Now You See Her...
"Vanishing Act" Plot Summary:
Xena sends Gabrielle ahead to a peace festival culminating in the unveiling of a statue of Pax, which Xena wants to miss so she can avoid the local leader's boring speech. The next morning, however, the golden sculpture is missing, and the underwear-clad mayor says that various villages are threatening one another over it. Xena rejoins Gabrielle and wonders how someone could steal an enormous solid-gold statue with nobody noticing, but she has a pretty good idea who might be able to pull off such a stunt.
The Warrior Princess assaults a heavily-clothed old woman who turns out to be Autolycus in disguise. He says that much as he'd like to take credit for the theft - since only a champion thief could pull it off - he had nothing to do with it. Then he asks Xena for help in retrieving the statue, and, more to the point, his stature as "King of Thieves." He insists that the statue has to be stolen back, not captured through fighting, and reminds a resisting Xena that he let her use his body the last time she was in big trouble. Xena reluctantly agrees.
Autolycus dons ancient scuba gear to confirm his hunch that the statue was toppled into the sea and dragged away by a boat. Disguised as a merchant, he tries to get the wharf manager to tell him who did it, but when the man won't talk, Xena uses the death-touch on him. The wharf master admits that Tarsus of Cyrus stole the statue and took it to his castle on the island of Mykenos.
Gabrielle enters pretending to be Myopia, a bidder for the statue which the corrupt wharf master told her about. Before she can make an offer, Tarsus decides that he should melt the statue down into unrecognizable gold before anyone comes to claim it, but before he can do so, Xena enters, disguised as Ezra the Fence, another bidder (with the accent of Meg, the tramp). She is accompanied by Autolycus, impersonating a hunchback named Bentley ("bad name"), who helps Xena wreck the furnace before the meltdown can begin. Then, while Xena and Gabrielle get into a bidding war for the gold, he sneaks into the castle to devise a plan.
That evening Tarsus gives a party, but Autolycus blows his cover when a woman who's obsessed with his hump wants to touch it and it rattles. Tarsus explains that he decided to steal the statue to outshine the King of Thieves, whose brother he murdered years earlier, for which Autolycus punished him by becoming a thief and stealing everything he had at the time. Tarsus pulls a sword and unmasks Autolycus, putting him in metal chains with two hundred locks. Xena, who pretends to be a fool for his love, is thrown in a dungeon and quickly smacks off her guards; when Gabrielle comes to see whether she needs rescuing, she says they should get working on the plan, and leave Autolycus to the fun of picking all those locks which ought to take him at least an hour.
When Autolycus hasn't put in an appearance by sunrise, however, Xena suspects that he's abandoned the plan in favor of more direct revenge against Tarsus, namely killing him. Gabrielle says that Autolycus isn't a killer, but Xena believes he'd be a good one if he decided to cross over. She finds him, talks him out of the murder by reminding him that his brother Malachus wanted him to be a good person, not a murderer, and grabs him in a flip into the courtyard where Tarsus' men fight them. In the midst of the melee, a Silosian general comes to bid on the statue. Tarsus is about to negotiate when he realizes that "Myopia," "Ezra," Autolycus, and the statue are gone. They painted a false wall to hide themselves and the statue behind, an idea Autolycus got when he saw the fake painted columns inside the castle.
Gabrielle asks whether Autolycus is happy to have made the people so overjoyed to have Pax back; he says he's more happy to be King of Thieves again. Since he can't think of a better way to thank Xena, he kisses her. Gabrielle offers her cheek to him, but Autolycus merely informs her that she'll miss him, and goes on his way.
A direct riff off of "Royal Couple of Thieves," this episode was fun albeit fluffy. It was a more in-character outing for Autolycus than his past few heroic showings, and a pleasure to watch Bruce Campbell being menacing and witty instead of sensitive and self-sacrificing. At the same time, it gave Autolycus some personal backstory and a semi-decent reason for him to have become a thief. I loved his little cracks about Gabrielle's whining and Xena's thinking with her chakram (I never stopped to think before about how a chakram is the opposite of a phallic weapon, and the jokes that could ensue). He also pulled off some Jack Nicholson imitations and complete befuddlement when faced with a woman who gets hot over hunchbacks.
Gabrielle is less convincing as a marquesa than Xena is with a New York accent; in general Gabrielle was not given enough to do, but that's typical when the story doesn't focus on her. I thought it was hilarious that her sidekick got genuinely pissed off at Xena for outbidding her, even though they were both using pretend money. Xena seemed to be having a good time with the disguises and her digs at Autolycus: "King of Thieves? Oh, Thebes, I've been there." Her wailing and sobbing about her love for Autolycus and her dread of Tarsus were nicely overplayed. The countdown with Autolycus counting off the 200 locks as he picked them was my favorite running joke, however.
One lovely directing moment: when Autolycus first spotted the hall of columns, they looked like a bad matte painting, a low-budget effect. So it was particularly funny to have Autolycus do a double take, come back, and discover that in fact it WAS a bad matte painting. The double-flip was nicely filmed too. And the "scuba gear" was just a howl, played for all it was worth.