"King Con" Plot Summary:
Joxer gets lucky at a gambling hall and wins 100 dinars, which he promptly loses to two swindlers who also take his sword. Unfortunately Titus, the owner of the casino has sent his thugs to retrieve the money, and they beat Joxer to a pulp when they can't get it from him. Xena and Gabrielle, who still has a sprained ankle from trying Xena's flip, see the thugs beating Joxer and chase them off, but Joxer is nearly dead. Xena vows revenge, and when she spots the swindlers with Joxer's sword, she threatens them before the explain that they merely ripped Joxer off, and it was Titus who had him tortured. The swindlers, Rafe and Eldeon, agree to help Xena when Rafe bets Eldeon that he can get Xena to kiss him.
Titus tells his son Leo, the head thug, that he wants Joxer found and eliminated. Meanwhile, Gabrielle hides the wounded man in a temple, where Rafe cares for Joxer not knowing that Xena and Gabrielle are watching. Xena practices her crap-shooting with Rafe, but when he acts like a sensitive guy about Joxer, she guesses he bet his buddy that he could score with her. When they go to Titus' casino, Xena has a hot night at the tables while Gabrielle sneaks not-too-discreetly in back so that Xena will have a chance to confront Titus. She puts the squeeze on his throat, but lets him go so that she can punish him slowly, taking everything he has.
Gabrielle suggests that Xena is attracted to Rafe, who gets clothing for a disguise for her. Joxer wants to fight, but Gabrielle insists that he sleep. She, Xena, and Rafe con the ruby away from Leo when Xena pretends to demonstrate how to hide valuables between her breasts and suggests that Leo keep his between his legs. But when they return to the temple, Joxer is missing. They find him in the custody of Leo and his thugs, whom Xena trounces, taking Leo prisoner.
Eldeon says that Rafe is falling in love with Xena and being played for a sucker; he doesn't want to work with him anymore. Rafe denies that this is so, but when he gives Xena a massage, his warnings that detachment keeps him safe are countered by her assertions that passion keeps her focused. Eldeon joins Titus, telling him of Xena's plans to cheat at cards in order to defeat him. When Xena challenges Titus to play her or watch his son die, he tells her to give him back his ruby, but to go ahead and kill Leo. He also reveals that he knows all about her plan, and when Eldeon steps to his side, Rafe attacks him, causing Eldeon to stab him fatally. Rafe kisses Xena and dies.
Xena agrees to play in honor of Rafe's memory. Titus gets a full house - warlords over heroes - but Xena's four aces win. A fight ensues, during which Rafe rises unharmed and Eldeon rejoins his side. Xena thrashes Titus when he tries to flee, while Rafe takes care of Leo and Gabrielle and Eldeon take on the thugs. Back at the temple, they find Joxer well enough to travel, and prepare to leave. Eldeon says they'll follow, but Xena knows it's a fib.
Eldeon congratulates Rafe on winning the bet - he got a kiss from Xena - but Rafe says that he kissed Xena, she didn't kiss him, so the bet's invalid. He leaves the money in the temple offering plate, though Eldeon can't figure out what angle he's playing. Xena returns alone to say goodbye to Rafe, sees the money, and looks after him fondly.
This episode was less a con game than an homage to one - the ripoffs of The Sting were so blatant that there was little suspense. It was very obvious that Eldeon was only pretending to switch allegiances, and even more obvious that Rafe was never really dead. There wasn't much tension other than of a sexual nature: Xena had nice chemistry with Rafe, and it was difficult to tell when they were merely pretending to care about one another as opposed to when they were faking it for the con. Xena knew about the bet, so it's a good guess she kissed Rafe to let him win...the question is whether Rafe gave that money to the Temple as a gesture of goodwill, or as a ploy to get the big score with her later on.
The number of rotating disco balls in ancient Greece never ceases to astound me, but I was surprised at how old-fashioned the casino was otherwise: I was expecting some goofy equivalents of pinball or slot machines. There were surprisingly few sight gags in this episode, which is too bad because it could have used a little more humor. It's not clear to me how she was cheating at dice, and the card trick in her hair seemed awfully silly - how was she going to subtly remove it? It also seemed clear that Titus thought he had his own deck stacked at the end, so I was surprised that we never learned how he did it nor how Xena defeated him anyway.
Leo is one of the stupidest thugs ever to appear on this series, so I got a real laugh when his father told Xena to go ahead and kill him. Still, this episode was rather mean-spirited, with the usual beating up on Joxer taking a very ugly turn. Took Xena a long time to dispatch her victims this time out, too. I think she needs a vacation, but she's getting a rematch with Caesar next week instead.