Antony, Were Nature's Piece 'Gainst Fancy
"Antony and Cleopatra" Plot Summary:
As Cleopatra takes a milk bath, her men warn her that both Brutus and Marc Antony want to control her - and, through her, Egypt's navy - in their efforts to consolidate power in Rome. A servant hands the queen an urgent message, but when she unrolls the scroll, an asp pops out and bites her breast. Dying, Cleopatra whispers to her servant Chiana that the girl must get a message to Xena.
Xena and Gabrielle are vacationing on the Nile while the warrior princess' mother takes care of Eve. Reading about the fate of Cleopatra, Xena says they will have to take on Egypt, then Rome. Later, Antony opens a gift from Cleopatra, a rolled carpet. When he unrolls it, he finds Xena disguised as Cleopatra. She's bound in gold chains and says she's a slave of Rome. "Egypt is yours, Antony," she promises. He frees her, but fears she is trying to capture him, and insists he must learn to trust her before her conquest will be complete. Meanwhile, Brutus comes to see Cleopatra, and is shocked to find Gabrielle in the queen's service. Xena avoids him until she can greet him in her true persona, not looking like she believes him when he calls Octavius a murdering opportunist.
As Xena sleeps, a man sneaks into her room. She assumes he is an assassin, but it turns out he's Octavius, coming to see Cleopatra to ask for help against Brutus and Antony. As they talk, her bedroom is torched. When Xena escapes, Antony comes to her aid and calls the boy a traitor, even though he is Julius Caesar's nephew and heir. Xena places Octavius in protective custody and flirts with Antony, though Gabrielle interrupts before they can consummate their attraction, which annoys Xena. "I have no real feelings for him," she scoffs, insisting she has the potential assassin right where she wants him. The next night, Xena and Antony have an assignation, where he announces that he no longer wants her navy - he only wants her love. Their passionate embrace is interrupted by Brutus' assassins, who are defeated bloodily by Antony while Xena watches.
Gabrielle goes to see Octavius, who seems like an idealistic boy. He thinks his uncle was selfish and arrogant, and wants to make up for Julius' sins by bringing the Pax Roman. When Gabrielle tells Xena she thinks Octavius is sincere, Xena admits she does have a soft spot for romantic bad boys, and wonders whether she can somehow make Antony work with Octavius. But the next time she sees her would-be lover, he is making plans to defeat Brutus and Octavius, threatening to kill them and all their men so people understand they cannot oppose Marc Antony. Xena tells Antony that Brutus' fleet is coming up the Nile, and she will reinforce him with Egypt's navy.
"Cleopatra" then summons Brutus, who is shocked to recognize Xena. She says she knows Brutus had the real Cleopatra killed, which he admits - he assumed Antony would seduce her otherwise. Xena agrees that Antony is their common enemy, no matter what she thinks of Brutus for having her crucified. She tells Brutus that Antony's fleet is coming down the Nile, and she will reinforce him with Egypt's navy. When Brutus asks how he can trust her, Gabrielle says she will sail with him.
Before the battle, Antony tells Xena he cannot be defeated with her at his side, and Brutus tells Gabrielle he is about to become Rome. Neither man shares the women's concern at how many men will have to die for the good of Rome. On an Egyptian ship, Octavius tells Chiana he's nervous, but he knows it is his destiny to rule. When Brutus tries to ram Antony's ship, Octavius launches Egypt's navy against both Roman vessels. Gabrielle kills Brutus after he beats her for deceiving him. Then Antony realizes that his love is Xena and attacks her, saying she won his trust, then his love, but now she has betrayed everything. Xena stabs him. Antony says he really did love her, then falls.
Octavius tells Xena that Rome owes her a debt, but she says Rome's debt is to Cleopatra, who died for the alliance between Egypt and Rome. "She was Egypt," Xena says sadly, noting that the queen put her kingdom before her own life and suggesting that Octavius should do the same. Gabrielle smiles at the beautiful vista of the pyramids, but Xena looks sadly in the distance.
Though I'm a bit puzzled as to when Cleopatra transformed from the magnificent Gina Torres into Lucy Lawless lookalike Josephine Davison, I enjoyed this episode, in which Brutus got exactly what he deserved and Xena shared a hot if tragic romance with one of those charming, arrogant bad boys who always seem to end up ruling the world. I was a little disappointed at the rewriting of Shakespeare, though it was cute that Xena called Gabrielle Eros, the name of one of Antony's companions in the play.
I thought Antony was going to kill Brutus, then get killed in turn - but it was perversely satisfying to watch Gabrielle do away with the man who had her crucified, and had Cleopatra murdered. For once she came across as more level-headed than Xena, without being bitter or brittle; her interaction with Octavius was lovely. And he was superbly cast - looks just enough like Karl Urban to be believable as Caesar's nephew, with a good balance of naivete and hunkiness as the next leader of Rome.
Michael Hurst directed the episode and did some nice work visually, though I don't understand the choice of a Natalie Merchant song about the homeless during a love scene. I enjoyed Xena-as-Cleopatra getting unrolled from the rug the way Cleopatra herself unrolled the asp from the message - not to mention Gabrielle devouring the leftover strawberries that Xena had used a few minutes earlier to try to seduce Antony, which Gabrielle herself interrupted. I generally like the Roman politics on this show, so I am pleased to note Octavius will apparently be involved in Xena's upcoming conflict with the entire pantheon of gods who are still mad about Eve's birth. Ares is, after all, the prototype of the charming, arrogant bad boy, and until very recently he was immortal as well.