Whoosh! Issue 67 - April 2002

GOD IN LOVE
By Carla M. Gilless
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
3073 words


Introduction (01-02)
The Classical Ares (03-04)
The Smith Spin (05-06)
Obsessions and Other Pastimes (07-12)
Now And Again (13-18)
With and Against the Gods (19-22)
The Start of Something Big (23-30)
Mr. Smith Goes To Illusia (31-32)
Articles
Biography



GOD IN LOVE



Introduction



Ares marveled at Xena's crepe paper clothes

Ares advises Xena on how to get rid of a pesky blonde


[01] One of the more intriguing characters in the Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys series has been Ares, the Greek God of War. Portrayed by the actor Kevin Smith, the character evolved and matured into something unheard of in classical literature: a god who truly loved a mortal and grew into a being of finer substance. In any other hands, Ares could well have been a one-note persona, or worse, a laughable caricature. But Kevin Smith, through the nuances of his performance, brought passion, charm, complexity, and certain sympathy to the character of Ares.

[02] This essay is my attempt to honor the gift that we received by watching Kevin Smith take an initially small role and turn it into a portrayal of unrequited love. The talents of Kevin Smith set up the evolution of Ares from a lust driven conniver to a lovelorn soul struggling with unfamiliar emotions.


The Classical Ares



Hmmm, I wonder what Xena would do...

The Ares of THE RECKONING had a cool bachelor pad


[03] Gods, by their very nature, are supposed to be perfect, or if imperfect, at least static in their character. While gods have sometimes taken on new powers or been given dominion over a different aspect of nature, this is usually done when they are imported by a conquering nation into their pantheon of gods.

[04] When the Romans took over the world, Ares transmuted into Mars and became the second most revered god in their religion, in contrast to his standing with the ancient Greeks. As the legitimate offspring of Zeus and Hera, along with his sisters, Hebe and Eileithyia, Ares was not a particularly popular god with the ancient Greeks. He was considered rather unstable with a fickle nature and bad temper. Hasty to act and selfishly opportunistic, his actions usually caused trouble for mortals and gods alike. He also seemed to suffer from an inferiority complex, always suspecting that daddy Zeus liked his other children better, especially Hercules, and he often sided with Hera in her wars with Zeus. Like Loki of the northern myths, he was considered trouble with a capital 'T' and no one liked him very much, but they needed his powers in the endless round of battles inherent in empire building. The Greeks preferred reason with their mayhem, hence Athena's higher standing in the ranking of the Gods.


The Smith Spin



Yes, I want a hair commercial...NOW!

Kevin Smith at the 1998 2nd Burbank Convention
Photo courtesy of Debbie Cassetta


[05] Gods often became obsessed with mortals and mated with them, but never for very long and often with tragic results for the mortal. True love, with its attendant selflessness and sacrifice, was not part of the relations of gods and mortals. After all, gods were gods and while it was okay for them to mess around with mortals, only other gods or demi-gods were worthy of their devotion. However, in the Xena universe Kevin Smith portrayed the character as a god who grew from the average obsessive to one hopelessly in love with, and willing to sacrifice for, a mortal woman.

[06] On Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Ares' first two appearances were as an unseen force manipulating murder and mayhem in THE VANISHING DEAD, and then as the personification of the battle lust of war in ARES. Those early appearances of Ares in Hercules were portrayed not by Kevin Smith, but by two other actors, Mark Newnham in ARES and Reb Brown in THE VANISHING DEAD. It is not until Kevin Smith takes on the role in Xena's THE RECKONING do we begin to get the definitive Ares who appears regularly on both series. These early appearances show the God trying to get his way by subterfuge and deceit, his standard operating procedure. The character in the early shows comes across as something of a coward, especially in the Hercules series. He does not directly attack Hercules until he is forced to by the unraveling of his tricks. We also are given the beginnings of Ares' second obsession: his jealousy because "Daddy" likes Hercules better.


Obsessions and Other Pastimes



Whaddya mean I look like Brad Pitt

Ares second appearance on Xena was in TIES THAT BIND


[07] Ares' jealousy will become the driving force behind many of his attempts to best Hercules, just as turning Xena back to her warlord ways is the prime motivation of his Xena appearances, or so it seems in the first years of the series. Staying true to his mythology, he often tries to trick Xena into returning to her bad old ways. When we first meet Ares in the Xena world, in THE RECKONING, he is manipulative, sneaky, and not happy at having lost his favorite warrior to the 'good' side. He wants her back and does not care how that happens, even to endangering her life by framing her for murder. Smith plays Ares in this episode with a fine shading of godlike arrogance and a very human longing.

[08] In TIES THAT BIND, Ares tries to pull on the family strings to win Xena back. How he knows that Xena has a secret soft spot for her daddy is not made clear, but Ares is more than willing to use whatever he can to stir up the anger he knows still simmers inside her. This time he almost pulls it off and it is only Gabrielle's courage in standing up to the blood-crazed Xena that saves the day.

[09] In THE FURIES, he spins the trickery angle by trying to drive Xena mad, in the hopes that a mad Xena will be under his control forever. Again, Xena manages to turn the tables on him, with the astounding accusation that he is her true father. Smith portrays Ares with an ambivalent reaction to this charge: equal parts admiration for Xena's cleverness and fascination that anyone believes he is her father. It is never made clear if the charge is true, and none of the characters seems to be put off by the implied incestuousness of his lust for Xena. Not that such a notion seemed to bother the ancient Greeks, either. Most of their stories of the ancient Gods had them coupling with their sisters, brothers, and offspring. Yet what could be a horror to a modern viewer, with our deeply ingrained revulsion to incest, becomes instead an intriguing 'is he' or 'isn't he' question.

[10] Another favored method of getting Xena back is the 'replacement' champion. Whether trying out the crazed Callisto as his new warrior babe or grooming a new warrior, Ares cannot resist making Xena aware of what he is doing. In each of these attempts, Smith gives his character a fascinating mix of ruthlessness and chagrin. In INTIMATE STRANGER, Ares gets to 'experience' the joys of making it with Xena's body while it is inhabited by Callisto, something he will throw in her face later. Yet, Smith manages to convey that having the body without the soul is less than satisfying for the character.

[11] Again bested by Xena's cleverness, Ares gives up on replacements for a time. In THE SUCCESSION, a slightly different approach is tried. This time, Ares seems to understand that Gabrielle is the key to reaching Xena. By placing the two out of each other's reach, he hopes to goad one or the other into killing Mavican, his supposed new heir. Then he will swoop in and claim the killer as his own.

[12] Smith imbues his character with a subtle glee that Xena always outwits him. He makes it clear that, although Ares will continue to look for champions, it is Xena that he really wants. In LIVIA, believing Xena dead, he is making do with another substitute warrior. Unaware at first that Livia is really Xena's daughter; he relishes her blood lust. Yet, when Xena shows up very much alive, he drops Livia in a flash. Ultimately, no one will ever be his warrior of choice, unless it is, of course, Xena.


Now And Again



This little old thing?

Ares scopes out Melinda Pappas/Xena in THE XENA SCROLLS


[13] Another fascinating theme of the Ares character is that Xena, Ares, and Gabrielle have an intertwined destiny, one that recurs throughout the ages. In THE XENA SCROLLS, the character does not appear until well into the episode, but again he is shown as an integral part of the Xenaverse. How he is trapped in the tomb or by whom is never quite made clear. Nevertheless, the fact that only a descendent of Xena can free him re-enforces his eternal ties to Xena. Smith plays Ares in this episode with an anger and ruthlessness that had been lacking in his early appearances. Of course, maybe being trapped in a tomb for 3000 years would make anyone a touch nasty.

[14] DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN reinforces the idea that Ares will never give up on Xena. Even thousands of years later, he will find a way to insert himself into her life, regardless of what body she currently inhabits.

[15] In SOUL POSSESSION, sadly Smith's final turn as Ares, he plays the modern Ares as a classic 'bad boy'. Dressed in shades of Armani, he roars into town on a muscle motorcycle ready to claim his warrior for all eternity. Smith gives Ares a kind of nasty joy at the thought that he is finally getting Xena as his own. Bested yet again by her cleverness, Ares vows to keep the game alive. A promise that is heartbreaking to think can never happen.

[16] The comedy episodes offer Smith a chance to poke fun at his character with a light-hearted ease, yet still show his love for Xena. In TEN LITTLE WARLORDS, with no clue to the simplest aspects of being mortal, he is able to portray Ares as a frightened yet still arrogant ex-God. Also explored in this episode is that personal hygiene is one of the biggest problems for ex-Gods, a theme that is reused with Aphrodite and Ares in later episodes. Smith manages to give Ares a sympathetic turn as a fish out of water as a mortal, yet still maintains a sense of the power that resides in the former god. He gives the character a sly sense of humor and hints at the beginnings of a reluctant understanding of mortals.

[17] THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER offers Smith a chance to stretch his talents with the old losing his powers and struggling with personal hygiene gambits. His take on the character's loss of dignity is done in a delicious slapstick manner.

[18] In OLD ARES HAD A FARM, we get a deeper look at Smith's comedic talents. With a physique worthy of a Greek God, he pokes fun at the macho posturing and vanity of Ares. Yet, he also shows the characters very real helplessness in the face of love. Ares will do anything, even live as a mortal, if he can have Xena's love. Smith lends poignancy to Ares' longing that is very touching.


With and Against the Gods



And we're going to have such handsome children...you just wait and see!

Ares gets a Hope-jones in SACRIFICE II


[19] Smith always kept the sinister edge to his character. Ever the opportunist, Ares will choose his own interests first, even when that means going against his fellow gods. In THE SACRIFICE I AND II, he allies himself with the evil god Dahak and his spawn, Hope. Smith is at his most edgy in these episodes, showing Ares trying to hedge his bets by playing as many sides as possible. Even here, though, he tries to include Xena in his plans.

[20] It is in CHAKRAM that he goes body-a-body against another buff God named Kel. Smith easily wins this contest. In this episode, the truth of his feelings for Xena begins to be admitted. The scene in the bath, where he is ostensibly seducing an amnesiac Xena, is as much about his seduction as hers. He cannot keep his eyes off of her, and Smith plays this with the appropriate lovestruck helplessness.

[21] The episode SEEDS OF FAITH, has Smith returning to the ruthless Ares. He will not tolerate another upstart God and kills Eli, although he knows it will turn Xena against him. He even tries seducing Gabrielle with a taste of Godhood. Smith gives this episode a fine sense of danger and unfinished business.

[22] Finally, though the character must put up or shut up and in AMPHILOPHIS UNDER SEIGE, he allies himself with Xena against Athena. Smith goes all out here showing the character's need to believe Xena will be with him if he helps to save her daughter. When the tables are turned yet again, he does not show regret at being fooled but rather relief.


The Start of Something Big



Um, Xena, I don't think my contact lens is down there

Ares gets a Xena-jones in AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGES


[23] It is in the later episodes of Season Five and Six that Smith brings a deeper resonance to the growing realization that Ares is falling in love with Xena. Not just with the usual God-like lust for a mortal, but a full-blown love. He is beginning to understand that his feelings have more depth than is usual between a god and a mortal, but it is something he struggles against admitting, with good reason. He faces not only rejection from Xena, but ridicule from the other gods.

[24] For the Olympians, humans were sometimes amusing playthings, but none ever managed a lasting affection for their paramours. Yet, here is Ares, the tough, bloodthirsty God of War finding himself bound to a mortal in ways that the other gods have never experienced. Smith manages to convey the profound embarrassment of the character as well as his fascination with the concept of 'love'.

[25] Ares finally admits, to Zeus of all gods, that he cares for Xena, in GOD FEARING CHILD. It is only through the lure of achieving his second obsession, killing "Daddy's favorite child" that Ares agrees to help Zeus with his Xena problem. Smith displays the struggle his character has with honesty, when Xena dares him to admit his love for her. He is heartbreaking in his inability to tell her to her face, while admitting it to himself with a sweet sadness.

[26] In ETERNAL BONDS, Smith plays Ares as desperate. He knows the Gods are after Xena's child and he believes they will ultimately win. His pleas to Xena to have a child together and rule as Gods are a last ditch effort to preserve them both.

[27] LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE and MOTHERHOOD are the culmination of Ares' lovelorn quest to be with Xena. Trying to save her from the other Gods, he promises, he pleads, and ultimately he mourns when he believes her dead. Smith's expressions of grief when he takes the bodies to a hiding place are beautiful in their simplicity. He eloquently expresses the hold she has on him and lends dignity to his declaration of love.

[28] When Xena is returned to him in MOTHERHOOD, he makes the ultimate sacrifice for her love. Giving up his Godhood to save Gabrielle and Eve is the final, perfect expression of his enthrallment. Smith's look of hope when Xena thanks him embodies all the terror and joy of being in love.

[29] In COMING HOME, Smith pulls out all the stops for his portrayal of a mad Ares. Still mortal and tormented by the Furies for his part in the Olympia massacre, he sees Xena and Gabrielle everywhere and does not seem at all surprised that they want to be with him. Ares was if nothing else always an optimist when it came to these two. In the fight scene between him and Xena, Smith plays Ares with an unleashed anger that is truly scary. Maybe all those years of being humiliated by Xena have finally come to the surface for his character. When he kills Xena, the madness leaves him and he sees what he has done. Smith's portrayal of Ares' anguish is enough to make the heart stop. Here, finally, is the God completely acknowledging his love for this mortal woman. After Gabrielle revives Xena, she and Ares have a quiet tete-a-tete. This may be the only time in their history together that they are able to have a simple, honest talk. Smith's delivery of Ares' plea to know if there can ever be a chance for him and Xena is forever hopeful. Ares makes it clear that he will never give up on Xena and Smith makes that seem endearing rather than sinister.

[30] These and many other performances by Kevin Smith in Xena brought to fascinating life a character as essential to the Xena world as Xena and Gabrielle.


Mr. Smith Goes To Illusia



Boar! Boar! Boar!

Between peas and boar, Ares was a boar man


[31] Finally, we come to, in my opinion, the quintessential Smith appearance as Ares. In THE BITTER SUITE, he sings, he dances, and he smolders with a raw sensuality that make my knees knock. In this one performance, Smith encompasses all of the characteristics of Ares in previous and future appearances. He is scheming, seductive, dangerous, and opportunistic. He uses the tragic deaths of their children to drive a further wedge between Xena and Gabrielle. He goads Xena into the ultimate act of madness, trying to kill Gabrielle, by playing on her grief and sorrow. When they wind up in Illusia, he becomes the embodiment of her rage.

[32] This tour-de-force performance by Smith solidifies the importance of his work. Smith's talents made Ares what he was. He elevated a minor mythic character into something grander and unforgettable. It will always be this Kevin Smith that I see in my minds eye: vital, sexy, intriguing and forever ready to pop back into the Xena world to delight us all.


Articles

Carla M. Gilless, "Masters and Pupils," Whoosh! #60 (09/01)



Biography

carla gilless Carla M. Gilless
Carla M. Gilless is a computer nerd. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and a polydactyl cat named Bigfoot, who shares her fascination with watching Xena episodes. (The cat, that is; the husband only watches westerns and Three Stooges shorts.) She is trying to get a life now that Xena is gone from the airwaves.


Favorite Ares episode: THE BITTER SUITE
Favorite Ares line: "I gotta stop trying that, I'm gonna rupture something" -- COMING HOME
First Ares episode seen: THE RECKONING
Least favorite Ares episode: There isn't any. Every episode with Kevin Smith as Ares is a good one.

 

 

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