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COMMENTARIES ON
ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE I



COMMENTARY 1 by Beth Gaynor
COMMENTARY 2 by Deb McGhee
COMMENTARY 3 by Judith K. Parker
COMMENTARY 4 by Psycho Bunny
COMMENTARY 5 by Vindentur


COMMENTARY 1:

This commentary is by Beth Gaynor.

Welcome to the fourth season of Xena! Judging by its first 45 minutes, severe use of recreational drugs will make you feel right at home. Whew, what a trippy episode. I liked some of the moments in it, but I'm still not sure exactly what-all went on.

First and foremost: a moment of silence for the end of Renee O'Connor's Iron Woman streak as the only character/actress to be in every single episode of Xena. (Barring flashbacks and body doubles.) She didn't even get her name in the credits on this one. Hope you enjoyed the break, Renee, and lounged somewhere sunny drinking beverages with umbrellas in them while everybody else was filming in that miserable-looking rain.

I think I've got a handle on the general point of the episode: Xena goes native and becomes a Death Shaman like Alti so she can get to the Land of the Dead. But why did that require what looked to have been a HECK of a lot of travel? Where did she end up, anyway? Cyane provides us with the interesting tidbit that there are three groups of amazons: Greek, Mesopotamian, and these guys that Xena finds. They looked like the kids from Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome. Alti and the orphan kid were found between Chin and Greece - is that where this amazon group is from? Judging by their outfits, they're somewhere in the Ohio Valley with the Creek or Pawnee Indians. Geography? Pah! We have as much use for geography as we have for history!

Hades continues to be the biggest pipsqueak of a deity on all Olympus. He can't protect his sister, he can't keep his helmet, and now he doesn't even know where all his dead are. ("It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your dead amazons are?") Exactly what powers does this guy have?

Did ANYone believe for a second that Xena really only wanted to ask Hades where Gabrielle went? (And did she really think there was a chance that Gab would end up in Tartarus?) I think Xena's requests would have piled up like clowns from a car: Just want to know where she went. OK, and maybe see her for just a second. Well, can we add a brief conversation in there, too? And did I mention that at the mere suggestion from the bard, I'm breaking both our hind ends outta there faster than you can blink? And if you don't like it, I'll steal your helmet and chain up your sister.

OK, it was so subtle I might have misunderstood, but I'm starting to get the impression that maybe Xena and Borias were gettin' a little frisky with each other. I kind of wondered after that horse business in The Debt, and now the hints that we get with that bearskin... OK, OK, enough sarcasm. Those two were NOT repressed people, were they?

New season, new battle move from Xena: the four-person head-knocker! That was mighty impressive.

The leader of the Thunderdome Amazons says she heard Xena's wailing when she was a kid, except that the flashbacks never show Xena wailing over Anokin. Speaking of which, I was right there with Borias in wondering why the heck Xena cared about that girl. She showed up as Alti's prize looking like she had just smoked something really interesting, and the next time we see her warlord-Xena is getting emotional about her death. Urrr?

The theme "look" of this episode: Xena alone. We see Xena alone in close-up, Xena alone in long shots, Xena alone on horseback, walking, crouched in cave... when Xena said Gabrielle was "the ONLY friend," she wasn't kidding. Without Gabrielle, Xena's as solitary as the Sphinx. And does the hippy hippy shakes a lot. I do NOT envy Lucy Lawless the work she must have done on this episode - a lot of lone camera work in cold rain and weird outfits doing things like dancing around dead animals and fires. And crying and muttering a lot. That's gotta be tough to shake when it's time to go home at the end of the day. But kudos to her for pulling out all the stops for us.

Anokin (not Skywalker) was a bit harsh on Xena in the Land of the Dead. The kid was strung out with Alti all that time, and XENA'S the one who poisoned her soul? But at least it led to the fabulous line: "I hate the dead. You can't take vengeance on them."

Xena did a stint as a cult chick. I really dug Alti as a villain - she's got some serious nasty style. She has a neat glower and those funky hand gestures to draw you in close enough to rip your heart out. And heavy eye makeup to let everyone know she's a baddie. But what is it about powerful spiritualist women that makes them want to tutor Xena? Warlord Xena was not exactly prime student material.

Right on the heels of getting the "Warrior Princess" moniker from Lao Ma, she gets another one hung on her neck by Alti that we know has stuck: "Destroyer of Nations."

I really like Xena's decision to turn around and help the Amazons instead of going on to find Gabrielle. What a choice; join Gab and give up what made her precious, or honor her and walk away from the chance to see her. As Xena said, she can try again later to return to Gabrielle, but personally I'm betting that all this business with Alti is going to weave into Gabrielle, anyway.

Those Thunderdome Amazons are a volatile bunch - one story about a warrior woman from the past, and they're ready to slice and dice the body of the woman who just buried their friend and kicked their enemy's butts. I love their way of approaching prone people - their advice to deal with Xena is "Poke her!" and they get a few good licks in on the Berserker just to make sure he's dead before joining Xena post-fight. (Listen to the hits: Wop! Pow!)

Looks like Xena's still got Gabrielle's scrolls in those saddlebags she's carrying around. We saw one sticking out as Xena dedicates the fight against Alti to Gab. Awwww. I hope she's got Gab's staff in there, too, 'cause I'm sure we'll be seeing the bard reeeaaaal soon now - RIGHT, GUYS?

I need a schematic drawing to figure out what happened in the fight between the Berserker and Xena; with the over-manic camera work, I wasn't sure who got the best of who after each swing until I could see who was still standing. Xena's sword does some interesting work in that fight. For some incomprehensible reason, Xena doesn't even draw it until the second horse pass, then it's suddenly back in her scabbard again, then has leaped back into her hand.

Alti's "new power that she has... the one that makes you relive your past..." Yes, Xena? You're completely hosed, or a host of less polite words for how badly that little trick will get you where you live? "It's a toughie." A *toughie*? I laughed for five minutes when she said that. The Warrior Princess says "toughie." Nice to end the episode on a camp note.



COMMENTARY 2:

This commentary is by Deb McGhee.

SOUNDBYTE SUMMARY: Uh... wow. I should know by now that when the credits say Stewart & Scott, the show is going to be intense, but it's been so long that I'd forgotten. Be prepared to watch this mind-mangler twice, but only after a sufficient rest break following the first viewing. Overall Rating: 4 quills (out of 5).

ANALYSIS-REVIEW: This season, I'm going to endeavour to take neither myself nor the show too seriously. This may be difficult, because we start the season with an episode that's SO SERIOUS I'm wondering if the word wasn't subliminally presented throughout -- underneath and in-between all those freaky edits. Nevertheless, I shall resist the temptation and the conditioning, have as much fun as I can, and not get sucked into the third season 'Epic Proportions' mindset.

Adventures in the Sin Trade is all about what happens when Gabrielle dies and Xena sets out to see her one more time. One has to keep that firmly in mind while watching or risk getting lost in the multiple settings in which the action takes place. Not only is there the present, corporeal world; the Amazon Land of the Dead in the present; and the 12 years (or so) past; but we also see flashbacks to Xena's visits to the Land of the Dead 12 years ago, as well as scattered moments from her life including her recent past with Gabrielle. What's more, the main past and present actions are taking place in the same physical locations.

Sin Trade is a love story, a story about growth, an art-house action film in a tv format, and a spirit (vision) quest. Based on only the first part, I'd say it's largely successful on all those levels. We see the depth of Xena's grief over the loss of Gabrielle, to what lengths she will go to reunite with her, how incredibly depraved Xena has been and how far she's come, how tenuous is her hold on sanity, and how critical Gabrielle is to the process.

Sin Trade is dark and moody and discomfiting. It grabs you by the ears in the first scene and jerks you around to whenever and wherever it wants to go...and then says, "To be continued." At that point, I shakily lit a cigarette and then proceeded to just sit there muttering "Oh My God". You'll feel this pain and like it, babe.

Sin Trade had four things working against it: The missing co-star (complete with no credit whatsoever), flashbacks, the portrayal of a dissociative experience, and mood-disruptive ads (including the homicide-inspiring preview for next week halfway through). Who said these people don't take risks? Lucy Lawless, the writers, and the director all had to keep the focussed on their Holy Grail, Gabrielle, or the entire episode would have fallen apart. They achieved their goals with surprising deftness and subtlety.

Whereas we could have been treated to endless and saccharine Gabrielle voiceovers and flashbacks, we got just one brief flashback segment and several well-placed occurrences of Gab's voice calling out one word: Xena. (The Voice only got on my nerves once or twice, but the couple of times it sounded like it was in the throes of passion made up for it.)

Whereas Sin Trade could have turned into Just Another Excuse to see wild-and-crazy Xena's Dark Past, we instead got flashbacks that weren't excessively long and served the purpose they should: to tell us something about the character in the present. Xena's rejection of Borias' words of affection stand in sharp contrast to her heartfelt pledge to Gabrielle. Her consideration of murdering the child Otere on the strength of a prophecy about that child's later deeds harken back to last season's Gabrielle's Hope -- and the message is not a particularly kind one as far as Xena's progress is concerned. The piece de resistance, however, was the Xena/Alti capmfire scene, which I experienced as a creeping clenching in my gut (even if the heart of darkness ref brought a momentary grin). Damn RJ Stewart and his campfire scenes! (As an aside, we have yet to learn the full import of Anokin's charge that Xena corrupted her soul, but seeing the way the girl was swaying and moaning when "presented" to Xena by Alti, I'm not sure I wanna know! [smirky grin]) Sin Trade I succeeded in its use of flashbacks where Destiny and Debt I fell short.

Whereas Xena's trances could have evoked the anxious giggles that often go with observing out-of-the-ordinary psychological states and/or the usual Hollywood ineptness at portraying such, we instead got a Lucy Lawless who was more restrained in her manner than I can ever recall her being. It's easy to go over the top, but LL eased up just a tad on her normal freneticism and gave convincing portrayals of extreme grief, frustration, dogged determination, dissociative trance, brief reactive psychosis, and full-blown psychopathy. And, in my opinion, LL issued her most convincing and moving "I love you" to date.

Credit must also go to the director (Scott), editor (Field), and DP (Duncan) for their parts in establishing and mantaining mood. Beautiful use of closeups, such as when Xena looks Death (Hades) straight in the eye...("I stared into the abyss")...and then supplicates him for help, the COOL exchange of the horses, and the campfire scene with Xena and Alti (talk about creepy). The shots of Xena down that dark tunnel as she descends further into her private hell kicked ass. The super-fast edits kept me off balance and reinforced (and made me empathise with) Xena's struggle.

There were only a few places where I felt seriously wrenched out of the mood. First, when Xena drinks Mr. Ed's blood and goes into a state, the stretchy-pully 'see, she's freakin out!' FILM STUFF got on my nerves. It went on too long. Second, there were a couple of places where the dialogue was either too obvious or stilted. Overall, the use of observers to explain what the heck Xena was doing worked well, but once or twice I wanted Otere to SHUT UP. There seemed to be lines missing when Xena discusses her experience fighting the berserker, and the "that's a toughie" line rang very discordant -- possibly because of the jerkiness of that entire sequence or because of an off reading by LL.

Overall, I liked part 1 of Adventures in the Sin Trade. I didn't know how I was gonna deal with a Gabrielless episode, but because the ep was so fast-paced, complex, highly-charged, and pretty well focussed, I didn't feel too great a lack (well, once I (somewhat) got over the credits Iss-Ewe [see below]). There's a lot more about Xena to fit into her profile, and the good scripting kept this info contextualised and in the service of character development. Lawless turns in one of her finest performances to date. I expected a ride out of the quirky script and screen duo of Stewart and Scott, and I wasn't disappointed. I do worry that they turned away from the quest toward the end, but I'm still anxious to see how well part II continues and completes what was started here.

VARIOUS AND SUNDRY: Congratulations to Bernie Joyce, Chris Manheim, and Liz Friedman on their promotions.

I didn't particularly like ROC not being in the opening credits, though it's been explained to me that was to build suspense. Frankly, that makes little sense to me. Such absence can be read two ways: (1) ROC isn't a star of the show, and/or (2) ROC has 'per episode', rather than 'permanent', credit. No matter how one encodes that information, one comes away knowing that ROC isn't going to be in the episode -- which lessens rather than heightens the suspense, does it not? As my friend L.N. James so aptly put it, "Like duh, we [have seen] previews [and ads and interviews] for next season where ROC is clearly present and yet we're supposed to be all wondering (hands to mouth quivering and scared) "Is she gonna be back? Oh golly I hope so! Ohhhh!"

Music stuff. I liked the mix of ritual music from at least 3 different continents (N. America, Africa, Asia) and several cultures to underscore Xena's spirit quest. Can you say 'universality'? LOVED the use of the 'Dead Family Member Theme' (my name for it; CD2, Track 2)/'Soulmates' (CD1, Track 4) Medley when Xena talks to Gab at the volcano.

There were far too many similar-looking Amazons. It was hard enough keeping track of the plot without having to worry about who was who and what the character's importance was. Especially bemusing was the role of Anokin. Will we find out more about her in Part II, or was she merely there as a parallel to Gabrielle? If the latter, I would have appreciated even a minute or two more development or explanation of Anokin's relationship with Xena, and how this troubling memory impacted on Xena as she searched for Gabrielle.

I get the impression that Xena was planning on abiding in Eternity once she found Gabrielle, though this point is ambiguous, if not downright confusing. Xena's talk about her change of heart and finding her own light was rather a major epiphany to have so abruptly. That scene should have been the climactic event in Xena's quest, not a glossed-over transition moment.

That Hades wouldn't know where Amazons go to die was odd. Sure, if the Amazons originated in the Steppe, it seems reasonable that to the Steppe they should return. However, the Greek Amazons *do* have a local patron god, Artemis, aka HADES' NIECE! How could Hades not know? Don't these people talk? Get together for lunch or holidays?

At first, I didn't like Erik Thomson's portrayal of Hades (in this ep), godly fetching though he may be. He came across as too flip and self-pitying. In hindsight, however, his banality provided a nice (if not ironic) contrast to later scenes. "This is the Lord of Death. HA! You ain't seen nothing yet!"

And isn't it oh-so-interesting that Xena can find Hades AT WILL. Hmmm....

Why didn't Gabrielle go to the Land of the Dead when she died in Thessaly? Had her Amazonhood not fermented enough?

YAXI #2: Xena's sword wasn't in its sheath when she started doing the Blood Dance, but it was there when her soul popped out of her body.

If the new Amazon Holy word isn't 'Love', I'll eat my hat.

Obligatory, Semi-Relevant Pop Culture Quote:


"...And she laughs in her frustration:
Can someone please explain
the reason for this strange behaviour?
In exploitation's name,
we must be working for the skin trade."

--- Duran Duran, "Skin Trade"




COMMENTARY 3:

This commentary is by Judith K. Parker.

At the beginning of Adventures in the Sin Trade, Part 1, Xena seeks the return of a favor from Hades, an Olympian god. Unable to help, he nevertheless gives her information that sends her on a mad odyssey that ends in the Amazon land of the dead. Along the way, Xena gives in to her grief for Gabrielle and acts in ways that are both uncharacteristic and which seemingly have little purpose. Or does she? Is Xena following a carefully prescribed course, one she has learned, even been trained for, the path of a shaman?

The word "shaman" has its roots in the languages of Asia, probably coming from the Sanskrit "samana" (ascetic) to the Tungu language of western Asia and finally to Russian. The word has been applied by anthropologists to any religion in which shamans or "medicine men or women" work magic in order to enter the spirit world.

The Shamanism of western Asia, which is the apparent setting of Adventures in the Sin Trade, Part 1, seems to have had a great deal in common with Xena's experiences. For example, those chosen to be trained as shamans often had undergone some trauma, both psychological and physical, that made them different from other people, separating them in some way from society. We know that Xena had suffered a series of transformative events, including her betrayal and maiming by Caesar, that psychologically and physically crippled her. Even her physical healing by Lao-Ma failed to cure Xena's emotional damage, and Xena had finally chosen to reject a place in society in favor of the warlord trail. Moreover, those who became shamans needed to be open to the supernatural and in need of some type of healing that could only come from within. Xena has shown herself throughout the series to be in touch with gods and goddesses, with supernatural phenomena, with ideas and practices from the "old" religions and the "new." Although Xena denies any interest in the gods, she is clearly a seeker, one who has been damaged by events in this world and who searches for a resolution of her own and others' suffering.

The training to be a shaman was rigorous and included ordeals to make one susceptible to a trance state, to "ecstasy." The purpose of this ecstasy was often to allow one to leave his or her body, what we today might call astral travel, in order to lead the dead to their final destination in the next world. After being trained, the shaman would himself or herself induce this ecstasy through physical exhaustion, painful ordeals, dancing and chanting, and perhaps the eating of hallucinogenic plants. The shaman would commune with the spirits of animals and draw from each particular attributes needed for his or her journey. In Adventures in the Sin Trade, Xena travels night and day, driving herself beyond exhaustion. In one scene, she appears to eat herbs or roots. She kills a caribou or elk to make ceremonial clothing and later drinks the blood of the horse that has brought her to the steppes. She chants and dances.

The ancient world recognized several types of ecstasy, a word which comes from the Greek "ek (out) + "histanai" (to place). Whereas other types of ecstasy provided powers such as prophecy or healing, the ecstasy of the shaman specifically freed the shaman's spirit from his or her body so that it could wander in the heavens or in the underworld. A major task of shamans where Asia meets Europe was to lead the dead to their home in the afterlife. Xena's wild ride from Greece and the ceremonies and tasks she performs prepare her physically and mentally for a trance-state, for shamanic ecstasy. Her burial rites for the dead Amazon are not unselfish but are to bind this Amazon's spirit to her in the land of the dead. Of course, she kills the horse and drinks its blood in order to accompany its newly-released spirit to the other side. Having accomplished all of the necessary tasks, she achieves the pure trance state that allows her spirit to leap from her body into the land of the Amazon dead, to travel the path Xena has trod once before--with Alti, the shaman who trained her.

References:


Edwards, Dean. Shamanism FAQ.
http://www.landfield.com/faqs/shamanism/overview/

Maynard, John. Hellenistic Shamanism.
http://www.citysearch.com/E/E/SLCUT/0000/94/19/

__, Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary. Harper & Row, 1996.

__, Shamanism, Working with Animal Spirits.
http://www.geocities.com/~animalspirits/index8.html




COMMENTARY 4:

This commentary is by Psycho Bunny.

Read on at your own risk. Abandon Hope all ye' who enter here. And We're OFF! (off our rockers that is ) Xena's ridin'...ride, Xena, ride. Find Hades, Xena, find, find, find.

And so she does. Apparently, Hades uses the same cheap cologne as Ares, 'cept maybe a whole lot more, since it seems to work at quite a distance. Hades is playing 'pluck the flower petals' with the recently deceased ("Elysian Fields, Tartarus, Elysian Fields, Elysian Fields, Tartarus, Elysian Fields---she loves me, she really loves me!")

UNfortunately, Hades has no idea where the Gabster might be (in other words, nope, we ain't gonna get to see her anytime soon ), though he does offer to let Xena see Solon for a moment (which, I couldn't help but note she had no interest in doing--kinda makes you wonder about her great love for her kid, no?). Anyway, apparently Hades doesn't get all of the dead (actually, unbeknownst to the Lord of the Dead, they do all come his way, it's just that Charon keeps the cute ones for himself--makes up for the low pay and lousy benefits--I mean the guy doesn't even get dental coverage). Does she belong to any oddball sects or anything (like the Pre-Christian right-wing--I mean, you know it won't be the Elysian Fields if they let the rabble in). "Aha," thinks Xena. "The Amazon Princess thing finally took hold. She's gone to the Amazon hereafter (whereafter, thereafter, ne'erafter...whatever...)."

So Xena hops on her trusty steed Argo, then soon hops off again in favor of her new trusty steed, Kenny (okay, I don't actually watch South Park, but dang, it was just too obvious a joke), who's probably gonna be wishing he'd opted for that life of a plowhorse that his mama encouraged him to study for.

Meanwhile (this will be code for the flashback coverage, which will be sprinkled throughout my comments, with no great relationship to where they actually were in the ep, since A) I can't remember and B) I'm not sure it matters anyway), we get a flashback to Xena and Borias making whoopee. Actually, for a moment, I thought I'd actually clicked over to AnimalPlanet (motto: We're the most lame channel on the planet, but TCI owns us, so we don't even have to have a clever motto) and they were answering the eternal question concerning bears and the woods...but, nope, it was even a tad more crude than that (oh dear, I guess this answers that Howard Stern question--well, okay, I know it doesn't really, but couldn't resist that either). Then Borias said those words that will echo eternally in my memory...he said, "Fearless Leader says ve must be gettink moose and sqvirrel now."

EEEKKKSSSSS!

Okay, I will now admit that I know the exact...to the very second....moment when there wasn't a prayer of my being able to take this seriously.

Borias opened his mouth.

Till then, I was cracking wise, but not intensely so and then...

Borias opened his mouth.

And Boris Badinov lived. I mean he looked the part well enough, properly applied jet black wig and painted on beard, but the accent. I honestly don't remember it being that bad in The Debt. Maybe I was just ignoring him, but it wasn't possible in this one. Every time he came on, I was making Bullwinkle jokes. I just couldn't help it ("My name is PB, and I'm a wise*ss."--"Hello, PB.").

Anyway, then Ann Bancroft showed up (sheez, I knew she needed work, but really--and yes, I know it wasn't really her), still into younger types I see. Offers up a cute young thing (really young) who looks kinda like Gabrielle (I s'pose, if you squint kinda hard---but she is dressed...well, similarly). Faster than you can say "Hubba, Hubba," Xena's letting 'em stay (though there's some indication that maybe it's more the short blonde than the teachings of the nasty witch who brought her (Alti), like the way Xena's tongue hangs out, she starts fondling the little cutie, and they have a snogging session in the back row (what, you missed that part, get a bigger tv now, missie).

In the present, Xena wears a costume that appears to have been left over from the original Brady kids music tour (it was the fringe that made 'em do it) does some dancing, some wailing, we get some flashbacks of the Gabster.

Grief: a personal aside. Yeah, I know she was wailing in agony, sobbing in agony, falling over in still more agony, yadda, yadda, yadda. My problem was that it didn't really fulfill *my* need to see what she was feeling. All of the flashbacks are of the young and innocent Gabrielle (leading one to wonder if mayhaps, Xena doesn't really miss the grown up, not so worshipful, might just have an opinion of her own adult version quite as much as she misses the adoring kid version, but I digress), and there is nary a hint of recrimination, like maybe a quick "I really shouldn't have tried to murder my best friend/pal/lover/sister/insert appropos noun here, over a kid I can't even be bothered to talk to for 30 seconds." The agony seemed awfully self obsessed, superficial, and...well...just...oh, I dunno... not right. I wanted to hear what she was feeling about her mistakes, what happened, her mistakes, how she felt, all of those things. I did not particularly want to watch her dance (which as an aside, let's just say she ain't Michael Flatley).

Oh, and there's Amazons, lots of 'em. Live Amazons, dead Amazons, Amazons hangin' from trees (now there's a unique Christmas ornament). Problem was that they were all kinda interchangeable, except maybe their dead queen Cyan because she had a slightly cool costume and her headgear was tastefully silly, as opposed to the truly outrageously silly stuff that the live Amazons had to wear (ha, and they say there are no rewards in the afterlife). A couple of Amazons argue over whether or not to kill Xena, but as God is my witness, I could barely tell them apart, but Xena once tried to kill one of them when Borias sorta unofficially adopted her (the kid, not Xena).

Cue to:

Meanwhile (remember, this is a cue to a flashback), Alti, the Wicked Witch of the North (you can tell by her striped socks) is teaching Xena the ways of the dark side ("Feel the Force, Xena") and wants her to kill a child Borias has adopted, who will supposedly steal Xena's power one day. Well, since all of Alti's other predictions have come true (Xena's preggers, Alti commented on it in her first apearance--I forgot to mention that), Xena figures, What the hey. And also she seems to be a bit hypnotized by her evilness, who put the knife in her hand and shoves her forward. Whew, then Borias shows up, rescues the kiddie (making sure we have to put up with her in the present tense--hmmm, maybe I should have been rooting for Alti), then he opens his mouth again ("Ve vill use the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayam to trap Moose and Sqvirrel...er...Moose and Amazon?") and any tension in the scene is pretty a much awash amid a sea of giggles.

Back to the present

Xena dances some more, kills poor Kenny ("She killed Kenny!") paints blood on herself and hops off to the Amazon land of the dead again (who knew visiting the dead was this easy--Man, those Elvis fans may just turn horses into an endangered species if they find out about this--oh, wait, I just remembered, he's managing a Burger King in Paducah these days--whew, thank goodness, cos I like horsies).

Meanwhile (yup, you got it, flashback), Xena remembers another trip to the land of the dead, where she ran into the little cutie that Alti gave her, but, alas, it's not a loving sort of reunion, since the cutie says "Xena poisoned her soul." and also, she never gave her, her Whatsamtta U Class Ring of 1812 BC (Xena: Majored in Warlording, with a minor in crotch kicking--voted most likely to become a tyrannical overlord of the entire known world--also senior homecoming queen). Well, just as the confrontation was getting interesting/dangerous/sumpin' Xena's getting slapped awake by Borias, who looks really fierce and angry, and then opens his mouth ("Ve almost haf Moose and Sqvirrel zis time, Natasha.") and I'm pretty much giggling again.

In the Present: Sabrina and the teenage Amazons move Xena's body into their cave or something or other and have some more discussions, which due to the blandness of their personas and acting, I can't much remember.

Meanwhile, Xena's hanging with Cyan, the dead Amazon queen what she kilt, and finding out that the distant volcano is where all of the other Amazons head off to find the gate to eternity, but her tribe can't pass through. Their secret code word "courage" apparently ain't working no more ("And there's nothing stronger than courage"--all together now, what's the magic word--"LOVE!"--sheez, just telegraph the answer ahead of time). Xena's about to go after the Gabster, but then suddenly realizes that she has to stay and help the Amazons, cos that's what Gab woulda wanted and since she's hearing the Gabster's voice in her head (there's drugs to help that y'know). Unfortunately, Xena kinda mistakenly interprets what Gabrielles' saying (this just in from the other side, an interview with the reddish blond haired bard herself: "That lame brained, addlepated, know nothing, half wit...off to rescue Amazons indeed...Hey, XENA! I'M AN AMAZON! See if I die for her again. Sheez, they been dead how long? What's a couple more days gonn hurt. I could use some RESCUING OVER HERE!")

So Xena decides to help the Amazons defeat Alti, and to that end goes to battle with the *BERSERKER* who apparently has the ability to make you feel your old injuries and pains (which is a real "toughie" of a problem), but manages to beat him anyway...cos, well, she's Xena. Only, it's really the horse who's the "toughie" not the large guy with all the muscles and weapons, but figuring that out is a real "toughie" which only Xena is up to, cos only Xena could figure out something that's that big a "toughie"

Then Xena mutters the most idiotic line of the episode, namely that, "This new power of Alti's could be a really difficult challenge." Nope, kidding, that's not what she said. She said it was a "Toughie"

Cue:

Dissolve to extreme final, episode destroying giggles.

Fade out: End titles all of that good stuff.

Okay, first off, contrary to what you're probably thinking, I didn't exactly hate the episode, I just...well...I'm not really into the whole spiritual thing, wasn't too crazy about the look of it, and just overall found myself kinda bored (when not giggling over some things that just struck me as...well...dumb). The slo-mo dancing and hand shaking and such got rather redundant and dull at some point, and all of the see-through spirit bodies standing over the real body seemed kinda cheesy. That sort of effect has been so completely overused that it just didn't cause any majestic sense of awe (which I assume is what they were going for), just kind of a "Geez, that was old when Ghostbusters did it" response. I just kept thinking that the time could be better spent, like maybe with Xena talking back to the voices in her head, telling them what she's thinking, feeling, regrets, etc. In short, I wanted to know more about what she was feeling and less about the physical aspects of her spiritual quest.

I dunno, maybe it's also that I don't think film is an especially good vehicle for getting into certain spiritual experiences. They're too deep and intense for a wholly visual medium to convey much about them. Symbolism is all well and good, but at some point, it can get to be rather annoying and confusing. And yes, the answer is that I am shallow.

I mean, I wasn't offended by anything (not even the sex scene, which I know some folks weren't too nuts about--I think I was giggling too hard), I just..well, let's say it's not particularly what I would have done. I also agree with a couple of comments that have been made that Xena's past is getting kinda cluttered with influential figures, and cute babes that she had a hankering for. Kinda makes Gab maybe not so unique after all. She also seems to have a knack for getting them killed, which really oughta make Gabrielle think twice about hanging with the warrior princess when she gets back from her vacation in the land of the dead.

Anyway, I really wanted a gut wrencher about where Xena's at NOW, not one more discussion of what happened "ten years ago" Considering the things that have happened in the last year, maybe she should be focusing on a time period a little closer to home. Their refusal to deal with any of that is getting really profoundly frustrating.

The sad part is that I really was hoping I'd like it more, find it more fulfilling, something....

And now, I think I've said quite enough, flame away.



COMMENTARY 5:

This commentary is by Videntur@aol.com.

This episode was intriguing and definitely held my interest throughout. True - it's different than what we are use to seeing -but in a way its Xena Warrior Princess in the purest form. This episode evolves in steps all leading up to the conclusion that takes place in part II.

Death

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one will agree that it leaves you at times mentally unfocused. You can begin to think of things that are impossible (like creating a time machine to take you back in time to visit your loved one). Xena, has experienced for approximately a fourth time the death of a loved one (her brother; Marcus; Solan and now Gabrielle). The difference this time is that she has lost her light and her guide - her best and closest friend. There is no focus, there is no center. Both her good side and evil side are closing in and there is no guide to show them how to merge. Result: we see what seems to be a crazed Xena, mentally imbalanced and on the verge of insanity. We feel her pain as flashbacks of Gabrielle go through her mind and we understand Xena’s pain. We hear Xena as she promised Gabrielle in “one against an Army “ that even in death she would not leave her and her anguish to realize that her worst fear had happened - the death of her friend and her continuation of life. We see an attempt of Xena’s mind to find a guide - her guide (Gabrielle). She states: Gabrielle, I’m entering a world of darkness I promised myself I’d never return to. It’s the only way I can see you again. My mind has lost its center. Its turning, turning - can’t hold it...” Her mind finally racing back to her past and to people who tried to guide her at that time (both good and evil). Let’s digress for just a moment to take a look at these characters of guidance before moving on to the next step.

Borias - Xena’s lover. Definitely not as bad a character as one would have imagined. He was happy to find out that Xena was pregnant and definitely entertained the idea of “family” (Xena - Solan and himself). When Otere as a young child was saved by Borias in the village, he continued to protect her from both Xena and Alti. It was also Borias who showed disgust when Xena and Alti killed an innocent person just to enter into the land of the dead. Borias was a guide for Xena and one definitely that if she had really followed, would have been a good influence on her; however, we know that back in that day evil won out over Xena. We have another “guide of the light”, Cyane who in the next part tried to convince Xena to join the Amazons. Again evil wins out. Then we have Alti - evil in the purest form. This episode makes you see just how strong a light Gabrielle is. Neither Borias nor Cyane were able to turn Xena from Alti but then that was in the past and Gabrielle is the present.

Guidance - A Guide - A Goal When Xena enters the world of the dead we notice many things which show the strength of the Xena-Gabrielle relationship. The first is the fact that even when Xena feels her body being moved, she makes no effort at that point to return to the land of the living even though she is aware that if someone kills her body she would not be able to return. The second fact is that when the young woman she had held a funeral for says to Xena: “She must be a very good friend” - Xena replies “She’s the only friend”. Finally, the fact that even though she wants to see Gabrielle, she realizes that Gabrielle has given her (Xena) her own light and that she must now help Cyane. She must now do in the present with the aide of Gabrielle’s spiritual light guiding and fueling her light, what she did not have the strength to do in the past - face Alti - not become evil and to finally, hopefully, destroy her. Certainly at this point we can see that even though Gabrielle is not present physically in the play, she certainly is present spiritually and provides Xena with the spiritual guidance and strength needed to defeat Alti - something that Xena did not have in the past.

Focus, Meaning and a Goal

Suddenly our hero has a purpose and a goal - she becomes focused and centered. Best of all, she becomes a leader, teaching young Amazons how to fight and how to achieve a goal. This is our warrior princess at her best, yet still under the light and goodness that has been taught to her by Gabrielle. Xena realizes that the only thing that can destroy her is her past because in her past Gabrielle did not exist (not to mention the physical pain that she also endured in her past). Thus one of her final lines in this episode referring to Alti: “This new power she has - the one to make you relive your past -its a toughie” (also showing that Xena maintains her sense of humor in the tightest of situations). You just know that at the end of Part II Xena is going to give Alti the “lack of existence” that she has been needing for a long time.

Personally, I loved this episode. Lucy Lawless did a superb job (as always) and it showed the warrior princess in the truest form of a warrior. Lucy Lawless definitely portrayed a heart-broken, mentally unfocused warrior that was heart wrenching and at times painful to watch. Xena’s fight with the beserker was awesome. The coolest scene was when Xena’s spirit jumped out of her body as she entered the land of the dead. I know that many will not like the part of Xena killing the horse and drinking the blood - but remember death, war and all the things associated with a warrior’s life usually are not “pretty” - but then everything in life is not pretty and this episode just brings that point out a little more bluntly than most. Good job Lucy/Xena and good spiritual job Renee/Gabrielle.




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