"Looking Death in the Eye"
by Michelle Erica Green

Xena and Gabrielle Die! Again!

"Looking Death in the Eye" Plot Summary:

An aged Joxer buys Gabrielle's last scroll, then goes home to his wife Meg and tells the story of the warrior princess to two children. In flashback, Xena learns from the Fates that Eve can fulfill the prophecy of the twilight of the gods only in the essence of death. Gabrielle argues that they make their own fate, but Xena insists that if they have to die for the gods to fall, it must be so.

Later, Athena and Hades try to capture Eve as Xena travels with Gabrielle, so the two take shelter with Octavius. Meanwhile, the gods meet to ask goddess of death Celesta to take Xena, but Celesta believes she is immune to the gods' impending doom because death is a part of life and therefore immortal. She also says it is forbidden for a mortal to be taken before her rightful time, though her brother Hades seems to disagree.

Xena goes to Hephaestus, allowing herself to be badly wounded in order to draw Celesta to the scene. While Gabrielle prevents Hephaestus from delivering the fatal blow, Xena grabs Hephaestus' chains and binds Celesta, then kicks Hephaestus into a volcano. Xena takes Celesta hostage, reminding her that when her candle burns out, Death will die, and Eve will live forever. Celesta points out that the suffering will never find eternal peace, but Xena scoffs that Solon's death didn't bring him peace. She refuses to lose another child, and demands to know how the goddess' brother would feel if he lost his sister. Celesta weeps at the thought of losing Hades or vice versa; Xena wipes her tears away.

Gabrielle goes into a tavern to find Joxer, whom she correctly surmises may be the gods' target as a hostage to use against Xena. Sure enough, Athena and her warriors enter, grabbing Joxer, then Gabrielle. As Celesta languishes near death, Athena appears to Xena, offering to trade an apologetic Gabrielle for the goddess of death. "Eve may never know death, but she will never know peace," Athena warns, saying that the gods will hunt Eve forever if Celesta dies. Xena agrees to the exchange, putting Gabrielle in the back of the wagon where she had Celesta imprisoned. Unseen, Joxer follows on foot as the wagon flees. Gabrielle's scroll falls from the wagon.

Old Joxer continues the story in flashback. After Xena rejects Ares' final offer of assistance, she drives the wagon along the side of a cliff, fighting off Athena's warrior women. But she cannot fight off the combined strength of Athena, Hades, and Hephaestus, as the three gods send a firebolt that crashes the wagon down the side of the cliff. On the beach, Gabrielle lies still. Xena sees the remains of the wagon burning and screams for Eve, but the fire has consumed the basket that carried the baby. Ares stops the warrior princess from killing herself with her sword, but she takes what is presumably a bottle of poison from her clothing and swallows the contents. While the other gods smile smugly, proclaim the prophecy shattered, and vanish, Ares watches in horror as Xena collapses.

Octavius arrives to find Joxer devastated. He has Eve, and tells Joxer that Xena and Gabrielle aren't dead. They took the tears of Celesta, the "essence" of death, to fulfill the Fates' prophecy to the letter. The gods assumed Xena would never leave her child, so never suspected the baby was not in the wagon. The effects of the tears would have worn off, but Ares took the bodies of Xena and Gabrielle before Octavius could get to them.

The god of war takes the women to a cavern in the Himalayas with two coffins of ice. There he tells Xena that he never knew what she needed, but Gabrielle did - unconditional and unselfish love. "When you kicked ass, you were mine," he mourns, kissing Xena on the lips before sealing her coffin. "I love you, Xena," says Ares, planting her sword and chakram in the snow. Outside, he seals the cavern, then disappears.

Analysis and Opinion:

This is the beginning of an arc in which Lucy Lawless and Ted Raimi will play the aged Joxer and Meg (Xena's tramp lookalike), many years in the future, when Eve is grown and involved in a campaign to eradicate Eli's followers. So some gimmick was necessary to move Xena and Gabrielle in their current warrior babe incarnations to the future - talk about deus ex machina! I'm a little tired of watching Hades and Athena chase Xena and Eve around, but the scenes with Celesta were moving - particularly Xena's impassioned rage about Solon's death as well as her brother's. And her screaming wails for Eve and Gabrielle were heartrending.

Being a sucker for bad boys, however, my favorite moments were at the conclusion, when Ares took what he believed to be the dead body of his love for secret burial and protection from his siblings. His acknowledgement that Gabrielle owned everything good about Xena was sweet, but I liked his own confession of love - something he says far more easily behind Xena's back than to her face.

It's too bad he didn't let the two women share a coffin, but I don't get the feeling they'll be waking up until there's more divine intervention next week. Considering that union in death has long been a literary metaphor for sexual union, Xena and her partner have done an awful lot of lying together...

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