LEXX: S04E18: The Game
I’d been looking forward to this episode of LEXX for a long time. The antispation wasn’t unfounded – despite the lacklustre performance of the supreme beans (LEXX fandoms nickname for the writers) in recent episodes, this show was full of the vim and vigour we have come expect over the years. It was innovative, stylish and contained lots of ‘gratuitous’.
Kai is challenged to a game of chess by Prince – If Kai wins, Prince will return his life essence to his body (which might be a bit awkward since the poor dude doesn’t have a body, well erm…, no fleshy bits anyway!). Kai accepts. As he flies off in a Moth with Prince’s TV set he contacts Xev and Stan to tell them the exciting news.
Xev Bellringer and Stanley Tweedle are indifferent and even mildly annoyed. They have the key, they have their health, a spaceship that has been fed and watered and even the slovenly gay robot-head. They aren’t particularly interested in a silly game of chess between a 5000 year old assassin and the devil! They simply want to get as far away from Earth as quickly as they can. They also know too well that Prince is not a person/being that can be trusted.
“Please”, adds Xev meekly.
But Kai is having non of it. He wants his game of chess. The situation is exacerbated when Stanley threatens to fly off with Xev and leave him alone, “You cannot,” says Kai. “I agreed that if I lose the game you will forfeit your lives to Prince.”
Kai is absolutely convinced (or at least as convinced as an unemotional dead geezer made of silicone can be) that he will win the game. But things get from bad to worse when Kai tells them that the game will be played the Brunnen G way in ‘another zone’ (a place in another time and space from this one (could that be the Light Zone?)). They would not be able to contact him but they would be able see how the game progresses.
Kai flies though a little rip in the time-space-continuuu… continiu…. thingy and they both appear in a far off desolate alien landscape covered with ice capped mountains and grey unfeeling skies (a bit like Canada). An ornate chessboard appears menacingly and the two protagonists settle down to play.
Magically, the pieces on the chess board take on the physical characteristics of the players most significant acquaintances. Kai’s pieces are all black of course. Princes characters are all white.
Kai’s Queen for instance is Xev, his knights are Stanley, rooks are 790, bishops are Time Prophets and pawns are moth breeders. The Queen of Princes chess collection is Mrs President, his knights are Mr presidents, rooks are Divine Shadows, bishops are Vlads and pawns are members of the ATF (Dept. of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms). All the characters seem somewhat energetic and chatty and all are absolutely committed to the destruction of the opposing team, bickering and berating the opponents with every move.
Kai doesn’t start off particularly well, he begins by copying Princes moves. We learn that he has only played chess once before. Nevertheless, Kai’s confidence seems to know no bounds – even if though his pieces are starting to get worried.
When the first piece is lost, it’s one of Kai’s pawns. A black moth breeder gives a worried look to an advancing white bishop before his head is smashed to a pulp by the bishops axe. The blood and gore factor in this game is impressive.
Almost immediately, the effects of Kais loss are felt (or at least seen) by Xev, who loses her right hand!
The game progresses slowly, not many pieces are lost, but there is much manoeuvring. Paul Donovan (the writer and creator of LEXX and the director of this episode) is the type of geezer who would know about famous chess matches, and sure enough, this is very similar if not exactly the same as a match (the first) in a famous chess game held in 1834 between Louis Charles De Labourdonnais (Prince) and Alexander McDonnell (Kai) (though the 4th match is the most famous). Basically it’s a It’s a ‘Bishop’s Opening’ featuring a vicious attack from both sides which arises soon after one player castles kingside and the other castles queenside. It’s mainly so memorable because it’s an excellent example of how sacrificing high-value key pieces can be used to completely turn a game around and from a chess players point of view it was fascinating.
On the chessboard, all the pieces squabbled and bickered – although Kai’s pieces seemed to need the most re-assurance from their leader.
Kai still seemed quietly confident and Prince looked as though the whole exercise was futile. Apparently he had never lost a game of chess. Despite the silly bickering between the pieces and the total boredom that most of us would face watching a chess match, the show was gripping. Artistically our interest was held by the weird-ass mechanism that was the chessboard, or watching the blood splatter as each piece was lost/smashed to bits, or the way the locations of the main players moved for seemingly no reason, or the despair on Stanley Tweedles face as he lost one of the most important parts of his anatomy – his right hand!
As the game progresses, Xev loses her legs and right arm and Stanley loses both his arms. Despite a couple of minor wins by Kai, the game is looking increasingly bleak.
And then, in a miserable but picturesque part of the Other Zone, Kai asks, “Will you honour your promise when I defeat you?” This after losing most of his key pieces! Talk about blind faith!
In fact the loss of Queen Xev and most of Kai’s pieces was all a cunning ruse to get Prince to make one or two overconfident and ill-considered moves for, sure enough, Kai is able to manoeuvre his knights into the perfect position and Stanley Tweedle knight is able to show us what Prince has for brains….. fire!
The game is over and Kai has won. But when he orders Prince to make good his promise, the evil fire dude giggles and disappears in a puff of smoke (with a little bit of fire in it). Kai is left to return in the moth alone.
Stanley tells Kai in a sort of ‘I told you so’ voice, that Prince never keeps a promise, but Zev is in dreamy land. She contemplates Prince keeping true to his word and clearly begins to feel all tingly inside as she presumably thinks up lots of amorous manoeuvres with her beloved Kai, “Maybe he will later”. She says.
And there the show ends. Pretty good actually and a definite improvement on the previous episodes. The graphics were particularly good and David Albiston did a great job on the photography. The chessboard was great wasn’t it? I particularly liked the little cogs and wheels glimpsed as each pieces moved around the board.
Additional: Our very own theFrey and FX were on the set when this was being filmed. Here are some additional comments submitted by theFrey.
“As you may recall this ep is the one that pushed them over the edge money wise. Not that that has never happened before, but possibly not so much on one single episode.
It almost killed the special effects guys. Woody (from DZ4) said that they had to bring in more help, with their own machines and fudge on the quality of the final look before they could get it out the door at the last possible minute. There was a very real danger that it was NOT going to make it to the stations in time. If you look at it closely, you can see why they were so upset. There is some sloppy mat work going on there.
FX caught the reason for it immediately while we were on set:
Perspective: The cameras were not computer controlled or baring that locked into set positions and focus. This made the thing impossible from the special effect point of view. Although Woody said they would not have had such a problem with that if the entire thing had been shot against green screen and used a plain green screen floor. They could have easily dropped in the elaborate background and more easily nudged the chess board to fit the various shots together. Ah well, this was known as the ep that wouldn’t die. ;D ”
So, on the whole I’d rate this a pawn splattering 39,229 out of 10.
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This episode review is © 1999 Tony Fawl.
Not for reproduction without the authors express permission
Some of the Vidcaps scanned in by thefrey
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