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Clare & Renay's Adventures in: Xena

In a time without a Black Widow movie on the horizon, two fans in turmoil cried out for a heroine. She was Xena, a mighty female protagonist forged in the fires of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The action, the camp, the queer subtext. Her adventures will rock their worlds.

Clare: First things first: XENA’S HAIR. It is no secret that I am madly in love with Xena (like Gabrielle), but something about getting rid of that headband braid and roughing her hair up a little makes her look like a mighty, avenging lion. Gosh, she’s just so intimidating and powerful <3 <3 <3

Renay: We're so on the same wavelength because this was MY FIRST NOTE about this episode and it said, "DEAR WARDROBE DEPARTMENT: GOOD LIFE DECISION ON THE HAIR." I hand wrote that in capslock, that's how into it I was. It makes her look fierce/hot/deadly.

Clare: Anyway, there are other people in this episode other than the Warrior Princess (of my heart). Namely, the Dude of the Week (which, as we’ve seen, are alternately assigned to either Xena or Gabrielle) is Autolycus, King of Thieves, as played by B movie icon Bruce Campbell.

Campbell has a personal connection with the Xenaverse. He’s been close friends with Xena executive producer Sam Raimi since high school, and he, Raimi, and Rob Tapert founded Renaissance Pictures, Xena’s production company, so they could produce the first Evil Dead movie. And this episode is Campbell’s second appearance as Autolycus, after his eponymous episode in season two of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Autolycus is going to turn up at least once a season for the next three seasons of Xena, before being confined to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

Renay: The whole episode I couldn't figure out Autolycus's name and Netflix's captions weren't working, so I gave up and started calling him Knock-Off Timothy Dalton.

Clare: I can see him as a very poor man’s T. Daltz. Of course, my love for Timothy “actual snarling man panther” Dalton is limitless and my distaste for Autolycus is also limitless, so I am also conflicted.

Renay: A few of the side characters we've seen from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys have been comical, haven't they? Salmoneus, now Autolycus. I won't complain about Hercules: The Legendary Journeys fobbing off funny characters to us, but as much as I liked this actor I'm not sure I cared for the character that much? Of all the crossover characters we've seen, Knock-Off Timothy Dalton is definitely one I'd be happy to not see again, at least in this particular context.

Clare: The best thing about Autolycus is, well, he’s played by freaking Bruce Campbell. Campbell knows exactly the right tone to go for here; campy, fun, and capable of a little heart. Autolycus looks like Errol Flynn got lost at a Renaissance Festival and decided that plunging necklines were in. He sells his cheesy lines without being glib and manages to come off as winningly capable although Gabrielle and Xena have the upper hand on him.

The worst thing about Autolycus? His attitude towards women. Specifically, his attitude towards Xena.

Sixteen episodes into the series, we really haven’t seen a lot of oppressively male gaze-y material presented to us as okay and palatable. When men see Xena first and foremost as a sexual object, they’re portrayed as idiots or villains. Xena and Gabrielle’s sexual agency is largely treated as a given. Yes, Xena is often willing to manipulate men sexually (I’m trying not to use "seduce" or "use her feminine wiles" because that kind of language plays into something I’m not comfortable assigning Xena), but it’s always presented as her decision. We’re only in the first season, but I never thought I had to worry about that.

But in the course of Xena’s quest to save the literal Ark of the Covenant for a lost tribe of Israelites (WHEN ARE WE, XENASTAFF?), Autolycus continually and knowingly forces Xena into sexualized situations against her will for his own gratification.

When she explains that the plan to sneak into Malthus’ fortress will have him impersonating Sinteres and her playing his assistant, he proposes that she wear a “sexy” outfit he finds in a shop. Xena refuses. Once onboard the ship to Malthus’ fortress, however, he switches the script without consulting her, changing her cover identity from assistant (an identity where she can wear all her gear under her modest dress) to his personal concubine, requiring her to either choose between changing into the garment or blow their cover.

Later, to distract everyone present so he can case the joint, he, again without consulting her, tells everyone that his concubine will perform the Dance of the Three Veils, which Xena does with maximum sulking and glowering, knocking a man unconscious during the performance and smashing food into Autolycus’ face after.

It’s really difficult to take Autolycus as the show clearly wants us to take him—a dashing thief with a heart of gold who’s attracted to Xena—when he constantly undermines Xena in these ways even as she constantly rejects his sexual advances. (He, in character as the concubine’s owner, refers to her as “newly conquered territory.” VOMIT FOREVER.) He doesn’t come off as charmingly flirty; he comes off as a total creep who completely disregards Xena’s sexual agency while claiming to like her.

So cheers to Campbell and jeers to Autolycus. BOO HISS. BOO HISS, I SAY!

Renay: Exactly! This was the reason I just couldn't get into the character. The moment you cited, on the ship where Knock-Off Timothy Dalton flips the script and forces Xena into a role as a sexual subservient, proceeds to survive only because she saves his ass, and then leaves her to fend for herself colored my experience of everything that came after. Xena and Knock-Off Timothy Dalton made a good team when he stopped treating her like she was an object to be used. But it was soured by all the things you mention that continually objectified Xena in ways that I suppose the episode tried to show were problematic (due to Xena's reactions to them) but never did much to endear him to me. If there was an effort here by the writers to make him likeable, it was lost on me. Tossing some gold in a basket and recognizing the humanity of a group of people by not taking unnecessary advantage of them doesn't really undo what felt like constant, rampant disrespect. It felt tonally weird. I'm glad it wasn't only me who felt this way.

So the next time we see him, I really hope the writers grow him a little as a character, and this scenario doesn't repeat. Because it was gross. :(

Clare: SO. GROSS.

Whoosh confirms that the shooting script has a running gag of everyone thinking Autolycus is saying “King of Thebes” (“I thought that was Cadmus!”), which proves that the Xena writers and I are on the same wavelength (through time). That was my first thought on hearing that line.

Renay: You'll probably be amused to note that the gag as well as the religious undertones of this episode completely escaped me. I thought they were making a bad Robin Hood reference, and really given the time shifting in the series, I feel like I can't be blamed. Xena is the greatest crossover fanfic ever written.

Clare: Well, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which is an amazingly terrible movie, came out in 1991, and Mel Brooks’ parody of all things Robin Hood, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, came out in 1993. “The Royal Couple of Thieves” aired in early 1995. It was definitely in the water, so I don’t think you’re far off!

Supplemental Material

Much like Xena herself, Renay and Clare have powerful allies in their quest.

Date: 2015-11-29 05:40 am (UTC)
frayadjacent: Buffy smirking over Giles with quarterstaff (Xena: grinning at enemy)
From: [personal profile] frayadjacent
Your criticisms of Autolycus are right on. Yet he is somehow my favorite male character on this show. I'm hoping (my memory of his episodes is vague) that that's because he changed, and not just that I'm overly forgiving of Funny Guys. :/

Date: 2015-12-02 09:38 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I do think there's a lot of room for improvement. I'll probably wait to meet him again and see what the writers do with him. I remember being kind of blah about Marcus, even though he wasn't particularly gross, but coming around on him later. :D


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