Xena As Killer and Casualty (04-08)
An Essential Death (09-12)
Unforgettable Imagery (13-15)
An episode with rich moments of character and splendour.
 FRIEND IN NEED comprised a wonderfully appropriate ending and beginning to Xena: Warrior Princess. This is, to say the least, a controversial statement, and indeed seems to be a minority opinion. Yet, I maintain the truth of it. Those who disagree would do well to look more closely and remember the nature of the show and the characters.
 To be completely clear, none of this is written in defense of Rob Tapert, any actor, or anyone associated with the show. To pretend to speak in their defense is to assume that they require defending, which is absurd.
 Some fans have expressed upset at the method of Xena's death, the disgrace with which her body was treated, and the graphic way in which the producers chose to depict these events. It is important to remember that we are viewing all this through the lens of our own culture and our own time, both of which taint our emotions.
Xena As Killer and Casualty
 Xena is a killer. A killer who's driving force has always been personal gain. Initially her desires centered on gaining power through battle, the conquering of lands, and people. In the latter part of her life, her desire was to gain redemption for what she considered to be past wrongs. Either path could be considered admirable and either could be considered selfish. Xena's disregard for life does not change once she turns from her pursuit of the material and embarks on the road to atonement. Countless opportunities to simply disable her opponents were passed by in favor of immediate execution. This trait ensured her survival and was perfectly acceptable for the time in which she lived. It was a bloody age. In the end, even Gabrielle could not escape this fact.
 Today one who kills even a single person is tried and often jailed for life. Those who kill more than one person are branded "serial killers" and for them, we reserve our deepest abhorrence and revulsion. However, in Xena and Gabrielle's day, one could slay another over a public insult and retain perfect immunity. A permanent state of undeclared war exists, wherein a traveler might slaughter an entire band of attackers in horrific fashion completely without inquiry. There were no questions about how many bullets were used or whether the wounds were in the front or the back.
 No doubt, the decapitation of our hero was gruesome, but beheading has been used as a method of execution for thousands of years. Xena herself beheaded many an opponent. What a sight were the plains of Chin with the long line of heads on pikes! The ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have regarded it as an honorable form of death. Decapitation is considered a relatively painless death when performed effectively and was usually reserved for condemned aristocrats. Commoners were put to death in ways that caused prolonged agony, even when the execution was not intended to cause it. The most common of these was, and still is, ordinary hanging.
 However, our modern society finds decapitation barbaric, reserved only for horror films and occult literature that is even then often described as "over the top". We find even the word distasteful, eschewing its use in polite circles. However, losing one's head was tediously common in the past, especially in ancient cultures.
 At her final death, Xena struggled forward, riddled with arrows, seeking the one opponent who would be sure to kill her, not just maim or take hostage. She chose her manner of death, on her feet, by the sword, as a warrior should and as we must in our hearts know Xena certainly would. The death she experienced in IDES OF MARCH saw her crushed and defeated. Defeated! Could we truly believe that Xena could ever be so completely defeated even at the hand of a god, much less by Callisto (dead or alive)? Had the series ended there, as some have suggested, would we really have been satisfied with a defeated Xena even if her soul drifted off in seeming grace? In the very end, Xena was never defeated. Never. She died at the hands of an insignificant and soon to be forgotten man because it served her purposes to do so.
An Essential Death
 Why did the writers choose death for our beloved hero? Why could Xena and Gabrielle not just walk off into the sunset, many more adventures ahead of them as Hercules and Iolaus did? Why not give Xena a nice, neat, cute, warm, and fuzzy ending? Several reasons preclude this outcome, the most notable being the fact that it would have been terribly inconsistent. Although there were comic episodes, this was never a nice, neat, cute, warm, and fuzzy show. Such an ending would have been banal and uninspired. Additionally, the idea of Gabrielle continuing the journey with Xena's spirit always by her side is incredibly appealing and most importantly allows for the possibility, however remote, of another show should the producers and Renee O'Connor wish to do one. However, in light of all the bashing these people have suffered over the years, it seems unimaginable that they would care to do it again.
 If Xena had to die, why not spare us the horror of decapitation? Why not let the hail of arrows do the trick, with Xena valiantly struggling through them, once again going far beyond the abilities of any mere mortal? This question is key and the answer is simple: this story is more about Gabrielle than it is about Xena. Gabrielle assumes the mantle of the warrior in these episodes. Had Xena been killed in any other fashion and her intact body hung for Gabrielle to retrieve, the reclamation scene would have served little purpose other than the mildly dramatic. Could Gabrielle have convincingly screamed "give me her body" with the same defiance and rage as "give me her head"? The scene as played is essential, facilitating the continuing emergence of the new warrior in a way that is consistent with the era, the culture, and the characters.
 When Gabrielle found Xena's naked and headless body strung up in the warlord's camp and fell to her knees, gripped with great emotion, what emotion was she experiencing? Was it horror at the sight of her friend's headless body? Our Pavlovian viewer education has taught us that close-ups of Xena's headless neck indicate this is the case, but this may not be true. Consider that these close-ups may merely emphasize the fact that Xena's head is not with the body, creating the atmosphere necessary for Gabrielle's powerful reclamation of the head.
 Accepting this, some might still argue that such graphic images were unnecessary. However, should the producers have merely hinted at what Gabrielle was seeing? Does this not strike at the very heart of the criticism many have voiced for so long? That apparently obvious truths were only hinted at? Those who find it upsetting have forgotten the very nature of the characters and the show itself.
More imagery than you can shake a stick at.
 All the images in both parts of FRIEND IN NEED were amazingly rich, beautifully shot, and brilliantly edited. It seems a wonder that so many fans in their haste to condemn an episode over a perceived bad decision or apparent inconsistency overlook the unimaginable level of work, talent, and care that seems so obvious. FRIEND IN NEED contained mesmerizing new music, costumes as striking as those in any blockbuster movie, some of the finest dialogue the show has ever known, and action sequences of unparalleled complexity and originality, the likes of which have not been seen before on the small screen and are rarely attempted on the big screen.
 Watch again and see a hundred thousand arrows streaming across a flaming sky. Experience Xena's red robe billowing out behind her in the teahouse. Listen carefully to the "head reclamation" scene, to the way the ambient sound drops and we hear as Gabrielle hears, see as she sees, in the way Xena has taught her to hear and see. The moment of shock when Gabrielle catches the Chakram after instinctively throwing it, realizing that the legacy and the power have truly passed to her. The way Gabrielle's lips linger on Xena's in what can only be passion. A single tear sliding down Xena's face as she nears the moment of leaving Gabrielle forever. The glorious sunset. The moment when Xena says "If I only had thirty seconds to live, this is how I'd want to live them, looking into your eyes."
 This is not to say that the episodes were the pinnacle of perfection. Some second tier actors gave third tier performances (i.e. a Japanese warlord with a Kiwi accent). The title is less than fulfilling for so dramatic an epic. Nevertheless, the phrase "throwing out the baby with the bath water" comes racing to mind - and this is one h*ll of a great baby.
 Remove yourself for a moment from our time and culture, as the storytellers are asking you to do, and perceive the level of passion and daring in these episodes. Understand that this ending was not an unhappy one but in fact just the opposite: it is indeed a happy beginning. For those who doubt this, rent the movie The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. To perceive this finale as a betrayal of the characters and thus of the fans is to judge only the surface, ignoring the complexity and humanity, thereby throwing in your lot with those who say, "it's only a TV show". We owe our thanks to Rob Tapert and his vision, not our condemnation.
 It may have disappointed some viewers that no final declaration of the true nature of their relationship was made. Were they lovers or not? However, whether Xena and Gabrielle ever had sex is completely immaterial. To boil it all down to whether or not they had orgasms with each other is to cheapen the entire experience immeasurably. Perhaps they did. Perhaps they did not. Believe what you will. The love between these two women, over a hundred lifetimes, continues. In our day finding love that lasts a single lifetime is rare at best. Their relationship is nothing short of miraculous. FRIEND IN NEED proves unequivocally that these two women have utterly transcended the physical, the earthbound, and that theirs is a love that will endure forever. Forever, and in perfection.
Thirty-three year old Deeder McDaniel is a Los Angeles area video editor and perpetual student who formed all her initial impressions about the world based on 70's pop music and the original Star Trek series. What a shock reality has been.
Favorite episode: THE DEBT, ONE AGAINST AN ARMY, The Norse Trilogy
Favorite line: Lao Ma: "To conquer others is to have power. To conquer yourself is to know the way." THE DEBT
First episode seen: Sadly, I do not remember exactly which one - somewhere along in the first season.
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS