And a Little Child Shall Lead Them
"The Key to the Kingdom" Plot Summary:
An urn is wheeled into a treasure chamber; Autolycus emerges once the door is locked and steals a huge ruby. But when he sneaks outside, Xena appears. Quickly explaining that the theft was just a challenge, he hurls the gem over the wall, returning it to its rightful owner. Xena shrieks that he's an idiot as Joxer appears, revealing that "Xena" is actually Meg, the prostitute who looks exactly like the warrior princess. Enraged over his loss, Autolycus beats up Joxer, but the two later reconcile and head to a tavern where Joxer and Meg explain that they know where to find the key to find the valuable Crown of Athena. Of course, Autolycus wants in.
The King of Thieves and Joxer the Mighty stage a raid on the local tax collector so that "Xena" can vanquish them and earn the gratitude of the local magistrate. Warning him that she has heard of a plan to assassinate him, she demands the plans to the castle, leaving a map for Autolycus sketched on the furniture when she realizes where the key is kept. The thief enters the castle but finds a baby in the well-protected chest. Meg enters the room behind him and calls the guards, identifying Autolycus as the assassin. During the ensuing capture of the King of Thieves, Meg sneaks out with the infant. The child's nursemaid Gryffia realizes that he is missing, but fearing punishment, she lies to the guards, pretending that the baby is merely asleep. In prison, a fellow prisoner tells Autolycus a rhyme which suggests that the child must die in order to retrieve the Crown of Athena. The King of Thieves then escapes by smacking his head into a wall to break out of his irons.
When Meg arrives with the baby, Joxer discovers that she doesn't care about the Crown of Athena; she wanted the child all along. Enraged, Autolycus announces that he doesn't do kidnappings, but Meg knocks him out with her "shamrock." Unfortunately, she doesn't see that the baby has crawled away, and it sneaks onto a chariot while Meg, Autolycus, and Joxer fight the magistrate's men. Autolycus takes Meg on his horse in pursuit as Joxer, failing to leap into the chariot from his horse, is dragged behind. Eventually Meg manages to take the reins and promptly wrecks the chariot, but she and the baby are fine.
While Joxer confesses to Autolycus that he's like to be a dad, Meg tells the baby of her own unhappy childhood and her desire for a family to love. Even Autolycus is forced to admit that she's a good mother despite her rather loose affections when it comes to men. When she changes his diaper, Autolycus realizes that the stinky blanket is a map. They use it to head to the hidden Temple of Athena, pursued by the magistrate's men. Inside, Autolycus warns Meg not to put the baby on the cushion by the secret doors because the prophecy warns that the child will no longer be once the doors open. But when the three are forced to fight the magistrate's men, the baby crawls onto the cushion, and vanishes as the Crown of Athena is revealed. Meg cries out, but then a young man appears on the cushion. He is the rightful ruler, and the magistrate has bankrupted his people while Athena kept him a child to teach him a lesson.
After the soldiers are fought off with the help of the real Xena, who was summoned by the nursemaid Gryffia to save him, the young king decides to spare the magistrate and his cronies if they will accept permanent exile. He explains that he was a selfish king whom Athena turned into a baby so that he might experience love through the eyes of a child; Meg taught him to do so. She reluctantly returns his crown, which he says he saved for his queen...Gryffia, who is now young, having been aged by Athena so that she might learn to care. They are happy, but Meg weeps to Xena that she can't have children of her own. Xena assures her that she has a warm, loving heart and will surely have a family of her own one day. The episode concludes with the sound of a child's laughter as a shooting star falls to Earth.
Autolycus and Meg do Raising Arizona, enthusiastically if not all that creatively. At least the writers had the good sense NOT to use one of the regular characters as the desperate would-be-mother; it ain't exactly progress for women to suggest that we'd all rather be mommies than whores, but we've already seen that Xena and Gabrielle will sacrifice anything (including one another) in the name of maternal instincts so I'd just as soon avoid a repeat of that situation. It's always fun to see Lucy Lawless play the blowsy, swaggering Meg, but there wasn't much original in this episode for either her or Joxer to do. I always love Autolycus, but even he didn't get as much humor as usual.
I liked the "Beauty and the Beast"-like fairy tale of the Crown of Athena and the prince. This series could get away with more of that; considering that it's a spinoff of Hercules, we don't get too many genuine legends. Odd that Athena has the power to restore the status quo on this series when on Hercules she's vanished along with the rest of the Olympians, but I guess we are once again out of sync. Gabrielle was completely absent, probably because this episode was filmed the week Renee O'Connor was playing Sunny Day on the other series. Next week she returns to help Xena rescue a wild child from a group of savages; this ought to be noisy, if nothing else.