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Season 1, episode 19
Series 119
1st release: 04/22/96
2nd release: 08/19/96
1st USA strip release: 09-04-98
2nd USA strip release: 11-25-98
Production number: 76926
Script number: 122
Approximate shooting dates: February 1996
Last update: 12-16-01

SYNOPSIS by Bluesong
SYNOPSIS by Kym Taborn

David Ackroyd (Anteus)
David de Lautour (Ikus)
Karl Urban (Mael)

Sean Ashton-Peach (Zealot #1)
Jack Dacey (Brawny Zealot)
Peter Ford (Zealot Guard)
Graham Smith (Senior Zealot)
Teresa Woodham (Zora)

Written by Chris Mannheim
Edited by Robert Field
Directed by Michael Levine

Xena and Gabrielle agree to hide a 12-year-old boy who has run away from home after learning from his mother he was to be sacrificed in the name of a new "Supreme Deity."

Xena and Gabrielle struggle to save an innocent boy from being sacrificed to a malevolent deity.

1st RELEASE: 04/22/96
An AA average of 5.0
Competition from Syndicated Action Dramas:
(1) STAR TREK: DS9 with 6.5
(2) XENA with 5.0
(3) HERCULES with 4.9

2nd RELEASE: 08/19/96
An AA average of 4.4.
Competition from Syndicated Action Dramas:
(1) HERCULES with 5.2
(2) XENA with 4.4
(3) STAR TREK: DS9 with 4.2.


This synopsis is by Bluesong.

Xena & Gabrielle swim sans clothing ... Xena is teaching Gabrielle to catch fish. A young boy with men chasing him runs close; Xena pulls him in the water. He can't hold his breath. Some guy grabs the kid (Ikus); Xena rises from the water, scowling and breathing and purring (like a dragon-kitten, maybe?). She gets the kid; grabs her leather cover (no breast plate or anything), and beats up 10 guys with a string of fish. Then Mael, the brother of Ikus, shows up. He says, "I don't know who ... or what ... you are, but this is none of your concern." Xena then manages to make the word "maternal" sound like the strength of the sun ("call it my MATERNAL instinct"). Ikus tells Xena he's to be sacrificed by his father to "the one true god."

Xena takes Gabrielle & Ikus to a cave and then goes to see Anteus, father of Ikus and Mael; she also finds Ikus's mother at the temple of Hestia; Mael rouses the other men against Xena. Meanwhile, back at the cave, Gabrielle eats some nutbread that Ikus has and is poisoned. Xena figures out the bread is poisoned when she speaks to Ikus's mother, (Mael had the bread made) and rushes back to the cave, to find a very drugged Gabrielle lying on the ground. Ikus is gone. Gabrielle hears voices and is very funny, though Xena's rather concerned. Xena leaves her and goes back to get Ikus, who has gone to his mother to get help for Gabrielle. Xena has to jump a barricade and with some cunning gets Ikus away from the men who would sacrifice him.

Anteus is praying on the mountain, and god thunders and speaks to him -- everyone hears this. Xena takes Anteus and Ikus back to their house, and Gabrielle shows up. Mael grabs Gabrielle and takes Ikus. Xena and Gabrielle end up falling or jumping (or something--I think they allow themselves to be thrown) down a well; Xena saves them both. Anteus takes Ikus up the hill to sacrifice him; Ikus goes willingly because he loves his father and his god. However, we see that Mael has made a "gong" that he strikes to sound like thunder and has constructed a "loud talking thing" to make his voice echo over the hill. He is jealous of his father's love of Ikus.

Xena tells Mael to tell Anteus not to kill Ikus; Mael throws the loud talking thing up the ridge; Gabrielle goes after it. Xena crosses a rope bridge to Mael, who cuts the ropes one by one, while Xena does a balancing act on each remaining strand until she's close enough to flip over to the same side as Mael; Mael falls, and clings to the rope. He won't take Xena's hand and falls into the river below. Xena runs to save Ikus. She throws her chakram and it misses as a voice booms out: "Anteus, you have proven your faith, do not kill Ikus." As Xena and Gabrielle leave, Xena tells Gabrielle she did a good voice of god imitation. Gabrielle says she never managed to reach the loud talking thing. So then who ??? Quick shot of the sky; choir sings.


In a clever reworking of the Abraham-Isaac story from the Torah (or Abraham-Ishmael story from the Quran), Xena finds herself mid-fish between several father-son severe miscommunications. Using her "maternal instinct", Xena triumphantly uncovers a fake god only to have a close encounter with a real one.

Anteus (Abraham) is the leader of a group of monotheists. He hears a voice which commands him to sacrifice his youngest son, Ikus (Isaac/Ishmael). Ikus' mother is horrified. She sends the boy off and the boy finds Xena teaching Gabrielle how to fish sans clothes. This allows Xena to depart the water and admonish Ikus' pursuer with the words, "Didn't your mother ever tell you it's rude to stare?" just before knocking him out with a blow to the head. The lesson is either, don't mess with the gals when they are fishing, or don't mess with defenseless children. Xena tries to promote the latter, but I personally believe the former.

With incredible dexterity, Xena quickly puts on some clothes just in time to slap everyone with some fish. The music used was the vaudeville theme from the baby tossing scene in CRADLE OF HOPE. Strangely enough, it added to the overall effect.

And this is only the teaser folks!!!!

It turns out that the older son Mael (Ishmael? How rude!) is tiffed because Anteus has chosen the younger Ikus to be his successor. It is implied but not stated that Mael had a different mother. In the original biblical story, Ishmael and Isaac had different mothers; but then, also in the original story, although Ishmael was angry (actually, his mother was REALLY REALLY angry) but not psychotic. In the Quran version, Ishmael was the son to be sacrificed.

Mael, the classic ungrateful son, drugged his father to make Anteus susceptible to hearing voices and believing them. Just to clinch the ruse, Mael also created a loud-talking-thing (megaphone) which he used to tell his father to sacrifice Ikus. It is unclear whether the god of Anteus initiated this whole sacrifice idea and Mael was merely exploiting it to his advantage or whether Mael set up the whole thing. Mael was capable of either.

The bottom line is that Mael was a charismatic egomaniacal evil kind of guy who loved the adoration and power he could get from his people. He wanted to rule. It was that simple. He needed to get Ikus out of the way before he was home free.

Unfortunately for Mael, Xena was in town and was also horrified by a god who would want to sacrifice a child.

Xena discovered Mael's plot after Gabrielle was accidently drugged by Mael, and Mael committed suicide. Xena rushed to save Ikus, but her chakram and intentions were intercepted by the one- true-god! As in the original story, Anteus' god came through and told Anteus not to sacrifice his son.

Xena and Gabrielle then had a light-hearted moment and chatted about drug use before they went off into the distance.


Commentary by Kym Masera Taborn.

In a beginning worthy of Sound of Music, from the very first second of the very first scene, the viewer can tell that this is not going to be a usual XWP episode. If we can blame anyone, it might as well be the director, Michael Levine. ALTARED STATES contains some of the most visually arresting panoramas; blatant double entendres; slow and contemplative camera work; wholesale raiding of biblical material; and an attitude that just won't quit.

The cinematography and sensibilities of ALTARED STATES were mimicking that of a motion picture. The sweep and scope of the screen beckoned for a large vista, not a square one. Even LoDuca, the series composer, changed his style to reflect this need to present a feel for biblical epics. Both Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, executive producers of XWP, have stated that one of their goals was to produce the show using motion picture techniques instead of regular television production practices. The opening shots are truly jarring because nothing like it had yet been seen in XWP or HTLJ before (and apparently afterwards too!). Much of the time was spent on large visual ranges. The feel of the episode was one of outdoors, even though much of the show took place indoors (the cave, Ikus' mother's home, the well, etc). This feel permeated the episode.

One could write an essay just on the cinematography of this episode. From focal techniques (punctuated stills to the altar) to use of location (the framing of each critical scene with montages of the countryside; especially the rainbow shot after Ikus leaves his mother and we join the gals in progress at the lake) the feel of the episode had large screen written all over it. The effect on the flow of the episode (the panning shots and montages of vast vistas or majestic natural formations gave a slow, rambling feel to the progression of events) to the effect of the characters (shooting characters from so far away that they looked very small and powerless) was quite euphoric. XWP had a tendency to do this before, but not in such abundance or devil- may-care fashion.

ALTARED STATES was a peculiar episode not just for using radically different editing and filming techniques, but also for content and music as well.

The Xena of the closing scene was a Xena never seen before. Her guard was completely down while she playfully teased Gabrielle with surprising familiarity. Xena tapped on Gabrielle's head asking "How's the head?" Gabrielle reacted by slapping Xena in the mid-drift. Xena then did a mock accu-pressure attack stance and said "Whoa". It was a very laid-back Xena; even the Xena of the more loose opening teaser scene was more staid. The teaser scene was either obviously slyfully concocted or was an example of a fine piece of dumb luck. It was a throw to the fans who were concerned about the possibility of a romantic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle.

The camera focused on Xena's breast plate hanging on a tree and then sauntered to more strewn clothing. Laughter was heard in the background, followed by Xena saying, still in the background, "Come on Gabrielle, you've been wanting to do this for ages." Then the camera cut to the gals skinny dipping. But what had Gabrielle been waiting for? To catch a fish with her BARE HANDS! More humor abounded in this episode; most notable being Gabrielle's accidental consumption of henbane which was placed in the nutbread by Mael for Anteus. Renee O'Connor went to town with her broad turn at Gabrielle experiencing insobriety.

Another humor angle was used in the well scene, where Xena and Gabrielle were thrown down by Mael's henchmen. Luckily, the strong Xena caught the well rope and Gabrielle too. Gabrielle had to climb up Xena and used the opportunity to milk as much humor out of the situation as was possible.

Perhaps these three intense and unrelated humor scenes were added to counterbalance the rather intense main story line. The primary plot dealt with several still-unresolved-by-humankind issues and attempted to represent differing sides without making one necessarily better than the other. They did okay for a "knuckle-headed" show.

Mael represented an opportunist who was using the religion of his people for his own ends. Mimicking some rather modern sentiments, he called Xena an affront to his god, unnatural, and told his people that she must have been a test sent by their god. Ironically, he was describing himself. His death by suicide was a creepy touch. He was so insane by that point the he could not even accept Xena's help. He believed in his own lies. Very chilling.

Ikus' mother was an interesting character as well. Departing from the original story, she was shown as returning to "the old gods". She went to the deserted Temple of Hestia to pray for her son's life. With an undercurrent of female solidarity, Xena anticipated finding the mother there. There seemed to have been an implication that the women were not really part of the patriarchal god who was demanding Ikus' death. This was also the scene where Xena discovered that Mael was drugging Anteus. The mis-aimed chakram at Ikus' sacrifice was telling. Xena intended for the chakram to hit Anteus' knife from his hand. It missed because Anteus chose to listen to his god. Xena's chakram never missed before. Actually, Xena really didn't miss; Anteus' god was merely good enough to make it look like Xena missed. In the future, the only other one who would alter the course of the chakram in season one was Callisto, who would appear in episode 22 (CALLISTO).

The use of fish as a weapon hearkens back to vaudeville where performers would hit each other over the heads with fake and sometimes not-too-fake fish for the slapstick effect. This tradition was carried on enthusiastically by the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and countless other comedy groups. This slapstick action carried over into the IRC. The IRC (Inter Relay Chat) sessions on the internet adopted the use of the action words of hitting someone with a trout when one wanted to show playful antagonism to another chatter. It is conjecture, but it is not too fantastic, to think that the experiences of the producers of XWP who are familiar with being "on-line" may have inspired the idea of Xena hitting someone with a trout to express her antagonism towards them.

The only glaring failure of the episode was not much of a failure. The feel of the episode demanded a biblical epic musical feel and the music did not deliver it. However, an attempt was made. The music, especially at the opening and during important montages, intimated an epic feel, but that was it. It merely intimated the feel. It did not deliver the punch that should have equalled the visual depth and scope of the episode.


12-16-01. Karl Urban at the Oct. 31- Nov. 1 1999 Chicago convention made the following statements about this episode: The first scene filmed of the episode that Urban was in was the knife to the throat scene. This was the first time he had ever seen Lucy Lawless in Xena character mode (they had done all the prep and read throughs not in costume). When she burst into the room (he was holding Gabrielle at knife point, 'natch) he was so surprised and disjointed that he had difficulties speaking his lines.

01-26-99. In an upcoming WHOOSH interview with Chris Manheim (writer), scheduled for February 1999, Ms. Manheim mentioned that ALTARED STATES was her first attempt at writing for "Xena" the character. RenPic had seen one of her spec scripts and asked her to write a Gabrielle vehicle, which became PRODIGAL. They called her back and said they wanted to see what she could do for Xena, and ALTARED STATES is what she gave them. At the end of the story conference phase, Manheim was offered a staff position at DR. QUINN MEDICINE WOMAN, so she told the XENA producers that she needed to finish up quick because she got a job! So RenPic offered her a job too. MAnheim took the XWP job and the rest is history!

11-24-98. The USA Channel censors changed Mael's words "May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul" to "May our god have mercy on your soul". Strange, but true.

11-11-98. As reported by Beth Gaynor.At the Cherry Hill NJ Creation Con (08/29-30/98), Karl Urban shared an "embarrassing moment" story. Karl described attending a script read-through for one of the Xena episodes. Standard procedure at the read-through is to begin by going around the table to tell everyone your name and your role. After hearing "I'm Lucy, I'm playing Xena," Karl responded in his turn with "I'm Karl, I'm playing Xena... whoops!" Apparently he got an impressive arched-eyebrow evil-eye look from Lucy Lawless (but no real trouble, honest!) for that one.


Changing Times is by Debbie White.

ALTARED STATES (#19) explores how Xena's morals have changed since her 'evil days.' We also get to see Gabrielle learn from her experiences.

"You're too late, it's already begun!"
      --Maell in ALTARED STATES (#19)

The Changing Xena

Xena has never been shy about her body. That is most evident when she walks out of the lake stark naked. But there is more to this than meets the eye. Xena is using her body as a distraction until she can get to her weapons. She may no longer sleep with men to get her way, but she is still willing to use any of her foes' weaknesses against them.

Xena demonstrates that she will jump in and help people before she knows what the argument is about. Perhaps someday she will jump in and assist the wrong side merely because they look innocent or in need of help.

Leaders must think beyond the group mentality. Xena tries to get Anteus to question what he is doing and to see the wrong in sacrificing his son. However, Xena fails, because she does not understand the nature of Anteus' belief. How can she when she has seen her gods and even has been called upon to help them? For once Xena is unable to manipulate someone because she cannot understand what motivates them.

One thing that is similar to her morals of the past is her refusal to let children be killed. What has changed, though, is Xena merely hides and protects Icus while trying again and again to persuade Anteus to change his mind. Before turning to the good, Xena would have given them a chance to change their mind, but then would have simply killed then had they not resolved it her way.

Another curious thing is that Xena took Icus to Anteus when he was lying hurt on the hill. She basically risked Icus to try and help the man she was trying to stop. Still, she realized that Anteus was good at heart and that Maell was the one that was the manipulator. In the end, however, Xena was willing to cut Anteus' hand off rather than let Icus die. Xena even offered Maell a chance at life rather than killing him or even simply letting him fall and die.

Xena greatly cared for the people she was trying to help in this episode. She even got Icus to talk with her when he was upset. Xena usually leaves those tasks to Gabrielle.

Another interesting thing to note is that Xena had several caves she used for her wounded men and was willing to come back and use them. First, she rejects so much from her evil days it is interesting that she has no qualms about using the cave. Maybe that is because of the second point: the cave was used for the welfare of her army rather than for destruction.

In THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES (#17), Xena was retrieving the Ark of the Covenant for her Hebrew friends, who had previously saved her life and healed her. Yet she had not heard of the 'one God', which you would have expected her friends to have mentioned in passing, if nothing else.

Xena has changed in how she treats Gabrielle. At the beginning of the episode, she is teaching Gabrielle to fish by hand -- and even leaves an easy catch for Gabrielle under a rock to get her confidence up. Xena leaves Gabrielle behind to guard Icus while she looks in on Anteus. Xena also is very patient with the drugged Gabrielle, though the fact that Xena immediately thought of Gabrielle when Icus' mother mentioned nutbread and 'how children are about nutbread' seems to indicate Xena still thought of her as a child. At the end, though, Xena has actually loosened up around Gabrielle enough to tease her about her headache.

The Changing Gabrielle

Gabrielle is getting much better at picking up Xena's hand signals. They both disappear under the water at the sound of men chasing someone. Also, Gabrielle is now falling into the role of back-up defense. Whenever they have some one to protect, Xena fights while Gabrielle keeps an eye on the person they are protecting.

Gabrielle is also no longer complaining at being left behind to protect people. In fact, now she is starting to understand how valuable she can be at times. She tries to tell Icus a story to calm his mind about his father's strange behavior. It does not work, but at least she is trying to help rather than sulking.

We now also know she loves nutbread so much she will hog it all. Though after being drugged, I wonder how much she likes nutbread now. Gabrielle did learn one important lesson, though. One headache and a bizarre day has taught her to avoid drugs.

Note: I have just got to say this. Renee O'Connor, I could watch your parts in ALTARED STATES (#19) a million times in a row and never become bored with it. The part of drugged side-kick was played to perfection.


(1) Xena using fish as a martial aid

(2) Gabrielle rehearsing the All-Rock Choir

(3) Gabrielle scaling Xena

(4) The chilling death of Mael


The statute of Hestia (the goddess of hearth and home) which first appeared in A FISTFUL OF DINARS (#14), also appears in ALTARED STATES (#19), A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39), and BLIND FAITH (#42).


HENBANE contains "hyoscine" which is a muscurinic receptor antagaonist. In unmedical terms, it is something which prevents the "resting calm" receptors in your body from being activated. It causes:

1) wide eyes and blurred vision
2) memory Loss
3) fast heart beat
4) dry mouth
5) hot, flushed skin
6) agitation
7) delirium
8) constipation
9) retention


Prepared by SheWho.

Shooting Script: February 26, 1996 (yellow)

The Gabrielle/Xena water games, as scripted:

      Gabrielle (O.S.): "Sorry. How was that?"
      Xena (O.S.): "Very good."
      Gabrielle (O.S.): "Really? It felt a little awkward."
      Xena (O.S.): "No, you're getting the hang of it."

Note: This is a rewritten version. (Man, I'd love to see the original.)

Gabrielle disappears under water, then she pops up, "a large catfish appended to her hand. She just shoved her fist into the fish's mouth." [No comment.] Xena's rather...interesting...facial expressions while Gabrielle is under water are not mentioned in the script.

The initial fight scene has been completely rewritten, according to the marks.

When Maell whips the worshipers into a frenzy, shouts of "Kill the harlot!" "She's a freak!" and "Pagan bitch!" are scripted.

Just a fun description: After Xena awakens Gabrielle from her henbane-induced state, Gabrielle "stops, staring up at Xena, transfixed." With a "dazed smile," she tells Xena that she's beautiful.

Gabrielle's lectures to her 'choir' ("You -- you're a tenor; get away from the sopranos!" "You're standing like a stone, relax!") are not in this version of the script.

In the script, when still-drugged Gabrielle shows up at Anteus and Zora's house, Xena pulls her inside, closing the door, "pinning her to it." [Oooh, yeah; wish they'd kept that.]

The scene where Xena and Gabrielle are propelled into the well has been completely rewritten. A cute line: "They dangle there for a moment. Here's another fine mess they've gotten themselves into." Gabrielle line "It's a long way down. Don't let go," and Xena's reply, "Just don't let go of my hand," are not in this version of the shooting script.

The wonderful body-climbing scene (which should be listened to carefully at least once with one's eyes closed) begins in the script with Xena's instruction. "Okay, Gabrielle. Climb up over me." (Definitely spiced up a bit for the televised version.) "Gabrielle grabs Xena's belt and starts to crawl, slide, and slither up every inch of Xena's shapely body until she reaches her neck, around which Gabrielle wraps her arms as she locks her legs around Xena's waist. [Didn't I just read that in some fan fic?]

      Gabrielle (panting; anxious): I didn't hurt you, did I?
      Xena: You kidding? I've taken worse punishment from a lumpy mattress.

[Again, a little more fun in the televised version: "No, no, lovin' every moment of it."] Gab's line that if they fall, Xena can tell her the story on the way down isn't in this version of the script. Much of this scene also shows rewrites.

Describing the rope climb, the script reads: "Xena keeps coming, one hand at a time." [No comment.]

The exchange between Icus and Anteus about heaven, Gabrielle's line about her stomach not feeling so good, and Xena's reply not to even think about it, are not in this version of the script.

When Xena and Gabrielle, "who remains clenched around her," emerge from the well, Gabrielle says, "Thanks for the lift. Where to now?" In the screen version, she does that really cute scramble over Xena's head and says "What's next?"

The script uses the word "megaphone," but it's called the loud talking thing in the screen version.

At the end, as Xena and Gabrielle wave at the others, Xena hoists a sack slung over Argo and shouts, "Thanks again for the supplies." In the televised verson, it's "Take care."


Click here to read a transcript of ALTARED STATES .


No Unabating or Severely Punishing Deities were harmed during the production of this motion picture.


The following WHOOSH! articles discuss this episode:

Carper, Virginia, Food and Drink: What Xena and Gabrielle Eat on the Road, Issue 10 (July 1997), paragraphs 4, 14

Carter, Carmen, Visual Metaphor in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS , Issue 3 (November 1996), paragraph(s) 3-5

Eaton, Kristi, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS: Something for Everyone , Issue 9 (June 1997), paragraph 2

Knighton, Linda, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS: A Native American Perspective , Issue 3 (November 1996), paragraph 17

Letters to the Editor, Letters to the Editor , Issue 10 (July 1997)

Rudnick, Bret, An Interview with Michael Levine, Issue 11 (August 1997), paragraphs 24, 57, 58, 60, 99-103, 138

Rudnick, Bret, An Interview with Robert Field, Part 1 of 2, Issue 10 (July 1997), paragraph 26

Rudnick, Bret, An Interview with Robert Field, Part 2 of 2, Issue 11 (August 1997), paragraphs 159-161

Rudnick, Bret, Xena: A Demigod? , Issue 7 (April 1997), paragraph 24

Silver, Diane, The Shock of Recognition: A Lesbian Appreciation of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, Issue 11 (August 1997), paragraph 7

Swenson, Gregory R., Alexander the Great: Blueprint for Xena , Issue 4 (December 1996), paragraph 25


The following links discuss this episode:

Graphics and Sounds of the Episode

  • Graphics from A Day in the Life of a Xena Addict Website
  • Sounds from Tom's Xena Page


  • Complete credits from Logomancy Xena Website
  • Altared States Site from Vesta's Xena Website.

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