The Silence of the Amazons
"Dangerous Prey" Plot Summary:
The Amazon Queen Marga flees through the woods from a man in black who uses a chakram-like boomerang in the shape of a triangle. He tells her that before she dies, she must deliver a message for him. In the Amazon, camp, distrustful leader Varia reluctantly admits to Xena and Gabrielle that Marga has vanished during her quest to figure out who has been hunting Amazons. When Xena finds Marga dying on the ground, she reads an inscription carved into the queen's body, "Is this the best that the Amazon nation has to offer?" Before she dies, Marga asks Xena to prepare Varia to lead the tribe.
Though Varia heads off to avenge her queen, she is caught in a trap from which Xena rescues her. Prince Morloch's henchman Raczar sees the warrior princess in action and leaves to tell his boss about her. Morloch, who has been seeking an adversary worthy of his hunting skills, sets out to find his prey. Meanwhile Xena gets fed up with Varia's impulsiveness, and when Varia unearths another trap, Xena collars the younger woman, warning that whoever set the traps will hunt the Amazons to extinction. Varia shouts that Xena should understand that impulse, since Xena slaughtered all the Amazons in Sian's tribe. But after Xena saves Varia from falling into a pit, the young Amazon decides she can learn a lot from the warrior princess.
Xena senses the hunter watching them and trades clothes with Varia so she can get the jump on him. When he hides in a cave, Xena follows, telling him her name after he tells her that he is Prince Morloch. He has never heard of her and believes her to be an Amazon. She drives the thugs out of the cave by lighting Greek fire. Then she and Varia go to inspect Morloch's fortifications, but Varia takes an arrow in the leg while trying to protect Xena from a trap. Morloch's men set a forest fire to flush the women out. Xena tries to catapult Varia to safety, but Morloch has set up a net to trap the injured woman. He orders Raczar to take Varia to the arena while Xena runs through fire to get to her.
In an open field, Varia has been tied to a stake on top of a loose log tower. Xena and Morloch fight as they ascend, knocking logs loose and nearly toppling the construct. Xena manages to free Varia, then refuses to battle Morloch because a good fight is what he's after. When he tries to jump on her, she uses the sharp end of a log to impale him. Back at the Amazon camp, she and Gabrielle help light the pyre for Marga and Xena gives Varia her right of caste.
Fine performances and Renee O'Connor's excellent directing don't make the script of "Dangerous Prey" any more palatable. This is the story of a man who likes to hunt women, to watch them struggle and bleed. The camera makes the viewer a voyeur, and thus confers a certain amount of complicity on people who stick with the show, no matter how offended anyone might be by the images of scantily-clad female flesh being branded, tortured, and killed. If I hadn't been reviewing, I would have turned this episode off.
Headstrong Varia is a likeable character -- one of the few people to stand up to Xena more than once, since she tried to have Eve killed in "Coming Home" -- but we all know that in the end, Xena will become her rescuer and champion, so there's not much drama in their confrontation. If we'd gotten to see Xena recognize herself in younger days a bit more, that would have made the encounter more interesting, but the character development of the women gets sacrificed to that of Prince Morloch. This warped personality (from "Upper Whateveristan," as Xena mocks) has hunted wild beasts in Africa and Asia, but the challenge hasn't been great enough. So now he's after Amazons, reputedly the world's greatest warriors.
We're not supposed to ask questions like why he didn't go after Ares last week, like every other warlord who wanted to prove his mettle versus the god of war. It's obvious this guy has developed a taste for killing women. Besides, what real warrior who craves one-on-one conflict needs an army of disposable thugs, whom he kills himself when they get in the way of the hunt? How is it possible he's never heard of Xena, anyway, considering that even some foreign gods tremble at her name?
The struggle between Xena and Varia is interesting -- I've never seen so many front walkovers in the course of combat -- but the choreography of the fight on the side of the Lincoln Logs is truly breathtaking. It looks like a giant version of that game where you try to pull one stick out of the pile without bringing the whole thing crashing down. It's a little reminiscent of the scene where Xena fights Callisto on a ladder, and I'm pretty sure the same theme music is playing. Xena saves the game by pretending she's Hercules and holding up the whole structure with her body when Morloch kicks out a crucial Lincoln Log. Took Xena long enough to figure out that all she had to do was refuse to play.