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REVIEW 701 - HONOR BOUND

If you would like to send in a review of this Virtual Episode, please submit it to:  theofficialxwpvs@hotmail.com

Initial Impressions:

What more can I say, I was a crying, hurting, blubbering idiot when I started to read this new scroll. To me Gabby has always been a rock. She has always had an inner strength I’ve admired and hope to develop some day. As I read the tale, I felt Gabby’s heart growing weaker as she begins to deal with this loss. I knew she wouldn’t be able to go on with a “normal” day (but then how many of us had a “normal” day after we saw the Finale? I know I didn’t). But the apparent guilt she has over Xena’s “death” is something I never conceived of. Way back when, in the scroll “One Against an Army”, Gabby “accepted the consequences of their life together, that it might one day come to this”. I never thought about her feeling guilty for what happened. I thought she would be hurting and use this pain to fight for the greater good. (At least that was what she did following one of Xena’s ventures to the great beyond).

I loved how Gabby kept clutching the urn. She can’t let go of Xena. Gabby was Xena’s source and Xena was Gabby’s inspiration. This is something we all have to know is right. We all lose people close to us at some point in our life, but these people are still walking with us. We need to keep holding on to them. Keep them in our hearts as Gabby has kept Xena in hers.

Ephiny was a surprise, a welcome surprise. She has always had a knack for making Gabby stop and realize she is heading down the wrong path.

Dreams (not the Fleetwood Mac hit)

What is it with Gabrielle and boats? Every time she is on one, something bad happens. The boat either sinks, she gets sea sick, almost gets sucked into a vortex, she gets sea sick, she gets sea sick and Xena goes off to fight Gabby’s fight, or she has nightmares. But in a way these nightmares are a way of healing for her.

As the dreams replay the events surrounding Xena’s death, Gabby’s mind is changing the events to help her deal with her grief. The fear, asking why, ashes, sword, and searching that are in her dreams (before Ephiny appears) are part of this grieving process. The fear comes from unexpressed love, self-doubts, and courage. Asking why or questioning in dreams is a call for a reply, feeling of uncertainty, and expression of doubt. Ashes depict a loss of something through carelessness. The sword means she feels a need to confront. And the searching is looking for recognition of desires or wants.

After Ephiny finally gets through to Gabby, the dreams take a peaceful turn. Gabby is no longer seeing the death of Xena, but the life of her. The laughing, the quiet rumble of a stream, the cherry blossom. This peace may be the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new cycle. Gabby may have reached a new level of stability and calmness. Or, this is just the calm before the storm.

Q & A, but without the A (well, sort of)

This scroll has brought up many questions, mostly about Gabby’s character. Will Gabby become a “monster”? Will Gabby become what she feared Xena would become if she died? Is she going to grieve like Xena in “Adventures in the Sin Trade”? Gabby is devastated now, if Xena can’t be brought back, will Gabby be able to go on?

I highly doubt that Gabby will become a monster. Sure, she has become something like Xena, but Gabrielle is pure, her heart is strong. Eventually (if Xena cannot be brought back) Gabby will have to go on with her life. The light will still shine on her face and she will always be out to battle for the greater good. Even if the greater good is what took Xena away from her.

It’s hard to think of Gabby going on without Xena. If she has to go on without Xena, how will she. When Xena died in “The Quest” Gabby was still young and naïve to the world. Could that have played a part in the difference in the ways she grieved for her friend? Or is it that both Xena and Gabby have come back from death so many times that it is the expected outcome (by both them and us?). Gabby has to go on though. If she can’t, her heart is not as strong as thought. She’s not the rock portrayed in numerous episodes. Gabby needs to focus, like Xena always told her. This bard is destined to do something great with her life. Since day one, she wanted to be the beginning of the peace and the end of the violence. Gabby can still do this she just needs to realize she has to do this, with or without Xena. It will be harder to accomplish this without Xena, but Gabby has never backed down from a challenge. The pain is great nevertheless at least she knows her and Xena are soul mates. This offers little condolence, however it is something to look forward to. Gabrielle and Xena will always be together, spiritually or physically (although it would be better if Xena would come back in this life time, but we will all have to wait and see).

Quotes, Quotes, and more Quotes

I love quotes, things I can spit at someone that make me sound intelligent. Or in the case of this scroll, two quotes of feelings and true emotions. The first is when Xena appears to Gabby while she is still on the boat. “We’ve been through a lot together… some good times… some bad times… …but we always managed to win in the end… I don’t feel like a winner this time around, Xena“. That is true emotion in its simplest form. Gabby has never been afraid to say or show her emotions and this is straight out how she feels. I wish I could be that strong to say what I felt whenever and to whomever.

The second quote is when Gabby is setting up camp and is talking to Xena (even though Xena’s not there in a semi-visible form). The “…But they weren’t concerned about honor. They were more concerned about revenge. They weren’t concerned about justice; they just wanted somebody to take the blame”. How many times do we find ourselves wanting someone to take the blame and seek revenge and/or vengeance for something without finding out the truth? No truth in the matter, no honor in the revenge. No honor in the revenge, no revenge, only another pain to feel.

~ unknown author ~

 

Review by Josh:

I found it rather difficult to approach this virtual season idea. Unlike a large segment of the fan base (at least, according to surveys conducted online), I was not upset, offended, or hurt by the way Tapert & Company decided to conclude their story. Perhaps this is why I was invited to offer my commentary on these new stories; I would be a lot less willing to forgive the flaws in the tale because they brought the Warrior Princess back to life.

I have never been fond of fan fiction – the vast majority of it, in my opinion, is amateurish and nowhere near as engaging as the series itself. As a glorified fan fiction project, this virtual season (again, in my opinion) seemed doomed to mediocrity at best; clearly an attempt by the dissatisfied segment of the fandom to pretend the series finale was all a horrible dream.

Still, I felt the sharp sting of curiosity. Where would these new scribes take the story? How effectively would they capture the tone of the series? How would they convert the active visual format of television into the print-and-picture style of the Internet? What sort of community would develop around this neo-Xena?

I had to find out. If it turned out my suspicions were correct, I could bow out gracefully with no harm done.

If this premiere is any indication, this project has a lot more promise than I had thought it would.

Before I get into the analysis itself, however, I should point out that my approach to these stories is going to be a little different than the television episodes for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, these are scripts, and reading a script is very different from actually seeing a performance (just think of the difference between reading Hamlet and seeing it performed, and you’ll know what I mean). In a script, it is much easier to get into a character’s head and understand their motivations – there is convenient “narration” to point to motivations or feelings.

Second, these stories are not truly restricted by time considerations. While the scribes are doing their best to adhere to the standard length of an hour-long script, there will be no editorial cuts – the whole story should be there. Any glaring omissions or questions will be a lot harder to shrug off as, “It was likely left on the cutting room floor.”

Finally, action and scenery is less important than it was. The “money shots” (to use the professional phrase) should be described in the script, but these will not have the same impact they have on screen. A sense of the action should be given (particularly in the action sequences), but it isn’t going to make or break the episode in my mind.

My primary concerns will be the quality of the story itself, and how faithfully it adheres to the spirit of the original series.

Now let’s sit down and look at Honor Bound, shall we?

I received a preliminary copy of the script – I have no idea how the episode will actually look when fully assembled and posted to the VS website. The preliminary script has some directions that are intended for the web designer – these are images that are intended to be seen on the website (and possibly some audio as well, I don’t know).

A page through the story reveals a faithful adherence to the teleplay format. The teaser and four acts are clearly indicated. The scenes are highlighted with numbers and descriptors, and the editorial directions between scenes (cuts, dissolves, and so forth) are also present. Dialogue is indented, with stage directions to indicate the tone of the lines.

As for the story itself, it proceeds from one of the arguments made by fans at the end of the series. Akemi betrayed Xena’s trust, using “the pinch” to kill her father. Akemi then killed herself, and asked Xena to go against the tradition that patricides get buried with no honor. In fulfilling Akemi’s request, Xena accidentally started the fire that killed the residents of Higuchi, allowing them to be imprisoned by Yodoshi.

Basically, Xena was wrong to sacrifice herself for these people because it wasn’t her fault – justice hasn’t really been done.

Gabrielle hasn’t been well. It would appear that Xena’s spirit is literally hanging around, and that Gabrielle can see and hear her. Xena vanishes each night at sunset, and Gabrielle is left to the torment of nightmares, wracked with guilt because she feels that she should have done something to save her friend. Remaining by her side at the battle where Xena was killed, dumping her ashes into the pool on Mount Fuji to revive her, or any number of other possibilities.

Ephiny appears and tells Gabrielle that there is someone in Chin who may be able to help. (One advantage of this project – any characters can appear because they don’t have to worry about the availability of actors.) Gabrielle finds an old follower of Lao Ma’s teachings (Li Ching) who tells her about the Kannushi. These are holy men who specialize in seeing justice done.

In my research, I wasn’t able to find any specific reference to this group. Still, the idea of a panel of wise priests that sees to the justice of life and death fits into the mythological system of China and Japan, which are both loaded with hierarchies of men, spirits, and gods.

So we have our objective. If Gabrielle can convince the Kannushi that justice was not done, perhaps Xena can be brought back to life. Most of the events in the rest of the episode are obstacles to achieving that goal.

In a nod to the traditions of the series, one of these obstacles is a time limit. Almost entirely arbitrary, it is a device used to add tension, drama, and urgency to an episode. I have no trouble with this at all.

Another obstacle is Xena’s own stubborn refusal to accept the situation. Another character returns to deal with this obstacle – Lao Ma. She reminds Xena that there is a lot of good she has done, and a lot of good she has yet to do. This conflict is not resolved in this episode – we must leave some things for the second part of the episode!

This conflict is very well handled. Xena obviously won’t come back if she doesn’t want to, so her objections to resurrection must be dealt with.

We have our requisite action sequences with Gabrielle getting attacked by thugs on the dock, and by the crew of the ship taking her to Japa. For an episode like this, the dramatic and interpersonal conflicts are more significant than the physical danger, but there should be a fight or two in an episode (it is an action series, after all). These fulfill that role adequately.

This is a two part episode, so we have a fantastic cliff hanger to bring us running back next week; Xena’s ashes are stolen from the shrine by a mysterious ninja (at least, I presume that it’s a ninja, with the stealth and throwing stars).

This is a very engaging story, solidly in the tradition of six years of televised episodes. I think the writers and story developers did a very good job of advancing the story of Xena’s resurrection, and provided interesting challenges and obstacles along the path to that goal. I could certainly see this story done as an episode of the series.

Overall, I am still going to withhold judgment. The conclusion of the story will affect my overall impression of the scribes’ ability to capture the essence of the series and the characters. This is a story that, by its very nature, lends itself to drama and solid storytelling. How will they fare when they need to come up with fresh ideas? Only time will tell.

But for now, I am intrigued enough to go along for the ride.

It’s no secret that, had “A Friend in Need” not been the series finale of Xena, but a season finale, it wouldn’t have been as hated as it was. People might have been able to appreciate its story, despite some rather large plot holes, had that death not seemed so final. And now they can, since the Virtual Season has come along and saved us all! Not only have they resurrected Xena, but they’ve even been able to patch up a few of the plot holes that “A Friend in Need” left open. I would be willing to wager that if “Honor Bound” was aired, as is, on television, and fans watched “Friend in Need” and “Honor Bound” back-to-back, it would be viewed as one of the greatest story arcs the show has ever done.

As far as scripting and pacing, this episode was brilliant. Despite the fact that it was a foregone conclusion that Xena would come back to life, the writers managed to make the episode both suspenseful and taut, effectively using the mystery of the identity of the assassin, and the reappearance of the samurai who had challenged Gabrielle to add vital components to this thoroughly satisfying installment. The notion that Yodoshi’s spirit may not be trapped forever also opens up a possible return in the future, which was a good idea for the writers. It could yield a good story for future episodes, although I hope it won’t be for a long time!

Only a few niggling things remain in my mind…Will Gabrielle’s nightmares from “Honor Bound” be addressed again? And will we see more of Ephiny’s ghost? She appeared in the first part to help Gabrielle. Does she have a greater part to play, as a ghost, in the upcoming season?

Perhaps the greatest question that remains, however, is where do we go from here? Xena and Gabrielle are together once more, all the wrongs have been righted again. I, for one, cannot wait to see how the Virtual Season tackles perhaps even a bigger challenge than bringing Xena back to life…keeping her alive, with fresh storylines and great writing. With “Honor Bound,” the Virtual Team had “A Friend in Need” as an anchor. The purpose of “Honor Bound” was to complete that storyline. Now the Virtual Team must set Xena and Gabrielle off on a new quest, with new villains to vanquish and people to save. And, after viewing “Honor Bound Pts 1 and 2,” I am positive that they are up to the challenge.

My rating for this episode is 10 out of 10: Perfectly executed, perfectly scripted, perfect characterizations, perfect pacing…Perfect everything! And perfectly brilliant, too!

 

Honor Bound” Part One is a stellar achievement and more than worthy of being part of the canon of “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Beyond merely having an excellent plot, the dialogue is well-written, with a perfect ear for the characters and situations. The writers obviously have great love for these characters, and also seem to know them better than even the writers of the original series sometimes seemed to. I could easily see this being a “real” episode of the series. So authentic is it, that, in my mind, it is.

The writers of this episode certainly had a daunting task. They had to figure out how to bring Xena back to life once again, but while keeping with the continuity of the story. They wisely realized that they cannot just bring her back at once, because Xena herself, as we know from the end of “Friend in Need” would not want that. While wishful thinking would have Gabrielle bring Xena back with no argument from Xena, the fact is that Xena chose to remain dead and thus needs to make the decision herself to come back from the spiritual realm, while Gabrielle does the necessary provisions back on the earthly realm. And who better to show Xena the error of her judgment than Lao Ma? It is very clever that both Xena and Gabrielle are drawn into this quest by old, dear friends: Gabrielle by Ephiny, and Xena by Lao Ma. Both of these women are arguably Xena and Gabrielle’s best friends besides each other.

And the way they are dealing with “Friend in Need” is perfect. Every side of the issue of whether Xena was right or not to remain dead is taken into consideration. We hear Xena’s side, we hear Gabrielle’s side, we hear the perspective of the villagers, and, true to Gabrielle’s character, we even hear a defense of Akemi! Xena, after all, even to the end, called Akemi a friend.

The subtext is admirably handled, actually brilliantly handled, as it was in the best episodes of the original series. Those of us, such as myself, who believe that Xena and Gabrielle are more than just friends have a great deal to enjoy, particularly the fact that one of the most horrible things for Gabrielle is that Xena’s spirit is fated to never be with her at night, and thus calm her and drive her nightmares away. What worse fate for lovers than to be denied each other’s embrace at nighttime? At the same time, those who believe that Xena and Gabrielle are soulmates, but not necessarily lesbians, can easily understand how Gabrielle would miss her best friend at night. It was wise for the virtual season not to peg them as lesbian or not, however, just because they are writing the show now. To do so would divide the fans.

This episode is so true to the feel of the original series that at times, I was amazed. I closed my eyes and could actually imagine Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor acting these scenes. What amazing performances the two of them would give, particularly in Xena’s scene with Lao Ma, and Gabrielle’s scene with the old Chinese man. The fight scenes were also well-written. I marvel at how great it would have been to see Renee O’Connor use the chakram in battle, and implement the pinch. The pinch scene, by the way, had me rolling on the floor in laughter. It was perfect annoyed-Gabby-mode. I could just see that adorably frustrated face of hers before it turns into a smile, as she shows off the new trick she learned from Xena.

A great deal of questions are raised about what is to come. Who stole Xena’s ashes? Will the ceremony work, should the ashes be reclaimed? How will Xena finally be convinced of her own redemption? How much more will Ephiny come into play in the story? I am eagerly anticipating the second installment of this two-parter and can’t wait to find out what the season-long story arc will be.

The only thing keeping this from being a perfect episode are Gabrielle’s nightmares. Although I did enjoy one or two, I thought too many of them were depicted. The idea of Gabrielle’s nightmares of decapitating Xena is intriguing, but seeing it over and over again was a little bit too much. I would be curious, however, to learn why Gabrielle feels guilty. Is it merely because she could not convince Xena to come back to life or is perhaps an evil spirit playing mind games on her? I hope this issue is resolved, because it is my only misgiving with the episode.

My rating for the episode? 8 out of 10! Reaching towards brilliance…Not quite there, but incredibly close!

~ Author Unknown ~

 

Is Gabrielle crazy or are we? Stay tuned…

The script answers one burning question: That really is Xena’s spirit by Gab’s side and not just her imagination. Whew! J

The approach to the resurrection problem is IMO a logical one: Xena was tricked into remaining dead. Having Lao Ma teach Xena what she needs to learn to return to the land of the living works for me but then I’m a Lao Ma fan from way back. Having Ephiny be the one to contact Gabrielle also makes sense, especially given “The Last of the Centaurs” (S6, ep #17). HB Part I also introduces the method by which Xena will be [presumably] resurrected. Whether the method is one that makes sense given the Shinto religion (with an anachronistic sprinkling of Buddhism??) is something others will have to answer, but the choice to be consistent with the TV show was probably a wise one.

HB Part I ends with a shocker: An assassin kills a Japanese priest working on Xena’s resurrection ceremony and steals her ashes. Nice cliffhanger ending even if there’s no suspect anywhere on the horizon. More backstory to come? Or is this a new enemy of the daring duo?

Nitpicks:

Too talky – but this strikes me as more fanfic than shooting script, and we (audience) don’t have the advantage of seeing the actors’ expressions and gestures to fill in the blanks.

Gabrielle crying in public (near the end of the episode) – NOT! In private, maybe, but not in front of strangers. She’s too strong for that. This is the person who managed to not throw up when she saw Xena’s mutilated body, and then defeated in one sword stroke the warrior who killed Xena. I can’t see her becoming stoic, like the S1 Xena, or even like herself in later seasons of the TV series, but I do expect her to be as strong in VS7-1 as she was in S6-22. I would have liked to see Gabrielle formulate a plan of her own, of what she would do in life without Xena, rather than showing her as just barely making it on her own and only becoming goal-oriented when there’s a chance to restore Xena.

High points:

I think Xena was handled well. She has a new existence to get used to and that could have been used to show her out of character, but many of her reactions are typical including strongly disagreeing with Gabrielle’s attempt to resurrect her.

Fight scenes were well done. I liked the use of the chakram and the pinch, as well as the sai. I’m still torn about how much I want to see Gabrielle as warrior vs bard; I don’t want her to give up being a bard but I would hate to see her stop being a warrior completely.

I liked the choice of clips and the disclaimer worked:

Disclaimer: Gabrielle learned a number of important life lessons during the making of this motion picture. The value of ducking, the need to make early reservations, how to properly ask for directions, and how to sleep with one eye open.”

It was nice to see old friends again (Ephiny and Lao Ma) and of course I was delighted that TPTB were able to get the original actors to portray the characters. J

Good uses of humor – not overdone, but in places were it made sense.

Incidental and supporting characters were handled well, adding plot and motivation as needed without taking too much away from Gabrielle, who is the focus of the ep.

My subtextometer ran up pretty high, around an 8, based on the emotional and physical closeness between Xena and Gabrielle and some of their dialogue. The rather strong hint that Lao Ma and Xena were more than just friends was also interesting.

Episode Rating: 7/10. The story raised lots of possibilities, but I would have preferred a bit more action and a lot more independence on Gabrielle’s part. Still, I’m looking forward to the next episode and I think this opening to the new season worked well.

~ Gail Futoran ~


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