Histories Not Yet Written
"Destiny" Plot Summary:
Xena and Gabrielle look out at the village of Cirra, destroyed during one of Xena's raids in her unreformed days. Gabrielle tells Xena that the village is now full of life as is Xena, but Xena says she needs to understand why she was who she was. She rides into the village, remembering a little girl (presumably Callisto) watching her family die. When she returns, Gabrielle has been kidnapped by tribesmen who practice human sacrifice.
Xena rescues Gabrielle, but sees a small girl wearing an emblem around her neck. In the course of rescuing the girl, Xena is struck by a trap and falls unconscious, while Gabrielle is stabbed in the leg. Xena asks Gabrielle to take her to Mt. Nessus, then begins to hallucinate: she relives ten years past, where she and her thugs were ransacking a village not loyal to Amphipolis, her home. One of her men took a Roman prisoner whom Xena decided was worth ransoming, especially after he told her his name was Julius Caesar and he was worth 100,000 dinars.
Xena's gang boarded their pirate ship but encountered a stowaway, who nearly trounced the entire crew with a combination of unique acrobatics and the ability to cut off circulation. When she caught the stowaway, Xena discovered that she was a runaway slave who appeared to be of African descent, but Caesar identified her speech as Gaelic. Xena spared the stowaway in exchange for lessons in the touch which could cut off circulation. The girl wore the same emblem around her neck as the child Xena would rescue ten years later.
Caesar told Xena that real power is about accomplishing the impossible. Xena suggested that they join forces. Caesar announced that it was his destiny to conquer the world, so he feared nothing, and asked Xena what she knew about conquest. She seduced him as a demonstration. She got her ransom and left with the assumption that they would join forces later; when her ship sailed, schools of fish and flocks of birds followed, and the ex-slave sang joyous songs of mystery.
Xena's men spotted Caesar's ship, and despite a warning from the girl, Xena let him board. But he took a knife to her throat and stormed her ship, capturing her crew, though the girl escaped. Caesar announced that there was never an "us," only Rome, and he was Rome; he had Xena and her men crucified and ordered that her legs be broken. The stowaway girl rescued Xena and took her to Mt. Nessus, where Nicklio the healer lived.
Meanwhile, in the present, Gabrielle has gotten Xena to Mt. Nessus and the same healer. He knew the stowaway girl, M'Lila, and he set Xena's broken legs, using acupuncture to help her heal. Roman soldiers burst in and killed M'Lila, though Xena used some of the girl's technique to fight back. The final soldier she killed with the strangling touch, telling him to warn Hades to be ready for a lot of bodies as she wreaked her revenge. "A new Xena is born tonight with a new purpose in life: death."
As she speaks those words in memories, Nicklio tells Gabrielle that Xena has died. Her spirit leaves her body and returns to the cross where Caesar meant for her to die. M'Lila's spirit tells her to choose her destiny, and Xena replies that she already did: she chose evil. M'Lila says that, knowing evil, she can fight evil, and tells Xena to listen to the thoughts of the living. Xena hears Gabrielle imploring her to live, for herself and for the world, while she remembers loving moments between herself and her friend; she decides that she has to go back.
Whew, that was a lot of summary, but this is a very important episode which impacts everything we know about the warrior princess. It opens with Xena's ongoing guilt for the actions of her past, and closes with a suggestion that she has finally made the choice which will enable her to move past that; perhaps, to borrow a conceit, she no longer has that cross to bear. "Destiny" is an apt title for this installment of the series, because we get a sense of the forces of history which have shaped her - not just the work of gods, but the work of men.
Caesar (who announces his nomenclature, "Julius Caesar," as if it's a first and last name with no title involved), never explains precisely who gave him his great role: it seems to be as much his self-defined destiny as the will of the gods. There's a strong suggestion that the will of individuals is stronger than any fate which I like very much: it means that Xena really can choose good, no matter what Ares or Zeus or any other god desires for her.
The whole notion of destiny has an ironic double sense in this episode: Caesar quotes from a book he has not yet written, "The Conquest of Gaul," and offers a piece of analysis put into his mouth by William Shakespeare centuries later. Is it part of his destiny to know that he will be the subject of a play? If so, the scene where he discusses strategy with Brutus is very interesting, since presumably he knows how he is destined to die. Xena's history is ironically more flexible than that of many of the characters she meets: we all know what will ultimately happen to Ulysses, to Prometheus, even to Hercules, but since she is fictional, she's free from all those expectations. She's something new.
M'Lila plays a very interesting role in all this: the girl is the source of much of Xena's power, both the tricks the warrior princess uses to vanquish her enemies and the rage which shaped her destiny for a decade. Xena clearly cared passionately about M'Lila though she barely knew her. Even non-subtext fans - people who believe that the relationship between Gabrielle and Xena is purely sororal, with no sexual connection - must have noticed the chemistry between Xena and the younger woman. The montage at the end, where Xena remembered the Gabrielle she adored - or perhaps where Xena read the thoughts of Gabrielle remembering her - was full of moments of great intimacy. The suggestion that a love which dares not speak its name could be Xena's salvation is almost shocking in its progressiveness.