Not a Clue (01-02)
Watching the Episode (03-32)
THE BITTER SUITE
Not a Clue
Joxer attempts to defend Gabrielle from Xena at the start of THE BITTER SUITE.
 MATERNAL INSTINCTS left me in tears. I was sitting in front of the television crying, and thinking "Oh my God, I cannot believe I am crying over an episode of Xena." Yet, there I was; it had moved me to tears. I knew then that the next episode was likely to be significant. The Rift had been brought to a climax and it made sense that the next week something important would happen. I do not remember the reason, but I had missed all the "Next week on Xena..." blurbs, so I had no idea what to expect.
 The TV book said, "Xena and Gabrielle are bound by hatred in a dream world." Apt, but vague. On the day of the episode, I was busy doing something-or-other when I suddenly realized "Ahh! It is 3:59!" and ran desperately down the stairs so as not to miss the 4:00 broadcast of Xena. I arrived just in time for the episode to start, and therefore missed another "Coming up on Xena..." So, with no clues, no warnings, and no preconceptions, I watched.
Watching the Episode
 The first few scenes show us that Xena and Gabrielle are both wallowing, each in their own morass of emotions. Gabrielle is undergoing Amazon purification rituals, seeking physical pain as a solution to the guilt and grief that ravaged her soul. Xena is also feeling grief, but her anguished cries show us rage, as opposed to the single tear we see fall from Gabrielle's eye.
 Ares drops in thinking that, as usual, he can take advantage of Xena's anger and hatred. He mentions betrayal, and Xena responds "Gabrielle", in a very bitter tone, but there is a small, very cold smile as she says it. Hate and anger are familiar feelings to Xena, and some part of her relishes them.
 Gabrielle's hatred requires different stimulus. Gabrielle accepts the comfort of the hand caressing her face, although she does not know who it is. When the caress becomes a slap, she looks startled, but not particularly upset. She craves comfort, but at the same time feels that she deserves the pain. Callisto, or the hallucination thereof, brings up points of resentment against Xena, and although it is more difficult for Gabrielle, she admits to hating Xena-only to scream a contradictory "No!" a second later.
 In rides vengeful Xena, demanding to know where Gabrielle is. Poor Joxer "rescuing" Gabrielle at the worst possible moment brings her right out of the hut. The Amazons and Joxer attempt to help Gabrielle, but in a moment, Xena is galloping off full speed, dragging Gabrielle behind her.
 I have read many discussions about the so-called "Gab Drag". I can accept it as a plot device. It is not nice, but it is plausible and even necessary. Xena's rage is more than enough to drive her to this horrible act, and something needed to happen to make Gabrielle really hate Xena, to make her hatred even stronger than her guilt. However, the filming of this scene was hideously graphic. They should have toned it down. We get too good of a view of Gabrielle getting way too battered.
 The drag ends, the women scream, and try to kill each other. Both go tumbling over the cliff into the waters below. They are pulled under the water, and a very neat voice over by Callisto accompanies the bizarre transition into the "dream world" mentioned by the TV book.
 Xena is pulled out of the water and kissed awake by... My first reaction: "Dear God, is that Callisto!" She looks so... cute! Her hair is short! Her hair is combed!""Glad that you're feeling strong;
Thought I might lose 'ya.
Don't use words; sing a song...
This is Illusia!"
GASP! She is SINGING!
Callisto appears very differently in Illusia.
 Before I go any further, you should know that the following opinions are biased. I love musicals. I am a singer who takes every possible opportunity to be in a show, and if you name a musical, chances are I could sing the entire score for you. However, that did not guarantee that I would love this episode. A Xena musical could have been stupid, like, for example, LYRE, LYRE, HEARTS ON FIRE, and a Xena musical that I hated. Yet, I found THE BITTER SUITE brilliant.
 We come back from the commercial to a very clever and very catchy number. Callisto sings what is a typical opening number: we are introduced to the setting, the situation, and to a "new" character, Grand Tour Guide of Illusia Callisto. Someone has decided that Xena has some soul searching to do, and she is going to do it in this musical wonderland called Illusia. "Illusia is music, a world built on rhyme. It's carved out of space in the absence of time." Callisto sneers on "Follow your fate."
 Is this how Xena would react upon suddenly finding herself in the middle of a musical? Yes. She brings the number to a literal screeching halt and interrogates Callisto with marvelous scorn and aplomb, rhyming sarcastically. Then Callisto mentions Gabrielle. The bizarre setting no longer matters. Xena spins the wheel, which seems to represent her fate, or her soul, or her and Gabrielle's souls, or something like that, hoping she will have an opportunity for revenge.
 More cool voice over from Callisto, as Gabrielle gets her turn drifting naked down the river, to be flipped out of the water by a suspiciously acrobatic Joxer. Especially enjoyable is the progression of Gabrielle's reaction: "The Elysian Fields! ...But only heroes wind up here...Dead heroes...Dead naked heroes!" With his usual sense of timing, Joxer begins to sing. This is the most dignity the "Joxer the Mighty" song has ever been given. Joxer actually sounds good, with a playful return to goofiness at the end with "Even when you're slightly nude (giggle)." After the song is over, the off-camera (and off-key) warbling of "We're in Illu-u-u-siaaa" prompts Gabrielle's reaction "So much for the Elysian Fields theory." Most of the lyrics in this episode were great, but I question the rhyming of "excuse 'ya" and "Illusia".
 There is an homage to The Wizard of Oz at the beginning of the next scene. Callisto shoves Xena into an intimidating hall containing an army chanting her name. What IS it with Xena and armies chanting her name? However, Xena is having none of it. As the soldiers sing her praises she remains very much in control, knocking the proffered swords and the proffering soldiers aside with equal disdain. Note the smile as she begins to appreciate the flattery as the soldier sings "You've got eyes that could tear out the heart of a bloke." Of course, on the next line Xena shoves a man off a ladder, so they have not won her over yet. Xena enters the main hall, where soldiers in formation greet her with a resounding "Welcome home, Xena, welcome home!" and blow her a kiss!
Ares and Xena, together again in Illusia.
 Surprise, surprise, but who is waiting for Xena? Ares. The first time I ever heard Ares talk, I wanted to hear him sing, and he is not disappointing. That deep, rich baritone -- this is the first time I have shared Xena's attraction to him! Memorable is the moment after Ares sings his first line and the soldiers peek out from behind their shields to chant "Xe-na!" Watch Xena quickly glance over her shoulder at them. You can almost hear her saying "What the-?" Xena is great to watch during all of Ares' lines. After "And if you start my heart it's just the way you slash and burn", watch the little wiggle as she places her hands on her hips: "Yes, I know you want me, what else is new, get on with it..." The look she gives Ares when he cuts off her dress is priceless. The warriors sing a cute little chorus about how great war is, and when the crowd parts, Xena is dressed as Ares' Warrior Queen.
 Meanwhile, back in Poteidaia - what a wonderful set! What can I say? The colors and the flowers are beautiful. Yet, as pretty as they are, it is obvious that Gabrielle's backwater home village is disturbingly idealized. As Gabrielle slowly realizes "I'm home!" watch Joxer in the background. He grabs a huge loaf of bread from a girl, takes a big bite, and begins conducting the townspeople in their chanting of "Gabrielle, Gabrielle!" This is a cheerful, major key version of the soldiers' song, with dulcimer and flute trills replacing the war horns. As much as I disliked the rhyming of "excuse 'ya" and "Illusia", I loved the rhyme of "panacea" and "Poteidaia". Brilliant!
 Gabrielle is reunited with her sister Lilla, who urges her to leave behind the "easy evil" of her life with Xena. As the girls step into the shadow of a pillar, the song turns dark as well as a suddenly accusatory Lilla sings "If your child had lived we'd surely make her welcome too." Watch Gabrielle's confusion as the number is suddenly bright again and she is pulled into the dance with the chorus. I love the lyrics here. The goal was to idealize and exaggerate happy home life, and the result was perfect:"You and me love peace,
With the ducks and goats and geese.
Wile the hours away,
Baking bread, pitching hay.
We love peace, peace, peace,
Simple joys that never cease.
Nothing changes but the time;
We don't even change our minds!
Villagers love peace, peace, peace!"
 Xena and Gabrielle are each convinced to kill the other, with extremely different rationales. Ares sways Xena with the simple motive of vengeance. Lilla presents a view much more typical to a villager/farmer type: a monster threatens our families and our farms; kill it, for all our sakes. "Take the scythe-it's just a case of killing to be kind."
 Every good musical needs a counterpoint number, and the final chorus of "War and Peace" does not disappoint. The villagers' and the soldiers' melodies blend and interweave beautifully, coming to a tense climax as Xena and Gabrielle prepare to face one another. It was beautiful staging having the women walking down aisles of swords and scythes. Also, notice the doors: both women reach to open the door, and both women see the door opened from the other side. Xena and Gabrielle stare for an instant, and then fight. It does not last long. As if Xena versus Gabrielle was not uneven enough, it is also sword versus scythe. Not surprisingly, Xena finishes Gabrielle off, with a nice dramatic chord to really drive it home.
 When we come back from the commercial, Joxer, now a figure of mourning, uses a candle to confirm that yes, indeed, Gabrielle really is dead. Unnecessary, when you think about it, but it does make a moving visual effect. Xena looks confused, as Ares is about to say, or actually sing. Xena is not relishing her vengeance any more, but she is not quite repentant yet either. Ares gets a marvelous seduction number. "By the Gods"...that voice... Xena is almost limp throughout this tango. Ares manipulates her movements as well as her emotions. It is not subtle, but It is wonderfully effective. Love the soldiers' falsetto "Ahhh" in the background. As the song ends, Ares dips Xena conveniently next to Gabrielle's body. Xena pulls herself out of the dance and towards Gabrielle. Callisto, appropriately enough, points out the emptiness of vengeance:"Did that fill you with glee, to kill your little friend?
Did that ease your suffering, or bring it to an end? Let go...
All of your anger will poison you yet,
Unless you can just let go..."
 Callisto vanishes. Ares places his crown on his head, says "Nothing more need be said: Ding, dong, the b*tch is dead," and vanishes as well. Xena, cradling Gabrielle's shoulders almost whimpers "I killed Gabrielle." Suddenly doors slam open, and who appears in the doorway but Gabrielle, saying, "You killed me?" The body vanishes, and Xena is transformed into a guilty child caught stealing cookies. "Aw, gee, Gabrielle, I didn't mean to..."
 The wheel reappears, the blue-sky background replaced with raging flames, and with a jolt of electricity, Xena and Gabrielle are transported to yet another hall.
Xena and Gabrielle fail to communicate.
 Xena promptly begins analyzing the situation, much to Gabrielle's annoyance. The two pick a few fights with each other, and each time deafening echoes begin. Emotional revelations are the key here, and as Gabrielle screams "I hurt inside!" the echoes stop. Gabrielle asks Xena "Don't you?" and Xena turns away, unable to look at Gabrielle while bearing her soul. Xena begins to sing, and things are looking promising: Xena sings about her grief and her pain, not about her anger and hatred. Surprisingly, it is Gabrielle who gives in to her anger, turning on Xena with "Because of you this happened..." Yet, Xena is all too eager to fight, and as the song turns into a shouting match, the wheel explodes, and fingers of flame pull Gabrielle towards it. The evil choir music is most appropriate. Dahak consistently gets the cool music. Some progress has been made, as Xena attempts to save Gabrielle. She is not ready to kiss and make up, but she is not going to watch Gabrielle be pulled into a fiery vortex. However, they are both pulled in.
 Then they are promptly spit out in Dahak's temple. Note the progression, as Illusia moves toward increasingly drastic means to try to make the women resolve their differences. First, they get visits home. Neither home is perfect, but it is non-threatening. Then they are dumped in the Hall of Echoes: a passive place, but more intimidating than the previous settings. In addition, the Hall has some teeth. When the women accuse each other about the past, the echoes drown them out. However, that did not do the trick either, so now the women have been transported to Dahak's temple: a place of evil and torment.
 Xena stops Gabrielle from running, telling her that they have to go through this together. Note that Xena does not smile as she says this. She sounds more resigned than anything else. She is not pleased about it, but she accepts it. Enter the ominous cowl. The cowl forms into a trumpet to open the song. This ghostly figure leads a cloaked chorus in a number that partially explains Illusia: Hatred is the enemy that Xena and Gabrielle must conquer. This is a good song, and it succeeds in being creepy, but somehow the lyrics have a strange Dr. Seuss-ish quality. However, the Almighty Casting Director of Illusia gets full marks for the Very Scary Chorus of Callisto, Khrafstar, Julius Caesar, and Ares. The very people to teach us about hatred!
 Suddenly, the women are transported to positions of suffering: Xena tied to the cross by Caesar, and Gabrielle chained to the altar of Dahak. The hatred figures reveal themselves to be Gabrielle, ready with a hammer to break Xena's legs, and Xena, ready with a knife to sacrifice Gabrielle. Just as they strike, Xena cries out to Gabrielle and the figures disappear, screaming.
 Xena and Gabrielle begin to sing. The song begins tentatively, the women finally beginning to regret the Rift that formed between them. The melodies are distinct. That changes as Xena sings "I never dreamed that any barriers could rise..." and Gabrielle finishes both the melody line and the sentence with "...Or that I'd ever see the stranger in you're eyes." The melodies begin to blend, join, and then builds and builds to a joyful unified finish!
 Only in a song, could there be such a quick resolution. Time it, it runs about two minutes. The Very Scary Chorus members are destroyed and the women are freed from the cross and the altar, but the Hate figure laughs and spins the wheel, so we know this is not over yet.
 Xena and Gabrielle head toward the spinning wheel, which opens to reveal a golden wall of water. Behind the water is an idyllic glade, and there stands Solan. Here they VERY subtly tell us that Solan is the reason Xena and Gabrielle are in Illusia. His love for them was strong enough to create this dream world, so they could find their love for each other again.
 Gabrielle runs towards the waterfall, but Xena hangs back. This is understandable, as Xena has always had trouble accepting redemption. However, we soon find out that Xena's trepidation is justified. Gabrielle runs through, is healed, and beckons to Xena to join her. When Xena tries to touch the water, her hand is burned. The figure of hatred appears behind Xena and laughs as Xena reveals the last hateful secret: Xena killed Ming Tien and lied to Gabrielle. We come to the climax of the show, Lucy Lawless' big number.
 The accompaniment of this song is very simple, almost entirely piano and strings, as Xena truly bares her soul, begging for forgiveness. Once Xena starts baring, she gets on a roll, delivering a second and even more emotional verse to Solan. We reach a climax, as the strings crescendo and build and Xena sings"Forgive those who'd harm you, do good for those who hate. Forgive but not forget, I know it's not too late.
Forgive me and you'll discover too
that the love of your love is you."
The last "you" is the most beautiful note of the show.
Xena and Gab reconcile.
 Gabrielle pulls Xena through the waterfall, the Hate figure is destroyed, and Xena is healed. After a brief moment with Gabrielle, Xena embraces her son. The music swells, and suddenly we are back in reality, and it looks stark after the richness of Illusia's colors. Xena is still embracing, but it is Gabrielle in her arms. It is as if Solan was still working to keep them together, and he knew they needed to hug. As Gabrielle says, "We're home," she is tentative, almost afraid, as if she is not sure that what they found in Illusia will last. However, Xena's smile as she says "At last" is all the assurance needed. The Rift is healed by the power of love, with a little help from the power of music.
Elizabeth MorrissElizabeth is 18 years old and lives in Toronto. A music lover, she is actively involved with community theatre productions, several choirs and performs frequently as a soloist.
Favorite episode: THE BITTER SUITE
Favorite line: Gabrielle to Xena: “So you're saying that today is actually yesterday for you-- but, for us, today is today, because we can't remember that yesterday was today, right?” BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
First episode seen: DESTINY
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL