37. "Xena," season five:
Spin-offs & "Kindred Spirits"

When it first aired, I loathed the companion episode to "Lifeblood," "Kindred Spirits." It seemed to represent the complete degradation of the promise showed in "Adventures in the Sin Trade." When I learned that the creative team of "Xena" suffered numerous defections to Peter Jackson's production of "Lord of the Rings," and lost the full attention of Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart to the spin-offs "Cleopatra 2525" and "Jack of all Trades," that confirmed in my mind that the show had forgotten itself. Even Rob Tapert himself seem to say so, in interviews, when he said, regarding the fifth season: "Nobody was thinking. Nobody loved the show." And regarding these two episodes, in the same interview, he said: " I really shot myself in the foot with those two Amazon episodes, KINDRED SPIRITS (107/517) and LIFEBLOOD (106/516)."01

I was comfortable for a long time accepting Rob Tapert's mea culpa as a confirmation of my own judgment of these episodes, but after studying the overall patterns of the show, and realizing that these stories fit in quite well, I realized I fell into a logical fallacy. I assumed he was criticizing them for the same reason I was. Thinking it over, I realized that my assumptions didn't make much sense: after all, if "Kindred Spirits" should have been, as I felt, in the mold of "Adventures of the Sin Trade," and the resulting comedy was a sign of degradation, then what kind of decision led to that? I mean, if there really was no thought put into it, why would anyone follow up the Northern Amazon arc with something closer to "The Three Stooges?" Wouldn't they just rely on what already proved successful? In that case, the show's declining standards would have manifested itself in slavishly copying its successes, but not getting it quite right: "Kindred Spirits" should have been a lame knock-off of "Adventures in the Sin Trade;" instead, we got a well-executed comedy that seemed very much unrelated to the entire spirit of the Amazon storyline. That's not a slavish decision, but a bold one; and we know Tapert made it himself. The question we should be asking, then, is why did he decide to transform what was supposed to be a very dark episode into its exact opposite? Leaving aside whether he made the right decision or not, it was certainly a calculated decision. When we look at "Lifeblood," we see a decision that looked good on paper; it's more reasonable to assume that the decision regarding "Kindred Spirits" also looked good on paper. Let's examine possible reasons why.

First, we should realize that Tapert and Stewart's involvement with the two spin-offs was probably were not detours from what they had previously collaborated on, but rather, sprang directly from them. Both of those shows, as I see it, drew from the same well as "Xena" and "Hercules." They picked up inspirational threads introduced on those shows, but were not going to be explored further in such depth. For example, it's clear to me now that "Cleopatra 2525" picked up the mining elements and their religious associations from the third season of "Hercules," as well as the fertile source of Euripides' "The Cyclops:" the robotic overlords, the Baileys, no doubt take their single-mindedness, with their giant single eyes, from the giants of the play (the fact that Baileys are inoperable when they hit the ocean effectively makes them creatures of the land, not the sea, much like the Cyclops versus Odysseus the sailor).

Cleo & Jack

A Cyclopean "Bailey" from "Cleopatra 2525 (right); The Daring Dragoon doll from "Jack of all Trades" (left)

"Jack of all Trades" also borrows religious elements from Eliade: we're told in the pilot that the Daring Dragoon, a dashing figure Jack will emulate, is considered a mythical hero by the locals. Polynesian aboriginals worshipping something as modern as a dragoon is a clear example of the cargo cults of the South Pacific, which Eliade describes in his books as an example of modern-day religions arising from the contact of primitive cultures with American technology. Cargo cults could never really be explored on "Xena" or "Hercules" since they're a by-product of modern civilizations, and didn't exist in the ancient world. "Jack of all Trades" also borrows the pirate motif from both shows, and was originally intended to be a pirate-themed vehicle for Bruce Campbell as early as 1996. It's creator, Eric Morris, has said that his original idea was changed from a show strictly about pirates to one set in the South Pacific involving Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon's sphere of influence there. Josh Becker has said he played a role in making those changes, but it was apparently Rob Tapert who wanted the South Pacific setting, and that's very likely due to the cargo cult motif. Also, the pirate theme ties in "The Cyclops" once again, using Silenus the satyr (Jack), wily Odysseus (Emily) and the single-minded Cyclops-only here, the Cyclops is inverted: he's not a giant who thinks he's a god, but a small man who thinks so, and wishes to conquer the world from this tiny island---Napoleon! And, of course, "Jack of all Trades" borrows from the same cinematic influences that played a huge role on both shows.

Keeping all this in mind, we can see that Tapert and Stewart weren't as terribly distracted as we might think during season five. In fact, we can see plot points taken from "Xena" directly, such as Cleo taken to an underground cocoon lab and cloned, looking very similar to Gabrielle and Hope in "Sacrifice." We also see surface dwellers, one of which is played by the same actress who played Yakut, living in a village very much resembling Siberian huts, who practice their own form of sacrifice to the gods. We should also consider that if our analysis of the show's patterns up until now has been accurate, then the patterns themselves would provide continuity on "Xena," when they were applied from the top. With a less experienced team, the quality of the stories might suffer, but the patterns would still hold. I think this is what happened with "Kindred Spirits," and actually, I think this episode is filled with more patterns than most; so much so, that I'll have to defer some of this discussion to another essay, even in regard to some of the Euripides' references!

We might never know just what went into Rob Tapert's decision to remake "Kindred Spirits" into a slapstick comedy, but maybe we can learn something from the timeline: third-in-command Steve Sears had left the show, contributing only one complete episode, right after the season's powerful start with "Fallen Angel" and "Chakram." After that, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman took his place, fresh from apprenticing on "Hercules" (now drawing to a close), where they not only handled some of the key dramatic episodes (including one based on "The Bacchae"), but some of that series' silliest episodes, like "Porkules," during the period when star Kevin Sorbo was too ill to work, and the show relied on its comic actors to fill in the gaps while the main dramatic threads were on hold. They had proven themselves capable of handling not only the most important themes, but just as importantly, turning those themes on their head in the "satyr plays" when needed. When it came time for "Xena" to rely on their ability to vamp while the main players were otherwise occupied, they provided crucial episodes for the Twilight of the Gods arc, and a lot of silly fluff to alternate with. They began with "Them Bones, Them Bones:"Steve Sears's character, Amarice, was originally intended to be a refugee from an Amazon tribe that battled one of these primordial hordes, becoming as fierce and animalistic as them. In season five, however, her character was evolved into comic relief, in "Animal Attraction," and "Them Bones, Them Bones." At some point during this (or perhaps, before this), the actress showed potential as a lead for a comedy series, and "Cleopatra 2525," developed during this time, became her vehicle. Following this, they returned to a China two-parter, to follow up season three's "The Debt." However, unlike "The Debt's" stately plot based on Greek tragedy (from Euripides, which I'll address in part two of this essay), these two episodes drew from the fantasy realms of Hong Kong cinema that "Xena" was based on. "Purity" and "Back in the Bottle" were as canon as "The Debt," thematically and stylistically: instead of Schopenhauer and the Tao, they featured references to "The Bride With White Hair," "Once Upon a Time in China," and plenty of ideas from Mircea Eliade. These elements would be tough for anyone to reconcile, and the result is that the China episodes of season five were a bit muddled on the surface. Just before "Lifeblood" we have "Married With Fishsticks," often cited as the worst "Xena" episode ever by fans, but was intended by Rob Tapert as a potential pilot for another series. Given that he was also launching two other comedies spun off from "Xena" at this time, it makes more sense when viewed in the context of the other decisions they were making: season five starts looking more like a transitional period, with old and new projects and strategies jostling each other as they try to find their way.

After "Lifeblood," there were no further comedies for the remainder of season five, but much potential comic material that remained to used in the Amazon storyline, left over from "Adventures in the Sin Trade." The notion that a very serious episode like "Adventures in the Sin Trade" could actually have been based in part on comic material might surprise us at first, but as we'll see, it helps explain why "Kindred Spirits," which was originally intended to be a dramatic episode, could so easily switch to comedy. Tapert had a choice to either use this material now, in the latter half of season five, or discard it forever and finish the season with seven unrelentingly dramatic, and sometimes quite dark, episodes. The comedic Amazon approach couldn't really be postponed to season six of "Xena," since "Hercules" had ended its run at this point, which meant "Xena" was counted on to spend its final year winding up the threads for both shows. "Hercules" already ended its Amazon thread with a comedy, "Love, Amazon Style," and "Xena" would have to focus its Amazon episodes in a more serious fashion, since they were involved in the story of Gabrielle's following of Xena's path into violence. That doesn't leave much room for an Amazon satyr play in season six of "Xena," not to mention that Joxer wouldn't be around to play the leading "satyr!" With this in mind, let's take a fresh look at "Kindred Spirits."

Kindred Spirits

Briefly, its story picks up from "Lifeblood," with Xena, Gabrielle, and baby Eve encamped with the Northern Amazons. We see Joxer hiding in the bushes spying on the naked Amazons bathing in a lake. He's in full satyr-mode, befitting his nature, and when the Amazons catch him, they comment on how the "weapon" in his hand is too small to harm anyone. The tribe has a new queen, with the ceremonial title of "Cyane," and she sentences him to be placed in the stocks. There, he's once again in full satyr-mode, desperate to go to the bathroom. This bathroom, along with the stacks of scrolls Cyane keeps should indicate to us that we're in "The Trackers" territory again. The scrolls dictate that Joxer should lose an eye for gazing upon the Amazons' "natural grace;" besides the masturbation reference to "going blind," this punishment also indicates we're in "The Cyclops" territory as well (the cave the scrolls are kept in are a combination of both plays, and recall "The Xena Scrolls."). This whole situation of a man spying on women sounds very much like Penthius and the maenads in "The Bacchae." But I don't think Joxer here is playing the role of Penthius in that play: after all, he isn't being arrogant, just horny, and that tells us we're in a comedy. I believe the source here is Aristophanes' "The Thesmophoriazusae."

Aristophanes wrote "The Thesmophoriazusae" towards the end of Euripides' career, and he continues to mock the distinguished playwright here; this time, he makes Euripides the star! The title refers to the secretive Women's Festival of Athens, which celebrates the mysteries of Persephone and Demeter. We'll recall that Cyane the nymph is related to the story of Persephone, and that this Women's Festival is probably the original model for the Amazon society of "Xena." In "The Thesmophoriazusae," the women are concerned that Euripides has been revealing too many secrets about their ways to men, in his celebrated plays featuring troubled women characters. Word of this has gotten back to the playwright, and he cowers in fear that they'll want to have him tried and convicted at their secret festival. He tries to enlist his friend, colleague, and some say, lover, Agathon, to infiltrate the Festival and discover their intentions. Agathon refuses on the grounds that there's no possible way he could pass for female--this is an obvious in-joke by Aristophanes, since Agathon is presented as an effeminate character who dresses in saffron colors of the lascivious East (as the ancient characterization of Persia by the Greeks went). Euripides then turns to his own father-in-law, Mnesilochus, to take on the mission. The comedy ensues as Mnesilochus proves to be an unconvincing woman, both in appearance, and in attitude, as he betrays his gender by spouting all kinds of male chauvinist harangues against unfaithful wives. I've already mentioned the scene involving the baby disguised as a wineskin, in "Amphipolis Under Siege," and there are hints of it in "Kindred Spirits," when we hear the Amazons cooing over baby Eve:

Eris: "Not me! Xena says it's good to have a balance of work and play."

Rhea: "And who wouldn't wanna play?! When you've got a cute little baby like Eve around? Ah, what a doll! Xena's so lucky!"

There's also a hint in Eve's baby clothes; the wineskin is described as "shod with Persian slippers," like a baby Dionysus. Baby Eve is dressed in a similar fashion, as seen below:

Kindred Spirits

In this scene, Xena even refers to her as "Oh, Evie!" reminding us of the names the women give to Bacchus in "The Thesmophoriazusae":

"Oh, Evius, oh, Bromius, oh, thou son of Semele, oh, Bacchus, who delightest to mingle with the dear choruses of the nymphs upon the mountains and who repeatest, while dancing with them, the sacred hymn, Evius, Evivus, Evoe. Echo, the nymph of Cithaeron, returns thy words, which resound beneath the dark vaults of the thick foliage and in the midst of the rocks of the forest; the ivy enlaces thy brow with its tendrils charged with flowers."

"Evius" is also the name Euripides gives to Dionysus in "The Bacchae," when the chorus of maenads sing to him in devotion.

Returning to "The Thesmophoriazusae:" like Joxer, Mnesilochus is captured and placed in the stocks to await his judgement; the women of the Festival, like Cyane, are offended by this outrage against their honor:

"By the goddesses, you will not laugh presently over your crime and your impious speech. For with impiety, as 'tis meet, shall we reply to your impiety. Soon fortune will turn round and overwhelm you. Come! Bring wood along. Let us burn the wretch, let us roast him as quickly as possible."

Mnesilochus is horrified, but Euripides comes to his rescue. Since the playwright had recently debuted his play about Perseus rescuing Andromeda at the previous Festival of Dionysus, Aristophanes mocks him by having him rescue his father-in-law dressed as Perseus, spouting his own lines. Mnesilochus in turn starts quoting lines as Andromeda, to help keep up appearances and fool the Amazons. (This use of the story of Andromeda should also remind us of the first Hercules movie, "Hercules and the Lost City." Though that film was based on the myth of Hesione, "The Greek Myths" tells us that both myths stem from the same source, and therefore share the same ingredients.) In order to release Mnesilochus from the stocks, Euripides must get past the Scythian the Amazons have placed as guard. At first, the Scythian is not easily fooled: though Euripides-as-Perseus keeps insisting he's there to rescue the young maiden Andromeda, all the Scythian can see in the stocks is an unappetizing old man dressed in women's clothes. Euripides resort to "Three Stooges"-style pranks while he changes from Perseus to Echo who, of course, repeats everything. This exchange follows:

Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: "Oh! Thou divine Night! How slowly thy chariot threads its way through the starry vault, across the sacred realms of the Air and mighty Olympus."
Euripides [as Echo]: "Mighty Olympus."
Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: " 'Why is it necessary that Andromeda should have all the woes for her share?' "
Euripides [as Echo]: "For her share."
Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: " 'Sad death!' "
Euripides [as Echo]: "Sad death!"
Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: "you weary me, old babbler."
Euripides [as Echo]: "Old babbler."
Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: "Oh! You are too unbearable."
Euripides [as Echo]: "Unbearable."
Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: "Friend, let me talk by myself. Do please let me.
Come, that's enough."
Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: "That's enough."
Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: "Go and hang yourself!"
Euripides [as Echo]: "Go and hang yourself!"
Mnesilochus [as Andromeda]: "Beware of blows!"
Euripides [as Echo]: ""Beware of blows!"

The Scythian steps in, and becomes the butt of the same joke:

Scythian [to Mnesilochus]: "Are you mocking me?"
Euripides [as Echo]: "Are you mocking me?"

We can see this same kind of "Three Stooges" humor in the wrestling scene in "Kindred Spirits," and this slavish mocking can also be seen in the character of Eris, who tries to model herself after Gabrielle. She's a young annoyance to Xena, a childish menace, and this should remind us of other comedies that use this device: "Married With Fishsticks," and "Bad Eggs and Beanstalks." In that last episode, we saw a character that was likely taken from Euripides' "Herakles," and the name Eris comes from that play as well, indicating that this is part of a stylistic pattern through both shows, in which these characters and names are associated. This "bad child" pattern is a subset of the larger "Mentor" pattern that governs both "Xena" and "Hercules" from beginning to end.

Having failed to deceive the Scythian with acting out scenes from his own plays, Euripides decides to take a more below-the-belt, crowd-pleasing approach: he dresses as an old woman and brings the Scythian a comely dancing girl to grab his attention: "Come, my little wench, bear in mind what I told you on the road and do it well. Come, go past him and gird up your robe. And you, you little dear, play us the air of a Persian dance." The Scythian is immediately charmed:

Scythian: 'Give me a kiss."
Euripides: [to dancing girl]: "Come, give him a kiss."
Scythian: "Oh! Oh! Oh! My goodness, what soft lips! 'Tis like Attic honey. But might she not stop with me?"
Euripides. [aside]: "Hermes, god of cunning, receive my thanks! Everything is turning out for the best. [to the Scythian] As for you, friend, take away this girl, quick. [Exit the Scythian with the dancing girl]. Now let me loose his bonds. [To Mnesilochus] And you, directly I have released you , take to your legs and run off full tilt to your home to find your wife and children."

In "Kindred Spirits," this scene takes a different shape: Joxer is romanced by a Northern Amazon who wishes to have his child, but her ardor only gets him into further trouble for "kissing out of season." Let's stay with the image of this play, though, and see if we can think of anything else: an old woman presenting a dancing girl to tempt another...a Scythian...if you're thinking of "Adventures in the Sin Trade," you made the right call! In that episode, we see Alti, whom Borias refers to as "an old bag of bones." That description doesn't fit the actress who played her, but it's in the script, and it matches the spirit of the Scythian's criticism of Mnesilochus: "But this is no virgin; 'tis an old rogue, a cheat and a thief....If this old man instills you with such ardent concupiscence, why, you can bore through the plank, and so get at him." Alti tries to win Xena over from Borias by presenting her own "dancing girl"--Anokin, who moves like a dancing maenad, a disciple of Dionysus exposing her neck in ecstasy. We see similar elements associated: Amazons and Scythians--in this case, the Scythian, horsemen of the Central Asian plains armed with bows, is associated with both the Northern Amazons and Borias, a character inspired in part by Attila-the-Hun, according to RJ Stewart. As Aristophanes writes it, the Scythian's dialogue is heavily, and comically accented, and Borias has a similarly strong pseudo-Russian accent. In season six's "Last of the Centaurs," we see this scene reversed, with Xena as the "dancing girl" who lures Borias from his "Scythian" wife--her name, Natasha, has a Russian association, but in keeping with the show's pop references, we think of Boris and Natasha, from the animated "Rocky and Bulwinkle" series--my guess is that RJ Stewart was a fan of the old animated series in his youth, and his work on "Remington Steele" shows the inspiration of this series in the silly visual and verbal puns he incorporated in his scripts. This helps further reinforce the connection of Borias and the Scythian. Once again, the comedy of Aristophanes' play somehow makes its way to the surface in what is otherwise a very serious episode. This possible play of Boris off of Borias, along with other examples of such wordplay, raises the question of the origin of Borias's name: that's a whole subject in itself, which I address in a separate essay.

There are references to "The Bacchae" throughout, in addition to those already mentioned: the kind of horned altar we saw in "Sacrifice," and the horned headdresses of the Amazons are prevalent in this episode. The young Amazon who plays the role of Aristophanes' "dancing girl," Rhea, takes her name from the Great Goddess in "The Bacchae" whom Dionysus studied from. As Robert Graves tells it in "The Greek Myths:" "Next, Dionysus returned to Europe by way of Phrygia, where his grandmother Rhea purified him of the many murders he had committed during his madness, and initiated him into his mysteries."02 In "Kindred Spirits," we'll see Joxer "purified" of his crimes by pledging loyalty to the Amazon Queen, Gabrielle, as part of a ritual, which is appropriate, since Joxer is a Silenus-figure, who was tutor and fellow traveller with Dionysus. But we'll see a variation on this in "Coming Home," the first episode in season six and the next Amazon episode following this one: there, an adult Eve will be acquitted of the many murders she had committed during her "madness" as Ares' pupil. But the significance of Rhea's name doesn't end there: Another name for Rhea in the myths is Cybele, the Great Goddess of Phrygia, and we'll recall that Joxer was paired with her as Attis the Ape Man in "Fins, Femmes & Gems," another episode that had Xena and Gabrielle divided by their separate pursuits, and just as she did there, Xena tries to avoid solving her problems by going fishing.

Just like its source, "The Thesmophoriazusae," "Kindred Spirits" depicts a gender war in comic fashion, and is consistent with the very first Amazon episode in this regard, "Hooves & Harlots." Aristophanes' play ends with Euripides promising to keep their secrets if they release his father-in-law from captivity. Of course, Euripides had the last laugh in real life: he followed this play not long after with "The Bacchae," using the image of the disguised man trying to discover women's secrets, but ends up beheaded by his own mother, winning first prize by revealing the most ancient secret of Greek theater and of Greek women: the rites of the Bacchae and the power they hold over Greece's thin veneer of civilized culture.

01An Interview with Robert Tapert, paragraph 66
02The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves, 27.e


The Types and Patterns of All Things Xena  > Free To Be Euripides: Chapter Index

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