quite exciting visually. There is a great deal happening on screen that indicates a possible shifting of the Ares/Xena/Gabrielle relationship.

[41] The scenes in which a definite statement is made are the ones where Greba first comes over, the scene by the fire, the bedroom scene, and the scene with the warlords.

[42] In the Greba scene, Ares, Gabrielle, and Xena are split into two groups. How? By the pole that supports the porch roof. The pole is a strong visual statement. A powerful vertical divides the scene in half and puts Xena on one side, and Ares and Gabrielle on the other. The pole is a supporting structure, and it may represent the strong support the two women have for each other. However, the entrance of a third element -- Ares -- disturbs that support. Interestingly, Gabrielle is on his side, indicating that she may be moving toward him as Xena apparently moves away.

[43] In the scene by the fire, Ares and Gabrielle are equally balanced, until Xena comes in. Then she and the Bard are on the same side of the shot, divided from Ares by the fire, indicating their alignment with one another against him. The lighting is interesting as well, they are in the light, and he is in the dark. They are "good" and he is "evil", reinforcing their familiar roles, yet the subject they are discussing is the PAST. To me, this means that Xena and Gabrielle fought for the light against Ares, who represents the darkness, but did so in the past. They are forging a new relationship in this episode, building on the beginning that was established in COMING HOME (113/601). However, Ares' role in the new threesome is uncertain, so he remains in the dark, representing the essential mystery and incomprehensibility of the gods as well as the uncertainty that they still feel towards his ultimate motivation.

[44] The bedroom scene is a delight in and of itself, but also interesting for its set-up. Here Ares is literally coming between the girls. As I mentioned before, he and Xena are uncomfortable, but Gabrielle falls asleep, implying, most logically, a certain level of comfort that Xena does not have around the War God.

[45] Furthermore, Gabrielle is the one who has the sexual encounter with him, symbolically represented, hysterically, by her smacking him in the crotch. Yes, it is funny but it is also highly suggestive: she is touching him quite intimately. Given the history of the trio, you would think it would be Xena, but instead it is the Bard who "caresses" him.

[46] Finally, in the scene with the warlords, Gabrielle's first instinct is to pretend to be Ares' woman. Not his sister or a neighbor, but HIS WOMAN. When he says "that says a lot about you" he could be referring to the fact that she chose to present herself as a flirtatious, even slutty, woman -- a far cry from her usual self and an indication perhaps of unrealized sexual potential. On the other hand, he could be referring to the fact that she apparently sees herself as HIS. Either way, it is an interesting revelation of her character. Her line? "D*mn!" Although she mouths it silently, it is easy to read her lips. Why is she upset? Because he has hurt her feelings? Or because she understands his implication that she is his, that it is accurate, and that she does not like being found out?

[47] They have certainly dropped enough hints to let us know that the relationship among the three is anything but static. Ares is in love with Xena, but had there been time, and some imagination on the part of the writing staff, we might have seen him involved with the Bard as well, probably to their, and the audience's, mutual astonishment. Such a move would have provided a basis for several powerful storylines, as well as anchoring a season that started strong but lost its footing and began to flounder almost immediately.

[48] I would give OLD ARES HAD A FARM a 12 out of 10. It is an outstanding episode, memorable for Kevin Smith's great comedic gifts and some very witty writing. Oh, and that gorgeous face and pathetic little body does not hurt either.


Biography

a woman of mystery Karla Von Huben
Karla Von Huben was born in Chicago and now lives in San Diego. One of those who's "blown sideways through life," she's collected a degree in English and another one in acting; been a Marine, an actor, a legal assistant and a restaurant reviewer, among other things; and currently makes her living as a researcher and writer. Ask for your autograph now, as she hopes to emigrate within the next two years.


Favorite episode: "Old Ares Had a Farm"
Favorite line: "I burn inside you. You can feel me there-like a fever." Ares to Xena, "The Reckoning".
First episode seen: The first one I really remember was "Amphipolis Under Siege," and I was instantly hooked on Smithy. Since that day, it has only gotten worse. Or better, depending on one's point of view.
Least favorite episode: Of those I have seen, "Soul Possession," hands down.

 

 

Return to Top Return to Index