By the miracle of television, a year after the end of Xena, Australia is partway through season six and will likely reach the end of the last season around August-September 2002. By the magic of the Internet, the director's cut of the series finale in video format was available planet-wide in early 2002. Watching it was interesting, like listening to a future echo.
The Story (05-60)
The Challenge (61-93)
The Threads (94-114)
The Spirit (115-120)
A Note on Some Names (121-128)
The Numbers (129-131)
ON WATCHING THE DIRECTOR'S CUT OF THE SERIES FINALE
There is something that might be called cinematic beauty.
It can only be expressed in a film...[Note 01]
 One hundred minutes in wide-screen raises the question: Which twenty minutes to remove to make two forty-minute episodes? It would be like removing notes from a symphony, or words from a poem. How much can be removed from a story before it ceases being a story? The question is more complicated than it sounds, because humans can infer a story from mere fragments, even one frame, or a title or phrase.
 From the director's 150,000 frames, the editor would have to remove 30,000 frames and join the rest together as seamlessly as possible. I know what I would be doing with 30,000 frames of a Xena story.
 The long version of the Xena: Warrior Princess series finale A FRIEND IN NEED turns out to be a multi-layered multi-media tapestry: written poetry and visual poetry, camera-movement and dialogue, Xena and Gabrielle taking turns to be surprised and saddened, flashback clips overlaying current action, past and present story threads, this-world and otherworld story threads, sound and silence, words and music, the yin-yang of the mountain wildness inside a teahouse and the teahouse intimacy beside a mountain pool, the kinship between poetry and combat, and the borderlessness between self and the senses, Zen.
 Just like writing, directorial style carries the imprint of personality. The directing style is recognizably Tapert, and the story structure is recognizably Tapert/Stewart. Think of a THE DEBT (52,53/306,307) setting with a THE QUEST (37/213) plot and a PARADISE FOUND (81/413) style. Oh, and people lose their heads at regular intervals, so there is a bit of WHO'S GURKHAN? (116/604) as well[Note 02] -- and a hot tub.
 This is not a usual Xena: There is no teaser. The story opens with the title sequence and is a hint that things are not going to be the same this time round.
 The first scene is the night sky with a shimmering aurora. Underneath it, Gabrielle is chatting and appreciating the beauty around her as usual. This time, Xena is actually listening and Gabrielle is surprised. Actually, the rest of the story illustrates that Xena has always been listening. It is just that this time around Xena has responded to what Gabrielle was saying.
 The motif of listening recurs thematically throughout the story, forming a strongly unifying narrative icon. Sounds will play an important part in the tapestry of the story. Another motif, the motif of surprise, will recur along several story threads. Each time there is a surprise in a particular thread, the surprise reveals something bigger or worse than the previous surprise in that thread.
 The conversation continues with Xena suggesting some retirement options career-wise, summing up their life together so far as two people "wandering around Greece looking for trouble". The entire series in précis. Why not, suggests Xena, go south to Egypt, where they need a girl with a chakram?
 There is a sound in the darkness. Gabrielle hears someone stumbling about on the hillside. Xena of course has been aware of the visitor for some time. The stranger is obviously not going to be much of a danger to them. Xena whistles to guide the stranger to their camp.
 The visitor in the night is a monk with a portable roof. A monk with a message. He mentions the name of Akemi and Xena is surprised. Another name from the past. We think, like Gabrielle does wordlessly, that maybe Akemi might be another Lao-Ma. We find out later the deeper cause of Xena's surprise.
 The monk, Genji, begins to tell his story. It was a dark and stormy night. Two monks, Genji and a friend, seek shelter from the weather. They enter a welcoming teahouse. In fact it is a tease-house. Genji's companion accepts a seductive invitation into a hot tub with a pair of babes. Genji is almost equally distracted by the beautiful music, the lovely poetry, and an enticingly bare shoulder of the one we will come to know as Akemi. The sojourn ends with the anklet bell being rung by (we later learn) the teahouse maiden called Miyuki. Akemi is suddenly apprehensive and Genji does not understand why. She ushers him away quickly and picks up a magnificent sword, one that will play a large part in the story.
 A demon, the Lord of the Dark Lands, arrives in a whirlwind through the paper wall, and Genji's companion, realizing too late what is happening and still in the hot tub, alone now, is frozen solid by Lord Demonbreath and swallowed in an ice slurry. The anklet is Yidoshi's dinner bell. The anklet's sound will be heard three times during the story. Each time Yidoshi gets a bigger and more unpleasant surprise on his arrival.
 Genji, now the horrified eyewitness of a monk snack, escapes in panic and shock into the surrounding night. He is intercepted by Akemi who commissions him for a journey far beyond the setting sun, to find not a samurai, nor a priest, nor a god, but a warrior princess. She gives him the sword, the katana, to give to Xena. The katana is the first of three gifts from Akemi to Xena.
 Back in the present, as Genji hands the katana to Xena, Xena admits to Gabrielle, "Yes, I was there. If Akemi calls, I must go. It's not going to be the trip I promised." Gabrielle offers to come along, too. Xena was expecting Gabrielle to say that, and she is glad.
 Later, on a ship on the ocean during the day, bound for Akemi's land of Jappa, the opening credits begin to roll. Genji and Gabrielle are sparring on deck with bamboo poles. Xena is nearby, in the sun, holding the katana, watching them. Genji is describing the way of the sword. As he describes Akemi, saying "She's very beautiful", the camera, like Xena, is admiringly watching Gabrielle's beautiful practice moves, her poise, and the grace of her curves. When Genji reveals that Akemi is a ghost, Gabrielle is caught by surprise and bested by Genji. Xena is saddened and feels a bit guilty. It looks as if she thinks Gabrielle is not yet fully ready to stand on her own, and remain unharmed in combat. A surprise like that in a real battle would make for a really short lifespan.
 So Xena says, "I should tell you everything that happened there last time." Gabrielle is surprised. Xena volunteering information without a necessity requiring it is unusual. We learn later, as the story progresses, that it was necessary for Xena to tell Gabrielle everything about Akemi. Xena will surprise Gabrielle several more times as the story progresses.
 We switch back to the past as Xena's story begins "Many years ago...", when there was a plunderer and her consort with ambitious ransom plans. Akemi had been captured by a raider, Kao, and was being offered for sale. Dark Xena and companion Borias come to inspect the goods. Surprising Xena, Akemi knows her name. Akemi is defiant in the presence of her captor. Borias notes that "This girl has spirit!", a forward-looking hint to when Akemi will be a real spirit, as well as a good description of any potential Xena-friend. Xena and Kao begin bargaining, but Kao, being obnoxious, ends up with the worst part of the deal, especially after the negotiations become physical and Xena uses the Pinch on him permanently and departs with Akemi after finishing off the guards. A hint of Akemi's personality is revealed as we see her take delight in Xena's fighting skills, including what happened to Kao. Borias finishes his wine and advises the almost dead Kao, "You should have taken the gold." Then he too departs.
 Back on the ransom transport ship, Borias is laughing about what Xena wants to do with Akemi. He thinks there may be some misunderstanding on Xena's part. As the end of the opening credits scroll, Xena, attempting to prove a point with Borias, whistles for obedient Akemi and gives her her first and most painful combat lesson, "Trust no one". Later on, we find that Xena learns the same lesson from Akemi, the hard way.
 Onto land and into the snows they go, Xena and Akemi, to collect the ransom. So Xena thinks. Borias reminds them of his commission.
 In the forest, Xena is listening, describing to Akemi what she can hear, not the sounds, but their causes. They are inside a living world. Akemi describes what Xena is doing as listening to the kami, the spirits of nature. Later on she writes with ink brush on paper, a present for Xena. "Pretty," says Xena, who cannot read the writing. Akemi speaks the poem, her first for Xena:
Yesterday, the moon took lodging on my sleeve
Today, I've hoped for even the broken-hearted stars
 Xena gives an appreciative puke expression as the cynical art critic that she has always been. In the present, Gabrielle exclaims, "So beautiful!" Xena is so sad. "She broke my heart."
 Back in the snows of the ransom-collection journey, Akemi prays to her dead grandfather beside a detour cottage a long way in the wrong direction, and offers angry Xena her bare neck. Xena is surprised by Akemi's lack of fear and willingness to die. Xena calms down and stays her sword. Akemi offers Xena a gift, a message from her grandfather, about the great katana, the great sword, much better than the one Xena currently has. Xena is interested.
 At the smithy, a surprise turns up for the master smith and his workers. It is not a mighty warrior who has come for the renowned blade, but "a girl in search of a really good sword". In the ensuing fight, Xena receives the wound that will leaves a scar on her breast. She got Akemi from the raider before. She gets the sword from the smith now.
 Later, in the evening cold,
In a flurry of snow
two breaths of wintry night become one
and then disappear into each other
 "What do you hear now?" "Snow falling on cedars. No, your heart beating harder than normal." Akemi asks about the Pinch. Xena replies that it is a gift of love, a sacred trust. Akemi has plans in place, but Xena is too trusting to see them.
 Back on the boat in the present, Gabrielle is surprised: "You knew her for a few weeks and you taught her the Pinch!" Gabrielle has known Xena for years and has never got that far. But before that conversation can proceed much further, the captain advises them that Higuchi is under siege and he is turning back. Xena isn't. "I've got to go ashore." For the second time, Gabrielle responds, "I'm with you." Xena says "I knew you'd say that." And over they go.
 At this point, I lost track of who had the great katana. Presumably Genji was still carrying it with him and he came ashore the long way and declared it at customs.
 In the teahouse, Yidoshi arrives in another stormy whirl, and his anger at the arrival of "the foreign whore", Xena morphs into mocking thanks towards his daughter Akemi: the sword is coming back despite Akemi's intentions.
 A swordsman walks calmly among the mayhem in Higuchi as Xena and Gabrielle surface in the fire's golden glow. The town is under fireball attack. The townsfolk cannot fight the fires and combat the invaders of Yidoshi's army at the same time. Xena sees a watertower in a strategic location. She begins to move towards the obvious solution but then turns to Gabrielle the Apprentice to ask her what she would do. Not a wise decision, because Gabrielle starts to describe what she would do. "Show me, Gabrielle."
 What follows is the first of Gabrielle's practicals: can she do the moves? With a spectacular Spider-Man swing and a circus trampoline-launch from an awning, Gabrielle and Xena land on the rooftops. They run across the roofs. For a moment Xena loses sight of Gabrielle. Flames on one side, a ladder-climbing soldier on the other, Gabrielle inside a tower with billowing smoke. Gabrielle appears at a window lower down and the soldier and ladder tip over backwards. The ladder falls into launch position with Gabrielle at one end. Xena spots her opportunity to catapult Gabrielle halfway across town. We have lift-off! Xena cartwheels up to a metal bar, swinging around like an Olympic athlete while soldiers mill around below out of reach. Gabrielle sees another ladder and does a high-wire walk along a beam to reach it. Xena builds up momentum and lets go. They meet up face-to-face on opposite sides of the other ladder, where Gabrielle provides a counterweight to Xena's momentum. They preserve the momentum and walk the ladder over to the tower by spinning it around vertically between them in a teamwork stilt-dance. One paragraph to describe, but very strenuous and ingenious to action.
 On the watertower, the release valve is big and rusted and heavy and Gabrielle tries to turn it. After a moment, Xena intervenes with a sword blow, and "thar she blows!" Water goes spraying high and wide. Soon the major fires are extinguished and the townsfolk can focus their efforts on the soldiers. The enemy decide to withdraw from the engagement. As they retreat, their leader quotes a proverb, "A wise general knows when the fight is lost."
 Xena's expression says "Well done!", but she actually says, laconically, "Not quite the way I would have done it." The women are all smiles.
 With the commotion over, Xena continues the story: Akemi, disguised as a kabuki dancer, enters her father's house ands gets close enough to him to use the Pinch. This is the second of Akemi's three surprises for Xena. Xena fights off Yidoshi's house guard. Akemi prays for what she has had to do. Xena realizes there is not going to be a ransom. Not even an inheritance.
Stone melts and flowers fade
and I pass as all things do
And time and love, they go on.
 In the courtyard, Akemi asks Xena to restore her honor by punishing her for the crime she has committed. The crime is kin-slaying and the punishment is beheading. Akemi forces Xena's hand. As Xena swings her sword around and down, she has flashbacks of her time with Akemi. Akemi is the first of four characters to have their head removed. Each beheading has an increasing amount of blood. Akemi's shows several red drops in water, paralleling the ink drops in water that began Xena's account of Akemi. Xena's flashbacks during Akemi's beheading are the first of four flashbacks. Each flashback overlays scenes marking the end of potentials.
 At this point, the great katana disappears from the history of the story. We can retrospectively infer, from later events, that it ended up in Yidoshi's possession. Perhaps Xena left it in disgust in the courtyard.
 In the present, the calm swordsman, Hirugata, known as Ghostkiller, confronts Xena with the consequences of her actions. Walking through firestorm and battle is nothing compared to meeting Xena face to face. Xena is a bit surprised about the depth of feeling in Ghostkiller's words. Hirugata surprises Xena with the news of the consequence her actions after Akemi's death.
 Xena recounts to Gabrielle what she remembers of what happened next. In the past, with unkempt shorn hair and a jug of sake in a snowstorm, Xena stumbles along the icy street in despair, barely able to stand in the wind, trying to take Akemi's ashes for a decent burial in the local cemetery. The townsfolk are averse to honoring a patricide. They surround Xena and her urn of ashes and begin to attack her, at first timidly, then more and more boldly. A flaming torch she grabs from them is barely enough to keep them at bay. They close in. Akemi's ashes are spilled and scatter in the cold night wind. Xena is only pain and instinct now. Sake in one hand, torch in the other, an idea forms: the first blowbreath! The crowd disperses as a couple of human flame-bearers flounder about, spreading the flames. Xena walks on regardless.
 The Higuchi mob is the last of past-Xena's four fights. In a sense, these fights have been going downhill. The Raider Kao fight got Xena the treasure of Akemi. The Master Smith fight got her the treasure of the great sword. The Yidoshi guard fight got her nowhere in particular. The mob fight did not lighten her despair and even lost her Akemi's ashes.
 The surprise is the size of the conflagration. The wind caught the fire and fanned it. "That is only the beginning," says Hirugata in the present. Xena is even more surprised. What worse thing could have happened? Yidoshi became a soul-eater and has been swallowing souls ever since. Now Xena must put things right.
 The next day, on the Higuchi battlements, Xena and Gabrielle are clothed in the sounds of crickets in an autumn morning. There is a mist in the valley. Nothing can be seen under its blanket. "Can you hear them?", Gabrielle is asking Xena for information about the approaching army.
 Xena thinks Gabrielle has the ability to answer her own question. "Listen not just to the sounds, but to what's behind the sounds." Gabrielle does so. She listens. Not only that. She learns to listen. The sounds reveal the who and the what -- how many soldiers are approaching and what type of equipment they have. Gabrielle has become aware. Xena is pleased. They exchange the knowledge wordlessly. After discussing the size of the approaching army, Gabrielle goes off to help organize things. Xena turns around and bumps into Ghostkiller who gives her another surprise: he can never defeat Yidoshi; only another ghost can do so. A heavy burden has suddenly dropped on to Xena's shoulders. The mist is still a blanket over the valley. Gabrielle is not nearby.
 Next comes the Transfer Scene, one of the most powerful of the entire series. It contains the second of Gabrielle's four practicals along her developing path, though she does not realize it yet.
 In a quiet moment alone, Xena, in local armor, is composing her thoughts for the task ahead. Even her posture, kneeling on the floor, sitting on her heels, head bowed, shows she is tempted not to continue the fight against Yidoshi. What else is there to think about? It is not a task that she wants to do, but it is a task that she has to do. There are echoes of the Garden of Gethsemane. Gabrielle, ready and wearing a lacquer armor top, enters. Xena takes her hands and begins showing her how to do the Pinch. Gabrielle is surprised, and then increasingly frightened, confused, and tearful. Gabrielle does not know why Xena is doing this now. She still trusts Xena and Xena has always had her reasons. Anyway, there is no time left to find out why now. Hirugata comes in to say they are ready. There is a battle to be fought.
 "To the East Plain, Gabrielle!" Xena watches Gabrielle and a small contingent head in one direction into the mist. Xena goes in another, alone. In an echo from the first episode, Xena's old armor goes underground again, except for the chakram. Gabrielle's strength and love is her armor now and can never be buried. Xena heads deeper into the forest in the opposite direction.
 Drums in the misty wood. Xena is listening. Gabrielle, elsewhere in the woods, is also listening. Gabrielle, at last, utters the classic Western line: "It's too quiet." And in this case it is true. Overlain with flashbacks, she begins to listen to what Xena has been saying, to what is behind Xena's words and actions, and begins to realize in anguish what they might mean. Gabrielle starts running towards the battle drums.
 Xena is a warrior invisible in the mist, striking at will: arrows hit the enemy from an unseen opponent. A chakram flight and a wagonload of spilt high-grade sake goes up in the known world's first mushroom cloud. Gabrielle is far enough away not to be flattened. The wise general is knocked off his horse. Many soldiers evaporate.
 There are echoes of the predator in Predator. Xena listens. There is swordplay and close combat. The katana is a very good sword, slicing through steel and air with equal ease. The opposing general catches a sword fragment that Xena had kicked towards him. His soldiers were not so quick with other fragments. To vanquish the mercurial enemy, he orders a sweeping arrow volley into the mist. And a second one. And another one. Xena can hear the bowstrings being drawn, the feathers in flight. She can't dodge or catch every arrow in the swarm. More and more arc through the air. Wounded, she advances into the middle of the army. The katana does great damage. But not enough. Her last thoughts are of Gabrielle. Xena's flashbacks are counterpoint to Gabrielle's moments earlier. Xena recognizes the face of the general before he raises his sword arm and red fills the screen.
 Gabrielle arrives at the battlefield, now empty, and finds the chakram covered in blood. There is a drag trail, but no Xena.
 At the teahouse, the katana returns to its place. Akemi prepares to greet the incoming visitor. The door opens. Xena is unharmed and naked as a new soul. She is clothed by the occupants in flowing red. Akemi greets her warmly.
There is no poetry of sufficient beauty.
 In the forest, Gabrielle is watching the Ghostkiller prevent souls from become food for Yidoshi. She refuses Genji's suggestion about what might have happened to Xena: Xena is alive!
 Akemi has stopped writing. Yidoshi is the source of the illusion of their bodies. The bells on Miyuki's anklet ring again and Yidoshi arrives to teach Xena a fire-whip lesson about subservience. Her robes are whipped off in fragments until she is naked again and her independence apparently dies. Xena is defeated. She is made to bow before Yidoshi, almost licking his boots, and say "at your service" to him. There is an echo of how Xena's boot first lifted Akemi's chin years ago in the raider's tent.
 Outside the teahouse, after Yidoshi has departed, Akemi and Xena are seated back to back by the water. Xena in camellia, Akemi in peony. Akemi is glad that Xena did not insist on battling Yidoshi. She tells Xena to be careful. There may be spies. Xena is listening. She already knows that Miyuki is trying to eavesdrop. Miyuki's clumsy footfalls give her presence away. Xena can also hear Akemi's heart. It is beating hard again. Xena says she has to meet somebody who might be able to help. Akemi is worried about what Miyuki might do, but Xena says let Miyuki follow.
 Gabrielle is searching through the forest. She crosses a pool, stepping on stones. She stops partway across and listens, like a dragonfly hovering above the water. There is a movement of red robes. And possibly the movement of another. Gabrielle crosses over to the other side. She turns around slowly, looking around her.
 At this point, the Zen presentation of the plot and direction expanded exponentially and unintentionally. Gabrielle has been learning to listen to "what is behind the sound". So has the audience. The sense of hearing is not the only sense that this precept can be applied to: sight is also available. Given a reflection, the direction of a source of light can be inferred. Given a set of reflections, moving through time, a set of triangulations can be perceived that pinpoint the direction and distance of the light sources involved. As an actor wearing shiny armor made from hundreds of tiny lacquered pieces turns around slowly, the light sources of the director's lighting system became "visible". To this audience member, they were perceived to be surprisingly numerous and close, within leopard-pouncing distance, and above, but not directly above. An enlightening experience. It is rare for a TV show to be a meditation that stills extraneous thought enough that the mind becomes aware of the senses and the perceptions flowing through them. And of the type of mastery that Gabrielle is gaining.
 But back to the searching Gabrielle. A movement behind her and she turns. It's Xena! They embrace. Gabrielle has brought the chakram back, but Xena cannot grasp it. Gabrielle realizes Xena really is dead. Xena tries to apologize and explains how Yidoshi can be defeated. Gabrielle automatically fills in the other half of the plan and will "find a way" to bring Xena back after Yidoshi's defeat. They embrace again.
 Hirugata approaches and Gabrielle pounces defensively, sword in hand, but Xena's hand on her shoulder and words in her ear defuses the situation. Genji is watching. Signaling wordlessly to Hirugata, Xena suddenly grabs Miyuki from the bushes and flicks her overhead. The Ghostkiller is ready and Miyuki evaporates like an aurora. Xena lunges desperately onto the moss to catch her falling anklet before it makes a sound and summons Yidoshi.
 At the teahouse, Xena gives the anklet to Akemi. Not far behind, Gabrielle approaches along the bridge. Her pace and stance is that of a warrior, of one who is watching and able, who is part of the world around her like the wind is part of the air. Xena finally introduces one poet to the other.
 The great sword has to be prepared for the final showdown. Genji has a useful suggestion about how Gabrielle might be able to help restore Xena back to life. It involves putting ashes in a fountain on a mountainside before the second sunset after death. "But that's tomorrow," says Gabrielle, surprised at how much time is not left. And anyway she has not got any ashes yet. Since she cannot contribute to the sword preparation, she starts to leave on her collection mission. Akemi calls out to her.
 Akemi's parting gift is her last poem, a visual poem about a dragon, tattooed painfully all over Gabrielle's back. Time expands to accommodate this process, like it always does in the magical otherworld. The dragon grows while Hirugata's sword preparations are completed. Eventually, everyone is ready. Hirugata hands the sword to Xena, who hands it to Gabrielle. Hirugata's own sword, in the hands of a ghost, especially one like Xena, should be sufficient to quell Yidoshi. Hirugata's preparations have made the swords holdable by ghosts, though that is not spelled out.
 Gabrielle is ready to go to Fuji-san, the sacred mountain. She has become katanamochi, swordbearer, and leaves on her quest. "Good luck, old friend," says Xena. This latter phrase brought back five years' memories of Babylon 5 and all its interlocking story arcs and mythic resonances. I was surprised at the strength of these memories. They added a meta-layer hint of irrevocable changes about to occur, along with Xena's uncharacteristically defeatist acceptance of destiny. Perhaps Xena was beginning to think that she could not or should not evade the consequences of a destiny she created through her choices and actions. Perhaps she thought she really was approaching retirement age, or perhaps she was just becoming jaded. Yet, even so, she was still concerned for Gabrielle and still thinking about her welfare.
 Gabrielle finds Xena's body in the rain. It is strung up and headless. Gabrielle is mightily sick and mightily angry. She retrieves the body, wrapping it in blanket-cloth. She challenges the wise general's boast that he won Xena's head fair and square through his own abilities. The general accepts the challenge. Before the witnessing ranks, they bow to each other and begin to duel. They cross swords, forming a glittering "X" in the lightning light. They circle each other slowly, each taking the measure of the other.
 Gabrielle listens to the sounds: of the flames in the burning wood fire; of the footfall of her opponent; of the raindrops in the puddles; of the horses at their tethers; of the soldiers standing and watching; and of her own breathing.
 The general shifts his weight. Gabrielle hears how his feet squelch in the mud, carrying his weight. He charges, yelling a war-cry as a distraction. Gabrielle is not surprised or caught off-guard. She could easily have cut his head off, but she hits him on the back of the head with the butt of her sword handle. He falls onto his knees in the mud.
 In response to his request for an honorable end, she refuses and instead knocks him even closer to the mud.
 As the soldiers bow to the new champion, Gabrielle retrieves Xena's head and rides off sadly into the darkness.
 Meanwhile, a huge battle occurs in the teahouse. I call it "The Steam in the Teahouse Fight". It parallels Gabrielle's first challenge although it is shown after it.
 What happens is that Xena is dressed like the now-gone Miyuki. Xena rings the anklet bell and Yidoshi turns up expecting a good meal. He is surprised to find Xena. Hirugata springs up out of the hot tub, and stabs Yidoshi in the back with his sword. Unfortunately Hirugata does not let go of the sword, so he is flipped up and over onto the floor as Yidoshi bends forward. Xena grabs the sword as Yidoshi ends up in the tub. There is no Yidoshi, only water in the tub. Steam rises and condenses on an overhead beam. A drop falls to the floor and then un-liquefies into Yidoshi. Ayako, the third seductress, is flamed. Akemi is flamed too, but Xena knocks her into the hot tub and the flames are quenched. There is an impressive flaming-corkscrew stunt in the middle of the battle.
 Genji is spectacularly beheaded in a vain attempt trying to slap a sealing script on Yidoshi. Yidoshi freezes the hot tub over with an ice-breath, trapping Akemi. Hirugata takes a mortal blow and after the fight conjectures to Xena that Yidoshi is drawing strength from somewhere, probably the fountain, before he expires in Xena's arms. Akemi is almost drowned. Xena has been badly beaten. Yidoshi's arm is amputated by Xena and he loses a lot of life-force in a flame-out before exploding through the roof and escaping. Xena rescues Akemi.
 Akemi goes to where Genji's remains are, and Xena goes to comfort Hirugata.
 Outside, in the night under the Moon, Gabrielle, an Amazon nation of one, ignites Xena's funeral pyre and collects the ashes into an urn. She remembers in flashback Xena's words and companionship.
 Dawn the next day sees Gabrielle ride to the mountain Fuji-san.
 Yidoshi condenses in a weakened state, one-armed and near exhaustion. He sees a hawk (narratively, it ought to have been a raven) and enters it for a free ride to the mountain. Xena sees and hears the Yidoshi-hawk take flight off-camera.
 Akemi tells Xena that their own forms are no longer under Yidoshi's full control. Xena sees a barn owl, snowy-white and silently powerful. In some places they are called ghost owls. Akemi sees a mynah bird. Mynahs have a reputation for having good vocal skills. So the strong silent type and the chatty sidekick rides are ready for their riders. At first, I almost thought that the bird wranglers had just arrived from the pet shop. But Xena has a habit of being more creatively subtle than that. Natural history weaves itself into the story: barn owls out in daylight are unusual, in extremis, and mynahs like going around in pairs.
 Akemi is apologetic and holds Xena back. She is worried about Gabrielle's mission but Xena is not worried at all and says that Gabrielle is good at what she does. But Akemi has something more to tell Xena. We see Yidoshi the hawk flying high over deep valleys. In the meantime, Akemi has imparted her information to Xena. From Xena's reaction, it is obviously news to her, and yet one more burden to bear. There is no time to dwell on it. They take to feathered flight and go after Yidoshi.
 Gabrielle arrives at a mountain ridge and her horse is shot out from under her. She encounters the once-wise general who has unwisely taken to the sake. He blocks her path with a challenge which if he wins will remove his shame and ridicule and restore his standing among the soldiers. This is Gabrielle's second challenge with him and involves close combat. It resolves itself into a knockout for General Morimoto in the third round but the urn with Xena's ashes rolls off the edge of a cliff and falls, luckily, upright into an abandoned bird's nest on a narrow ledge beyond arm's length.
 The hawk arrives on the mountainside and becomes Yidoshi. At a cliff face, Yidoshi inserts his sword into a metallic lock and turns it. The reflection in the highly polished sword blade almost gives the game away about what it was like in ancient Jappa. The waters begin to flow from the lip of a cliff well higher up.
 A Psychology 201 course is needed to fully appreciate the imagery at this point in the story. Following a wise example, I will not commit psychology in public, merely describe the scenes as they appear.
 Xena arrives and throws Yidoshi clear. She stands eagerly under the lip of the pool where the waters are welling and waits for the water to pour down all over her. Yidoshi freeze-breathes it into an icicle curtain and Xena is blown away by the shockwave.
 The mynah morphs into Akemi (so the owl must have been Xena - this was hinted at earlier in the teahouse garden by the editing). Akemi tries to attack Yidoshi but is rebuffed. Xena, revived a little after the cold blast, tries to reach for an icicle but a fireball breath from Yidoshi explodes the icicles sky high and Xena is thrown to the ground again, almost at the end of her strength.
 Gabrielle hears the commotion and double-checks the urn is still safe down the cliff. The sun is still high enough to allow time for a detour. Long-tongued Yidoshi goes icicle eating. Gabrielle arrives by Xena's side. Yidoshi grows his arm back. Akemi tries to attack again but her only success is that she has provided a diversion. Yidoshi inhales his daughter complete with sword.
 While this is happening, Gabrielle comforts Xena and then goes to the fountain, cups her hand, and as she pours some water into her mouth, Yidoshi fireballs her from behind. The fireball rebounds off Akemi's dragon tattoo and back into Yidoshi throwing him clear.
 Gabrielle, trying not to gulp, staggers back to Xena and carefully transfers the water of life past Xena's lips without spilling a drop. A few moments and Xena revives. Gabrielle is all smiles. Yidoshi's hold over Xena's form is completely broken and she materializes her old gear around her - old habits are hard to change. Gabrielle hands the sword, the great katana, to Xena. The sun is setting.
 Xena begins to explain something but Yidoshi revives and flames away in a whirlwind. The sound distracts both Xena and Gabrielle. Gabrielle, mindful of the time, and seeing Xena is OK, goes back immediately for the ashes. Xena turns back to continue her explanation to Gabrielle but Gabrielle has already gone. Another missed opportunity.
 Xena goes into battle mode and Gabrielle goes rock-climbing. Yidoshi and Xena battle through the treetops as fireball and flame-bearer. They collide and, interlocked, helicopter down to the ground in the same plunging spiral technique that eagles use. On the ground, a flaming background behind Xena echoes the trademark scenes of the opening title sequence. Intercutting the fight, we see Gabrielle using all her strength, athletic and gymnastic skills to retrieve the urn. Xena and Gabrielle achieve their goals simultaneously: Yidoshi is defeated and beheaded and Gabrielle clasps the urn to her breast.
 The souls that Yidoshi has eaten are released and spiral away into the ether. Gabrielle climbs back up over the cliff edge and faces the general for her third and last time. There is a challenge. With the sun almost beginning to set, Gabrielle has no time for long-winded discussions or battle sessions with him and throws the chakram instinctively. The chakram strikes the general, knocks him out and then ricochets and bounces back along the rocks on its return path. Gabrielle can hear it and, listening, she is able to catch it as it comes near. To her own small surprise, she has caught the chakram.
The Pupil has become the Master
 >But there is no time to savor that accomplishment. The sun is beginning to set. Back to the fountain and Gabrielle prepares to pour the ashes into the water. A hand reaches out to hers. "No," says Xena.
 At this point, the scroll becomes fragmentary and difficult to decipher, as if someone had torn a piece or two off it long ago and someone else has tried, with partial success, to reconstruct the missing portions.
 The director's cut continues with tears and several stages of grieving (disbelief, anger, partial resolution, acceptance) as the sun sets and Xena fades away, remaining in the spirit side of the shaman's world . There is one final single flashback of sorts: Xena's face against the sky.
 The next day, on the urn ship, a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, a friendly kiss, and Xena is always by Gabrielle's side and in her heart. And they sail away towards Egypt together, where "they need a girl with a chakram".
 This ending is powerful, well-acted and well-filmed. It coincidentally reinforces (probably unintentionally) the "woman must be punished for not being a man" archetype in several ways and de-Xenas Xena. This ending also encapsulates a cerebral, almost dictionary, understanding of redemption and what it means to end a narrative cycle.
 An alternative ending, using the well-known principles of narrative reconstruction and extrapolation from the preceding narratives, might go something like this.
Let us rewind to Gabrielle and Xena with the urn at the fountain:
(A third hand appears)
But what about ...?
It's the way it should be
to atone for what I've done
(a beat) and to Gabrielle.
(Akemi touches Xena,
taking on her burden)
But you'll be...
I have you to thank for that.
You've taught me well.
(Gabrielle pours Xena's ashes into the pool.
Akemi gives a push,
Gabrielle gives a tug:
Xena re-enters this world;
she'll need to dig up her gear.[Note 03]
I'll look after the 40,000.
Hirugata will be able to help.
I won't be alone.
I've used the last of Yidoshi's power
to weave a ship for you
to take you far over the sea.
I'll stay here on this side
by the fountain
and sing poems
by the waterfall
so travelers will know
what selfless love is,
the love I learned from you.
I'll always think of you.
Xena and Gabrielle turn to leave.)
One last request -
Do honor to Genji.
What about Hirugata?
He has his family to remember him.
Genji had no one,
except, briefly, only his master.
Now he is gone, too.
(The sun sets)
a ship in the bright morning,
a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder)
Watcha thinking, Sidekick?
Only you aren't anymore,
'cos now you can do anything I can do.
Xena, in all the world
nothing is stronger than friendship,
or more enduring in its consequences than love.
(Indicates Genji's urn)
He helped us, Xena,
and the consequence was
that we survived
and he didn't.
He was a traveler, like us,
without a fixed abode,
like the wind over the waves.
There'll be no-one to remember him.
A friend's deeds
will always live on in our hearts.
He was a friend
when we needed one.
(She sprinkles the ashes
onto the gentle breeze
and takes comfort in Xena.)
(Dissolve to many days later
a long way away.
(The women hold each other,
unsure what to expect
as the boat gently touches land
and begins to dissolve,
depositing them softly in a mist
on the sand of a distant shore.)
Now, that was interesting.
Xena, this place is beautiful!
Kinda reminds me of home.
(They let go of each other and look around.)
This place needs a name.
What shall we call it?
Well, it's a new land...
(teasing) How about "New Land"?
And we came so far
across the sea to reach it -
(teasing in return)
That's it! Xena, let's call it "New Sea Land"!
(Before Xena can reply)
Xena! Look! Those birds are huge!
They're almost as tall as giants!
(She has spotted some grazing moas
12 feet high if they're an inch;
she grasps Xena excitedly)
Imagine all the breakfasts we could have
with just one of their eggs!
(She runs off down the beach in delight.)
(smiling) Yeah, imagine!
closing credits superimposed
over the final scene
where Xena digs a deep hole on the beach,
like a turtle in PARADISE FOUND,
takes off her armor and sword,
buries them in the sand,
then goes to join Gabrielle
in the gleaming sunlight,
while the camera gradually pulls up
and back continuously throughout
until it is very high and far away)
Whenever I buried my stuff,
and left it behind,
there's always been some reason
to dig it up again.
You mean me, don't you?
You can't deny you haven't been
In one way or another.
(beat) You think it'll stay buried this time?
Maybe I should bury it, instead of you.
(unsure) I don't think
I'll ever be able to let go.
It's as if I'm caught at the bottom
of the deepest darkest well
in all of Tartarus
and I'll never even have the _chance_
of coming out into the light.
Xena, remember once,
how _we_ were deep inside a well,
and you were holding on to the rope
and I was holding on to you
they move closer)
and you said,
"Climb over me."
(they are even closer now)
(very quietly) Climb over me.
(There is a light at the end of the well.
Welcome to the Wellmouth!
The moment remains,
even as we break
and move into another register)
(grins) Wanna play catch?
(holds up the chakram)
I've got a partner now.
Who'll beat you!
(runs, catches it)
(and so on)
No you won't!
Yes I will!
Oh no you won't!
Oh yes I will!
(The two lionesses continue the
chakram game as they
go off looking for a nest.
Even far apart, they are together.)
(as the disclaimer appears)
No friendships were harmed
during the making of these motion pictures.
In fact, some were deepened
and saw the light of day.
(then we cut to the lightning of the RenPic logo and)
 This ending could implicitly explain the origin of the popular tattoo tradition of the Pacific Islands. Also, using two women on a beach, it clearly illustrates the quantum principle that two particles can be linked together no matter how far apart they are.
 More importantly, in the narrative over six years, Gabrielle has gained Xena-type skills. This is a natural point to break the Xena-Gabrielle story. Over the next six years, Xena will develop Gabrielle-like skills. Yin-yang. Perhaps wandering through a Lost World. Over the following six years, they will be a pair, like the two halves of the chakram, achieving more together as a unit than either alone in a team of two. And the years after that ...
 In terms of redemption (which literally means "take back; buy back; pay a ransom for"), redemption implies two parties. Xena redeemed Akemi at the start of the story and it would be nice if Akemi redeemed Xena at the end of the story. Likewise, Xena redeemed Gabrielle at the start of the series in the very first episode, so Gabrielle redeeming Xena at the end of the series in the last episode would be a suitable ending.
 There are visual, sound-effect and musical threads throughout this final story. For example, the pine trees and crickets. The melody that was beginning to develop into the signature theme for Gabrielle is so beautiful that it is sad to think that there will not be an opportunity for it to continue to expand and grow.
 There are also narrative threads whose patterns are of great interest to bards studying story-structure.
 The anklet rings three times at the teahouse, each time summoning Yidoshi, yin: once for a monk snack; once for teaching Xena who is boss; and once for ambushing Yidoshi. Yidoshi turns up a fourth time at the teahouse, yang, to thank Akemi for causing the sword to return.
 Past Xena has four fights: yin with raider Kao and his guards for Akemi, with the master smith and his apprentices for the great sword, with Yidoshi's house guards for nothing in particular, and yang when she is attacked by the Higuchi mob for the last of Akemi's ashes.
 Present Xena has three fights: yin, alone in the forest against the armies of Yidoshi, alone amongst battle companions in the teahouse against Yidoshi, and, yang, boosted by Gabrielle's assistance with the water, alone against Yidoshi on the mountain.
 Four heads are lost: Akemi in the past, and in the present Genji, Xena and Yidoshi.
 Akemi surprises Xena three times: by knowing Xena's name at their first meeting, by killing Yidoshi with the Pinch during the kabuki theater presentation, and by telling Xena how to keep the 40,000 souls free.
 Hirugata surprises Xena three times: by telling Xena about the 40,000 consequences of her past actions, about Yidoshi's advancement to soul-eater status, and about the only way Yidoshi can be defeated.
 There are four poems: about the moon on the sleeve, about the intermingling breaths in the winter night, the words-are-insufficient greeting in the teahouse at Xena's afterlife arrival, and Gabrielle's tattoo. Three are done with pens, and a different three use words.
 Xena listens four times: in the past she listens to the sounds in the snow forest with Akemi, and in the winter evening to the snow and Akemi's heart; in the present she listens to the sounds of the soldiers in the misty forest during the great battle, and then later at the teahouse to Miyuki's footfalls and Akemi's heart.
 Xena surprises Gabrielle four times: by wanting to tell her what happened with Akemi in the past; by telling her that she taught Akemi the Pinch; by teaching Gabrielle the Pinch; and by saying no at the Fountain.
 Xena teaches Gabrielle three things: how to listen, how to do the Pinch, and when to let go (this last is a loose thread).
 Gabrielle passes four practical exams demonstrating Xena-skills: how to solve the Water Tower problem; using the sword; close-quarters combat; and using the chakram. The sword and the chakram tests are extensions of the How to Listen lesson. The other two are "Don't talk. Do."
 Gabrielle faces three direct challenges from the wise general: one for Xena's head and two for access to the Fountain.
 Gabrielle listens in four places: once on the battlements of Higuchi to the approaching armies; secondly in the forest to, firstly, the external sounds of the forest, and then to the meaning of Xena's words; thirdly, in the rain during the first challenge with Morimoto; and lastly, on the mountain side to the returning chakram. It is like Holmes teaching Watson how to observe and then to make deductions from those observations. The final story illustrates that Xena does not have superpowers. Xena has many skills.
 There are four flashbacks: when Akemi loses her head at Xena's hand; when Gabrielle is in the forest listening to her memory of Xena's words; when Xena is facing the soldiers in her last battle; and when Gabrielle is burning Xena's remains on the funeral pyre.
 There are three gifts from Akemi: the great katana, the poetry, and the dragon protection for Gabrielle. The fourth gift, of life for Xena, was withheld in the produced versions of the story. Instead, "life" for Xena was imposed instead. This can be attributed to a mis-reading of the original scroll.
 Three origination explanations are provided: of how Xena got her breast scar; of the first oral blow-torch; and a throwaway juvenalium about the first sake-mushroom cloud.
 There are three major echoes: the burying of Xena's armor (like in the very first episode); as Xena battles Yidoshi on the mountain, the flaming background behind Xena is an echo of the visual motif from the opening title sequence; and Xena's "She's good at what she does" remark about Gabrielle reinvigorates a line from the episode A DAY IN THE LIFE.
 The title, A FRIEND IN NEED, might refer to Xena, who is a friend in need of help, and the other half of the saying, A Friend in Deed, probably refers to Gabrielle doing good deeds to help her. Alternatively, the friend in need might be Akemi, who has asked for help. Or Akemi's only true friends, when she has nothing left, are Genji (briefly) and Xena.
 By a type of inversion symmetry, the first episode of the series showed Xena returning to her warrior ways and digging up her gear, so the last episode should show Xena abandoning her warrior ways and leaving her gear buried. Quoting from the generically typical A DAY IN THE LIFE implies, superficially, that the last, uniquely atypical, episode could be called THE NIGHT OF A DEATH. At a deeper level, the episode as we have it could be called THE WELL OF LONELINESS (or LEAVE WELL ALONE). Deeper still, I would have called it A LIFE IN THE DAY. Deepest of all, it ought to have been called GABRIELLE, with Gabrielle and Xena forming two anchor points on opposite sides of life's divide, with the rainbow forming a bonding bridge between them for all souls to travel along in peace without the Yidoshis of the universe eating everyone up. And the motif hinting at Akemi being an earlier past-life or alternate version of Gabrielle could have been developed further and into a more satisfying closure of the narrative circle (especially if the homage to Ran had been followed through).
 The mythological world permeates Xena. So does the natural world.
 Xena the hunter morphs into a barn owl, also called ghost owl, spirit owl. They are tytonid strigiform birds, and are silent flyers. They do not hoot. They are not territorial because their feeding areas are too large to defend. They hunt by listening in the dark.
 Akemi the poet morphs into a mynah bird, a sturnan passeriform, with excellent vocal abilities in both style and composition, a bit of a mimic and show-off, apt for a poetic sidekick.
 There is a related bird in New Zealand, the bush wren, an acanthisittid passeriform, whose generic name is, interestingly, Xenicus, in turn giving its name to the cloud-hidden Mt Xenicus on the Routeburn Track along which is a lake that could well be fed by the waters from a Fountain of Strength.
 Tonbo in Japanese means "dragonfly", and tonbogaeri, literally "dragonfly-return", means "somersault", as well as "returning from a destination right after arriving there", which is what Gabrielle did on her Jappa visit. Related words mean "honest and homely" and "cordial and friendly", all apt attributes of Gabrielle generally.
 Another word, kagerou, also means "dragonfly", and has a connotation of shimmer of air, ephemeral, like a heat haze. Gabrielle has dragonflies embroidered on her lower garment, the wide-trousered hakima. Dragonflies and owls are popular icons in various manga, and ninja series like Owl's Castle (1997-).
The Ronin Tonbo,
katanamochi of Owl Mountain
A Note on Some Names
 Sometimes the coincidence between a name and its meaning enhances the story.
 Higuchi ("fire-entrance"), the town that Xena and Gabrielle save, is the word for a burner, the origin of a fire. May as well have called the town Embers.
 Katana ("sword"), is mentioned several times. Katanamochi is "swordbearer". Gabrielle became swordbearer for a while. Katanashi is "ruin; loss of face", the sort that the General faced after being defeated by Gabrielle in the challenge when she allowed him to live in the shame of his defeat.
 Akemi ("beginning, dawn, end, expiration") seems an apt choice for someone with whom the story begins and ends (as do various lives).
 "Lord of the Dark Lands", Yidoshi's title, would be a good translation for the name of Hades (called "confine-chamber; dark-room" in Japanese).
 Genji is another word for a realist, a pragmatist, someone who knows when not to get into a hot tub.
 Akemi and Khemi, the "Dark Land" of the river in Egypt, intertwine Japanese and Egyptian connotations. But only to a linguist. Chemistry is the art of applying the skills taught in ancient Khemi, and Japanese sword-making skills embody deep metallurgical knowledge. Plus the frame of the story is that the girls intend to travel to Egypt. Historically, Pharaoh sent out expeditions on five-year missions to explore strange new lands, to seek out new civilizations, to boldly go where no man had gone before. Perhaps one of them ended up in the land of the Ainu.
 Sometimes the coincidences are a bit stretched.
Looking for unlikely coincidences and bird nests
 A T-shirt arrived in the mail this morning. It has pictures of Xena and Gabrielle on it, with the Xena start and end dates of 04 September 1995 and 23 June 2002. Counting the first day as day 1, that makes 2485 days (if my arithmetic is up to scratch).
 Now, the 24th letter of the alphabet is "X", for Xena. Continuing the count, and repeating the alphabet cycle so that the letter "A" fills the 27th position, "B" the 28th, and so on, counting to 85 lands us on "G", for Gabrielle.
 By coincidence, in one of the set of fonts used for Egyptology (WL Hieroglyphic 3, the one with the different types of bird symbols), typing the letters "X" and "G" on the keyboard produces an owl and chatty friend.
How do the Ainu say "owl"?
 A FRIEND IN NEED is a well-crafted story, well-filmed, acted, scored and produced. It is the only Xena episode ending in sadness. Its only flaw is its tendency to use an off-the-shelf "It's not Lambchop! It's a sock!" structural style to turn off the creative tap on the Keg of Inspiration. A bit of a cop-out -- the ending was done with the head rather than the heart. Doing this is like saying at the end of a concert that music is the noise produced by a windbag -- technically correct, but also off the mark and missing the point of what the series was about. This attitude would be mightily annoying to some sectors of the fan base. This same structural flaw is, ironically, the episode's greatest strength as it reveals that the Xena-Gabrielle story is greater than the sum of its parts and has a touch of immortal life-giving ambrosia about it. The story extends beyond the episodes. It has an applicability that goes beyond one ale-house in one evening of the world.
 The song will continue with different words in other places on other evenings. The fans have their own brewing kits now.
"In a golden urn they put the bones
shrouding the urn with veiling of soft purple.
Then in a grave dug deep they placed it
and heaped it with great stones."[Note 04]
And silent inside young Aurora's glowing fires
as her luminous dawn beams lit up the land
they returned like owls to Ilium's dreaming spires.
Akira Kurosawa, the director of Ran (1985), as quoted by Michael Abernethy, Stillness and Spectacle. Abernathy considers that in Ran "Kurosawa achieves an almost perfect fusion of storyteller and painter". Link: http://www.popmatters.com/film/reviews/r/ran.html. Ran also contains a beheading scene.
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Xena episodes naturally provide, in the words of a reviewer, "fodder for a wild psychology essay, though you won't find it here, as we try to avoid committing psychology in public" -- Spectrum 29, p9, on WHO'S GURKHAN? in particular, and Tapert episodes in general.
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Or maybe not.
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The Iliad, book 24, translated by Robert Fitzgerald in 1974 (Oxford University Press, 1988, p443)
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Edward Mazzeri, "Chakram Levels" Whoosh! #41 (February 2000)
Edward Mazzeri, "Mirror of Virtue, The" Whoosh! #43 (April 2000)
Edward Mazzeri, "Word Count and Meaning in Xena: Warrior Princess" Whoosh! #47 (August 2000)
Mazzeri, Edward. "How Has Xena: Warrior Princess Changed the World?" Whoosh! #50 (November 2000)
Mazzeri, Edward. "Word Count and Meaning in Xena: Warrior Princess: Season Two". Whoosh! #51 (2000/12)
Mazzeri, Edward. "Serendipity and Meta-Subtext: Contemplation From Under the Lake". Whoosh! #63 (Dec 2001)
I live in Australia, like watching Xena season 6 at 1am in the morning in the middle of the week (because there are fewer cuts), am looking forward to visiting several on-line Xena-inspired multi-player worlds, and have my own socks.
Favorite thread: Gabrielle getting her own theme.
Favorite story: the DNA double-helix structure of the Xena-Gabrielle saga, with potential substitutions, swaps and misreadings along the way.
Favorite essay theme: "It looks like a hydra; it moves like a hydra; therefore it must be a hydra" -- Centaur wisdom in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110) used to deduce whether Xena is an Amazon.
Most intriguing observed behavior: audience refusal to swallow clichés. Some people have graduated to eating solids.
Favorite episode: Still has to be A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) though there are a heap very close behind it across all seasons in all genres.
Least favorite episode: None, really. Even the embarrassing episodes have three or four redeeming features. The rich texture of Xena becomes visible when other shows try to emulate it but only pick up one or two threads.