Another long gap between Xena posts – it’s not a coincidence that this season has been the main thing stopping me from pushing on through my Big Chronological Rewatch. But the light is at the end of the tunnel, the show is about to get seriously good again, and Season 5 brings with it the exciting potential of a handful of episodes I’ve never actually seen…
But in the meantime, there’s peace, love, the way of the warrior and a whole lot of meta involving hot tubs.
4.16 The Way
Xena and Gabrielle are almost out of India, but they’ve still got time to offend a whole religion in their most controversial episode of all time!
When word began to spread that this episode depicted Krishna as a fictional character, many Hindu organisations protested the move which represented an extreme religious taboo. The episode was shown with a disclaimer and a public service announcement up front, and then removed from syndication after its first screening.
The main argument against treating this episode differently was that Xena was simply treating Hindu mythology with the same cavalier disrespect it showed to other mythologies… including many religious symbols or figures which are still a part of modern worship today. To which the obvious response is: you know that isn’t the killer defence you think it is, right?
What I remember most about the controversy of the time (this was also the first year I became aware of online fandom as an observer, my main pop culture interests at the time being Xena and Buffy, a show which also had two episodes pulled from broadcast in the same year, in response to the Columbine school shootings) is that fans were distressed about being deprived of an exceptional episode, possibly the best Xena episode ever.
Yeah. Looking at it now, without the pressure brought to it at the time – it’s not all that.
In many ways, “The Way” is the weakest story of the India saga. Xena and Gabrielle spend far too much time agonising about philosophy, and Eli has made the disappointing metamorphosis from ‘slightly roguish sidekick’ to ‘incredibly smug Jesus archetype.’ Oh, sorry, I mean ‘avatar.’
There’s even a gratuitous use of soft focus when Eli does his healing. And let’s not get into scene where all the grateful brown people are bowing down and worshipping Eli who is – despite his fancy Indian clothes – really quite white.
Plus extra yuck with his ‘disciple’ Gabrielle threatened with violence, in order to make Eli feel bad. AND it really doesn’t help that every time he talks to Gabrielle, he looks like he’s faking his spiritual credibility in order to discreetly crack on to her.
NOW I REMEMBER WHY I THOUGHT THE INDIA EPISODES SUCKED.
At least “Devi” had a sense of humour, and “Between the Lines” had some intimate female bonding. “The Way” is entirely humourless, reducing the characters of Hindu mythology to a simple story of demon versus demon. Or, large talking monkey versus demon. It’s proof if nothing else that it’s time for Xena to haul herself back to Greece.
Also, I’m not yet sold on Gabrielle’s short haircut, but am quite enjoying Xena’s new ‘fringe pinned up’ look. Yes, I’m really that shallow.
The good news is that the message Krishna had for Xena is that she should stop beating herself up about not being peaceful and serene, and follow ‘the Way of the Warrior,’ AKA the path she has always been on. Well. That was certainly worth 16 episodes of angst, then, wasn’t it?
Meanwhile, Gabrielle throws away her staff (wah!) and dedicates herself to ‘the Way of Love’ but refuses to leave Xena’s side because ‘all paths lead to the sea.’
Finally, a comedy! (and FINALLY, we’re back in “Ancient Greece”)
Frankly after all the pious whining of this season, poking a little fun at Gabrielle feels more than warranted. In this case, she and Joxer get tangled up with some theatrical con artists who convince Gabrielle that her latest scroll about her relationship with Xena would make a brilliant stage play.
Cue all the cliches of writerly pomposity… and of course the rather alarming revelation (again) that Gabrielle is not actually a very good writer. Which is a bit sad considering that it’s been such a central element of her character for so long.
But, you know. It’s still hilarious.
I can’t help enjoying the fact that Gabrielle’s play, intended to share all the wisdom she learned in India, is in fact a pile of preachy, culturally appropriative claptrap. There’s… a point being made here I think? About how maybe the white girl who spent a fortnight backpacking through India isn’t the best person to spread its cultural message to the world?
Jennifer Ward-Lealand, last seen as a spectacular Boadicea in Season 3, hams it up here as a glamorous schemer who feeds Gabrielle’s ego with expert skill. Minya, Xena’s whip-toting fangirl, also shows up to lampoon our hero, just in case having Gabrielle choose a bad actress deliberately because she’s good at backflips, wasn’t cute enough. The centaur who refuses to play four legged creatures because he doesn’t want to limit himself as an actor is also pretty awesome.
In a comedy that’s largely about incompetence, I also rather like that Joxer turns out to have hidden skills in theatre management, particularly when it comes to producing a show that will appeal to ordinary people, while Gabrielle is wailing about her artistic vision. Of course, his competence is expressed through easy corruption, so maybe that’s not as positive a message as it could have been…
But the bit with the cat is quite funny.
4.18 The Convert
Xena’s fringe is back! Does this mean we’re back to good old fashioned bash and slash stories?
In an interesting twist on the Xena narrative so far, this time it’s Joxer’s turn to be blooded. Turns out, for all his warrior posturing and trying to live up to his horrible warlord family, he’s never killed anyone before this episode.
Unfortunately, he does it to save a woman who turns out to be flipping Najara, back for more Gabrielle psychological warfare. As if “Crusader” wasn’t torture enough, here we are for a sequel.
Najara has escaped prison, and Xena is determined to put her back there, but Najara swears that she is only doing good in the world now, having laid aside the sword. Oops, so basically like a less violent version of Xena?
When Joxer discovers that the evil warlord he killed in their road scuffle had a son away at school, he is determined to confess his crime to the lad, and suffers hallucinations of his victim taunting him. This, at least, is something Xena can help with – talking him through the guilt and how to live with yourself after taking a life.
To Joxer’s dismay, it turns out that the boy Arman has always believed his father to be a hero, and that if he confesses what he did and why, it will break the kid’s illusions. Gabrielle and Xena worry about Joxer as he builds a big brother friendship with Arman instead.
Najara, meanwhile, reveals to Gabrielle that she has discovered the Way of Not Killing People, via Eli. So the two creepiest smug people in Ancient Greece have joined forces? Wonderful.
As with her first appearance, Najara story is so heavy on the subtext that honestly it doesn’t make sense unless it is about romance. Najara is quite explicitly out to win Gabrielle’s ‘friendship’ for herself, and steal her away from Xena, and she does so in quite icky, undermining ways that lead to them basically fighting over her.
Yes, there’s at least one bath scene.
Both stories come to a head when Najara breaks the bad news to Arman, destroying the (admittedly false) trust that had been growing between he and Joxer. Najara, of course, did this entirely as a snarky metaphor about ‘telling the truth to the person you love,’ AKA as part of her campaign to mess things up between Xena and Gabrielle.
Thankfully, Xena is able to convince Armand that his Dad was evil, and Joxer’s a pretty swell dude. But what about Najara?
Her smarmy nice girl act breaks down in a fight when her “djinn” supposedly start talking to her again after a long absence. She grabs Gabrielle’s hair to stop her running to Xena’s aid (proving what was always implied, Najara would be such an abusive girlfriend) and then she and Xena get into into a very satisfying pummelling-each-other-while-hanging-from-vines fight which demonstrates that the whole show really, really misses Callisto.
Xena stabs Najara in the fight, leaving her in a coma. Despite Najara’s prediction that Xena would do something violent enough to force Gabrielle to leave her forever, this is not that day. Gabrielle finds it pretty easy to forgive Xena.
Gabrielle’s takeaway from this is that “when push comes to shove, sometimes you have to shove back… but with this path I’m on, I can’t do that.”
Xena replies that Gabrielle doesn’t have to, as long as she’s around.
That’s… not quite what pacifism means, right?
For all the ‘way of love’ storyline irritates the hell out of me, I do appreciate that they are past Gabrielle making Xena feel bad for her own choices, and that it’s pretty clear Najara didn’t have a leg to stand on this time around – Gabrielle and Xena are too secure in their relationship to let a petty interloper chip away at it.
Also, a nice touch towards Gabby’s “no weapons” policy was the bit where she blew sand in Najara’s face to get away from her when they were brawling. Just because she doesn’t have her stick anymore doesn’t mean you can push her around…
“I want to share a life of peace with Gabrielle, you want to share a violent death. You tell me who’s the villain here?”
A dark and stormy night, Xena and Gabrielle’s closest loved ones all gathered together in Cyrene’s tavern, and oh yes: there’s a murder mystery to be solved.
A bounty hunter lies stabbed on the floor, and the gods promptly get involved – Ares’ punk princess offsider Discord demands retribution, which means Xena has to discover the murderer by dawn.
The suspects include Xena’s mother, Gabrielle’s sister, Autolycus, Joxer, and Minya, as well as Gabrielle herself – everyone, in fact, except Xena. The group turn on each other with accusations and suspicion, with outlandish theories piling up.
A rather sweet side effect of this story is the blended effect of their friends and family having gathered in the first place to celebrate Gabrielle’s birthday – it makes them feel far more like a couple than ever before, and shows development from the last time we saw Xena and Gabrielle together in a family context, that being the creepy and hostile situation of “A Family Affair.”
Also, the solution is very clever and adorable, as is the look on Discord’s face when she is thwarted. But I am a bit distressed that there is a throwaway plot point about Lila having a thing for Joxer, which he happily reveals to everyone, though we never actually see Lila herself discuss or refer to this in any way.
The revelations about Autolycus are far more charming and character-developy.
People who want romance with Xena: 13
People Xena allows to romance her: 7
Xena dead lovers: 4
Gabrielle dead boyfriends: 2/7
“Adorable” children: 39
Babies tossed humorously in the air during fight scenes: 6
Xena doppelgangers: 4
Xena sings a mourning song: 6
Gabrielle sprained ankles: 2
Xena dies: 3
Gabrielle dies: 4
Characters brought back from the dead (incl. ghosts and visits to the Underworld): 51
Ares loses his powers and goes all to pieces about it: 2
Xena or Gabrielle earns money: 2
Xena or Gabrielle spends money (or claims to have money to spend): 8
Out of the Pantheon: Morpheus, Ares, Hera, the Titans, Hades, Celesta, Charon, the Fates, Bacchus, Aphrodite, Cupid, Poseidon, the Furies, Discord, Krishna
The Celebrity Red Carpet of the Ancient World: Pandora, Prometheus, Hercules, Iolaus, Sisyphus, Helen of Troy, Paris, Deiphobus, Menelaus, Euripides, Homer, Autolycus, Meleager, Oracle of Delphi, David, Goliath, Orpheus, Julius Caesar, Brutus, Ulysses, Penelope, Cecrops, Boadicea, Cleopatra, Crassus, Pompey, Sophocles
Previous Xena Rewatch Posts:
Warlord is a Lady Tonight
I Don’t Work For Money
Amazon Wanna Take A Ride?
Go To Tartarus!
Swashbuckle and Shams
Death In A Chainmail Bikini
Full Moon It Must Be Xena
How Do You Mortals Get From Day to Day?
The Future is Archaeologists
Divide and Conquer
My Sword is Always Ready to Pleasure You
Hide the Hestian Virgins!
Lunatic with Lethal Combat Skills
Coping with Your First Kill
Sweet Hestia, I’m In a Den of Filth
The Bitter and Sweet of It
Because Caesar Was Taken
Rolling Around Like Weasels
You Killed Me?
My Fungus Is Spreading
Virtue is Its Own Reward
Mr Stinky, I Presume
She’s Responsible For Your Death!