Xena: Warrior Princess isn’t just a cult TV success, but a feminist icon. The tough warrior fought for the good of the realm in the show, but the show itself helped pave the way for a new generation of female action stars and entertainment. Which makes the show’s decision to chuck Xena to put Gabrielle in a horrible, sexist, Married with Children parody in the fifth season episode “Married with Fishsticks” so, so baffling.
We begin with Gabriella trying in vain to quiet Xena’s baby Eve. Xena says the baby just wants her mother, but Gabriella is convinced her inability to keep the infant from crying proves that she can and should never be a mother. Joxer, played by Sam Raimi’s brother Ted, arrives with food for the baby — specifically, baby back ribs, a play on words that surprisingly also apparently works in the ancient Greek they’re obviously speaking.
Gabriella heads back to town with Joxer to get actual baby food, when they come across the goddesses Aphrodite and Discord having a divine catfight on the pier. Basically, they just insult each other until Discord gets pissed off enough that she starts shooting energy bolts at Aphrodite, which the goddess of love deflects, causing mass chaos amongst the pitiful mortals (to Xena’s credit, this is a stunningly accurate depiction of ancient Greek gods being assholes). One bolt hits a ship’s boom, which conks Gabrielle on the head, knocking her into the water… and here our pain begins.
When Gabrielle wakes up, she has a classic case of Sitcom Amnesia, a plot device that has never been used to create good television. She doesn’t remember who she is, but that’s hardly the most awful part.
• She is in an underwater grotto, which is to say a sitcom house covered in seashells. The characters of SpongeBob SquarePants would find it a bit heavy on the “sea” theme.
• She’s a mermaid, in the sense that she’s wearing a mediocre mermaid tail costume over her legs, which are clearly visible inside it.
• She has a long blonde wig on.
• Most importantly, there’s a man in a Hawaiian t-shirt leering over her, also played by Ted Raimi, who claims he’s her husband Hagar and Gabrielle is in fact his wife Crustacea.
The fact that Gabrielle has now been named Crustacea should give you some clue as to the level of pain you’re about to experience. But honestly, nothing is worse than “their” three kids…
The horrifying were-walrus Flipper:
The unsettling Urchin:
And the living nightmare that is Baby Roe:
Look, as a professional nerd for the last decade, I’ve seen a lot of representations of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. I can honestly say given the choice between the tentacle-faced elder God who would devour my soul and Roe, I’d run into the comforting tendrils of Cthulhu every time.
So if the episode title “Married with Fishsticks” hasn’t clued you in, we’re in for a “spoof” of Married with Children, although trading whatever actual humor the original provided with nonsense, bullshit, and terrible sea puns. Crustacea lives in a standard American sitcom home under the sea — although it's full of air, and also mermaids tails turn into legs out of water, saving the production many tens of dollars from having her put on that stupid costume again. Ted Raimi/Hagar sits on his couch, watching the “TV” — just a porthole which busty mermaids keep swimming in front of — like this:
In case you weren’t sure whether Hagar was supposed to be likable or not, he goes from ogling the “lungfish” (his soul-crushing term for aforementioned busty mermaids) to handing Gabrielle a broom so his recently amnesiac "wife" can clean the house.
There’s one deviation from the Married with Children trope in that the kids are fucking psychopaths. They’ve created elaborate snares in the house, which they use to trap Crustacea, at one point lowering her into a trap door into the water where a shark is hanging out for some reason (if you’re a mermaid, I’d think having a shark underneath your house would seem a like a really big deal). So they’re actively trying to murder her, and this isn’t even mentioning all the times Roe attaches himself to her face with what is likely supposed to be playful affection but looks more like Baby’s First Tentacle Rape.
Honestly, there’s a lot going on in this episode; virtually none of it matters, but I want to point it all out to prove how much this episode hates you:
• Even though Gabrielle has amnesia, Hagar gives her potions that keep her having amnesia.
• The potions are delivered by two slutty mermaids with Jersey accents, played by the same actresses who played Discord and Aphrodite earlier in the episode.
• The reason Hagar needs Gabrielle is because the real Crustacea has left him, and he needs to have a lookalike because he’s running for another term as Mayor, and apparently the mermaid town takes its mayoral candidates’ home lives very seriously (the fact that Hagar is a sexist douchebag is, obviously, not a problem).
• The Joisey mer-sluts, whose names are Sturgina and Crabella, have the hots for the virile specimen of manhood that is Ted Raimi’s Hagar, and thus plot to get Crustacea out of the way.
• The kids have one sole characteristic, mentioned only twice: once in the beginning when they’re introduced and once at the end, when the episode is insultingly trying to pretend they had some kind of arc.
Here’s how it all shakes out: When the kids are trying to feed Gabrielle to the shark in their basement, she uses her Amazon powers to flip out of the trap, which so overwhelms the children they become docile and well-behaved. Gabrielle calls Hagar on his horrible shit just once, and he instantly vows to become a better husband, even fixing dinner (the surest sign a man has grown emotionally). Sturgina and Crabella take Crustacea to a “swim-boree” class at the beach resort that comprises the episode’s only other set (which is a modern beach resort that hasn't been altered in the tiniest degree, meaning there are deck chairs, a bar, and resort staff who all wear the same polo shirts as a uniform) where they have hacked an underwater gate somewhere which allows a giant squid to come into the resort which somehow comes by at just the right time and only grabs Gabrielle, who kills the shit out of it.
If you think all this is incredibly superficial, you ain’t seen nothing yet. So as part of his complete transformation, Hagar proposes to Crustacea in the coral garden he proposed to the original Crustacea in; Gabrielle assumes that he’s renewing their vows. At the ceremony, the mer-skanks give Gabrielle a potion to return her memory; this of course happens at the altar in the middle of while the newly repentant Hagar has decided he must come clean about his deception. But the potion beats his confession, so that Gabrielle can forcibly refuse to marry him.
Sturgina and Crabella instantly demand he marry one of them; when Hagar declines they decide to kill him, completely contradicting the sole characteristic they’ve established for themselves in the episode. Gabrielle kicks their asses until the security staff decide the episode has fulfilled its requisite final fight scene.
Gabrielle bids a fond farewell to the horrible monster children that tried to kill her only 20 minutes earlier, and then bids an even fonder farewell of the man that drugged her and tricked her into cleaning his house and taking care of his children. She asks him to use his new enlightenment to try and win back the real Crustacea (who will no doubt be thrilled that her husband drugged a memory-impaired woman into replacing her, and that woman turned her entire family into decent mer-people over the course of a weekend while she had to put up with their awful shit for years).
At that instant, Gabrielle wakes up on the dock from the beginning of the episode — that’s right, it was all a dream, because even the less-than-discerning fantasy world of Xena thought this story was too much bullshit to include in its reality. Yes, Xena just wasted your time by telling you a horrible story that didn’t actually happen. It’s even more disgusting than the sight of Joxer giving mouth-to-sloppy-mouth to resuscitate Gabrielle.
On the plus side, her experiences in her near-death dream have allowed her to pick up baby Eve without her crying, so I guess all that sexism, housecleaning, torture, getting drugged, giant squid-attacks and all the other bullshit she had to deal with was totally worth it.
So What Did We Learn?
• This episode hates you.
• Mermaids hang out at touristy beach resorts, but live in homes that are in the water, but not full of water, and have seashells glued on everything.
• Ted Raimi was in no danger of being his generation’s Marlon Brando.
• There were so many slide-whistle sounds and “wah-wah” trombones noises in this heap I lost count.
• Seriously, I can’t stress enough how much contempt this episode has for you. Remember how I said that the kids had one characteristic solely to pretend they had some kind of relationship with Gabrielle? When Urchin is introduced, Hagar calls him “The curious one!” The sole amount of curiously he shows in the episode is asking “What’s a sphincter?” immediately after Hagar introduces him (which he inexplicably does in a Cockney accent). Flash-forward to the end, where Gabrielle says, “Urchin, your curiosity is going to take you many places.” ARRRGH.
• Unless two regular mermaids can legitimately produce a walrus boy, an urchin boy and a small squid with terrifying Thomas the Tank Engine eyes, I think the real Crustacea must have been sleeping around.
• Although Hagar is trying to get re-elected as mayor, Gabrielle keeps calling him a corporate climber as if that’s at all the same thing.
• This is what Ted Raimi looks like when he’s trying to play sexy and cool:
• I should mention this is from the flashback where Hagar explains how he and Crustacea first met. "Stayin' Alive" is playing in the background, and Crustacea is dressed like Lolita from the classic Kubrick movie, complete with heart-shaped sunglasses and a sucker. It's the grossest.
• If you have a dream where you acquire a skill, such as child-rearing, that skill immediately transfers over to real life.
• When Lucy Lawless read this script for this episode and saw she had no part in the underwater shenanigans, I’m 100% confident she wiped the sweat off her brow and sighed loudly.