"Between the Lines" Plot Summary:
"What we sow in this life, we reap in our future lives. This is our Karma."
--From the Xena "Blue" Scroll, author unknown.
Gabrielle convinces Xena to wear Indian clothing while in India, so Xena puts on blue pants which she says isn't her but which Gabrielle says is casual and sexy. The warrior princess tests a flying leap in the clothes, which work fine. The two are interrupted by a funeral procession, where they witness a man's corpse being cremated. Then his wife Nayima is lifted to be thrown onto the pyre. Xena demands to know what crime she has committed, but learns only that Nayima's husband has died, so the law decrees that she must die as well. Rescuing the woman, Xena fights off the local men and hides with Gabrielle and Nayima in a house which turns out to be a temple: there are no windows, and men outside try to break down the door.
The Indian woman unveils her face and begins to dance, summoning an orb of light which sends sparks into Xena, then shatters her into some sort of wormhole. Xena finds herself in the same basic area - a spear she threw into a pillar earlier is still there, rotting - but it's years in the future, and Xena is living out a future incarnation in the body of an old woman. She is now Armenestra the Mother of Peace, engaged in struggle with an evil warrior princes...the reincarnation of the sorceress Alti, who is planning to slaughter all the men in her village, and who recognizes Xena's karma just as Xena recognizes her. The young warrior Shakti rescues Armenestra, but not before he is wounded.
In the past, Nayima tells Gabrielle that she has sent Xena to another place, and sends the energy from her sphere into the bard as well. She tells Gabrielle that their enemy wants all the power of the good she will do in her future life, which is why is it so important that she bring the enemy back to the present in order to save her future self. Gabrielle insists that she must go assist Xena, demanding to know if the other woman can see how closely her own karma is tied to Xena. Nayima says yes, in many lives, and tells Gabrielle that she will send her to the future with a weapon...the Mendhi, the ink and patterns to create the mystical markings on her skin, which will be hidden in a wall in the past.
Gabrielle emerges from the past into the body of the young warrior who rescued the Mother of Peace from Alti. At first she expects the warrior woman to be Xena, but Xena realizes that Shakti is in fact Gabrielle, and knows it. Gabrielle says they must retrieve the Mendhi box from the temple while Xena stalls Alti...whom she finds about to sacrifice a little girl. Gabrielle leads the army while a follower of Armenestra goes to retrieve the box. Though the diversion recues the men of the village and the follower gets the Mendhi box to Xena, he refuses to allow her to commit murder and dies as a result. Xena and Gabrielle are captured along with an injured Gabrielle.
Xena pulls out the Mendhi box and has Gabrielle teach her the art she learned from Nayima so that they can paint the appropriate patterns on their bodies. When Alti marches in to lead her victims to the slaughter, they direct the power of the Mendhi at her, and drag her into the past, where all three burst out of the pyre just at the moment when Nayima would have been burned. Alti fights Xena with all her past powers restored, making Xena fight Callisto and the Berserker as well as the sorceress in the trees.
Gabrielle flies in when Xena is too weak to continue, but when Alti pulls the girl up by the hair to show her her own death, causing Gabrielle to bleed from the wounds of the stigmata as she experiences her own crucifixion, telling Gabrielle that Xena will be responsible for her death, Xena throws her chakram to cut Gabrielle's hair and free her from the sorceress. Nayima comes and faces down Alti, but Xena realizes that it isn't Nayima who is fighting the witch, it's the Mendhi. She and Gabrielle combine their strength with Nayima's, creating a phantom chakram out of Mendhi energy, and Alti finally explodes.
Nayima tells Xena that she has destroyed Alti at the peak of her powers - though Alti will be reincarnated again, Xena will always be there to stop her. To Gabrielle, she says that the bard and the warrior princess are like lines in the Mendhi, separate but forever connected. As the villagers bow, Nayima vanishes into a bubble of light which then flashes on Xena's foot.
Gabrielle comes to Xena later with very short hair, saying that it is a day for change. They both know that this is the way her hair was cut in the future vision of her crucifixion, but Gabrielle insists that Alti's evil might have falsified her visions of the future. Xena notes that this may not be the first time the two have walked down the road together, nor will it be the last. Gabrielle asks Xena how she'll recognize her, so Xena uses the Mendhi ink to draw a cross next to the chakram illustrated on her foot where Nayima's bubble disappeared. Xena asks Gabrielle if she likes it; Gabrielle responds, "I love it." They continue through India.
First off I want to praise Lawless and O'Connor for their wonderful performances as different people in the same skin; Xena was quite convincing as an old woman, and Gabrielle can really fight when she knows what she's doing. I also thought the Mendhi-drawing scene was superb: I kept remembering that it was supposed to be taking place between an old woman and a wounded young male warrior, which made the eroticism between the two women we saw onscreen that much more interesting. The idea that they are intimates through many lifetimes is very appealing.
But I'm still not happy with the way India is being portrayed in these episodes. I don't understand why the powerful Nayima was willing to let herself become the victim of suttee in the first place - was that just to get Xena's attention? I know very little about the custom, which seems to be as misogynistic as any cultural behavior on record, but here we see it completely outside of any context or explanation. Given last week's carnivalesque backdrop, this entire society seems reducible to passive sheep and obnoxious religious leaders. Nayima ended up as an interesting enigma but she seemed more plot device than character; she's no Lao Mah, who had personal history as well as cultural significance.
Alti, on the other hand, is a powerful if one-dimensional character, so I was glad to see her back. I will, however, be very glad when the events of the crucifixion vision are over with so we can get past it; the scene is starting to lose all emotional impact because it's so overplayed. What I'll remember most about this episode is how well Gabrielle fought and how glad I was that Nayima told her that Xena is her soulmate in many lives; that sort of makes up for all the times she's reduced to sidekick.