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aka The Debt

Season 3, episode 7
Series 307
1st release: 11-10-97
2nd release: 04-06-98
3rd release: 12-14-98
1st strip release:
2nd strip release:
Production number: V0407
Approximate shooting dates: July 1997
Last update: 01-21-99

SYNOPSIS 1 by Bluesong
SYNOPSIS 2 by Mil Toro
COMMENTARY 1 by Beth Gaynor
COMMENTARY 2 by Carmen Carter
COMMENTARY 3 by Deanna Hardrath
COMMENTARY 4 by Mil Toro
ACTING CHOICES by Joanna Sandsmark

Jacqueline Kim (Lao Ma)
Marton Csokas (Borias)
Grant McFarland (Ming Tzu)
Daniel Sing (Ming Tien)

Daniel Lim (Ming T'ien, 12 years)
Tai Hadfield (Chuang)
Ric Chan (Jiu)
Din Tran (Prison Guard)

Teleplay by R. J. Stewart
Story by Robert Tapert and R. J. Stewart
Edited by Robert Field
Directed by Oley Sassone

Tien: So you have nothing to say in your defense, Xena?
Xena: Lao Ma was your mother
Lao Ma: Come to me, Xena.
Tien: The sentence is death.
Lao Ma: To conquer yourself is to know the way.
(Xena is tied to a cross; swords magically fly through the air)

Conclusion. Flashbacks recall Xena's transformaton from evil to good. But in the present, the "Green Dragon" has captured Xena, and is breathing fire at her.

1st RELEASE: 11/10/97
An AA average of 6.3
Competition from Syndicated Action Dramas:
Variety did not report them for this week (DRAT!). But i did deduce that X-FILES earned an 8.3 and STDS9 a 6.7; so, I am assuming they were the top two and that XENA was 3rd with around 6.3-ish, and HERCULES a little lower.

2nd release: 04-06-98
An AA average of 4.2
Competition from Syndicated Action Dramas:
(1) X-FILES 8th with 5.9
(2) STAR TREK DS9 14th with 4.7
(3) XENA 16th with 4.2
(4) WALKER TEXAS RANGER 20th with 3.9
(5) HERCULES did not make the top 20.

3rd release: 12-14-98
An AA average of 3.5
Competition from Syndicated Action Dramas:
(1) X-FILES 12th with 5.0
(2) ER 17th with 4.2
(3) STAR TREK DS9 19th with 4.0
(4) WALKER TEXAS RANGER 21st with 3.8
(5) HERCULES 3.7
(6) XENA 3.5
(7) CROW 3.1
(10) STARGATE 2.5
(11) NIGHTMAN 2.3


This synopsis is by Bluesong.

The show opens with a "last week on Xena" showing what happened in THE DEBT PART 1. Then, Gabrielle, in the throne room with Ming Tien, asks to see Xena, but cannot. Xena is placed in an indescribable large wooden square device which goes around her neck. She is sent down to a mucky water-filled dungeon. A guard asks Xena if it's true she was betrayed by a friend. "No, not a friend," Xena replies. Gabrielle sits with Ming Tien and asks again to see Xena; she is terrified of what Xena will think of her. Ming Tien, through flashbacks, tells Gabrielle how Xena taught him to rule when she kidnapped him -- her ruthlessness combined with the lack of spine in his father taught him how to be emperor.

In the dungeon Xena learns that Lao Ma has been executed. She remembers in flashback all the things Lao Ma taught her, which included a lot of philosophical sayings about losing your desires and conquering yourself instead of others. Lao Ma told Xena she must serve others. Xena said she could serve Lao Ma. But Lao Ma said it is easy to serve someone you love; Xena had to serve someone she hated. So Xena posed as a servant girl and served Ming Tzu, Ming Tien's father, at a dinner, and resisted the urge to kill him. As a reward Lao Ma healed Xena's wounded legs, and Xena and Lao Ma embraced.

In the present, Gabrielle slaps Xena in the face in an effort to get her to promise not to try to kill Ming Tien again. Xena has tears on her cheeks. Gabrielle leans down and whispers to Xena, begging her to make this promise so they can ride away together. But Xena pulls away from Gabrielle's hand, and Ming Tien sentences Xena to death. He tells Gabrielle not to feel like she failed with Xena because he was going to sentence her to death anyway, even if she had promised not to kill him.

Now that Xena has been condemned, Ming Tien lets Gabrielle see Xena. Gabrielle goes to the prison and sloshes through the water. Xena won't talk to her. Gabrielle says she realizes that her reverence for life has left an evil emperor in power and cost her the life of her best friend. Xena could not hate Gabrielle any more than she hates herself, Gabrielle says. Xena finally turns to Gabrielle (with this big wooden plank still around her neck) and says "scratch my nose, will you?" Gabrielle bursts into tears. Xena tells Gabrielle that she was angry, but she didn't hate Gabrielle. She says she could never hate her. Xena then tells Gabrielle through flashback how Lao Ma saved her soul.

After the healing of her legs Xena learned to give up her will and desires. She floated through the air with Lao Ma. The air dance was interrupted when Borias came in the room. Xena attacked him. Lao Ma begged Xena to give up her hatred, but Xena could not. Lao Ma wanted peace, and she wanted Xena to be her "warrior princess." But Ming Tzu said he owned Xena; Borias said he found her, and Xena said she belonged to herself. So ownership of Xena was decided in a game of dice; only they increased the stakes to include a body part of each of the losers as well. Xena won. She claimed Borias's "heart" and went after Ming Tzu. She killed him. She and Borias went after Ming Tien, who watched all this, but Lao Ma (who is Ming Tien's mother) stopped them with her mind powers.

In the present, Xena tells Gabrielle that it took her years to understand what Lao Ma tried to teach her. She says she was at the end of her rope just before she met Gabrielle, and it was the teachings of Lao Ma that enabled her to turn her life around and be "reborn." This is the debt Xena had to repay.

Then the guards come for Xena and take her to the throne room. She is placed on a cross to have her head lopped off across the forehead. While she lies there, Lao Ma's face appears before her, repeating all of those philosophical words. Xena remembers she has to conquer herself and all that other stuff, and somehow she makes weapons fly through the air and land in the back of the executioner. She makes her chains break open and frees herself. She fights off several men with some conventional methods and then she uses her mind to send a blast of power through the palace wall. She starts crumbling the palace as people run. She tells Gabrielle to get everyone out before the palace falls in. One last blast buries Ming Tien.

Ming Tien comes out of the rubble and tells Xena he wants to talk to her. He tells her he personally killed Lao Ma because he knew she wouldn't use her powers on her little boy. He says she cried over the loss of peace, and even when he tore her heart out she cried. He picks up Lao Ma's book of wisdom and says it did her no good. He gives Xena a hairpin that Lao Ma wanted Xena to have.

Gabrielle returns and finds Xena before Ming Tien as he sits on his throne. She tells him she doesn't have to kill him because she's made him small and no one will follow him now. She picks up the book and takes it with her. Gabrielle says they will take care of the book. She tells Xena she is proud of her for not killing Ming Tien and that she loves her. Xena says "I love you too, Gabrielle." The camera cuts back to Ming Tien, who has a hair pin sticking out of the side of his head that Gabrielle cannot see.


This synopsis is by Mil Toro.

The story picks up where Part 1 left off. Gabrielle has betrayed Xena's intentions to the Green Dragon. She somehow talked her way into the palace and convinced this guy to capture Xena and then I think she hoped that she could get Xena banished from the Kingdom of Chin and get Xena to promise not to come back to kill him. (Her naivete is so unbelievable, I had trouble with this scene). She desperately wants to talk to Xena and explain herself but Ming Tien refuses to let Gabrielle see Xena at all. Meanwhile Xena is in the dungeon, which is full of waist-high water, with a large heavy board around her neck, (by the gods, that was *painful* to watch) and meets a guy who knew Lao Ma and he tells Xena Lao Ma was executed by Ming Tien. (I didn't catch this on first viewing, but Ming Tien is not on his throne like he is when Xena is about to be executed, so I am led to believe he was telling the truth when he said he was the executioner of Lao Ma). Anyway, the guy in jail from Lao's house is surprised that Lao Ma didn't save herself with her powers and wondered if they were ever real. Then Xena says they were and tells him how she tried to teach Xena to use them for the greater good. In the past, Xena is made to serve dinner to Ming Tzu and the boy. Xena is sorely tempted to slice the guy's throat but somehow restrains herself. She *really* wanted to, though. Lucy did an excellent job of showing the war of emotions going on inside Xena.

We go back to present time, and Gabrielle *slaps* Xena in the face and yells, "Say it!", meaning she wanted Xena to promise to leave the Kingdom of Chin and promise to never come back to kill the Green Dragon. Ok, folks, up until this time, I had believed that Gabrielle was acting within her character and I could see the motivations of the things she did in THE DELIVERER, GABRIELLE'S HOPE, and THE DEBT I, BUT THIS?????? My question throughout this scene was "Who are you? and what have you done with Gabrielle?" I've watched the episode four times and I still don't believe Gabrielle would *ever* strike Xena like this, even if it was only once. The only logical explanation was that she was *so* scared Xena would be executed and *so* frustrated by Xena's stoic refusal, that she lost it for a second. Plausible? maybe, but to me, highly unlikely (what was R.J. and R.T. thinking????). I think what would have been more likely is Gabrielle on her knees crying and pleading with Xena to make the promise. It was clear Xena would rather die than make a promise like that. In the end, we find out why. She just couldn't. (During this scene, Lucy's stoney face and the combination of tears was just incredible. How can I even describe it except to say there was a duality of emotions from the opposite ends of the spectrum that were conveyed). EM-MY! EM-MY! EM-MY!

Anyway, Ming Tien finally allows Gabrielle to see Xena now that it has been determined she will be executed. Gabrielle goes to see Xena in the water filled dungeon (more painful stuff, geez! it really set the tone of how barbaric prisons used to be). Gabrielle wants to talk to Xena and at first Xena doesn't answer and when she finally does, she says "scratch my nose". Gabrielle bursts out crying. So much was expressed in that one exchange - Gabrielle realised that somehow Xena forgave her, Gabrielle was relieved that Xena didn't hate her even before Xena says she was angry but she could never hate Gabrielle, Gabrielle was grateful that they at least had a chance to spend Xena's last few hours together, (I actually thought they would kiss for a second, it seemed like they wanted to but the board was in the way, oh well). It was sweet to see Gabrielle helping Xena hold up the heavy board. Gabrielle also admits that she understands now why Xena wanted to kill the Green Dragon and is remorseful that she let her reverence for life stop Xena from killing a monster.

Xena finishes telling her story of Lao Ma and how she healed her broken legs and they both flew in the air (how romantic that was! It was reminiscent of a scene from BRIDE WITH THE WHITE HAIR, a Hong Kong movie that Rob Tapert has said Xena is partly based on. It's available on video rental, and I highly recommend it, both Parts I and II). Then Borias enters the room and Xena falls to the floor and attacks him. Lao Ma tries to stop her but she doesn't listen. She ends up kicking him viciously and yells at him "you've always said you were a leg man!" That scene was brutal. Finally, Lao Ma uses her powers to stop Xena and flings her across the room like a rag doll.

At Lao Ma's suggestion and after much resistance, Xena agrees to ask Ming Tzu's forgiveness and to Lao Ma's plan to form a three-way alliance, Lao house (with Xena being Lao Ma's Warrior Princess), Ming house and Borias (Xena and Borias eventually kiss and make up). Ming Tzu resists the idea because he says he already owns Xena and then Xena suggests they gamble for the right to own her. She ups the ante and says the winner gets Xena and a body part, minimum bet - a hand. Gruesome thought. She asks Ming Tzu, "you got the jewels for this one?" Wicked. Anyway, Xena wins and demands payment. Borias offers his heart, which Xena gladly accepts. Lao Ma seems crestfallen at her acceptance. Not sure if it was because she chose Borias over her OR because Xena was continuing with the gruesome game and hasn't learned anything. Anyway, Xena says she wants Ming Tzu's heart and he quits the game saying it is nonsense and starts to leave when Xena grabs a sword and takes out his heart (I guess she was going to get it one way or another. Yikes!!!). Borias comes to her aid and kills his guard, then Xena goes after the boy. Lao Ma jumps in front of him and Xena says they can end the blood line and then rule both kingdoms with Lao Ma handling the noble stuff while X/B keep the peace. Naturally, Lao Ma can't have any of this and uses her powers again to send Xena crashing into the nearest wall. Borias is next. Then Lao Ma picks Xena up and sends her crashing into another wall and yet again into a third wall. Me thinks the woman was p*ss*d!!! Still disappointed in Xena's choice of Borias over her? or just frustrated that Xena is thickheaded as a boulder. Geez! This woman had a million times the patience of Job to put up with Xena's bullshit. Finally, Xena is on the floor, unconscious.

Back in the present, it's time for Xena's execution. Xena and Gabrielle grasp hands for a few seconds and then they take Xena to the execution room, take the board off and lay her across a sacrificial alter of some sort as the executioner approaches. This time, Ming Tien is clearly in the background. Anyway, Xena starts remembering stuff Lao Ma said to her and channels her energy to kill the executioner with his own weapons and then releases herself from the metal bindings. She fights off Ming Tien's soldiers with her bare hands and some great kicks, then uses her newfound bolts of energy to attack them. Finally, she blasts a hole through the wall and the palace begins to crumble. Gabrielle is escorting people outside and Xena sees Ming Tien and sends a bolt of energy his way. He dodges it at the last second but Xena thinks he is dead and starts to walk away. Then he gets up and calls to her and Gabrielle tries to get Xena out of there (she is clearly afraid of what Xena will do) but Xena wants to hear what he has to say. They talk and Xena tells him Lao Ma was his mother and he says he knew and was the executioner and generally 'disses the woman. Xena loses it and kills him but pretends to Gabrielle that she didn't. Whew! what an ending!!!


This commentary is by Beth Gaynor.

DEBT II was a hit-or-miss episode for me. There were some stunningly good moments, and other ones that left me tossing Cheetos at the screen. Some things worked, some didn't, which left the episode feeling uneven. On balance, I do like the episode a lot, but boy, some of those scenes still throw me right out of the story.

Lao Ma surprised me: she turned out to be a (mostly) good lady. Heck, they painted her to be practically saintly. But this saint had serious bite. She had power coursing under that calm facade like a lava flow, which gave extra punch to the calm statements she made. I don't think it was meant to be, but I found chilling the scene when Lao Ma shows Lao Tzu to Xena. She was keeping a man alive by a thread, using pressure points and comas, destroying his life's work to change it into something he would have despised, and she called it a gift to him? Brrrr. Remind me not to go knocking over there at Christmas time.

Xena offered to serve Lao Ma. In a throw-away moment. As far as we've seen, Xena has always commanded, always led. Even as a young and inexperienced warrior, she was the rallier of her village against Cortese. She captained the ship we saw in Destiny as she expanded her conquests. Even in DEBT I, when Borias led the army, Xena wasn't much of a subordinate. But she was willing to give ground to Lao Ma. However much Xena may have failed to take all of Lao Ma's advice to heart, Xena definitely recognized her as a leader and a mentor.

Once again, photography kudos all around! These two episodes have had cinematography that beats most of the junk that reaches the big screen. My two favorite Kodak moments: the scene between Lao Ma and Xena with the bottles on the table and the gorgeous golden silhouettes behind them, and the distant shot in that weird floating scene, with yellow and purple robes and scarves blowing in front of red walls. Beautiful, beautiful work.

Phew, what a relief. Not even a minute into DEBT II, Gabrielle said the words I had been waiting to hear: "You said you would let Xena go!" Gab turned over Xena with the belief that she was going to be able to negotiate them both out of there. Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and naive Gab found herself smack in the middle of Tartarus when she realized she hadn't counted on two things: Ming Tien's cruelty and Xena's stubbornness-plus-sense-of-honor. "The pathetic thing is I thought I was saving you," she confesses in the dungeon. She thought she had hit on the perfect plan: keep Xena from assassinating Ming T'ien despite her best efforts, turn around, and go home with everyone's soul in one piece. Reality check time for the amazon princess.

Where is the moment when Gabrielle realized that she had seriously misjudged what was going to happen? When did she finally figure out that this wasn't going according to plan? I was waiting to see it hit her and never spotted it. In the dungeon, she told Xena she hated herself for what had happened, and I didn't believe her. It should have been one of the gut-punches of the episode, it got pulled, and I have no idea why.

Also in the "what th-?" department: One little polearm stood between Gabrielle and Xena's execution? And then when Xena did burst free on her own, Gabrielle still stood aside without helping? It was time for some serious crash and bashing, and Gabrielle stood rooted to the spot. (But great surprise reaction when the torture implements started flying.) If we want to put the Xena reality editor through some serious gymnastics, the best conclusion I can come up with is that Gabrielle is still reeling from having killed and doesn't want to go anywhere near a fight. We haven't seen her swing a fist since DELIVERER. Maybe the writers just seriously tripped up on that one. I had expected it would have taken a lot more than one guy with a stick to hold Gabrielle at bay.

Xena's interrogation by Gabrielle was one of the moments that really worked for me. How gut-wrenching can you get? It opened with Gabrielle's sudden strike at Xena's head, which snatched my attention as forcefully as an actual slap would have. Xena's cold, unfocused silence combined with the tears falling from her eyes was sock-knocking. Xena's tears weren't for the pain of the imprisonment, the stocks, or the blow. They were for the pain of feeling so thoroughly betrayed by Gabrielle. Gabrielle knew it, too, but kept driving towards the single goal she had left; to get Xena to promise what they needed to be able to leave the place behind. Her words when she finally knelt close and pleaded were reminiscent of what she said in THE EXECUTION when she realized how much trouble was ahead for them: let's just turn our backs on this issue, and we can ride away and never look back. Gabrielle has a tendency to play ostrich with trouble when it gets too personal, and she doesn't even realize that in both these cases, it would have meant that she would win the issue (Meleager would have been free, Ming would have been unmolested). Xena, on the other hand, has no such inclination; the more personally painful the problem, the more Xena bulls into it chin-first. Gabrielle never had a chance of getting that promise out of Xena.

When Lao Ma healed Xena's legs, the first thought that occurred to me as Xena laid down on the mat was "Wow, she's actually still." It was the first time in those flashbacks that Xena wasn't fidgeting, champing at the bit, and lunging forward. Xena's manner had become much more subdued around Lao Ma, but she still raged under the surface. I guess that was supposed to be the point of the healing; Xena had managed to find enough control to allow her legs to be healed. I'm sure Lao Ma's plan was that eventually the same would be true for her soul.

The leg-healing and floating-in-the-air scenes totally lost me. Lao Ma and Xena's emotions escaped me - I didn't buy much of the elation I was expecting Xena to feel at being healed. And then suddenly we were in Willie Wonka's chocolate factory and floating through the air. At the end, we get the hint that it must have something to do with losing desire and will, since Xena loses altitude the moment she sees Borias, but I couldn't figure that while I was watching the scene. There must have been some heavy symbolism and parallels with Chinese or Hong Kong films, but it left me scratching my head.

The gambling scene, on the other hand, was brilliant. I love the pacing and the acting all around. Watch how perfectly Xena and Borias work in tandem. Neither of them batted an eye in surprise when Borias offered his heart and Xena immediately accepted. They read each others' intentions, leapt to their swords, and made short work of Ming and his guards. Lao Ma had reunited a highly dangerous combination; it wasn't the wisest thing she ever did. And the scene foreshadowed a bit of the switch that was in place by the time they reached Greece; Xena was now charging into the fore, and Borias was backing her up. And I'm betting he took the gift of his heart with dead seriousness.

Those Mortal Combat-style chi attacks were weird, but boy, Xena sure looked cool throwing them around. When Gabrielle dressed in sackcloth, she got a potato sack. Xena got a cool robe including rope sash, and looked kick-butt as all get-out as she brought the Ming dynasty down around her own ears. Renee needs to start bringing doughnuts to the wardrobe department.

Yet another person gives Xena the "you made me" speech. Ming Tien's accusation is almost a duplicate of what Callisto has snarled. Xena's "I've learned to clean up after myself" response is telling. She tortured herself after allowing Callisto to die, but given the results with Ming, maybe she would do it all again if she had to - and maybe even do it earlier if given the chance. She doesn't give Ming Tien the opportunity to make her regret letting him go free.

This probably marks me as a truly weird person, but I cheered aloud when I saw that hairpin driven into Ming Tien's skull. THERE'S the Xena we know - not this enlightened, let-'em-beat-me-up-and-imprison-me-while-I-tell-stories woman. That was Xena's return to blood, her failure to live up to the standard that Lao Ma and Gabrielle want to set up for her, but darn it, it's the don'-MESS-with-me warrior that I love to watch. Vigilante justice lives on in the Xenaverse.

It's Xena's turn to totally pull the wool over Gabrielle's eyes. As best as I can piece together what happened, Xena really was going to make it out of the temple without killing Ming until he called her back. He bragged about torturing Lao Ma to death, which was when Xena embroidered his temples together. And she must have THEN - here's the kicker - set him up in his throne and spoke to him, knowing that Gabrielle was going to return. She staged it so Gabrielle never got close, and led them both away while talking about how killing him wasn't necessary (self-recriminations begin already!). The whole scene is a cold setup to rival Gabrielle's story about Hope-pitching. It's interesting to note that while one lied about killing someone, the other lied about letting someone live.

And what kind of vicious twist of fate is it that this led to the moment when Xena was finally able to get the word "love" past her teeth for Gabrielle? Watch the sick look on Xena's face almost the moment she said it. She hated the fact that she could tell Gabrielle she loves her in the same breath as deceiving her. This was also the first time that Gabrielle, who has talked about loving Xena without problems, really pushed a button to try to get that response from her. She's searching big-time for some reassurance, and Xena provides it, even though she's hating herself at the same time.

So let's take a look at Rift status. Giving my best attempt to predict the writers' plans, we've laid the Rift groundwork. Now it's a matter of dealing with consequences and repairs. Who would have thought that the SMALLER worries would be Xena turning her back on Gabrielle in Brittania and Gabrielle betraying Xena to her enemies in the kingdom of Chin? These "little" matters are mostly forgiven (though not forgotten), and our favorite duo is on the way back to Greece, wobbling as if on eggshells. Now they have to deal with the land mines they've laid for themselves. We can be pretty sure that Hope is going to reappear. Will word ever reach Gabrielle that Ming Tien was killed in the attack on his palace?

Love is not a problem for these two; even in their worst moments so far, their care for each other has never even come close to being severed. This has boiled down to a matter of trust. Gabrielle didn't trust Xena to find a method other than bloodshed to deal with Hope. Xena didn't trust Gabrielle to understand that killing may have been the only option left for taking care of Ming. And they're both right. And they're both probably going to be left defending wrong actions they took for the right reasons with disastrous consequences for each other. Angst ahoy!


This commentary is by Carmen Carter.

THE DEBT is easily the most beautiful saga of the series, presenting an incredibly lush visual style combined with exceptional production values -- from musical scoring to cinematography to casting -- all of which contributed to the epic scope of the basic storyline. The stunning look and searing dramatic moments from Xena's past all helped to draw attention away from the glaring plot holes and flawed characterizations that, for me, marred the overall quality of the show.

Although I really enjoyed the first part of this story, I was unsatisfied with the conclusion, which retroactively lessened the emotional impact of the first installment. However, individual scenes impressed me -- and Lao Ma was fabulous. Watching Xena's attempt, and continued failure, to follow her mentor's teachings was riveting and revealed the true horror of who the warrior princess had been, as well as creating a much more complicated portrait of who the warrior princess is now.

Seeing Xena revert to type when she gratuitously kills the Green Dragon underscores the darkness that we've all known is a part of her. However, the murder runs counter to the idealistic and hopeful message that was central to first and second season: that we do have control over our actions and that the impulse to violence can be resisted. Storylines involving murder, mayhem, revenge, hatred are a dime-a-dozen on TV; the hallmark of this show has been watching a flawed yet resolute anti-hero fight to keep her balance walking on the side of good. It's a powerful image, and one I hope will not stayed dimmed for too long.

Ironically, Gabrielle is the real victim of betrayal in this story, with her actions and her character reduced to nothing more than a convenient plot device, used at the price of her character's integrity. Since the ending of Part I demands an emotional high note, Gabrielle is pulled into duty as the betrayer of Xena. This twist provides the requisite shock value for a "to be continued" moment, but Part II reveals that the shock is a contrived one. Gabrielle's action was necessary to facilitate Xena's imprisonment, but the betrayal and subsequent mini-rift serve no lasting dramatic purpose; they echo the general betrayal theme without giving it any added resonance.

In GABRIELLE'S HOPE, the bard defied Xena out of a pragmatic faith that has been central to her character for several seasons, but in THE DEBT, Gabrielle appears hopelessly naive and somewhat simple-minded in her surprise at the Green Dragon's duplicity. This gullibility overshadows the idealogical motives that supposedly fueled Gabrielle's "treachery", and then her teary recantation and profession of self-hatred completely negates the validity of her actions. This despite the fact that Gabrielle is proven right in the end when Xena slaughters the 16-year-old son of Lao Ma.

Having executed her one plot duty, Gabrielle is relegated to a role of passive observer during Xena's impending execution. The woman who has fought legions to recover Xena's body, who has risked her own life time and again to come to Xena's aid, who is willing to die for strangers, does little more than flutter helplessly when the executioner prepares to kill the warrior princess. Aside from being incredibly annoying, this complete disregard for an established character dynamic was a sign of sloppy writing, a reach for easy solutions to plotting challenges.

Unfortunately, when plot mechanics drive characters in unconvincing directions, the entire story suffers a loss of crediblity. First and foremost this was Xena's tale, and THE DEBT would have been better served by leaving Gabrielle at the dock and finding a more creative and persuasive way to build dramatic tension.


This commentary is by Deanna Hardrath.

I've read the episode guide, the synopsis and several other articles covering these episodes in particular and found it interesting that a few things that jumped out at me so completely didn't catch anyone else's attention. (Either that or I'm just weird)

1. I firmly believe that Xena had every intention of leaving Ming Tien alive at the end - she wanted to tell him, hurt him with the knowledge that he had ordered his own mother executed. I think the decision to kill him doesn't come until Ming Tien is bragging loudly about how Lao Ma cried as he ripped his own mother's heart from her chest. Gads, what a powerful struggle went on inside Xena at that moment. And Lucy Lawlass expresses this so wonderfully without words - she really is an emotion-evoking actress.

I mean, catch the reaction in her at Ming Tien's statement that he knew Lao Ma was his mother all along. What a heartless bastard this kid was - and let's not forget, as coldly as she responds to him about cleaning up her messes - throughout the episode Xena is well aware that it is SHE who created Ming Tien.

2. I think we see yet another "rebirth" of Xena in this episode - a poignantly sad one actually. I think at the moment she realizes the lack of desire that Lao Ma espoused so frequently to her, is when she frees herself. I think that Xena reaches the same pinnacle of choice she did when Borias entered Lao Ma's house - to completely let go of all that makes her "Xena" and turn to the things that Lao taught her and become truly good - but Ming Tien, with his final statements pushes her back over the line into much of her old ways. How wonderful that Xena remains the same butt-kicking warrior we have come to know and love - but how sad that release from her guilt-ridden soul eludes her yet again. I thought this one of the most powerful moments in the two episodes.

3. Another moment that is sort of lost in its own subtleness is the sheer joy and relief we see in Xena as the other prisoner speaks of Lao Ma - for a brief second when Xena believes she is still alive - and in that same few moments, is made aware of her death. Man, how many emotional somersaults can we take!!!! And the utter joy and sheer love that crosses Xena's face, against the backdrop of everything that's going on in present day is incredible - as is the gut wrenching pain we see seconds later when the truth of her death is revealed. All I can say is - someone pass me the Kleenex PLEASE!

Also, I don't know about anyone else, but I think they did poor Gabrielle a great disservice in these episodes - it isn't the whole "betrayal" thing that bugged me - I can almost swallow that from Gab - she really didn't want Xena to throw away everything Gabrielle sees Xena as having accomplished over their time together. But to put her in such a deadpan, cliche role throughout the episode - all I can say is "BLECH!"

And as for Jacqueline Kim - WOWOW!!!! The combination of Lucy and Jacqueline together was packed with powerful moments for me. I sure hope they bring her back in some way or another - I mean heck, in the crazy universe that Gabrielle and Xena travel, surely it isn't beyond comprehension that someone of Lao Ma's power couldn't come back in some sort of ethereal way? Heh...how about as Xena's occasional conscious? Nah, poor Xena has enough do-gooders on her back already I suppose.

Btw, I love the XWP staff for throwing in all those loose-end tiers throughout the season - the revelation to Gabrielle about Ming Tien being dead in "Bitter Suite" was awesome - but even more surprising and wonderful was Gabrielle's revelation about her talk with "Ares" and how she arrived in Chin ahead of Xena. Another yippee for a unique gut grabber... Anyone else ever feel like saying "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water" after these moments? ;)

Okay, and lastly - two questions - fodder for thought as they say...

1) I wanna know what happened between Lao Ma and Xena after Lao tosses her and Borias around like rag dolls - obviously something else happened between then and Xena's return from Chin.

2) I wanna know WHY, years later, Ming decides to have his mother executed - there's obviously a story left untold there.

[Editor's note 05-30-98: The show will return to Chin in XENA's 4th season...hopwefully to shed more light on these curious situations.]


This commentary is by Mil Toro .

In the Xenastaff's 2nd attempt at a two parter (the 1st being DESTINY and THE QUEST), I must say that DEBT II was equally as excellent as DEBT.

It is rare on TV where both parts are equally as visually stunning, captivating, riveting and phenomenal as these two episodes were. If it were up to me (yeah right), Lucy Lawless would get an Emmy for her portrayal of the dual role of Xena (past and present) in this episode. Some scenes with her were the most amazing and incredible she's ever done. She's never been better.

How did Gabrielle get to the palace efore Xena? My theory is that she stowed away on the same ship Xena took and then went straight to the palace to talk to Ming Tien and since Xena waited until nightfall, Gabrielle got inside ahead of her. It's a stretch, but to me nothing else makes sense and they didn't explain it either, so there ya go.....

In the opening scene, when Gabrielle and Ming Tien are talking and he asks Gabrielle why she betrayed her friend, Gabrielle says she thought Xena was betraying herself and she didn't want Xena to go back to the way of murder. Ming Tien says that "murder is in her blood, in her soul. It's more natural to her than love." Those were chilling words and after watching the rest of the ep, I came away with the feeling that it's true about Xena. It's no wonder Xena keeps so much of herself away from Gabrielle. I'd be frightened too, Gabrielle of Xena and Xena of herself. Would Gabrielle stay if she knew the truth? the whole truth? Would she believe it? She didn't seem to want to, but that is her strength although it may also be her downfall. This rift is hardly over.

Don't know if anyone else noticed this, but in the execution room, when first Lao Ma, then Xena are placed on an altar of sorts, the altar is shaped in the Chinese character for wood. At first I thought, ha ha, funny joke because the altar is literally made of a thick wood, but it also is a Chinese astrology symbol. In Western astrology, there are four elements - fire, water, air and earth and each of these elements have their own symbolic properties. In Chinese astrology, there are five elements - metal, water, wood, fire and earth. I don't know enough about Chinese astrology to say what "wood" represents but I believe both Lao Ma and Xena are connected somehow by this wood element. I found the symbolism fascinating.

After Lao Ma shows Xena how lethal a hairpin can be, they had this conversation:

Xena: You could kill someone using a hair broach?
Lao Ma: When necessary. I don't like to kill.
Xena: Everyone has their preferences. I happen to like a good kill.

To me, this was a very telling confession by Xena and after the ending, I happen to believe it's a part of Xena that she will never eradicate. She *likes* to kill. I've thought this many times before when after Xena has plunged her sword into someone's heart, she enjoys it too much, although she isn't as obvious about it as Callisto. Nevertheless, a good example would be when she killed Celano in HOOVES AND HARLOTS. He was clearly no match for her and she could have easily disarmed him and captured him like what later happened with Krykus. But with that traiter guy, she toyed with him for a bit first and then killed him savagely. The first time I saw it, I wondered why Xena killed him and now I know why. She *likes* it.

An excellent subtext scene between Lao Ma and Xena was when Lao Ma tells Xena that she has to stop willing, desiring and hating, that she has to serve others. Xena says (with much difficulty, I might add, she's clearly a Top), "I could serve you, is that what you mean?" Lao Ma says, "It's easy to serve someone *you love*" (my emphasis). She tells Xena she must serve someone she hates, the Ming guy. Xena says she would rather die and Lao Ma answers, "You've been dead for a long time, I'm offering you a chance to live". Powerful words. This entire scene reminded me of the old TV show, KUNG FU (the original one), when they flashed back to his childhood. I kept expecting Lao Ma to call Xena "Grasshopper".

When Lao Ma tells Xena that the boy is her son, there is a glint of humanity (Lucy played this to perfection) as several thoughts hit home (1) how she had kidnapped and ransomed that same boy; (2) guilt over how she treated him when in her captivity; (3) guilt over the knowledge that she would have killed that boy with absolutely no remorse if she didn't get what she wanted; and (4) why does this woman waste her time with me, a no good evil to the bone, worthless monster? All these thoughts were conveyed through a few expressions by Lucy in this scene. Incredible.

THE FINAL SCENE. This part is a bit rambling so bear with me. Xena clearly intends to kill Ming Tien and aims a palm full of energy at him. He hits the floor but escapes serious injury. He tells Xena he has something to tell her. Xena turns around and Gabrielle says, "Are you....?" Xena cuts her off and says "I'm fine, don't worry, as far as I'm concerned this is over." Gabrielle knows that Xena is quite capable of still killing this guy and doesn't get to finish her question. Even though it seems Gabrielle is about to ask Xena if she is all right, to me, what she really meant to ask is "Are you going to kill him?" At first, Xena takes Gabrielle literally in answer to "Are you all right?" and says "I'm fine", then adds, "don't worry, as far as I'm concerned this is over". To me, this is where Xena's Great Lie begins. It *wasn't* over for her, or else she wouldn't have gone back to talk to him. I think she wanted to kill him with the energy bolt but when that failed, she somehow decided to at least give him a chance to talk his way out of her *not* killing him.

A revealing piece of dialogue is when Ming Tien says "You made me, Xena, you taught me to be the monster I turned out to be" (BTW, this actor was horrible, he's lucky Lucy carried the scenes on her broad shoulders) and Xena says, "I know, it's part of why I'm here, I've learned to clean up after myself". Clearly she meant "clean up after herself" is to kill him, to destroy the "Frankenstein monster" she had created. But then the guy makes a few more costly errors and he's obviously not scoring any points with Xena. In other words, he has just talked Xena into killing him when she was giving him every opportunity to spare his life. He then hands her Lao Ma's hairpin and he says it was her last wish that it be returned to Xena. Then he says that Lao Ma cried like a sentimental fool and was still crying even after he ripped out her beating heart. It is clear that Xena crosses over the edge at that moment and kills him with the hair pin even though we don't see it.

Gabrielle re-enters the room and sees Xena talking to the guy. Gabrielle thinks he's still alive. I'm sure Xena heard her come in and staged the "conversation" with Ming Tien. When we see Xena's face, she has obviously crossed over into madness. She has failed Lao Ma's final test and she knows it. I believe Lao Ma did *not* want Xena to kill Ming Tien, but find a way to "make him small", like her staged conversation of him losing face with his people. That, to me, would have been the way. Earlier, Lao Ma told Xena that "to conquer others is to have power, to conquer yourself is to know the way." Xena did not conquer herself and quell her murderous "instinct" and therefore did *not* find the way, but instead gave into the power of conquering others, i.e. murder. Lao Ma obviously could have used her powers to save herself from execution *without* killing Ming Tien (despite his claims) but somehow felt by sacrificing herself would save so many, even though I'm not really clear on this part.

To me, "make him small" did not automatically mean Death, except that's the way Xena took it initially and even after going over all the lessons Lao Ma taught her, still was going to kill him with the energy bolt. When that failed, she got sucked into Ming Tien's goading and used Lao Ma's hair pin to murder him. It's almost as if Xena hadn't learned a damn thing in 10 years time, except more lethal combat skills. Finally, Gabrielle leads Xena away and tells her she loves her and after a moment's hesitation Xena says she loves her too. I think she hesitated because I don't think Xena thinks Gabrielle will love her after she finds out the truth about what happened and about her. Xena clearly believes, just as Ming Tien did, that murder is in her blood, in her soul and it comes more naturally to her than love. (Big Sigh, sad but true).

Frankly, I don't know how they will resolve all this. Both Gabrielle's and Xena's lies are hardly little lies, they are major monumental lies that undermine the building blocks (i.e. trust) in their relationship or anybody's relationship, for that matter.

Nevertheless, this is an incredible TV show and I'm just in awe of what they are doing this season. This episode really made me think. LOVE IT!!! Just like THE DEBT I, on a scale of 1-10, this is episode is a 20!!!


12-21-98. From R.J. Stewart's (the executive producer of XWP) RealHollywood 12-15-98 chat:

EvyWP asks "Are we going to watch more of Lao ma?? Say yes pretty please! hehehehe"

R.J.Stewart says "Oh would I LOVE to say yes! But, I don't think that's going to happen, I loved Jacqueline .. boy was she great! And, I loved writing that character, boy was that fun. I don't think she'll be coming back. She loved the experience, but she's gone on to other things. We keep in touch. Keep in mind, she is dead .. we'll have to do one of our ..."

12-21-98. From R.J. Stewart's (the executive producer of XWP) RealHollywood 12-15-98 chat:

Maya Kraj-Krajewski asks "RJ Stewart, what is our favorite episode of Xena?"

R.J.Stewart says "...I've got a bunch of them so it's a tricky one. You know one that I respect a lot as a well designed story and I'm surprised that it's not mentioned more often .. "Remember Nothing" from the second episode, Chris Mannheim wrote it. I think it turned out well .. I watched it with a group of people and people who weren't Xena fans were impressed with it. I love the China two parter and anything with Callisto in it .. and shows that have a lot of things happening between X and G. It's a hard one to answer. I remember "I remember nothing" so well because I was watching it with non Xena fans and they were so impressed with the craft that went into it."

05-30-98. At a Digital Worlds AoL chat on 02-12-98, Steve Sears took on the folowing questions regarding THE DEBT:

Question: ...did you settle on when or if Xena will get her energy bolts back?
Tyldus: ...we talked about that. It was an incident of pure essence that cannot be recalled at will.

Question: ...I really like the idea of attaining Xena attaining a moment of pure essence for the power. I think it gives her something to strive for
Tyldus: ...It's something I learned when studying Tae Kwon Do. A purity of purpose and essence is only restricted by a lack of focus.

Question: ...where did Lao Ma get purity of essence?
Tyldus: ...Her upbringing and the basis of an esatern philosophy that invites introspection.

Question: ...Xena is very good at focus.
Tyldus: ...But her focus is always around a central thought or emotion. There is the concept of letting go and directing as opposed to focusing an emotion. It's a great thing to debate, though! RJ and I spent hours talking about it.

Question: As opposed to letting go and producing Ty?
Tyldus: ...you got that right!

05-30-98. At the Burbank 98 convention (01/17/98) during the talk of Robert Tapert, the executive producer and BIG CHEESE of XWP, a request for more Jacqueline Kym was greeted with enthusiastic cheers. Tapert was pleased with Jacquie Kym's work, but there did not seem to be anything on the horizon for her. There were no plans to bring her back. Also, in a near-final question, someone wanted to know why there were not more Asian-looking actors in episodes like THE DEBT. Despite his name, Grant McFarland is Asian, in fact he is Malaysian. But Tapert also said that New Zealand just wasn't that large a community, acting-wise. "It's like trying to cast a series in Des Moines, Iowa," he commented. But he also said it's a happy home for them, and they don't want to leave.

01-31-98. Robert Field, aka Avicus, on 01-18-98, at the Burbank II Con stated that while it usually takes two weeks to edit an episode of XWP (somethings including evenings and weekends), "THE DEBT Parts 1 and 2 took five weeks to edit. He also stated that most of the episodes have difficult sequences, and that THE DEBT have several one of them. There was one aerial shot that had seven versions, and it was very time consuming to edit it. And there also was a five minute dialogue section which was hard to cut.

01-07-98. Robert Field, aka Avicus, on 01-05-98, stated on the Xenaverse list that "THE DEBT Parts 1 and 2 was a total of 16 days of shooting by Main Unit. Second Unit probably did about two and a half weeks of shooting as well - including some pick up shots that I requested to correct some minor errors."

Xena comes back from China! Scuttlebut is that this may be the best show of the season. Already rumors of the best action scenes yet with lots of extras riding horses and running amuck.

Supposedly this episode makes DESTINY look like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER in terms of intensity. Yup, we are talking the evil Xena...everyone is on the edge of their seats to see if THE DEBT too takes place ten years ago.

Just as Iolaus learned the martial arts from an eastern teacher, perhaps Xena picks up a few pointers in China. And just think, YOU will be there.


This commentary is by Joanna Sandsmark.

I was asked if I would speak a bit on Lucy Lawless' acting choices in THE DEBT I & II so I figured I'd give it a shot.

One of the most spectacular moments onscreen, ever, and one that has been oft discussed on XENA lists, is Lucy's expression after Gabrielle slaps her, in DEBT II. Lucy is simply beyond incredible in these moments. She tapped into something so deep that she was able to communicate with us every thought in her head. We, the audience, literally become *successful* mind readers here. How extraordinary. She gives *us* a mystical power. We know what she is thinking as clearly as if she has told us in two pages of detailed dialogue, yet she never says a word.

One of the things I love about Lucy's acting is that she often uses subtlety instead of scenery chewing. "scenery chewing" is a theatre expression about those performances where an actor shouts and wails and carries on almost appearing to rip up the scenery, in order to get across that the character is angry or passionate, etc. In the slapping scene, another actor might have chosen to try to communicate Xena's feelings by giving us outward anger or dissapointment or hurt or betrayal. Instead, Lucy is "stone-faced" (though of course, there's nothing really stonelike at all in her expression, is there? It is just the outermost layer of this layered piece of acting. The one that tells us Xena is a stoic, which we all know. Xena doesn't want to let go).

In acting, what is interesting is not the emotion that needs to be portrayed, but rather the struggle against the emotion. Think of a scene you've seen where an actor bursts into tears at the slightest provocation. Now think of one where you see the actor fight against those tears and finally, they lose that struggle. Why is that more interesting? Because that's what we do, as humans. Once we're past childhood, we stop crying at the smallest provocation. We learn to fight our tears and our emotions. We don't want others to see our weakness. So here is Xena, on her knees, her head trapped in that heavy wood, her "best friend" slapping her and screaming at her, and she knows she cannot do what Gabrielle asks. She cannot promise because she will not go against her word. And she knows it means her own death. And she knows that it was Gabrielle who led her there. So she puts on a stoic mask, not giving Gabrielle the satisfaction of showing her own feelings. But those tears. Those swiftly flowing tears (and my God, Lucy didn't even blink to make them fall -- they just poured from her eyes. These were real tears. You can even see her nose drip -- a major clue that it isn't glycerine drops just prior to yelling "action"). Silent, swift tears were the only thing Xena couldn't stop. It isn't like she could turn away and hide them. She can only go on pretending with her expression that they aren't there. She doesn't sniff, she doesn't blink, she pretends to be stone. Amazing.

Okay, so everyone has mentioned that moment. It's an obvious one. What about a less obvious moment? Again, I love subtle moments. When instead of punching a line, Lucy throws it away, or puts an interesting spin on it.

Debt 1: When Xena first meets Lao Ma. Lao Ma calls her by name and Xena says, "Oh, you've heard of me." Notice the wonderfully subtle emphasis on the word "me" instead of just on "heard." I think most actors would read this line punching "heard" because that's the obvious meaning -- 'No kidding? I'm famous?.' But Lucy, with that big smile, puts just enough on 'me' to show pride, and the hint of competition with Borias (of course she's heard of you, but look, Borias, she's heard of *me* too!). What it does is take away the question; the surprise. Xena isn't finding it strange that Lao Ma has heard of me, she's basically saying "that's as it should be. I'm important. Me." With just this one simple shift in emphasis, Lucy gives us an insight into Xena, sets the stage for her interraction with Lao Ma at the start, gives us clues into xena's *need* to be important and special and feared and not just Borias' woman. And yet the line is basically thrown away. Just a quick moment that hits the audience more subliminally than anything else.

There are many moments like this. Many times when a small line will be almost thrown away but the impact of it, and Lucy's read, will make its way into our minds as we watch until we get a picture forming without being beaten over the head.

And those scenes without dialogue, like the slapping scene, or the scene with Xena in the cage -- Lucy speaks volumes without saying a word. Watch her face in the cage. Watch the way the scene is cut. Look at how much we learn about this almost animalistic Xena from just her eyes, the sharpness of her movements, the way she holds her body, etc. She does an incredible job in that scene.

One more example and then I'll stop.

DebtII: Xena is in the dungeon. She's confused, worried, still new to it. Then men drop clothing by her. She asks why they're doing it. The other prisoner tells her it's tribute for attempting to kill the emporer. "Oh, they like that, huh?" she says. I love how she says this line. It's a very soft read, but there is self-disgust in it. Her expression is harshly judgemental of herself, but the line comes out so softly, a marvelous contrast. She knows this is why she is in the dungeon, why her life is falling apart. She knows that killing is why Gabrielle betrayed her. She sees all this and now she's getting tribute for it. It's almost too much to bear. You can hear the irony in her voice; it's almost humor. The strength of Xena. The warlord getting tribute and her own mockery of herself and her life for having chosen this path instead of that of Lao Ma.

What I love about this was that the disgust was in her face but not in her voice. Many actors like to make sure you get the point. "I want to show self digust here, so I'll make sure you know that's what's going on." They'll put it in their face, their eyes, their voice; they'll punch the right words, they'll drive that point home. But Lucy knows that we'll see it with just that small movement of her mouth, and by looking away, dropping her head. So she lets that speak and says the line calmly, softly, ironically. This way, it's layered. We get more than just the one emotion, we get several. She does this so often. Giving us information with her voice and information with her eyes and information with her face -- and sometimes, it's all different messages. Depth. Such incredible depth.


Highlights by Beth Gaynor.

I *loved* the irony of Xena earnestly telling Gabrielle about her beating of Borias. She was healing the damage with one person who had betrayed her to Ming while retelling her vicious retribution on another person who had done the same thing.

The greatest Xenaverse tweak to history yet: the Tao Te Ching was actually written by Lao Tzu's wife under his name. Cracks me up every time. I've said it before, I'll say it again: there is NO mythos or historical event that Xena can't resist turning inside out.

"Scratch my nose, will you?" It was cheesy, it was manipulatively emotional. Even the music was soft, warm, and fuzzy. And blast it all, it worked. What a perfect response from emotions-always-on-hold Xena to let Gabrielle know that she could forgive her. Emotions-never-in-check Gabrielle nearly breaks down in relief and immediately helps with bearing the weight of the stocks. I reveled in it. There's still lots of Rift trouble brewing for our heroines, but that was a nice moment to heal up some of the fractures and get them back on the road together again.


From Jennifer. Notice the intriguing round doorway in the king's castle that was shown repeatedly during Debt II? The shape looked rather familiar and, when they showed a closeup of it, our suspicion was confirmed...it's the same "keyhole" doorway that appears in HERK's Men in Pink...complete with the chakram decoration!

From Vicki. The knight's round table from GABRIELLE'S HOPE makes an appearance on the wall of Lao Ma's house in DEBT Part 2. Gotta love those prop people.

From Beth: The origin of the Warrior Princess title is revealed; it was Lao Ma's plan to make her the Warrior Princess of China. And sitting beside Xena at the time the plan is revealed was Borias, who, as the only other witness, was probably responsible for spreading that title to Greece.

From Beth: Although we saw more of the designs that match the chakram, we didn't find out anything more about the weapon's origin. Like M'Lila's shirt design on Xena's armor, the design on (one side of) the chakram must be a remembrance of Lao Ma, but not directly from her. Does that mean that Xena designed the chakram? At the least, it means whoever gave it to her knew of her association with Lao Ma. (Another possibility is that Lao Ma *was* the source of the chakram, just sometime after this episode's flashbacks have ended. But personally, I'm betting that after that attack on Ming Tien, Lao Ma pitched Xena and Borias outta there and they rode hell for leather to overrun half of Greece.)

From Beth: Is Xena going to keep her superpowers? I sure hope not; I don't want her eating ambrosia, I don't need her to be Ares' daughter, and I don't want her throwing energy blasts at anything that annoys her. I don't think she will; XenaStaff seems to agree that Xena should be kept within the realms of mere mortals (though just barely). It will probably be explained like that weird floating scene, which she lost when Borias came in. This time, she lost it when she shish-ka-bobbed Ming Tien's brain; the effect will probably be the same.


From KSZoneW. Ming T'ien's throne room in "The Debt II" on XWP struck a similer look to the throne room im HTLJ's "My Fair Cupcake".

From KSZoneW. The windows in the Dance Hall in HTLJ's "My Fair Cupcake" were also seen in XWP's "The Debt II" and "The Deliverer"

From KSZoneW. The music used during XWP's "The Debt and the Debt II" for the "Evil Xena" intro, was also used in HTLJ's Armaggedon II's evil Xena. It had a "Gothic Oriental" theme to it.

From KSZoneW. In Armaggedon Now II during Evil Xena's thronetime in Corinth, the soldiers wear Oriental like clothing. The same outfits where worn by the soldiers and Ming Tien in "The Debt II" episode.


Things by Judith K. Parker.

The symbol upon which Xena is bound in DEBT II is the Chinese character for wood. This could have another meaning, but to a Taoist it is half of the symbol for "P'u" or "wood not cut," also translated as "uncarved block."

The principle of the uncarved block is that things in their original simplicity carry more power than things that are changed.

Of course, the wood Xena is resting on what HAS been carved -- into the symbol for wood. Complicated, huh? And Xena herself has been changed -- from the village girl to the half-mad warrior to a warlord and, finally, to the woman who has been trying to atone for her past. It seems significant to me that she has always been shaped by outside forces, not by herself. Cortese, Caesar, perhaps Lao-Ma, Hercules, and Gabrielle have all left their stamp upon her. Even Ming Tien, an unimportant pissant, if there ever was one, "forces" her to kill him. When will Xena return to her own "uncarved" simplicity; when will she find her own center, her own power? When will she clear her mind of DESIRE so she can hear the natural rhythm of things?

When she learns to recognize, to listen to, her own inner nature and the natural order, Xena will no longer be manipulated by other people and by outside events. She can reach a state known as Wei Wu Wei, "doing, not doing." This is what Lao Ma was trying to teach her, especially with her talk of softness and of water. Nothing is softer than water if you are floating in a warm pool or if it is being poured from an urn onto your body. Yet, you cannot WITHSTAND a raging flood. Here's the rest of the story, the part Lao Ma didn't tell:

(This is a shortened version of a story told by Chuang-tse.)

In China there is a waterfall that plunges with such force that no living thing can survive its turbulence. One day, K'ung Fu-Tse saw a man caught in the churning waters. He ran to save the man, but, by the time he got there, the man had climbed out. K'ung Fu-Tse asked the man what power he had to survive. The man said, "I go down with the water and come up with the water. I follow it and forget myself. I survive because I don't fight the water's superior power."

Or, in the words of Lao-tzu (Stephen Mitchell translation of the Tao te Ching):

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions,
that is the Master's way.

Xena, no matter how many skills she has, and how much strength she has, and how much cleverness she has, will never be a Master until she masters herself.

The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, by its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.

(Tao te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation)


Click here to read a transcript of THE DEBT II .


Xena and Gabrielle's relationship suffered another blow (although Gabrielle doesn't know it yet) during the production of this motion picture.


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