My Mother, Myself
"Orphan of War" Plot Summary:
Xena and Gabrielle stand in a field of centaur totems, where Xena describes the battle she waged in her unreformed days. She pulled out her army and promised never to return, but now that the evil warlord Dagnin has come, she has brought Gabrielle to the site. Thugs attack and centaurs come to their rescue. Kaliapas, leader of the centaurs, wants to know why Xena has returned. She explains that she has reformed and wishes to aid in the fight against Dagnin, who has come for the Ixion Stone. Suddenly a young boy leaps out at her, threatening to kill her to avenge the murder of his father Borias. When Gabrielle inquires, Xena informs her that the boy is her son.
A decade earlier, Kaliapas told Xena that Borias died to protect the Ixion Stone from her. Xena asked for a truce with him: she said that she did not kill Borias, but tried to save him. She left Solon, the infant son she and Borias conceived, with the centaurs, believing that the child would be safe there and raised in peace. The centaur promised to raise the boy as his own, and did. Dagnin's spies learn this story by reading the lips of Xena as she orders Gabrielle not to tell Solon who his mother is, though she is in great pain from losing him.
Xena captures the spies, but it's too late: Dagnin's men kidnap Solon when he tries to use his father's sword to fight. Xena tries to bargain with Dagnin, but he threatens and harrasses her, so she arranges a rescue. During the struggle which ensues, Dagnin and Xena fall into the Ixion Cavern, where the Ixion Stone is rumored to be kept. Xena discovers that the stone is missing - Borias hid it - but when Gabrielle rescues her and Solon, Borias' sword falls from his hand and the stone breaks free from the handle.
Dagnin consumes the dissolved stone, turning into a vicious centaur who embodies all the evil not present in noble centaurs. Xena sets up a missile launcher modeled on a crossbow, and fights him. When he sees Borias' sword, he announces that HE killed Borias. Xena kills Dagnin, Solon apologizes for attacking her in vengefulness, and Xena realizes that she can't tell the boy, who's at peace among the centaurs and with a myth of an all-kind mother, that she gave birth to him. He throws away the sword, declaring that he's not a warrior, and she says his mother would be proud.
I don't like to see women defined by their maternity, particularly not strong, independent women like Xena; the fact that this show felt obligated to give her a baby rankles me. I was very pleased to see her choose not to reveal herself to a child whom she didn't raise, realizing that he is Kaliapas' son now. Solon lost many of his myths about his father over the course of this episode; if Xena had deprived him of his beliefs about his mother, he might have had a real emotional crisis. Difficult as it was, she got up and walked away. She chose to put his needs above her own regrets, without having to be turned into a martyr.
What a difference between the tough, smart, sensitive Gabrielle of this rerun and the one of this season's "Gabrielle's Hope." I hope this one comes back soon. She was smart and strong, tough with her staff though she had only recently acquired it. She was forthright in her statements to Xena about the reasons the warrior princess should consider revealing her identity to her child, and she was supportive without sniveling when she realized she'd pressured Xena unfairly. I didn't find Gabrielle's telling Xena what she thought she should do about Solon uncalled-for; as she pointed out, she's a woman and a daughter, so she's capable of having an opinion even if she can't share the pain of giving up a child. (When she does share that experience later on, it's shallow and trite by comparison.)
I don't like it when this series contrives reasons to show the warrior princess' sensitive side, rather than bringing it out as an integral part of an episode plot. This segment seemed designed to tear-jerk, and as a result I felt rather manipulated. Lawless was terrific in the final scene, but her long, sad looks at Solon over the course of the episode got a little over the top. The overall tone of this episode was a bit odd; Dagnin was written and played in broad, comic-book strokes, with lines like, "I'll kill Xena, I'll kill Hercules, I'll take Athens!" and much of the fighting was filmed with humorous shots. It was hard either to really enjoy the comedy or to really be moved by the pathos, since the mood shifted so much as the show wavered between action, comedy, drama, and tragedy.