Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Xena Warrior Princess: Orphan of War


Trying to prevent a Bad Guy from getting hold of an Evil McGuffin, Xena comes face to face with her past. Literally (by which I do not mean metaphorically - the Oxford English Dictionary's recent redefinition of the word 'literally' drives me figuratively insane).

This episode introduces Xena’s son Solon, left with a group of centaurs to raise as their own (by adoption, obviously) while she was still in her evil phase. This is in the best Classical mythological tradition, as half the heroes of ancient Greece were sent to the centaur Chiron to be raised and educated. Here, though, Solon is left with a group of centaurs rather than an individual - this is partly thanks to the depiction of centaurs as generally fairly reasonable if a little quick-tempered in Xena: Warrior Princess, as opposed to the wild and totally unruly race to whom Chiron is the exception in Greek mythology.

Both Xena and the centaur Kaleipus are desperate to stop Solon from becoming a warrior like both his parents, but the kid himself has to be kidnapped and suffer a broken arm before deciding that maybe he should try to honour his late father in other ways (perhaps he could take up singing, which both parents were apparently good at, though I'm disappointed we don't get to hear Xena sing here). Solon believes his mother is dead, and at first Xena lets him think that because he hates her and thinks she killed his father. By the end of the episode, he knows this isn't true, and I’m not quite sure why Xena doesn’t tell Solon she’s his mother before she leaves, since he seems pretty well-disposed towards her by that point. She really needs to just spit it out - but their interactions are very sweet and poignant all the same.

The McGuffin, the stone of Ixion, is not something I'm familiar with from mythology and seems to be a pretty basic fantasy McGuffin to get Xena and Solon together. Greek mythology isn’t overly big on magical stones, or rings, or swords or any other magical implements, come to that. There are magical gifts given by the gods to their favourites or their offspring, like invisibility helmets and improbably large/finely decorated shields, but generally speaking heroes have to rely on their own strength and the help of friendly deities. There are exceptions of course. The bow of Odysseus is a significant object, but only because of its size, so huge that only Odysseus is strong enough to draw it. The Golden Fleece is a more typical fantastical quest object, although unlike most fantasy quest objects it doesn't actually do anything and is desired for its symbolic value.

Ixion himself was a minor character best known for his eternal punishment for trying to seduce Hera; he was chained to a fiery wheel and set rolling for ever. He was also the father of a centaur, which makes him vaguely appropriate as the source of a mysterious evil-centaur-power.

Overall this was a nice, touching episode, if a rather downbeat start to the second season (though it effectively covers the basics of Xena's back-story for new viewers). I like that we don’t actually see Solon's father Borias in this episode, though he turns up in flashbacks later in the series. Solon never knew his father or mother, and that story plays all the more strongly for the fact the we as the audience also only hear about Borias, rather than seeing him. Gabrielle doesn't have much to do beyond complain that she finds it hard to understand the hatred Xena gets wherever they go, despite knowing full well that Xena was a psychopathic murderer known as ‘Destroyer of Nations.’ Gabrielle really does live in her own little world sometimes, doesn’t she… Still, she shows Solon some defensive tactics and apologises for trying to tell Xena how to handle her personal relationships, so she's definitely growing, at least a bit.

Quotes

Kaleipus (to Xena, re: Solon): I know he’ll be safe with you.

Disclaimer: No Sleazy Warlords who deem it necessary to drink magic elixers that turn them into scaly centaurs were harmed during the production of this motion picture.


2 comments:

  1. Actually, Ixion was the forefather of all centaurs. He fathered the first of them on Nephele, whom Zeus created from a cloud to look just like Hera as a way of keeping Ixion from raping Hera. Then Centaurus went on to produce the rest of the tribe. He was also supposedly the first person to murder a relative and is probably best known for being chained to a fiery wheel in Tartarus. Definitely not a nice fellow.

    I like the interpretation of Odysseus' bow that says he is the only one who knows how to string it, rather than being strong enough to draw it. His strengths always seem to be more mental than physical, so I like the idea of there being a trick to it. Probably a recurved bow or something that uses a slightly different method for stringing.

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  2. I'd say poor Ixion, but the dude had it coming.

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