Whoosh! Issue 68 - May 2002

A (SEMI-) DEFENSE OF ULYSSES
By Lee Reams
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
1566 words


A Lot of People Hate ULYSSES (01-04)
Why All The Hate? (05-13)
Rejudging ULYSSES (14-15)
Articles
Biography



A (SEMI-) DEFENSE OF ULYSSES



A Lot of People Hate ULYSSES



Some say I look like a young Roger Daltrey!

A lot of fans didn't care for Ulysses.


[01] The most surprising result of the Hate Poll (Whoosh issue 64) was the degree of loathing that fans expressed for ULYSSES, which they placed as the sixth worst Xena: Warrior Princess episode of them all. True, it is a definite contender for the uncoveted position of "Most Disappointing Xena Episode," at least until SEND IN THE CLONES and A FRIEND IN NEED were aired (rather than being consigned to the modern facility that so impressed the Xena clone). However, I can think of more than twelve episodes that were obviously worse than ULYSSES. It was easily better than the six episodes that fans saw as less bad.

[02] The usual poor Xena episode was the result of a misconceived script, IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL being a prime example. This was not the case with ULYSSES, at least not outwardly. The basic concept of Xena meeting Ulysses was a very good one, and the script itself was certainly better than decent. Another problem with many weak episodes was that they had too little Xena (e.g., the execrable MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS, among too many others), too little Gabrielle (THE KEY TO THE KINGDOM), or too much Joxer (especially KING OF THE ASSASSINS and FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS). None of those were a problem with ULYSSES.

[03] The episode also had a good special effect with the long-awaited appearance of Poseidon, three very good fights (especially the one in Ulysses' palace), and two remarkable, jaw-dropping moments. After all, one of the biggest joys of Xena: Warrior Princess was watching Xena pull off the most unbelievable things. ULYSSES had two of the most astonishing ones, especially for fans of Homer's Odyssey: (1) Xena's amazing ability to out-sing the Sirens and (2) her under-the-table assistance to Ulysses in stringing the bow.

[04] ULYSSES also featured what was perhaps the all-time best disclaimer, "Despite Gabrielle's incessant hurling, Ulysses' ship was not harmed during the production of this motion picture". How many funnier ones can you remember? ULYSSES also boasted a very humorous performance by Renee O'Connor, another instance of Xena Warrior Physician, and the revelation of the fact that preparing food was definitely NOT one of Xena's many skills.


Why All The Hate?



Whoa.  She *is* taller than me!

Comment was made that Xena and Ulysses didn't have a lot of chemistry.


[05] So far so good, but why all the hate? One reason, of course, was that Xena had the temerity to fall for Ulysses. Having Xena fall in love with any man was a grievous offense in the eyes of subtext fans, it almost goes without saying. Others, however, decry it as a mere "romance of the week" and the most overused cliché in television writing.

[06] The original Star Trek was a particularly notorious offender, having Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and even Scotty fall in love. Yet, on at least one occasion, in the episode "City on the Edge of Forever," the love Kirk had for Edith Keeler was central to the plot in what was perhaps the best episode of the series. Having the main character of a series fall in love is thus not necessarily a bad thing, if it is handled properly.

[07] Further, Ulysses would have been a natural candidate to arouse Xena's amorous instincts, for the Ulysses -- or, more properly, Odysseus -- of legend was a bit of a bad lad. Not just a mighty warrior, he was also a cunning liar and trickster. Guess who came up with the Trojan Horse scam? His maternal grandfather was none other than Autolycus. Do not forget that Xena had a weakness for bad boy types. One of the legitimate problems of the episode was the complete absence of Ulysses' dark side, though admittedly it is hard to see how it could have been inserted into the script.

[08] Even so, a much bigger problem was an utterly disastrous piece of miscasting, the most notorious in the entire Xenaverse. It was not a case of bad acting. It was a case of adequate acting from absolutely the wrong actor for the role. I have seen John D'Aquino in two or three episodes of Murder She Wrote and in a recurrent role on Jag as an often asinine cable news reporter. He is quite effective in the latter role and certainly not bad in the former. Indeed, he was the main guest star on the March 26, 2002, episode of Jag and acquitted himself very well. Be that as it may, it is difficult to understand how anyone could imagine that D'Aquino could convincingly play Ulysses, especially opposite an actor of Lucy Lawless' caliber and particularly when her character was supposed to fall in love with his. Though there was some (slight) chemistry between the two, there was much more between Lawless and Patrick Fabian (Rafe) in the widely despised KING CON and far, far more between Lucy and Jon Bennet in the undervalued ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.

[09] Further, according to the "Whimpers, Murmurs, And A Love Gone Too Far" section of the Whoosh! discussion of ULYSSES, D'Aquino could not handle the fight scenes well. One has to wonder why he was imported all the way from the U.S. in the first place. The most likely explanation is that he was cast simply because of his looks. He was handsome enough for Xena to fall for him, and he exploited his connection with Ted Raimi through SeaQuest DSV. He was also a bit too young and too bland for the role. Worse, he does not seem to be anything other than a modern American. Some actors, not matter how talented they might be, simply do not belong in the sword-and-sandal era. Humphrey Bogart or Gary Cooper could not have played Ulysses, either.

[10] There is something about John D'Aquino in ULYSSES that recalls a good line from Tony Rome, a better-than-usual Frank Sinatra film. Troubled tycoon Simon Oakland describes his new son-in-law's background: "He was an assistant tennis pro--he wasn't even the pro!" Assistant tennis pro-types are rarely the stuff of heroes. Try imagining this Ulysses blinding a Cyclops. The role of Ulysses required a more experienced and somewhat more weather-beaten actor. Confining ourselves only to actors who appeared in other episodes of the series, the always reliable Charles Mesure would have been a much better choice to play Ulysses. Unfortunately, we had to wait until THE DIRTY HALF-DOZEN in Season Three to see him.

[11] To be fair, however, Laurence Olivier in his prime might have had some difficulty doing this role as written. The script had two conflicting ideas. The first was that Xena would fall for Ulysses but then give him up for Penelope's sake. There was nothing inherently wrong with that. One of Xena's best traits was her nobility of spirit.

[12] The second idea was that Xena had to help Ulysses string the bow. This turns the episode into a takeoff on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, with Xena doing for Ulysses what John Wayne did for Jimmy Stewart in that film. More importantly, it also turns Ulysses into a bit of a fool and a weakling. Why could he not string his own bow, for Zeus' sake? By so doing, the script also makes Xena seem foolish. It is almost as if she had fallen madly in love with Joxer, a calamity that we were fortunately spared. This is probably the best reason for disliking ULYSSES.

[13] Making it worst, the fault could have been easily remedied. All that had to be done was simply to establish that Ulysses, owing to the wound he had sustained while retaking the ship, was temporarily weaker than usual, to just enough of a degree to prevent his stringing the bow without Xena's secret help. He should have been shot with the arrow in the right shoulder, not the left, and been shown flexing his arm anxiously immediately before entering the palace's great hall.


Rejudging ULYSSES



Back off, makeup boy!  She's mine!

Gabrielle doesn't look terribly pleased.


[14] If ULYSSES does not belong among the twelve worst episodes, where should we rank it?

[15] As actually made, it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, just slightly closer to the best than the worst. With casting that is more appropriate and a slightly improved script, however, it might well have made at least the top twenty.


Articles

Lee Reams, "A PRICE Second to None," WHOOSH #64 (January 2002)


Biography

a man of mystery Lee Reams
Born on an Army base in Washington State, I have spent most of my life in California. I hold a Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Southern California and have taught that subject and other history courses at various universities in California, Utah and Wisconsin. I have also published scholarly articles on ancient history, specifically the Late Roman Republic. I currently have a book on the Hurrians and Hittites under consideration for publication by a major university press in England.


Favorite episode: THE PRICE
Favorite line: Xena: "Do? We're GONNA KILL THEM ALL!" THE PRICE; Meg to Gabrielle: "You kinda look like her, but Gabrielle wasn't so butch". LIVIA
First episode seen: DEVI
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS

 

 

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