"Devi" Plot Summary:
Xena and Gabrielle are in India, which strikes them as an exotic, theatrical place - yogi masters practice complex positions for meditation, priests walk on hot coals. The pair meet a magician who promises to send his assistant, Maia, into the spirit realm; the skeptical Xena challenges his illusions but is amused when the girl disappears. When she returns, however, Maia has been possessed by an evil spirit and attacks the magician with swords. The warrior princess fights her off. Finally Gabrielle pins her down, and as Xena and the magician surround her, an evil spirit flies out of the sorcerer's apprentice. The crowd and the sorcerer call Gabrielle a devi - a healing spirit.
Xena rescues the magician from the angry crowd, who blame him for summoning the evil spirit among them. While Gabrielle reaches out to them, discovering that she can now restore sight to the blind, Xena pursues the magician, Eli, into a temple where she defends him from a local priest. But when he tries to hypnotize her to learn Gabrielle's secret, she discovers that Eli once supernaturally treated a dying man, and has been acting as a charlatan magician ever since, trying to learn the secret of working miracles.
Later, Gabrielle gives Xena a backrub so effective that Xena teases her friend, saying maybe she is a devi. Gabrielle, however, is serious: "Something happened to me. I brought back a man's sight. I healed someone. It was beautiful." Though Xena grows increasingly uneasy, Gabrielle proclaims that this gift is all she has ever wanted. In the morning Xena offers to study yoga with her, leading Gabrielle to accuse her friend of testing to see whether she's been possessed; she assures Xena that this is not the case, but Xena is wary, particularly when they discover Gabrielle's followers clustered outside.
Inside the temple, Xena and Eli find the priest hanged - clearly murdered. They agree to meet later after investigating, but right after Gabrielle spots Eli, he is chased by demonic dogs until Xena intervenes. Gabrielle has been given pearls as a gift from someone she has healed, but the fleeing Eli crashes into her, knocking them down. Gabrielle is furious but Eli bows before her, adoring her, then levitates in the air, declaring that she has freed him from the demons. Though he announces that she is a true devi, Gabrielle whispers to Xena that she didn't heal him.
When Xena and Eli meet in the temple again, he warns her that the demon dogs must have been sent by an evil spirit, so he has come to take sacred water from the Ganges to protect himself. Xena sees a painting of the blonde spirit Tataka, whom Eli says was known for healing the sick, only to send them to their deaths at the hand of Rama. Tataka wore pearls...as does Gabrielle now, over every covered centimeter of her body. The bard jokes about the outfit, saying that she can hardly refuse gifts from people she has healed, but when she realizes that Xena too has taken holy water from the temple, she knows her friend doubts her. Accusing Xena of testing her, she pours the water over herself, but Xena says that the test is meaningless: only in the hands of a priest will the holy water scald a demon. Gabrielle weeps over Xena's doubt in her, and Xena hugs her.
But when Eli is attacked by an evil spirit in the form of a man whom the magician boils with the holy water, Xena tells him that Tataka has figured out his secret. Gabrielle's not a devi; Eli is. He cast the demon out of Maia, straight into Gabrielle, and Xena wants his help getting her friend back. Waking Gabrielle, she tells the spirit possessing her that Eli was attacked and needs her healing powers; learning that Eli is alive and that her guard Ravi is gone, Tataka knows that Xena is on to her. But Eli has fled, and Xena pursues him, demanding to know how to perform an exorcism if he won't do it.
But Tataka has a plan to eliminate Xena, who must sneak past the guards to steal Gabrielle's quill for the exorcism. Laughing at the plans for the exorcism when Xena appears before her, Tataka refuses to give up Gabrielle's pretty face and body, telling Xena that she will have to "kill this sweet little body" to get the spirit to abandon her friend. When they fight, Tataka initially gains the upper hand and pins Xena on a board of nails, but Xena finally tires the spirit, putting a sword to her throat. As Tataka screams in Gabrielle's voice, Eli appears, asking for a chance to save her.
Though she escapes again, Xena puts the suffocating touch on Gabrielle, who passes out, giving Eli a few seconds to work. He drives the demon out with his touch. While Xena lets her friend breathe again, cradling her and kissing her forehead, Eli stares at his hands. Later, as they all prepare to leave town, Xena invites Eli to travel with them while he becomes accustomed to the idea that there is a higher power working through him. Gabrielle adds that he should not be alone, but Eli cryptically says, "I don't think I am," and chooses to follow his own path.
This was a beautifully filmed episode, but the orientalism really bothered me. India was portrayed as a giant freak show, with sword swallowers and contortionists on every corner. The conservative priest is weak and ineffectual, the people follow evil Tataka like sheep. Only Xena and Eli - of uncertain origin, but appearing Middle Eastern rather than Indian - are smart enough to resist the false devi. It's a superficial and ignorant reduction of centuries of Indian culture.
Eli was an interesting character whom I would like to see again, and whom I was surprised to see Gabrielle let go so quickly. He's also on a spiritual quest, because he's the genuine article - something he learned from Xena, which she should mark down on her list of good deeds. The conflict between her skepticism and his personal knowledge that there may be spirits at work made for good drama, and interesting chemistry which was much more exciting than Gabrielle's gratuitous snake dance.
At least Gabrielle was authentically possessed this week, rather than following a false god of her own free will, but it's still annoying to have to see Xena save her all the time from her own good intentions. Renee O'Connor gave a marvelous performance as the exotic, evil Tataka, but part of what made it work was her riff on Gabrielle's typical "I only want to do good" routine; that's getting very worn, as is Xena's standard response that superpowers generally come with a price that's too high. She knows whereof she speaks; she should try pointing that out to her friend more often, thus integrating her recurring crucifixion vision with the events of their daily lives.