Lords of the Flies
"The Abyss" Plot Summary:
As Virgil and Hosep flee through the woods, the latter is captured by upright wild boars, who turn out to be disguised cannibals. Later, as Xena and Gabrielle realize their friends are missing, Virgil discovers that Hosep has been cooked over an open fire. He sets off an alarm, leading to his capture and imprisonment with Rubio -- a man who has survived by starving himself so he looks unappetizing to the barbarians who crave tender young flesh. Meanwhile, Xena and Gabrielle encounter more pig-men, but Gabrielle hesitates to kill because she keeps remembering Korah's face as he died. Her pause allows her adversary to stab her and throw her into a waterfall.
Xena rescues her friend and hides her in a waterlogged cave. She goes outside to survey the rock ledge over the waterfall, but the cannibals spot her and throw rocks at her until she falls back into the river. Swimming back to the cave, she discovers Gabrielle's wound festering. "Hope?" Gabrielle asks feverishly. "I love you. I would never hurt you. My child. You have to go. She'll hurt you." Xena weeps and curls up with her friend.
When the tide comes in, the warrior princess prepares to haul the bard to safety, but Gabrielle believes she is dying and says that as a last wish, she wants to be buried with Xena's family in Amphipolis, because they are a part of one another. Xena apologizes for putting Gabrielle on a path she was never meant to travel, but Gabrielle insists that she loves Xena. Asking the wounded woman to trust her, Xena puts Gabrielle where the cannibals will find her, then follows them back to their camp.
Virgil is devastated to see Gabrielle a prisoner like himself, but Rubio is thrilled since it might buy him a few more days. Seeing her wound, the cannibals force medicine down Gabrielle's throat and recite healing chants. Rubio explains that they don't want their meat to go bad. While they wait for her to recover, Xena dams off the waterfall and sets a trap for the cannibals in the valley below. Gabrielle's fever breaks and she apologizes to Virgil for failing to kill his enemies while she had the chance, but Virgil tells her never to apologize for having compassion.
When Gabrielle screams as she is taken to the pit barbecue, Xena sets her plan in motion. She attacks the pig-men while Gabrielle is basted for cooking. Freed, Gabrielle and Virgil head above the falls to cut the ropes while Xena leads the savages below for the slaughter. Gabrielle has a bad moment when pig-men spot them, forcing her to put aside her aversion to killing and perform an execution. But she does what is necessary, then cuts the rope to open Xena's improvised dam. The entire tribe drowns as the waterfall resumes its flow. As Rubio stuffs his face on fruit, Gabrielle says she feels better -- she did what she had to do, and will learn to live with her mistakes.
Everything about this episode feels like we've seen it before, from the Horde-like attacks by the cannibals to Gabrielle's brief, hallucinatory lament over Hope. If the producers think those ten seconds of continuity can compensate for several seasons' worth of schism between Xena and her best friend over their children, they are sorely mistaken. The sequences in which Xena sets her trap and singlehandedly fights off half the enemy get boring, we've seen the equivalent so many times...and how often have we seen a wounded, dying Gabrielle suffering atrocities as she waits for her hero to rescue her? The only twist is that Joxer's son has now taken Joxer's place as the male doofus who begs the enemy to take him instead.
I'm not sure where "The Abyss" is supposed to be set, but the thick forest and tribal paint seem designed to evoke Africa, though it's difficult to observe racial features on men entirely covered in boar heads and skins. Despite the Lord of the Flies imagery, the feasts don't seem to have any religious significance; the savages bite people in the middle of combat just for fun. This is an old-time-imperialist view of the Dark Continent. It's impossible to cheer for Xena's genocide, because other than their cannibalism -- which, admittedly, is a pretty significant cultural drawback -- the pig-men have some interesting points. Their medicine must be quite advanced to cure trained healer Gabrielle of an infected wound from which she expects to die. They're also polite enough not to rape their dinner before cooking it. I'm curious how they capture enough foreigners to keep the tribe fed -- I don't recall seeing any female cannibals, so maybe they prefer to eat women.
The warped comedy of Rubio contributes only queasiness, not humor -- after seeing Hosep turning on a spit, jokes about diet from a condemned man aren't in the least funny. Visually there are some spectacular moments, even if the underwater sequences near the waterfall don't show the currents and bubbles one would expect to find in such a spot. But if "The Abyss" is supposed to represent the bard's dark night of the soul, in which she confronts her aggressive instincts and makes peace with her ability to kill, it falls far short. We deserve a much stronger Gabrielle arc than this.