Xena and Ares Clash Over Varia and Eve
"Path of Vengeance" Plot Summary:
An Amazon council of queens from various tribes breaks up after a warning about Roman soldiers in the woods nearby. The soldiers are there to defend Eve, by order of the new emperor, though Eve pleads with them to go back. When the combined forces of the Amazon nation surround the soldiers, Eve says she comes as a messenger of Eli and of Rome with a message of peace. Varia orders her taken prisoner and demands that all the Romans be slaughtered, even after they surrender.
After being warned of threat to Eve by an escaped soldier, Xena and Gabrielle head toward the Amazon valley. Recognizing the arrows in the slaughtered Romans as bearing the colors of Cyane's tribe, Xena is surprised to find the Northern Amazons so far from home. The new Cyane greets the women and reluctantly agrees to lead them to the council meeting, which goes against Varia's orders, but Cyane feels troubled by the killing of soldiers who surrendered. Because she is an Amazon Queen, Gabrielle claims the right to speak at the council meeting. Xena is allowed to stay as well when Varia testifies that six years earlier, Livia attacked the village and murdered her sister after she hesitated to stab Livia in the back. Eve confesses to the crimes. Since Queen Marga already banished Eve, yet she returned, the council agrees that Eve must die.
Gabrielle fights for Xena's right to argue for her daughter's life, so the council gives her an hour to present her case. As Varia sheathes her sword and stalks away, Xena recognizes the sword as belonging to Ares. The young Amazon queen admits that she follows the God of War, who has promised to reunite and strengthen the Amazon nation. Xena insists that Varia is strong enough to lead the Amazons on her own, and that Ares will bring them only destruction.
Before the council, Eve says Ares proposed the raid on the Amazons six years earlier, to sell the women as slaves to Gurkhan. Varia insists that Ares will tell her the truth and goes to ask him; he says he had Livia raid the village to unite the Amazons against a common enemy, and that when Livia couldn't sell the slaves, she threw them overboard in shackles to drown. He promises Varia that she can lead the Amazons against Rome.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle tells Xena to be patient, but Xena insists that if the Amazons can't be persuaded to free Eve, she'll save her by any means necessary. The bard votes with the rest of the tribal leaders that Eve is guilty, infuriating Xena, though Gabrielle insists it's the only way she can have a voice at the sentencing. Furious, Xena demands that Ares tell her why he is doing this to her. He tells the fable of the scorpion who stings the swan ferrying him across the river, saying it's his nature. Xena reminds him that the scorpion drowned and says she won't let Eve die without a fight, which delights him.
After Varia sentences Livia to death, Gabrielle challenges her right to be queen. But Varia beats Gabrielle bloody, leaving Xena to fight Varia on platforms over the boiling mud pits where the Amazons intend to toss Eve. As they battle, Xena tells Varia she's not interested in justice but suffering from guilt because she didn't kill Livia when it would have saved her sister. After pinning Varia at swordpoint, Xena offers her own life, but Varia falls to her knees weeping. Xena cuts Eve's bonds, and the Messenger of Eli comforts the Queen of the Amazons. Ares applauds.
Varia announces that she sentences Livia to death so that Eve may live, which pleases the Amazon council. Xena asks her daughter whether she has forgiven herself for her crimes, but Eve says she could ask Xena the same question. Eve plans to go East, to Chin, to spread the message of Eli. She thanks Gabrielle for bringing joy and salvation to her mother, who says she loves Eve and advises her to stay out of trouble.
A much stronger episode than "Dangerous Prey," Varia's last appearance, "Path of Vengeance" features terrific performances from all four principal actresses and offers a pleasure that among television shows belongs uniquely to Xena: we get to see dozens of strong, smart, sexy women who live their lives and make their decisions with virtually no concern for the dominant patriarchal culture. Ironically, Xena is the character most susceptible to the charms of Ares, who represents everything negative that's ever been associated with testosterone. But although he can rouse her to orgasmic head-tossing with a few caresses and words whispered in her ear, their reasons for wanting a strong Amazon nation are poles apart.
And there's the rub. What Xena and Gabrielle manage to repress, and what Varia and the other Amazon leaders never consider, is that Eve still wants to destroy the Amazons and their way of life. They're probably safer facing off against her Roman protectors than they will be against the Elijans creeping through Rome and Greece and now into India and Chin, spreading their message of the Way. Now, instead of slaughtering people for Rome, Eve goes to them insisting that the God of Eli is the One True God. She still believes everyone must follow the same path as she does. Only the handful of people as strong as Xena or as wicked as Ares seem resistant to the Way of Eli. Others may no longer hide their children from Eve, which is too bad, because their unique cultures, values and beliefs may suffer the same fate via her creeping assimilation tactics as by her sword.
Headstrong Varia used to make a delightful foil for Eve, who unfortunately is more likeable as the Bitch of Rome than the Messenger of Eli. How annoying to learn that Varia has turned to Ares for backup; it would have been so much more satisfying had she insisted on defying Xena and her spoiled daughter all by herself, and if her ambitions to subdue Rome were her own. Varia was there when Ares went berserk and followed the Furies at the start of this season, plus he only recently got his godhood back; surely she learned more self-reliance when Xena trained her. And for backup, she has all those marvelous Amazon queens, who convey quiet intelligence as well as the strength of warriors. Varia's obviously too immature to be leading the entire Amazon nation, and none of them stand up to her when she demands bloodshed, which makes them all look bad. Her contrition doesn't necessarily signal that she's really ready to be queen of them all.
The fight choreography is exquisite, particularly the struggle on the planks over the mud pits. There's wonderful interaction between Xena and Gabrielle, both when they quarrel over how to deal with the Amazon Council and when Gabrielle insists on challenging Varia as Queen although the younger woman has been trained by Ares. The episode does a nice job not taking sides, making Varia sympathetic and keeping Eve's present teary remorse in balance with her vicious persona as Livia. In the end, the Amazons are saved from Ares' meddling -- at least for now -- but I'm still not pleased with Xena's ridiculing Amazon ways, "like the time they painted you blue and made you howl at the moon," and with Eve loose to hammer the insidious word of Eli over the heads of everyone, who knows how long they can last. I actually felt good about Ares and the scorpion fable; it's sort of a relief to know that some people, for better or worse, can't be changed.