A Private Little War
"A Good Day" Plot Summary:
Caesar's men enter a village but learn that there are no spoils to take; Pompey's men have beaten them there. The Roman leader orders all the villagers killed, but Flanagus, a Greek officer-for-hire who has just left the Roman army, orders them to stop. While the men waver about whom to follow, Xena chakrams the points off the spears and help Flanagus fight off the army. She suggests to Flanagus that if Caesar and Pompey have brought their civil war to Greece, it's best to let them fight it out there, and keep the rest of the world safe.
Xena asks for volunteers among the villagers to help in the fight, then has Gabrielle begin the evacuation of the rest. A young archer named Temecula volunteers to send signals. Xena asks the villagers to burn their homes and destroy their crops so that there will be nothing for the Romans to take, then dresses the volunteers in the uniforms of the beaten Romans so that when they march, they will be mistaken for part of an army. They march to the top of a hill, where Xena plants a two-sided banner - Pompey's colors facing Caesar's men, Caesar's colors facing Pompey's. The two send troops to take the hill from one another, but when Caesar sees the reversible flags, he realizes Xena has set a trap for them.
During the melee, Gabrielle sends the women and children to safety while Xena has the men steal catapults from Pompey, which he quickly realizes as her work. While Gabrielle advises Temecula that killing changes a person forever, Xena and Flanagus sneak into Caesar's camp to spy. Xena learns that Caesar has reserve troops, but just as he is about to reveal his secret plan to trap Xena, Flanagus is taken prisoner and Xena has to rescue him. When they return to the camp of the villagers, Xena warns Gabrielle that she has to go deal with Pompey and Caesar, but she knows Caesar is setting a trap which Gabrielle may be able to recognize. Gabrielle refuses to lead the villagers into death, but agrees to let Xena tell Flanagus to listen to her.
Xena arranges a meeting with Pompey, who flirts with her and suggests that she could help him take over the world, but the warrior princess has made certain that Caesar would follow her right to Pompey. While the villagers use the catapults to provoke both sides, Pompey and Caesar fight with one another and with Xena. The unstable ground gives way from all the fighting, and Xena, Pompey and Caesar fall into a cavern together. While they fight, Caesar's army retreats, so Flanagus initially declares success. But Gabrielle recognizes it as a trap from Caesar and takes command, insisting that they must press forward. Pompey's army arrives to meet Caesar's, but the villagers are caught in the middle.
As Caesar boasts of his planned false retreat, Xena leaves him and Pompey to fight one another and flees in search of Gabrielle. The bard is fighting gamely with her staff, but when she sees Flanagus threatened, she picks up a spear to save him. However, she cannot throw it to kill the Roman attacker, who then murders Flanagus. Witnessing these events, Temecula kills the attacker with an arrow. When Xena reaches Gabrielle, she is sobbing over Flanagus' body.
Caesar and Pompey stop fighting when they realize the sounds of battle have ceased; Caesar declares that Rome must have triumphed, but when they emerge from the cavern, they witness a scene of utter devastation: both armies have been completely destroyed. Xena helps the villagers burn their dead, but is unable to console Gabrielle about Flanagus' death. Xena tells her that sometimes the only rationalization one can live with is that it was a good day of fighting; Gabrielle resolves to tell Temecula that.
This started out as a pretty perfunctory war-is-hell episode, so I was surprised at how moving I found the devastating ending. It wasn't a surprise that both armies destroyed each other - that was what Xena planned all along - but the apocalyptic scene of the two commanders staring at their dead soldiers while planning for the next confrontation was extremely powerful, as was Gabrielle's reaction when her own refusal to kill led to the death of a man whose family she had come to care a great deal about. Her furious, shattered reaction to his death was heartwrenching.
This was a strong Xena episode, particularly the scene where she had to persuade the villagers to destroy their own village, but Gabrielle ended up being the more sympathetic of the two, and Xena's "a good day's fighting" speech at the end didn't begin to compensate. Which is good: I found this episode to be an extremely poignant commentary on how war and imperialism work on ordinary people. Unlike the Irish on this week's Hercules episode, who cared passionately about defending their land from invaders, these villagers were shown to be largely peaceful and unconcerned with who governed their nation; Flanacus was a Roman soldier after all, and though he told Xena he would never knowingly kill a Greek in battle, she looked rightly skeptical. This episode didn't favor Pompey over Caesar or Greeks over Romans; it merely pointed out that no matter who's right and who's wrong, war is a horrible solution.
Both women were very strong in this episode; Xena could predict every move of both Caesar and Pompey, while Gabrielle did an admirable job recognizing the trap and leading the battle. I also liked that Xena respected Gabrielle's initial refusal to lead the villagers into battle, and understood why she could not kill Flanagus' attacker, though that left her innocent protege to do so. It was not easy to like Xena in parts of this episode - she came across as just as imperialistic as the Roman leaders, insisting to the Greeks that they should let the armies fight in their backyard in order to avert a world war - but it was also easy to see where she was coming from, and why she thought doing nothing would be a worse crime than talking the others into doing what they did. "A Good Day" put me through the emotional wringer, so I'm sort of glad that next week features a Xena/Autolycus dance story.