Tao Te Chin
"Purity" Plot Summary:
As she sleeps in camp beside Gabrielle and Joxer, Xena is awakened with a start. She sees a man coming towards her, bleeding, and realizes his tongue has been cut out. Identifying the man as a monk from the Xo monastery in Chin, she finds that he carries a letter that says, "The hawk and the dove must be made one with the wisdom." As the monk dies, Xena tells a shocked Gabrielle that the message was from Lao Ma, her spiritual mentor and the true author of the Tao Te Ching. Xena says she hid the book of wisdom to keep it safe, but she should not have let that power slip through her fingers.
In Chin with Gabrielle and Joxer, Xena finds the village nearest the Xo monastery demolished by a powerful explosive weapon of a sort she's never seen before. The group quickly realizes the monastery is under fire from the same weapons. As they rush to its defense against artillery and armed soldiers, a strong young Chinese woman joins them in their fight. When the enemy retreats, the woman introduces herself: she is Pau Tsu, the daughter of Lao Ma.
Pau Tsu explains that the explosives are made from forbidden black powder - an ancient formula now being used by the warlord Go Kuhn. She notes that a man who will break taboos has no morals, and a man without morals is dangerous. Xena agrees, rushing into the temple to find the Book of the Way missing. Asking Joxer to hide a replica of the book in her saddle bag, she goes with Pau Tsu to try to follow the thief, sending Joxer and Gabrielle into the nearest town to see if they can discover the ingredients in the black powder.
Joxer proves to have an excellent nose for spices, but he makes the mistake of showing the powder to a merchant to ask its contents and gets both himself and Gabrielle arrested. Gabrielle breaks them out by using her toes to get a pouch of the powder out of its hiding place in Joxer's pants leg - much to Joxer's delight - then blasting open the locks. Meanwhile, Xena and Pau Tsu track the book to a hidden cave where they discover Kao Tsen, the twin sister of Pau Tsu, who accuses her sister of scheming and lying until Xena realizes that Pau Tsu herself must have called off the attack on the monastery. Using some of the forbidden black powder to disable Xena, Pau Tsu takes the book. But when she returns to her camp, she realizes that it contains prayers and remedies. Xena switched books on her. Go Khun complains that chasing the book has wasted valuable time, but Pau Tsu insists that with the wisdom it contains, she can make all of Chin bow to her.
The warrior princess takes Kao Tsen to the ruins of the palace where Lao Ma died, explaining that as long as Pau Tsu must search for the book, her armies won't level any more villages. The two both have visions of Lao Ma - Xena of being saved and nurtured by the other woman, Kao Tsen of being rescued as a child by the mother who could not keep her. Xena explains that Lao Ma taught her compassion, wondering where the girl learned it in her mother's absence. Kao Tsen explains that she finds compassion all around her in the world, and she knows that her mother's legacy is also her own lesson. "You are your mother's daughter," approves Xena. "To conquer ourselves is to know the Way," they read together from the book, realizing that Pau Tsu has replaced purity of thought with purity of hatred. This is something that they can use that against her.
Pau Tsu finds Joxer and Gabrielle and offers to take them to Xena, but instead she ties them to stakes with explosives at their feet and black powder in a trail leading to her own place at the center. "Save Gabrielle!" Joxer begs. Xena believes that Pau Tsu will kill them even if she turns over the book, but Kao Tsen gives it to her sister because she believes it is her mother's will: "The hawk and the dove must be made one with the wisdom." As Xena feared, Pao Tsu ignites the black powder anyway. Xena puts out the fire as it burns toward Gabrielle, then chakrams Joxer free just before his cart explodes.
Since Pau Tsu now has the book and the black powder, Xena suggests they find a way to level the playing field. She practices Tai Chi with Kao Tsen, who realizes that Xena - not her sister - is the hawk in her mother's prophecy. Joxer cooks up a great mu shu sauce, then realizes that the secret ingredient in black powder is an Indian meat curative. While Pau Tsu studies her mother's book and reflects that belief in herself was the only thing her mother gave her, her sister and Xena share a vision of Lao Ma saving her daughters from the Green Dragon. Xena believes Pau Tsu's purity of hatred can be compromised.
Gabrielle and Joxer make explosives and prepare to move them into position, but Go Kuhn's army sneaks up on them. While Gabrielle fights with her sais, Joxer attempts to fire the weapons. Meanwhile, Xena and Kao Tsen encounter Pau Tsu wearing traditional clothes. "I have something wonderful to share with you," the cruel sister announces, telling them she has learned that she does not need armies, allies, or family. She flings fireballs at them from the power of her mind, but the two spiritual women, moving in tandem, intercept and absorb them. Pau Tsu adds that she has seen her future and will follow in the footsteps of the Green Dragon, but Xena tells her she'll be following a dead man. Her mother died to save her from that villainy, and her sister has witnessed their mother's tears. "Stop it!" screams Pau Tsu, weakened in her purity of hatred. When Pau Tsu shoots fireballs at them again, they turn them on her, and she collapses, destroyed by black powder weapons meant for Xena.
With their leader gone and the black powder used up, Go Kuhn's army disbands. Kao Tsen holds her mother's book, saying she feels perfectly still; the power has left her. Xena assures her that it will return when she needs it, leading her friend's daughter to say, "You are the strongest woman I have ever met." The group depart the scene of the battle together.
Like this week's Hercules, one needs to discard any knowledge one might have of the actual history of the region where the episode is set in order to enjoy it. "Purity" also suffered greatly by comparison to previous Chin stories. Flashbacks to the dazzling Lao Ma and to ethereally beautiful scenes from "The Debt" damaged this episode more than they contributed to it. Maybe there was supposed to be greater symbolism here - a yin-yang, light-dark balance going on between the sisters, for instance. Mostly it seemed like the writers decided to return to Chin for the heck of it, and told us nothing new about The Way or its impact on Xena that we didn't learn last time.
Xena does fight extraordinarily well for a woman who now appears to be in her second trimester, and Gabrielle really kicked butt, both in fighting off invading armies and in batting away Joxer's suggestive remarks. I enjoyed her role in this episode better than either of the daughters of Lao Ma, both of whom seemed like oversimplified versions of one aspect of her philosophy. Pau Tsu's relentless bitterness towards her mother was more realistic than Kao Tsen's saintly acceptance, but it was impossible to root for the angry woman allied with the nasty warlord. Hence, none of the protagonists really made an emotional impact.
Next week, Xena takes on Genghis Khan. I am deliberately not looking up the actual years or circumstances of Genghis Khan's control of the region. Like Joxer suggesting that he and Gabrielle follow the Great Wall to figure out where they're going, I suspect no concrete orientation is going to help me follow along.