"Back in the Bottle"
by Michelle Erica Green

The Wrath of Khan

"Back in the Bottle" Plot Summary:

Gabrielle stands in front of Xena holding a dead rabbit that she wants to cook for dinner. The warrior princess demands quiet, as she's trying to achieve absolute stillness. She focuses on the rabbit, trying to cook it, but instead it turns to stone. Gabrielle gets annoyed, and when Joxer arrives with a squirrel, he refuses to waste it on her experiments. Gabrielle says she'll go to town to get dinner if someone will give her some money. But, when Joxer reaches into his pocket, he finds instead a pouch of black powder. A furious Xena says he was supposed to destroy all remaining samples of that deadly explosive, but when she takes the pouch, she has a vision. People are fighting, explosives are detonating all around, a rocket blows up Joxer, and another heads straight for Gabrielle. "The powder is trying to tell me something," Xena whispers. "I've got to go back there."

As explosions light up a map of Chin, Xena and her friends travel back towards the Great Wall. Meanwhile, Genghis Khan opens his mind to the Green Dragon. Ming Tien appears, asking whether his army is ready. He says that he has become one with a greater whole, then turns his head around to reveal the face of Pau Tsu. The two children of Lao Ma have merged in the afterlife with a common purpose: to use the black powder to conquer Chin and defeat Xena. Khan has his army branded with the symbol of the Green Dragon on the backs of their hands.

Traveling through rice fields, Xena and her companions observe refugees streaming from Lao Ma's temple. Kao Tsen explains that the land is being taken over by the warlord Khan who is leading a large force armed with the black powder. Blaming the girl's dead sister for giving Khan the secret of the black powder, Xena asks Kao Tsen to hide the refugees in the tunnels beneath Lao Ma's palace. She sends Gabrielle and Joxer ahead to get ready.

In the palace, Gabrielle meets Lin Chi, a village leader who is trying to fortify the area. At first he dismisses her, but when an advance guard attacks and Gabrielle fights beside him, he puts her in charge of clearing the tunnels for the refugees. Meanwhile, Xena tells Kao Tsen that although she can channel the power of which Lao Ma wrote, she can't control it. She also tells the young woman of her vision, which Kao Tsen shared.

Outside, Joxer and a group of villagers are trapped on the far side of a minefield. Xena makes her way across to Joxer, leaving footprints in the sand for them to follow to safety. Unfortunately, a sudden wind blows the prints away. Khan rides up, saying he can explain, but Xena scoffs that he doesn't look smart enough to have figured out the formula for black powder by himself. Then Ming Tien appears, explaining that his spirit was trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead by his hatred for Xena, but at least he found family there. Turning, the Green Dragon reveals the face of Pau Tsu, who thanks Xena for making it possible by killing her to be joined with her brother. They claim that their men will die for the Green Dragon and ask what Xena will die for. "Your mother's legacy and your sister's cause," replies the warrior princess.

Xena uses her power to defend herself from the first bombs, but Ming Tien says she can't hold off an entire army. Creating a shield around herself, she chakrams the mines so that the people from the village can flee to safety. A skirmish erupts between a contingent of Khan's men and Gabrielle's rebel friends. Using the power she cannot control to keep herself safe, Xena escapes from Khan's men. But when she sees Lin Chi fighting, it reminds her of her vision of his death and Gabrielle's. She calls Lin Chi and Gabrielle away to safety.

Studying in Lao Ma's rooms, Xena tries to levitate a vase, but succeeds only in knocking it down and breaking it. Kao Tsen enters to warn that Lao Ma left them a prophecy: the more any one sibling used the power, the stronger all would become. Kao Tsen refuses to use the power because she doesn't want to strengthen her evil siblings. Below in the tunnels, Gabrielle and Lin Chi stuff feed bags, and he apologizes to her for being pompous when he met her. He says he heard she was a bard, who she claims is no longer true, but he says a merciful heart is where all great stories come from. Joxer breaks in, saying he hopes he isn't interrupting anything but Xena needs Gabrielle.

Xena has a plan to destroy Khan's armory, but Gabrielle snaps that she won't let her pregnant friend risk her life, and takes Lin Chi with her. The two easily dispatch the guards, but are trapped in a large net that falls from the ceiling. Khan laughs that he has trapped them like butterflies, then lights the loose black powder on the floor, bidding Gabrielle farewell. Back at the palace, Xena feels her friend's fear and summons the wind, which blows out all the candles in her room. Sensing a change, Lin Chi believes his dead ancestors are preparing to greet him, but Gabrielle realizes the air is rushing out of the tent and holds her breath. The fire dies, the pair cut themselves free, and they race outside just before the tent blows up. Pau Tsu scolds Khan's failure to kill them.

Back at the palace, Gabrielle praises Xena's control of the power, but Xena says the power uses her. "It protects the ones you love," adds Kao Tsen. But Xena has never seen a war won by love, and says her love won't stop an army. Gabrielle agrees, but Kao Tsen is adamant that Xena always succeeds when she sets her mind to it. Later that day, Lin Chi asks Gabrielle if she ever thinks about settling down. Gabrielle says that she used to think home was a place, yet now she knows it can be a person. Expressing envy, her new friend says he is tired of people in Chin killing one another, but Gabrielle warns that it's not really any better elsewhere. Lin Chi thinks that depends on who one walks with.

Joxer tells Xena of Khan's massive army just over the ridge, saying that the warlord is holding an entire village hostage. Xena realizes that only way to get at the soldiers would be by killing the hostages, which, obviously, is something she does not want to do. Asking Gabrielle to get the refugees to safety, she warns her friend that the power requires absolute clarity and Gabrielle is a distraction. Kao Tsen reminds Xena that although she may walk the path of the warrior, there are ways to win wars that do not involve swords. Facing the arms of men, hostages, and ghosts, Xena concentrates on diverting the rockets that fly at her from all sides. She appears to be protected in a bubble of power, which eventually begins to deflect the bombs back at the men firing them.

Gabrielle, Joxer and Lin Chi come out of hiding to try to rescue the hostages from the army, and a great battle ensues. Finally Xena becomes exhausted, dropping to the ground, and Khan rides at her as she cries out for Gabrielle. Then she spies the Green Dragon symbol on the flags, shields, uniforms, and brands of the enemy soldiers, and focuses all her power on the emblem. The symbol begins to glow, burning the men, then turning them to stone. Ming Tien and Pao Tsu scream as they begin to transform, then explode.

Joxer shows off for a girl he has befriended, telling her he personally killed Khan and defeated the army. Gabrielle rolls her eyes at him, then goes to say goodbye to Lin Chi, who is packing to travel. She kisses him goodbye. Kao Tsen says farewell to Xena, who admits that she can no longer feel the power. The daughter of Lao Ma believes it served its purpose; she herself has never felt closer to her mother. Curiously Xena notes that when she defeated the army, she was thinking not of killing the soldiers but of saving the hostages. So the war was won through love, after all.


Though preferable to last week's episode, this Chin story also lacked the impact of "The Debt," and diminished Ming Tien as a character by turning him into yet another beyond-the-grave villain, this time without the charisma of Alti, though I liked the perversity of sharing a body with his sister. Ming Tien was more interesting as a living spoiled brat with the power of a godchild, and Pau Tsu was more fun trying to take over Chin single-handedly. Khan wasn't particularly impressive either. It was all too easy to agree with Xena's assessment that he didn't look smart enough to have figured out the formula for black powder himself. If the writers bother to summon a legendary vicious figure, they might as well play his nastiness for all it's worth rather than attributing it to supernatural forces.

Joxer was used to provide some levity, but it appeared inappropriate. One doesn't try dangerous heroics in the middle of a war just for laughs. The best parts of this episode were subtext, though Xena and Gabrielle rarely appeared onscreen together. It's obvious that Joxer doesn't understand why he will never win Gabrielle's love, since he was jealous of her relationship with Lin Chi. But Lin Chi understood immediately, and did not appear to feel rejected when Gabrielle said that Xena's her home. The Chinese man and the bard were wonderful together, so I hope he returns to this series.

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