The Last Temptation of Eli
"Seeds of Faith" Plot Summary:
A man speaks against the gods, sparking a brawl with fearful locals until Xena comes in and chakrams them to silence. Then Gabrielle believes a man is about to attack Xena and turns the sais on the crowd. After the fight, Xena scolds her friend for being too quick to use weapons when words were always her most powerful tool. To make matters worse, Ares pops in, takes one look at Xena's belly, and tells her that if he knew she'd been looking for a potential sperm donor, he would have volunteered. Xena snaps that Gabrielle's got the job of father, to which Ares leers, "I would have paid to see that." Xena guesses that the God of War is afraid that the Twilight of the Gods has arrived, the time when humans no longer need the gods so they lose their powers. While Ares threatens both Xena and her child, the angelic Callisto looks down in concern.
Gabrielle and Xena discover that Eli has been preaching against the gods, sowing dissent among the locals who believe he will lead them in revolt. They warn their old friend, but Eli insists that love will win any war. When she is alone with the teacher, Gabrielle confesses that she thinks she has disappointed him, since in her heart she believes love is the way but her mind tells her to fight. Ares interrupts, prompting Eli to ask why Ares hasn't struck him down. Meanwhile, Xena sees riders coming from outside of town. Her research is interrupted by Callisto, who tells the warrior princess that she owes Xena her soul, but she must ask Xena not to interfere with Eli's fate. Disregarding the angel, Xena fights off a gang of attacking thugs.
Later, as Eli prays, Callisto appears to him as well. When she tells him of the beauty of heaven, he speaks of the beauty of the Earth and his place among its people. "Isn't there another way?" he asks. Callisto says that the new world must be built on the foundation of the old one, so the gods must fall, and Eli is the hammer. She praises his fear as well as his faith, reminding him that he preaches loss as a path to love. When she kisses him, he weeps.
Xena and Gabrielle warn Eli that Ares is sending an army, but they can get his followers out safely. The teacher refuses to leave, however, pointing out that sometimes one must lose a few battles to win a war. Terrified for his life, Xena asks Gabrielle to defend Eli while she goes to halt the army. While Xena takes out soldiers and destroys the bridge which leads to the village, Ares appears to Eli with a sword, warning his followers that the teacher is leading them to death. Eli says he leads them only to the truth, and refuses to let Gabrielle intercede with Ares on his behalf with her sais. "You can't save my life with violence. Please! Have faith in me," he begs. Gabrielle steps back, and Ares stabs Eli to death as Callisto looks on. Gabrielle holds Eli and screams.
Xena returns to find chaos, with villagers suggesting that Gabrielle should be punished for letting Eli die. "Is that what Eli would have you do?" she demands. But even Xena is appalled when she learns that Gabrielle didn't defend Eli, claiming that people like Eli can only exist with people like herself to defend them. "Don't you dare blame me!" shouts Gabrielle, who finally leaves in tears, asking whether that means Ares is right and the future is shaped by warriors. Alone in the desert, she throws her sais into a dead tree, and the God of War appears to applaud her efforts. Ares tells Gabrielle that Eli was selfish to involve her in his personal quest, since Gabrielle knows in her heart that might is right. Running his hands over her until she shimmers, he shows her the power of the gods, telling her that she could have that power all the time as he does.
Xena lights Eli's funeral pyre, singing a funeral chant and weeping while Gabrielle watches from a distance. Callisto appears to Xena, asking her to keep Eli's message of love in her heart and so make him immortal. Eli will be reincarnated in a new body. Xena is furious with Callisto, but the angel warns her that it is Ares she should fear, for he is exerting influence over Gabrielle. Xena tells Callisto that if the angel really wants to help her, she will find the Dagger of Helios, with which she can kill the immortal Ares.
While Gabrielle tries to rationalize consorting with Ares to the urn that holds Eli's ashes, Callisto reluctantly takes Xena to a temple where she produces the dagger. "Eli chose his path; now you choose yours," the angel says, asking Xena whether killing Ares will really honor the teacher's memory. Callisto goes on to say that all beings are born with both good and evil in them, and are defined by which they nurture. Eli sacrificed himself so that people could follow the path of peace. Xena retorts that it is easy to preach peace when one lives in heaven like in Callisto, and suggests that her former nemesis come along to witness the twilight of the gods.
Ares appeals to Eli's followers, but they chant Eli's name, so he pulls a sword and tells them he's glad their faith is so strong since they're going to die for it. Gabrielle leaps forward, telling Ares and the others that peace is worth fighting for. She manages to knock his sword to the ground with her sais, but he gets it back and prepares to behead her. Xena's chakram slices off the top of the weapon, then she advances on Ares with the dagger of Helios while Gabrielle rushes to safety. The god of war looks frightened but tells Xena to go ahead and kill him, since she's already lost the war.
Just then Xena sees Eli reflected in the knife, preaching the way of peace. She also sees Callisto speaking of love. Dropping the dagger, she tells Ares that he has already lost by making a martyr of Eli; instead of killing him, she's going to punish him by sparing his life. Ares picks up the dagger and threatens Xena, but she hisses with confidence that if he kills her, it will only make Eli's message stronger. Throwing the dagger away, Ares tells Gabrielle that he could have given her the world, but she retorts that he can't give her what was never his to give.
As Xena and Gabrielle embrace and apologize to one another, Eli and Callisto appear in their angelic forms. Eli says their friendship is a great miracle and thanks Gabrielle for following her heart. Callisto says it is time for her to be reincarnated; she will end the cycle of hatred between herself and Xena by being reborn to her. "You gave me this child?" asks Xena incredulously. Callisto touches Xena's belly and then turns to pure spirit, entering the other woman's body. "Love is the way," Xena whispers.
I found this to be a moving episode, despite some vast holes in its logic that I expect will create problems for the series later on. The Eli arc came to its inevitable tragic end - perhaps not on the epic scale of the life of Jesus, but that's only appropriate on a series which centers on the women in its mythology. Xena and Gabrielle underwent torment on the cross and the trials of Hell while Eli suffered only a quick stabbing by Ares, who doesn't seem quite demonic enough to stand in Satan's shoes. In this episode, Gabrielle played the roles of Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus in the desert, with Xena standing in for the Virgin Mary and Callisto as some strange form of the Holy Ghost. There were some nice Biblical parallels, with Eli experiencing his own Gethesmane, and Gabrielle three times denying that she betrayed her dead friend.
And the father of Xena's baby is...Callisto! Humor me for a minute: does anyone else think it's strange how many women want to get inside Xena by becoming her unborn child? First demonic Alti, now Xena's angelic ex-goddess immortal former archenemy Callisto want to enter her body this way. Can't they just lust after Xena in the traditional manner? Maybe not, because they're both dead, but on this show that doesn't seem to stop anyone from trying to get things done. Xena accomplished a great deal the last time she died. But where is there to go, after you've stopped a war in heaven and produced a child with a divine co-parent?
My major point of frustration with the episode is that Gabrielle was tempted even for a minute by the man she had just watched murder Eli. No matter how frustrated she was with Eli's futile preaching of love, no matter how multi-orgasmic Ares' god-touch made her, it's impossible to believe that she'd consider following a petty thug who was so terrified that he had to kill Eli just to silence him. If this is the writers' way of proving that Gabrielle really is Xena's equal now in her ability to use violence to achieve goals, it backfired.
Still, Xena and Gabrielle had some terrific scenes together. First Xena suggested that her friend was talking too much with her sais, then Gabrielle asked Xena whether Ares' way really was the only way, which is a good question considering I can't believe we will never see Xena fighting again even if she now believes love is the true path. I liked their reconciliation at the end, but I have to admit my favorite Xena/Gab moment all episode was the look on Ares' face when he said he would have paid to see Gabrielle father Xena's child. Wouldn't we all!
The sets were terrific, and the scene where Xena sings beside Eli's pyre in the desert was extremely powerful. I'm afraid to overanalyze the historical and religious implications of the storyline, because it doesn't stand up all that well to scrutiny, especially with Hercules' Archangel Michael and his vengeful God factored in. I also want to know why no one tried to get the sword of Helios before, after spending all that time chasing after hind's blood. I can't imagine any follow-up to this arc that's not going to seem anticlimactic, but I guess with Baby Callisto around, anything's possible.