In many ways, the sixth season was a year of missed opportunities. Chances to resolve issues such as how Xena came into possession of and learned how to use the chakram were squandered. We learned in CHAKRAM that Ares had given that there are two chakrams and Ares gave the dark one to Xena, but there must be more of a story than that. That could have made a fantastic final episode.
 Great premises, such as the one in SEND IN THE CLONES, wherein Xena and Gabrielle are cloned in the twenty-first century, were likewise squandered. Whereas that episode could have been a fascinating and funny exploration of how Xena and Gabrielle would react to life and crime in the twenty-first century, what resulted was a poorly written clip show, in which both characters behaved out-of-character and spent most of the time in the lab, and then in the back of a junkyard. A great would-be scene in which Xena busts Gabrielle out of jail is done off camera! In previous seasons, the futuristic clip shows created a whole universe with believable characters. THE XENA SCROLLS and DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN are prime examples of this. Yes, clips are used, but the story is still exciting and engaging. SEND IN THE CLONES was a flat, uninspired rendition of what could have been a brilliant idea.
What Went Right
Amazons aplenty in DANGEROUS PREY.
 With all of these problems, mistakes, and flubs, what, you may ask, redeems this season? First off, most of the episodes were not bad. Many stand-alone episodes were very strong. Examples of this include the tightly written DANGEROUS PREY, which was directed by Renee O'Connor, and the warm and funny MANY HAPPY RETURNS. In OLD ARES HAD A FARM and YOU ARE THERE, we were given two very enjoyable comedies. The Ring Trilogy, WHEN FATES COLLIDE, and A FRIEND IN NEED are among the best episodes this show has ever produced.
 The success of the sixth season, seen a great deal in the aforementioned episodes, lies almost completely in its depiction of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship. Over the past five years, we had seen Xena and Gabrielle encounter incredible highs in their friendship, and lows from which we thought they would never recover. The sixth season was wonderful in cementing the fact that Xena and Gabrielle are soulmates, dear friends, and perhaps more. In past seasons, the writers hinted at the fact that Xena and Gabrielle might be lesbians, a concept that has come to be known as the "subtext". However, there they had mostly done so through jokes, winks, and nudges to the audience. In the sixth season, the so-called "subtext" was brought directly in the forefront, in a serious manner not attempted since the India arc of the fourth season and the late fourth season episode, IDES OF MARCH. The subtext was not so "sub" anymore. Any way a viewer would like to read their relationship, it is extremely hard to argue that there is not at least a romantic attraction between the two after seeing an episode like WHEN FATES COLLIDE or THE RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE.
The Ring Trilogy
 The Ring Trilogy is comprised of three sixth season episodes, namely THE RHEINGOLD, THE RING, and THE RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE, which are a mix of Norse mythology, the Beowulf legend, and the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. What makes these episodes so great are not just their very clever story, but also the fact that for the first time, in a long time, an episode goes out of its way to declare Xena and Gabrielle's love for each other. Throughout the fifth season, Xena and Gabrielle spent a great deal of time apart. Whether this was a result of Gabrielle feeling uncomfortable or perhaps even angry about Xena's pregnancy was never completely addressed. However, the fact remains that it was easy, in the fifth season, to forget about the deep bond these two women share. Although they did begin to act close and loving again by the sixth season, that magic word, soulmate, was not spoken.
 Then The Ring Trilogy came along, and with it Brunhilda, a woman who becomes jealous of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship. She makes it clear to Gabrielle that she wants to be Gabrielle's soulmate. Gabrielle, however, apologizes, and says that she cannot for she already loves Xena. Now, being friends with someone is one thing. One can have many close friends, but one can only have one true love, or soulmate. Gabrielle specifically states that the reason she cannot love Brunhilda is that she already loves Xena. What better argument could there be for the true nature of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship?
 Gabrielle then assumes the role of Sleeping Beauty, awaiting a kiss to awaken her. Brunhilda turns herself into an eternal fire, burning around Gabrielle's resting-place. Only Gabrielle's soulmate would be able to walk through the fire unharmed and kiss the slumbering maiden. Of course, the only one who survives the flames is Xena, who then assumes the role of the fairy tale prince.
 At the end of the trilogy, the profound effect Gabrielle has had on Xena's life is highlighted. Xena approaches the Rhein Maidens, a group of sea sprites who had not seen Xena since her evil days. Immediately fearful of her, they soon grow at ease when they realize Xena is a changed woman. When they ask, "What magic has made Xena into such a noble creature" she replies that it was not magic, and looks over lovingly at Gabrielle.
YOU ARE THERE
 YOU ARE THERE centers around the humorous notion of a television tabloid reporter appearing in Xena's time and doing a tell-all, trashy story on her, and digging up all of her dark, dirty secrets. At the end of the episode, he finally asks the question we have all waited so long to find out: Are Xena and Gabrielle lovers? Unfortunately, his cameras experiences technical difficulties, so the answer is never given. While on the one hand, this could be seen as the same sort of jokes from the show's earlier years, this episode was yet another indication about the importance of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship as the axis around which the rest of the show revolves.
WHEN FATES COLLIDE
Many fans prefer the ending of WFC as a series finale.
 With WHEN FATES COLLIDE, the writers created an episode that not only was the greatest exploration of Xena and Gabrielle's love for each other, but also was one of the most brilliant episodes the show produced in its history. It revolves around the idea that Julius Caesar escapes from Tartarus, the afterlife for evil people, and kidnaps the Fates. He unravels the thread in their loom wherein he had originally betrayed and crucified Xena, and instead marries her. This results in a world where Xena and Caesar rule almost the entire known world, and Xena and Gabrielle have never met. Xena, having never been betrayed, never has become the Evil Xena we had seen in episodes such as THE DEBT. Gabrielle, having never met Xena, becomes a playwright, creating stories of love similar to that which we had seen her write in THE PLAY'S THE THING.
 However, in this alternate world, despite the extremely different circumstances under which Xena and Gabrielle meet (Xena attends a performance of one of Gabrielle's plays), there is still an instant connection felt between Xena and Gabrielle. They still become soulmates, indicative of the fact that they were destined to be together. In episodes such as DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN and BETWEEN THE LINES, we had been made aware that Xena and Gabrielle were destined to spend lifetime after lifetime together. Now we are told that even if this same time period had turned out differently, they still would have found each other.
 Over a very short space of time, in this episode, Xena goes from being the Empress of Rome to a prisoner. Caesar grows jealous of Xena's love for Gabrielle, and orders Gabrielle executed. When Xena refuses to allow him to kill Gabrielle, he names her a traitor to Rome. Thus, she gives up her title, her marriage, and her whole life for a woman she had met only a day or so before, a woman whose words and beliefs had touched her so deeply and spoke to recesses of her soul which had never before been addressed.
 In the greatest testament to her love for Xena thus far, Gabrielle arrives at the Fates' temple, where Caesar had bound them, and burns the loom of the Fates. This act could have destroyed the entire world and space- time continuum, but Gabrielle risks this in order to set the world right, and, more importantly, to save Xena's life.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
 MANY HAPPY RETURNS deals with Gabrielle's birthday and Xena's present for her. The episode ends with one of the show's most overtly romantic scenes: Xena gives Gabrielle a poem, written for her by Sappho, a famous Greek, Lesbian poet. The words perfectly describe Xena's feelings for Gabrielle: "There's a moment when I look at you / And no speech is left in me. / My tongue breaks, then fire races under my skin / And I tremble, / And grow pale, / For I am dying of such love." Xena and Gabrielle tenderly hug, and with that, Xena puts on the Helmet of Hermes, which gives its wearer the power of flight. She and Gabrielle fly off together into the sunset.
 Despite its major storyline continuity flaws, SOUL POSSESSION is another perfect example of the depths of love between Xena and Gabrielle. Despite the fact that it seemed a foregone conclusion that Gabrielle had died, Xena refuses to believe this. In a desperate attempt to retrieve her friend, she even agrees to marry Ares. She is willing to sacrifice her freedom and marry the god whom she hates most in order to find Gabrielle. This is a beautiful testament to their love. The modern-day scenes are a nice reminder of the fact that Xena and Gabrielle's souls will return, and will remain together for thousands of lifetimes to come.
FRIEND IN NEED
 SOUL POSSESSION's reminder that Xena and Gabrielle will be reincarnated is a good thing to keep in mind while viewing FRIEND IN NEED, the last episode of Xena. In the end, Xena and Gabrielle are not allowed to ride off together into the sunset. The story concludes with Xena dead, and Gabrielle, holding Xena's ashes in an urn, standing alone on the deck of a boat headed for the Land of the Pharaohs. Although a large amount of fans were outraged at the tragedy of the ending, it is hard to deny how much Xena and Gabrielle's love for one another pervades the final episode.
 At one point, Xena teaches Gabrielle how to do the pinch by using herself as the victim. Before she teaches Gabrielle how to release it, she looks deep into Gabrielle's eyes and says, "If I only have 30 seconds to live, this is how I want to live them, looking into your eyes. Always remember I love you."
 Upon discovering that Xena has died, Gabrielle resolves to bring Xena back to life. "You're my whole life, Xena. I won't lose you," she tells her. Gabrielle embarks on a dark and dangerous journey, in which she risks her life in order to retrieve Xena's body. In so doing, she must battle a samurai, but her love for Xena and her determination to save her helps her through. Throughout the series, only Xena and Callisto have ever been able to throw and catch the chakram. In order to protect Xena, however, Gabrielle throws the chakram, defeating a samurai warrior, and catches it. This scene is very reminiscent of one in IDES OF MARCH, when Xena was paralyzed and could no longer fight. After a year of refusing to commit any violent acts whatsoever, and a life in which she only ever killed one person, and had never lifted a sword, Gabrielle's love for Xena gave her the courage and strength to fight and kill dozens of Roman soldiers who had come to kill Xena. Here, again, Gabrielle's extreme love for Xena gives her the ability to have strength she never realized she had before.
 Shortly before Gabrielle struggles to retrieve Xena's ashes, which have fallen down the side of a cliff, she and Xena's spirit share an all- too-brief, but extremely passionate kiss. Having been harmed by an evil spirit, this kiss gives Xena the strength she needs to finish her battle.
 In the end, Xena tells Gabrielle that she cannot allow her to bring her back to life. If Xena were to come back, she would condemn forty- thousand souls of people she had accidentally killed years before, to eternal suffering. Gabrielle tells Xena that she does not care, because "you are all that matters to me ... I love you, Xena. How will I go on without you?" Xena tells her that she wishes with all her heart that she could return, but throughout the years, Gabrielle had taught her the right thing to do. She tells Gabrielle that she will always be with her. As the episode ends, Xena remains by Gabrielle's side as a form of spiritual guide. She tells Gabrielle that she will always live on in her heart. "Where you go, I'm at your side."
 The final season was not only successful in conveying Xena and Gabrielle's love for one another, but also in displaying the aforementioned evolution of Xena and Gabrielle's characters that occurred over the years, Gabrielle even more so than Xena. A mini-arc occurred earlier in the year, comprised of WHO'S GURKHAN?, LEGACY, and THE ABYSS, in which Gabrielle once more questioned her stance on violence and her place in the world, similar to her fourth season quest.
 Although some people argued that this was unnecessary and was merely recapping an old topic, I disagree. These episodes allowed Gabrielle a chance to see just how far she had come over the years. They also allowed her to renew her commitment to remain with Xena. Even up to the end of the fifth season, she was still wondering whether the warrior life was right for her. In LEGACY, the greatest irony of all occurs: she kills a man carrying a scroll of peace, because she believes it to be a weapon he was aiming for Xena. The peaceful bard had now killed someone who turned out to be carrying the symbol of her former life. Dealing with the trauma of this episode allowed Gabrielle to push aside the bad happenings in her and Xena's past and look towards the future. It was a perfect ingredient and lead-in to such great "relationship" episodes as WHEN FATES COLLIDE and The Ring Trilogy, and to the scene in A FRIEND IN NEED, where Xena asked Gabrielle to lead in their attempt to release water from a tower and thus save a burning city. Xena followed Gabrielle's initiative to the letter, a sign both that she trusts her implicitly, and respects her judgment, as well.
 All in all, the sixth and final season of Xena, while in many ways its weakest, should not be written off as uninspired or messy. What it lacked in continuity, focus, and logic, it made up for with heart and the obvious love the writers have for these two characters, and these two characters have for each other. While it is tempting to bemoan the lack of a yearlong storyline, the sloppy writing, and the tragic ending, and to pretend that the events of the last season never happened, that is a mistake, for it would ignore the brilliant highs the show did achieve this season, most notably in The Ring Trilogy, WHEN FATES COLLIDE, and, yes, even FRIEND IN NEED, although I personally would have ended it differently.
 For those who cannot accept the ending of FRIEND IN NEED, I would suggest doing what many others already have: view WHEN FATES COLLIDE as the series finale. That episode contained all that is best about Xena: Warrior Princess --strength, devotion, honor, epic drama, and most importantly, true human emotions.
 As the main character of the recent film, Moulin Rouge, Christian, a bard like Gabrielle, writes, "Above all, this is a story about love. A love that will live forever."
Robert Berg is a 20-year-old college student, majoring in English. He is a huge lover of science fiction and fantasy. He has been a "Xena" fan ever since his cousin turned him on to it early in the second season. Other favorite shows of his include "Buffy" and "Six Feet Under". He has attended many Xena conventions in New York and New Jersey and has met Ted Raimi, Danielle Cormack, and Hudson Leick. His favorite moment, however, was meeting Lucy Lawless after seeing her in "Grease", the evening of her last performance. He has spent literally thousands of dollars on his Xena collection, which includes everything from videos to action figures to CDs to magazines to T-shirts, and is the proud webmaster of the popular "Gabrielle's Scrolls" Yahoo club located at http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/gabriellesscrolls. He is currently working on a companion website.
Favorite episode: THE BITTER SUITE, FALLEN ANGEL, FINS, FEMMES & GEMS
Favorite line: Priestess Leah: "Please let it be a petting zoo!" WARRIOR...PRIESTESS...TRAMP
First episode seen: RETURN OF CALLISTO
Least favorite episode: KINDRED SPIRITS
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