You Can't Judge a Man by His Sword
"The Dirty Half Dozen" Plot Summary:
Six thousand Athenians are slaughtered by Agathon and his soldiers, who have been given the metal of Hephaistos by Ares to construct super-strong weapons. Xena gathers together a band of hardened criminals, hand-trained by herself during her evil past, to go up against Agathon and Ares.
Though the thugs assist Xena in breaking into the castle containing the armory, two of her men sell out to Agathon. Xena, Gabrielle, and Covira are imprisoned. But Darnell, one of Xena's treacherous allies, has been working with her all along, and provides her with the tools to break free. Since she's already inside the armory, it's relatively easy work for her to kill Agathon with one of his own weapons and destroy the entire castle.
This episode was really about Xena's relationships with Ares and Gabrielle; the plot was just an excuse for some nifty fight scenes. Even before the audience learns what makes Agathon's soldiers so strong, we know that Ares is behind it, and that Xena takes his meddling personally. We also hear Ares admit aloud that he has the hots for the warrior princess who might be his daughter, and that, deep down, he really doesn't want her killed. There's lovely repartee between the two of them, with a nasty edge: when Ares says that he has a certain presence around Xena, she snaps back, "You say presence, I say stench."
Still, the God of War constantly reminds our heroine of why she chose her current calling. Xena was once a creature of Ares: in those days, she trained Darnell, Covira, and the rest of the cutthroats and thieves she now rounds up to do battle against the God of War. Agathon now is what Xena was then, though one gets the feeling that she was always smarter than he'll ever be. She does an awful lot of killing for someone who fights for justice, but she never indulges in blood sport as Ares does, which makes it tolerable to watch her gruesome executions of those who betray her. The fact that she doesn't take any weapons from the armory for her own work says a lot about her own sense of responsibility.
It's easy on this series to regard Gabrielle as Xena's sidekick, but this episode made clear the extent to which Xena is shaped and defined by Gabrielle. Early on, Gabrielle wonders aloud what she would be like if she'd met Xena years before she did - whether she would be like Covira, who's been hurt by nearly every man she's ever known and hates the entire gender, or like one of the greedy cutthroats who'd sell anyone out for enough money. Xena insists not, but it's not until much later in the episode, when Xena hears herself insisting to Covira that she needs to stop blaming all her problems on men and learn to love people, that she realizes it's Gabrielle from whom she learned that lesson.
Through Xena, Gabrielle changes Covira, too; the young woman asks about Gabrielle's dead husband Perdicus and ends up deciding to give the sleazy but honest Darnell a chance. I had moments early on of wanting to shake Gabrielle, like when she offered to set up camp for the resisting thugs until Xena ordered them to get busy. She doesn't appreciate her own worth enough, and it's not clear why.
As always, this episode had some priceless comedy - Agathon asking Ares whether he has to work out or if gods get great abs naturally, Covira making jokes about men needing big javelins to overcompensate for their shortcomings. Rick Jacobson's directing was particularly effective during the break-in to the castle, a lovely sequence involving a lot of precision shooting and close-ups of the strong arms of the characters. It always impresses me how this show manages to be full of slapstick and silliness yet remain moving.